Saturday, December 12, 2009

Topaz Labs


Slurp VII
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
I put a lot of time and effort this year to improve my techniques, lighting, and composition -so much that post processing had become the weakest aspect of my shooting. I just don't have the time or patience to sit down and learn a lot about Photoshop Elements, and CS4 is just too stinkin' expensive. But something had to give because my weak post processing was really starting to impact the quality of my photography...

About a month ago one of my coworkers, and a talented pano shooter, Scott Knauss, mentioned Topaz Labs and asked me if I had tried any of their plug-ins. Being the crash test dummy that I am I downloaded a few of them and requested a temporary license key so I could test drive them (the test license is good for 30 days).

I've since registered Topaz Labs Detail, Adjust, and DeNoise. I use Detail and Denoise on my macro images now, and Adjust on my closeup and landscape images (for those few times that I actually take the MPE-65mm macro lens off of my camera). The image included with this post was processed as follows:

I first open the image in the Element's RAW editor and make any necessary changes to the exposure and white balance (usually setting the temperature of my light to 5800 K). I then open the image in the Elements main editor and use the healing brush to rub out any dust spots. I then run Topaz DeNoise and use the standard RAW preset. It takes a little while for DeNoise to analyze an image, but it's worth it -to me it does a better job of preserving detail than NoiseWare Pro.

Once I've removed the image noise I sharpen the photo with Topaz Detail using the Micro Contrast preset. With Detail I also adjust the highlights and shadows (if necessary) and add a little saturation. Once Detail is finished I create a Levels adjustment layer and set a black point.

I can not emphasize that last step enough -setting a black point will really make your photos "pop"!

All that's left is to save the image as a PSD (in case I want to go back and make any changes) and a JPG. At the risk of sounding like I've been paid to write a review: Topaz Labs has allowed me to bring my post processing to a level where it's no longer the weakest aspect of my photography. If any of you have been using Topaz Labs plug-ins and have any tips for me then please leave them in the comments!

15 comments:

Mstic said...

thanks. I'll take a look into their plug-in

Dalantech said...

They'll send you a 30 day trial license that will let you use the plug-ins and save your work.

paul said...

nice article..topaz stuff is great they do a great job and the software is resonably priced.I got it about a year ago and have always been happy with the product

Dalantech said...

Thanks Paul!

Warl0rd said...

I would be interested in a more extensive article describing how you do your work flow. Either a video of you working on those programs and explaining what your doing, or a series of photos, so we can see the before and after of each step :)

Dalantech said...

I may do a post on work flow Warl0rd, but keep in mind that what I do to a photo on post depends on how I took it, so not everyone would be able to use my work flow...

Warl0rd said...

Yes I understand that, perhaps you can do it in the next deconstruction article, so it would be about PP in that image.

I just think its worth to be able see from where you usually begin to the final result which we are all used to see around here:)
i.e. how worth was the PP on that particular picture, would it still be impacting straight of the camera?

I'm sure you agree people should invest time learning techniques and putting them into test in the field shooting, but I guess I'm just curious if someone can expect to get top photos straight from the camera.

I think that would answer this question: Should someone with no PP skills also invest part of their time (and money) learning to work on those (or other) programs and how much would it hypothetically improve their pictures?

Dalantech said...

You raise a lot of good points Warl0rd, so I'll add a "post processing deconstruction" to my to do list.

Due to dust spots and sensor noise I think you pretty much have to shoot RAW and post process yourself. If not then you'll lose detail when the camera compresses the first JPG file, then you'll lose data again when you edit that JPG and save it.

Warl0rd said...

I've been shooting raw since I bought a DSLR, and obviously everyone who also does that has to process their images at least to convert them straight to jpg.

Removing dust spots is something easy to do, cropping for a better composition requires a good sense of composition, adjusting exposure/levels starts getting tricky, and it gets even worst when we get into noise removal and sharpening (thru layers).

I know my pictures got better after I started working them in lightroom, and the more I learn the better they seem to get. I understand today that without PP it would be nearly impossible to get some of those images straight from the camera, and now I understand that most of the disappointment I was getting in the start wasn't due to lack of proper equipment or photographic skills but due to lack of PP.

Don't get me wrong, people should try their best to get the best image from the camera, PP doesn't do miracles if your composition is wrong, if you miss focus or blow your exposure. But when I'm on the field I prefer to spend most of my time shooting instead changing settings thru the menus, i.e. I prefer getting the exposure up 0.25 on PP then struggling with EV shot after shot in the field, specially in macro when you don't always get the chance for 2nd shots.

So yeah I'm curious to see how you do it, check with steps are worth learning based on the practical results.

Yes, everyone talks about noise reduction, unsharp mask, etc, but are they really worth it? Give your 2cents and help us figuring that out :)

Dalantech said...

@ Warl0rd: On my to do list :)

Anonymous said...

Good article John. Thanks for the tip on setting the "black point". I will definitely incorporate that into my workflow. I also use Topaz products, mainly Detail and DeNoise. What I do different is run Denoise as a final step, because everything else I do seems to add a little noise here and there. I seem to get a better end result. Do you run DeNoise first for a particular reason? Just wondering because your talent is light years beyond mine and figure that you have a good reason for every step you take in your PP work flow.

Dalantech said...

@ rcordosi: Actually you're right about Detail and Adjust adding noise (Adjust actually has a noise slider to pull some of it out). I run DeNoise first because most of the post processing guides recommend it, and even the Topaz folks say to use DeNoise first. But I'm a big believer in not following conventional wisdom, so I'll post a question in the Topaz forum about when to do noise removal and see what people say.

Thanks for the feedback! If I was really all that and a bag of chips I wouldn't need my day job ;)

Dalantech said...

Topaz DeNoise guide: http://www.topazlabs.com/denoise/denoise_tut.pdf

Warl0rd said...

yep, they say to use denoise as the very first step. But I use it after setting the right camera profile on lightroom, since after launching the plugin and creating the tiff it won't allow me to fix it latter.

Anonymous said...

Well, well. I guess instructions are good for something. I should have read them a long time ago! Thanks.