Topaz ReMask and Layers

What a gorgeous day outside!! I would really love to be out there with my camera, but since I’m technically still employed for the next two weeks, and therefore have to stay close to my workspace, I decided to spend some time practicing on some photo editing and processing skills. I’m still getting acquainted with my new Wacom Intuos tablet,and I also wanted to get more practice with masking and layers.

I decided to work on this image that I took this past weekend in downtown Tupelo. It’s some sort of sculpture that’s supposed to celebrate water. (I really should pay more attention to what I’m shooting!). Anyway, when I was taking the photo, there were several things going through my mind:

  • I wanted to catch the rising sun coming through the opening at the top of the sculpture.
  • I wanted that sunburst effect, so I used a narrower aperture (f/13) than I would have normally used.
  • I was more concerned about the exposure on the sculpture than on the sky, even though I knew that the sky would be blown out.
  • I forgot to check the ISO setting when I was setting up this shot, but it was at ISO 500, and the exposure time was 1/200 sec.

So here is the raw file (saved as a JPEG):


I got the starburst that I wanted, along with some cool green lens flare. And as expected, the sky was blown out and the sculpture itself is underexposed.

So I thought this would be a good candidate to use for practicing with masking and layers.

The first thing I did in Lightroom was to straighten the image slightly so that the base of the sculpture was more horizontal. (Evidently I can’t hold my camera straight to save my life!). I then exported the image to Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop I took the following steps (as best I can remember):

  • Duplicated the Background layer.
  • On the duplicated layer, I opened Topaz ReMask, and created a mask using only the sculpture portion of the photo. I actually did this step about four or five times, trying to get it right.
  • Next, I duplicated the Background layer again, and on this new layer, I again went to Topaz ReMask and created a mask of everything EXCEPT the sculpture (the sky and the foliage).
  • Back in Photoshop, for the SKY mask layer, I applied Gaussian blur, a brightness/contrast adjustment layer, and a curves layer. This helped bring back some details in the sky and the trees.
  • For the SCULPTURE mask layer, I used the Topaz Clarity filter to brighten the color, exposure and details.

And here is the final result (saved for the web, so it’s only 800 pixels tall, but you get the point):


I’m pretty pleased with it, considering it’s my first real attempt at something this complicated. I’ll have to say that using the Wacom tablet made it a lot easier to make the mask selection, but I’m still trying to figure out all the hand gestures that the tablet recognizes when used like a touchpad. It gets pretty confusing when suddenly the image zooms in or out and I have no clue what I just did.

Pretty fun!! Can’t wait to try more!

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A-Mazing Laughter

On our very first day in Vancouver, on our very first walk outside our hotel, we encountered this bronze sculpture in a small park between our hotel and the beach:

A-Mazing Laughter

The sculpture is called “A-Mazing Laughter”, and it was created by Yue Minjun of Beijing, China. I chose to process this particular shot in black-and-white to concentrate on the texture and seams in the bronze, rather than the color of the metal. It looks like a patchwork quilt, only welded together instead of sewn.  I also wanted to isolate just one of the figures, rather than the entire display.  Why?  I don’t know, except that it allowed me to see details that I would have missed by trying to capture the entire scene.

What was the entire scene, you may ask?  Here are a couple of snapshots that will give you an idea of the scale of the entire sculpture:

A-Mazing Laughter - Vancouver, BC Canada

Look at the size of those feet!

If you’re interested in learning more about the display, here’s a link to a website that talks about the artist, the design, and how it came to be located near the beach on English Bay in Vancouver.

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Put Me Down!

While on our photowalk along Grand Avenue yesterday, we stopped at the Paisley Violin Cafe for a little liquid refreshment. The Paisley is an eclectic little art, music, wine, beer and food establishment that caters to the downtown arts scene. Its another one of those hidden gems that you must get out of your car and use your feet in order to fully appreciate.

When we walked around to the back patio, we found a little courtyard surrounded by tiny little art cottages, an outdoor bar, some art objects on display, and some colorful characters sitting around chatting and enjoying the beautiful day. I certainly recommend that you check this place out if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

Here’s a shot of one of the “art” pieces that was on display behind the Paisley:

Put Me Down!

I shot the images for this HDR hand-held in three brackets (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) and processed them in Photomatix v4. My post-processing was done in Topaz Adjust (using one of my custom presets) and Topaz DeNoise. I then used the Paintshop Photo Pro X3 Curves tool to adjust exposure, and then used the Saturation and Sharpening tools to make final tweaks.

Such a fun place!

I also have to give a shout out to the HDR Cookbook for all the great tips on HDR processing. I’ve adjusted my workflow over the past week using some of the tips in this blog, and I think the final images I’m producing are so much better as a result. I highly recommend this blog for those who are HDR fans or who want to learn the process!

