Why I Love Topaz Adjust

A few weeks ago I purchased the bundle of Topaz products, including Topaz Adjust. Since then I’ve been constantly amazed at what this software can do for a bland, single-image exposure.

Here’s an example of a shot that I took while visiting at my parents’ house last week. The skies were overcast and gray, so I didn’t have much natural light to work with. I was shooting hand-held, and my kit lens is not all that fast, so I had to bump up the ISO setting to get a fast-enough shutter speed to overcome my shaky grip.  Click the images to view them larger:

I’m not sure what kind of plant this is, I just found it in the woods behind the house.  I liked the image of the green plant still stubbornly hanging on while everything else was turning brown and dying, but I felt like the shot could be more dramatic if I could recover some of the color and detail that was lost in the soft lighting from the overcast day.  I ran this shot through Topaz Adjust and Topaz DeNoise, with a little post-processing in Paintshop Pro X3 to enhance the edges, and look how it turned out:

Not All Dead Yet

Neither of the shots is exactly what my eye saw that day, so I’m not even going to debate which one is more realistic. I just know that I like the second one much better, and that is what my photography is all about–producing images that I enjoy viewing and sharing.

Here’s another example of a Topaz before-and after.

Before:

After:

Fall Color in Detail

Autumn Means Time to Rest – in HDR

While at my parents’ house I didn’t get much of an opportunity to wander far from the house to do any shooting since we were pretty busy with the family gathering. Instead, I just took the camera outside from time to time and wandered around the property, shooting things that caught my eye.

Sometimes things that seem pretty ordinary can take on an entirely different look when processed in HDR. Here are two examples of just that. These are some of the flower pots and gardening tools that have been put aside for the winter. While they certainly didn’t look like this in real life, I think the HDR process gives them a lot of flair and interest, and makes you notice these everyday objects that normally wouldn’t rate a second glance.

I used Photomatix v4 to process the hand-held bracketed images (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), and then used Topaz Adjust to bring out more of the details and color. I then finished up with the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro X3.

Time to Rest 001

On the shot above, I just noticed that I forgot to crop the edges where the three images were lined up…oh, well, gives it a little bit more pizazz, I think!

Time to Rest 002

West Fork Revisited

I revisited some of my shots from West Fork tonight, to see what I could do with some of the single images in Topaz Adjust. Here are the results (I really should remember to make notes of the presets and sliders that I used).

Be sure to click on the image to view large on black:

West Fork Revisited 001

West Fork Revisited 002

However, this next one just cried out to be processed as an HDR, with the shadowy details of the rock wall and the sunny highlights of the gold leaves. I just couldn’t resist running the bracketed series through Photomatix to produce this:

West Fork Revisited 003

Next stop with the Nikon will be back in North Mississippi as I travel home for Thanksgiving. Hoping to get some great shots while I’m there, and also hoping I can get through airport security without being forced to baggage-check my gear. Have a great holiday everyone!

Autumn Stream at West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon

I only processed one image tonight, but I’m extremely happy with how it came out. Click on the small version below to view it larger in the lightbox:

West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon

This is an HDR created from three bracketed photos in Photomatix V4. Amazingly, I can find no obvious ghosting in this image, even though it was a breezy that day. This shot was taken deep in the canyon, which offered some protection from the wind….plus, I think I just got darned lucky.

After merging the photos and tonemapping them in Photmatix, I adjusted the image using the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro X3, and then bumped up the saturation and sharpened it slightly (Overlay).

I love this shot….it’s so peaceful and serene, and totally Zen.

Checking out the Slopes – HDR or Not?

When we visited the Snowbowl Ski Resort recently, they had just had their first snowfall of the year the previous night.  It wasn’t enough to completely cover everything, but it was certainly enough to cause some excitement among the people who had driven to the top of the mountain just to view the scenery.  And, of course, the kids were thrilled.

I was happy to get a chance to photograph snow at the same time I was shooting pictures of the aspens.  I was shooting everything in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), in both RAW and JPG format, just to try and cover my options for processing.  I wasn’t sure whether I would want to give these the HDR treatment, or just work with the single images.

Here’s an example of just how different the processes can be.  I took this shot just around 1:00 in the afternoon.  It was heavily overcast, with low-hanging clouds and fog in the trees just a few hundred yards above where we were.  It was a tricky lighting scenario with the dark pines, white snow, golden aspens and gray clouds.  There was a guy and his two kids climbing the slopes, offering a great perspective of how large the trees and the slope are.

Here’s the shot I took at “normal” exposure (I had set the camera to Aperture Priority mode), and let the camera control the shutter speed.  This one was at F/14 at 1/100 second, with the Nikon D5000’s equivalent of ISO 100.  I tweaked this one a little bit in Topaz Adjust (yeah, I went ahead and purchased it last night), and then did a little more adjusting in Paintshop Pro X3 (CLICK THE IMAGES TO VIEW LARGE!):

Now here is the same shot, but processed as an HDR by merging the three bracketed images in Photomatix v4.  I used the Fusion preset in Photomatix, and used the de-ghosting functionality to take care of the movement of the hikers between the three shots.  I then did some adjusting in Topaz Adjust, with final tweaks in Paintshop Pro, and here’s the result:

I like the way the HDR kept the gray of the clouds while highlighting the gold of the aspens, and this one obviously has more detail of the snow on the pines but to me it looks over-processed.  And I don’t think either of the images are exactly what I saw, color-wise.

So, I’ll keep practicing and processing until I get better at using the software as well as the camera.  But, it was sure fun seeing the snow last week.  Hopefully it’s a sign of a good ski season just around the corner.

Fall Color and Frustration

This is one of those days when I’m not satisfied with anything that I’m working on, in the digital darkroom at least.

Before I even started trying to process any of the shots from last weekend, I downloaded the trial version of Topaz Adjust and six other Topaz products (they have a great deal on their bundle right now).  I wanted to see how Topaz might handle some of the single exposure shots that I took of the aspens.  Even though I took almost every shot as a bracketed series of three, I knew there would be some issues with processing them as HDR’s because of how windy it was last Saturday.  I was thinking that I might just stick to processing the single exposures, and I wanted to see how some of the presets in Topaz Adjust might render them.

Anyway, after downloading the bundle, it took me a little while to get it to work in Paintshop Pro, not because I had installed it incorrectly, but because I was testing it on a raw NEF file.  Evidently, TA doesn’t play well with raw NEF files (at least in Paintshop Pro).  When I fed it a JPG or TIFF file, there was no problem. But by then I had wasted an hour and was ready to move on.

So then I decided to start looking through the bracket sets to see if there were good candidates for HDR.  You know how it is, you take all these shots and in your mind you imagine how great they’ll be….but then they just don’t turn out like you pictured them.  That’s been my evening.

Here are a couple of HDR’s that I produced this evening, using Photomatix V4 (I’m still trying to decide if I like it or not), with follow-up processing in Paintshop Pro.  These were taken on Snowbowl Road, north of Flagstaff, Arizona, using a Nikon D5000 with the kit lens (18-55mm), tripod-mounted:

Autumn Color 001

Autumn Color 002

I mean, I think they’re okay, but still they’re not as crisp and detailed as I would have liked.  I did run them through Topaz Adjust just to see how the presets would render them–it was pretty freaky and not at all an improvement.  I know I need to learn more about processing, and maybe I shouldn’t have tried to do these as HDR’s.  But you never know until you try.

Let me know what you think (and be gentle!).