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):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15-3_unaltered

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):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15_Lr_remask

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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Snow, Ice, and Routine Chores

Nothing like some crazy weather to throw me off my schedule! The good news is, I’m spending much more time on my photography these days, even if I’m not totally up to date on my weekly photo challenge.

The challenge for the week of February 23 was the word “Open”. I had some ideas for what I wanted to shoot that week, but you know what they say about plans–they are made to be broken. On Wednesday of that week, we got 7.3 inches of snow, the second largest snowfall ever recorded on any date here in Tupelo. Of course, I took my camera out for some shots, so even though I wasn’t sticking to the theme for the week, the important thing was that I was shooting and processing. Here are a few images I captured that week:

snowstorm_004_2015-02-22_clarity

snowstorm_030_2015-02-22_clarity

snowstorm_050_2015-02-22_clarity

On this last one, I used the Topaz Clean plug-in to give it a little different effect in the details, especially on the tree branches. Kinda different, but I really like it! View it large to see what I mean.

snowstorm_051_2015-02-22_tpzClean

The following weekend, we delivered my four prints to the Elvis Presley Birthplace where hubby helped our club president get all the artwork hung for our spring exhibit. We have about 66 photographs from 20 different photographers on display for the entire month of March. We opened the exhibit on Monday, March 2, and I’ve already received positive comments from friends who have visited.

So, my weekly challenge for this past week was the word “Wet”. And wouldn’t you know it? On Wednesday, we had another winter storm come through, this time dumping almost an inch of sleet and ice, making travel impossible for two days (there were several fatal car accidents, one involving a mother and two of her children, so sad). So I didn’t get out to do any shooting until yesterday (Saturday), and I tried to shoot images for both the “Open” and “Wet” themes to get back on track. I think I got some decent shots which I’ll be processing this week.

Today it was time to do some general housecleaning around my photography gear and files.

First, I had hubby reconfigure my desk so I could move my monitor further away from my face, leaving more room on my desktop to accomodate my new Wacom Intuos tablet. I’m really excited about learning to use this piece of equipment!

Next, I took the plunge and cleaned the sensor on my Nikon D700, using Sensor Swab cleaning tools and Eclipse cleaning solution. I took before-and-after shots of the sky so I could see the difference it made. I actually went over it twice, using two swabs, and I think there may still be a spot or two left, but based on the photos that I took, it was quite an improvement. I may try to clean it again in another week or so.

Next, it was time to do some archiving. After a near disaster with a computer crash and an external hard drive failure last year, I’ve become somewhat OCD about backing up my photo files now. I have backups of my computer running to Mozy, and to two external hard drives attached to my system. But I also like to actually move files off my hard drive for storage now, so I’m using a combination of Google Drive, along with two additional external hard drives which I rotate out. Today I archived all my 2014 files to Google drive and to both my hard drives, and then removed them from my computer system. That’s less for Mozy to have to backup, and I can get to my archived files from any computer where I have an internet connection, via Google Drive.

And finally, I started playing with Lightroom and Photoshop. I finally took the plunge and signed up for a one-year subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud solution. For $9.99/month (I went ahead and prepaid for a year), I’m able to use the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop on up to two computers, as well as some mobile processing. I’m still a huge fan of Paintshop Pro, but I think it’s important to try and learn the more widely used software applications. Now that I can have access to them at a reasonable price, there’s no reason not to tackle learning something new. I also completed my collection of Topaz plug-ins by adding Illustrator and Glow.

So, I have software, hardware, workspace, updated filespace, a clean sensor, and motivation. Time to get some shooting and processing done! The challenge for this week is the word “Broken”, and hopefully with the time change, I won’t have to wait until the weekend to get my shooting done–more daylight after work hours. I still need to process shots from the “Open” and “Wet” word challenge, so time to get busy!

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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Jerome – The Blacksmi

I seem to have finally resolved all my technical issues with my monitor and software so that I can consistently get good results from my processing. And I’m starting to get my mojo back, thanks to joining a photography club and also setting up a weekly challenge for myself.

So I’ve started going back through some of my old raw images, looking for new material to play around with while I teach myself some of the features and hidden (to me) tricks of PaintShop Pro X7, Topaz plug-ins, and Lightroom. I’ve been watching quite a few YouTube video tutorials, as well as sitting in on live webcasts from Topaz for their products.

Today I pulled out some brackets from our 2011 weekend trip to Jerome, Arizona, where we toured the old Gold King Mine. It’s a veritable treasure trove of photo ops, and I highly recommend that you put it on your photography bucket list.

I processed this image first in Photomatix Pro 4.2 to merge the three brackets into an HDR image. I then did some further editing in Paintshop Pro X7, using some of the tips I’d seen on some YouTube videos today. For instance, I learned that the new X7 version of PPS has the “Magic Eraser” tool, which is a content-aware tool for removing things like dust and flare spots quickly and easily. It’s much easier than the “Object Remover” tool that I had been using. It really made a difference in cleaning up this image!

20110313_801_JeromeHDR_Blacksmi

I really like this image, although I still might go back and try to remove that power line–it just seems to mock me!!

Oh, yeah, I also spent a little money online this week to pick up some other things that I’ve been putting off purchasing for my photography habit. I finally bought the cleaning solution and swabs to clean the sensor on my Nikon D700–so tired of seeing the spots in the sky on all my landscape shots. And this week I used my last bonus from work to order a Wacom tablet to make some of the editing tasks easier–things like fine selections for masks, for instance. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on that tablet and learning how to use it.

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