Snowy Rough Rider

The Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Arizona has several Western-themed sculptures on the grounds.  A couple of days ago I posted a shot of one of them, and today I’ve processed another one.  This is the Buckey O’Neill Monument dedicated to the Rough Riders.  Buckey O’Neill was the true archetype of the American cowboy.  There’s a nice article about him on Wikipedia, where you’ll find, for instance, that he was played by Sam Elliot in the TNT movie Rough Riders.

The statue is not Buckey, but Buckey was a member of the Rough Riders and was killed in action in 1898 in the war against the Spanish.  Teddy Roosevelt wrote about the death of O’Neill: “The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged”.

The statue, designed and created by Solon Borglum, was erected in Prescott in 1907.  It was seen in the movie Billy Jack in the Korean martial art scene.

The HDR image below was created from three hand-held bracketed photos.  I used Photomatix to merge the photos, and then used Paintshop Photo Pro X3 and Topaz Adjust / DeNoise to post-process.  It’s challenging to work with the dark sculpture against the lighter sky and snow, but hopefully I didn’t butcher this one too badly….I like it anyway!

Snowy Rough Rider

Yes, It Snows in Arizona

Last week we had a pretty powerful winter storm come sweeping through Arizona just in time for New Years.  There were even reports of snow here in the Phoenix area, although the weather gurus said that most of it was sleet or tiny hail.  Whatever.  Anyway, about 90 minutes and 4000 feet in altitude away, there was quite a bit of snow in Prescott.  I had to work over the weekend, and didn’t get a chance to go check it out until today.

I finished my “work” work about 2:00PM, and then we figured we still had about three good hours of daylight left so we packed the camera gear and some gloves in the car and headed north.  When we left Phoenix the skies were partly cloudy, but it was obvious that it was becoming more overcast as the day went on.  And sure enough, by the time we reached Prescott about 3:30, the skies were completely cloudy.

That didn’t stop us from trying to get some interesting photos, however.  Our first stop was at the Yavapai County courthouse in downtown Prescott.  We parked the car on the square and then had a great time walking around in the snow with all the other tourists who had probably driven up from the Valley.

I didn’t bother getting the tripod out because there was still a lot of ice in places, and I was doing good to keep myself upright without having my hands full.  I shot everything hand-held, including some bracketed series that I intended to use for HDR’s, relying on Photomatix to line up the shots.  Even though I had the VR turned on, I was shivering enough that it was hard to keep the camera steady, so I really hope Photomatix comes through for me.

We didn’t get home until 8PM, and I have to go back to work tomorrow, so I only processed one shot tonight, just to get a feel for what I got.  I’ll be sharing more shots later this week, including some that we took in the Prescott National Forest that are pretty cool.

Here’s a shot of one of the sculptures on the lawn of the courthouse.  It was tough to get a good exposure reading with the dark bronze sculpture against the white snow and the overcast sky.  I think that’s where HDR really shines.  I took a bracketed series so that I was able to capture the detail of the sculpture in one exposure, but get the detail of the snow in another, and then combine them so that it’s all visible.  Then I couldn’t resist applying a little Topaz treatment to really make the colors pop (it was such a drab day, why not liven things up a little?), and I really liked the results.

Hope you do too! Be sure to view it large!!

Bronze in Snow

Glendale Public Safety Memorial – in HDR

From my postings of the past few days, you might get the idea that downtown Glendale is a hell-hole of urban blight, and nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s actually a quite pleasant, quaint little downtown area with a family-friendly vibe, lots of character, and an abundance of community activities and festivals that draw crowds from all over the Valley.

In the past year, this memorial was erected in downtown near the Civic Center to pay tribute to the firefighters and police officers from Glendale who lost their lives in the line of duty.  It’s a striking sculpture depicting the men and women captured in a flame while performing their duties.  I shot some hand-held brackets to use for HDR processing.  Probably would have been better with a tripod, but here’s what I got.  These were processed using Photomatix v4, Topaz Adjust/DeNoise, and Paintshop Pro X3:

Glendale Public Safety Memorial 001

Glendale Public Safety Memorial 002

Glendale Public Safety Memorial 003

Big Bugs in Downtown Phoenix

Sunday was my birthday, and I was fortunate enough to get to spend several hours with my camera and tripod in downtown Phoenix.  The hubby went along with me, and he carried my backpack with extra lenses and assorted paraphernalia, leaving me free to climb stairs and low concrete walls to get the shots I wanted.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t choose to shoot downtown in the middle of the day since the shadows can be so harsh.  But I knew I was going to process these shots as HDR’s, so I decided to take advantage of a beautiful, if still warm, autumn day when downtown was pretty much deserted.

I took about 55-60 bracketed series, and I’ve just started going through them, but these three images are going to be some of my favorites, I can already tell.  These bronze sculptures are located on the plaza of the newly expanded Phoenix Convention Center.  According to their official website, the sculptures were created by Tom Otterness and they include:

Three large, whimsical bronze sculptures of desert creatures, enlarged to human scale. The creatures include a millipede with a hat and shoes; a walking stick in high heels, and a scorpion holding two small men in top hats tugging at a bag of money. Accompanying sculptural elements of people, scaled down to Lilliputian dimensions, interact with the creatures. The sculptures are set in a unique water-harvesting garden at the public plaza located near the southeast entrance of the North Building.

Each of these images was created from a bracketed series of three photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) taken with my Nikon D5000 and the kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6) at F/13.  I used Photomatix Pro v3 to produce the HDR image, and then post-processed in Paintshop Pro X3 to tweak the brightness and contrast, and I used the Curves tool to modify the color balance slightly.  I like the way that the HDR process accentuates the variations in the shades of bronze on the sculptures, especially on the millipede.  My biggest disappointment was on the scorpion–once again I have a little flare spot in the middle of the picture.  I need to figure out where that’s coming from so I can get rid of it.

Downtown Phoenix 001

Downtown Phoenix 002

Downtown Phoenix 003

The majority of the other images that i took are architectural in nature, and I’ll be posting them in the next few days and weeks.

This coming weekend we’re planning a trip into Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona to check out the fall color (if there is any yet).  I’m looking forward to getting my camera out in some cooler weather–it was over 90° in downtown Phoenix when these shots were taken yesterday.  Way too hot for late October!!


Yes, there is color in the desert

Tonight I got a good start on processing my photos from last Saturday’s excursion to Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  There was such a variety of plant specimens on display there, and I photographed so many different types of subjects, from closeups to landscapes, that it was hard to know where to start processing.  So I finally just started at the beginning.

So many people who have never lived in the Sonoran desert have the mistaken idea that the area is just brown and sandy.  True enough, there is a lot of brown, especially after the winter rains are gone and before the monsoon rains begin.  But in the spring, especially after an unusually we winter like we’ve just had, the desert blooms in the most amazing colors.  The Desert Botanical Garden showcases specimens not only from our Sonoran desert, but from desert environments around the world, and their displays are artfully designed and impeccably maintained.

Upon entering the garden, one of the first things that catches everyone’s attention is the glass sculpture created by Dale Chihuly that stands at the front gate.  I didn’t see one single person pass by this exhibit without either taking a photograph of it or posing in front of it for someone else’s shot.

While this photo only shows two of the sculptures, there are actually three of them.  To see more photos of this beautiful exhibit, check out my new set on Flickr, “Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix“.

My processing workflow for these shots was pretty simple:  I used the JPG files, and processed them in Paintshop Pro X3.  For each one, I adjusted the Brightness/Contrast, applied Local Tone Mapping, adjusted the Saturation, and then sharpened.  Here are a few of the shots that I worked on tonight:

All of these are best viewed large and on black, so scurry on over to my Flickr set and check out the entire collection.  So far I’ve posted twenty-four, but more will be added as I get them processed this week.

On a technical note, I had been having problems for the past couple of weeks using the Flickr Uploadr (the utility that allows multiple images to be uploaded and edited more efficiently in batch).  Seems like every time I tried to upload a batch, I would lose my Internet connection after a couple of files had uploaded.  I would have to reset my modem and router to get the connection back.  After consulting with my ISP, Cox Communications, I determined that I most likely needed a new router.  Cox recently boosted the speed of their broadband service, and my router was only “wireless-G”.  I bought a new “wireless-N” router and set it up yesterday.  Tonight I was able to upload all 24 files in one batch (each is between 12MB and 17MB), and my connection never went down.  Needless to say, I’m a happy camper!!


The Native Looks Back

I’ve been busy all day doing some of the chores that I’ve neglected for the past few weekends–like getting our final booking paperwork taken care of for our upcoming cruise.  Important things like that can’t be neglected!

However, I couldn’t resist playing with just one shot from yesterday’s jaunt at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  Right now they have a lot of sculptures by Allen Houser on display throughout the garden.  These are mostly large bronze works, and they add a lot of atmosphere to the desert flora and the surrounding landscape.

One of my favorites is below.  I added a textured finish to the image, and punched up the saturation and contrast a bit, since the shot was a little washed out by the bright overhead sun of the afternoon.  I like the contemplative angle of the face of the sculpture with the mountain and saguaro in the background:

Looking forward to getting back in the digital darkroom this week, and hoping that my work schedule doesn’t get so hectic that I can’t spend some quality time behind the camera.  Have a great week!