Read to the end for a special Discount Code on Topaz Labs Clarity
Just released today is the new software from our friends at Topaz Labs – Clarity
Some of you may have read the article I wrote on “Why HDRs don’t look real” In it I went on about how what’s missing in a lot of HDRs is Midtone Shadow and Midtone Contrast. Controlling these two things either in the original HDR process or later in post can really do a lot to add photorealistic look to your HDR or actually any image.
Well soon after I wrote that I received a pre-production version of Topaz Labs latest offering – Clarity. Hey, Topaz Labs…Get out of my brain! It’s like they made this product just for me, just for what I was talking about that could cure the ills of so many HDRs I find on the web. They are almost there but missing this one piece, that can be fixed in post but not as easily as with something like Topaz Labs Clarity. Plus it even goes a little further because it offers controls that aren’t in a lot of post editing software.
Let’s take a look at what Clarify looks like, what it does and how it works
Opening the image in Photoshop, I duplicated the layer and then went to Filters> Topaz Labs> Clarity
The program opens up in the now almost industry standard, presets left, preview center, controls right. The preview area has presets for all the major types of photography, Landscapes, nature, Macro, portraits, architecture, etc. You can of course make your own custom presets from your recipe…which I of course, did. Presets also have pop-up previews which are much larger than most which is very helpful in being able to see clearly.
The preview pane is pretty much normal with a basic before and after button (Mousing over and clicking also does this) and split screens for before and after along with the normal zooming functions
On the control side is where it gets interesting. There are Panels for Clarity and one for Hue/ Saturation and Luminance. Each section also having controls for opacity and masking. If you aren’t used to using Layers in Photoshop, these controls may come in really handy. I prefer to put my effects on a separate layer so that I can make changes to opacity and masking later on and it’s editable. But having these controls is a great option.
The controls for Clarity is of course where you will do the most work if you choose not to use a preset or want to modify a preset which is close to the look you desire. In the panel there are sliders for:
- Micro Contrast – This is more or less a detail slider micro contrast adjusts edge contrast
The rest of the controls are a little harder to understand so I’ll try to make some sense of it. Here is a before image that we can look at
All of the controls adjust contrast (The ratio of Dark to Light) in different areas of Contrast. Confused? Think of it this way, a White Stripe against a Black stripe would be the ultimate high contrast area. An area of mid-tone gray next to another section of just slightly darker mid-tone gray would be an area of low contrast
- Low Contrast – This adjusts the contrast in areas that where there is not a lot of difference of luminance, Say the cloud area of this image.
- Medium Contrast- This adjust areas of the image where there is more difference in luminance between subjects, say the foreground Cobblestones
- High Contrast – This adjusts areas of high contrast, in this instance the areas inside the Arches to the outside of the arches
These sliders adjust the overall Tone levels of the different areas of the image. What I like is that there is a midtone level adjustment instead of just Blacks and Whites
Below this module is the Hue/Saturation/Luminance section to adjust the balance of the image color or tone wise
You can use these to adjust the Color Tone (Hue) Amount (Saturation) and Brightness (Luminance
As I said before both modules also have Brushes and Masks so you can apply the effect selectively within the image. You can use an edge aware brush to help “Paint within the lines’ and there also mask that work on color range. I thought the edge aware feature worked really well. You can choose brush or a Gradient map to apply the effect
You can also store snapshots of your images with the controls in different settings so you can do some comparisons between setting
I found Topaz Labs Clarity to be a very useful tool to bring that Natural Look back to HDRs that gets lost in the processing. Again as I said many HDR images loose mid-tone contrast sometimes just as part of the process or, as is the case many times, just over processing an image
Clarity also helps to remove that “Fog” that is present in all types of images (HDR or not) and gives you a cleaner, more crisp image. It does this without increasing noise or adding odd artifacts like haloing that can occur with other processors or processing.
And don’t confuse this with other Topaz Labs products because it works very differently although some looks can be achieved different ways. It’s not a Detail enhancer/ Tone Mapper like Topaz Adjust 5 is so don’t think this is a rehash of something else. In fact you could use the two together to have a lot of control over an image especially if you want to do single image “HDR” effects
I was quite impressed with Topaz Labs Clarity since it left me with much less to do in Photoshop for Post Processing an HDR with maybe just some overall curves/levels and some sharpening (Topaz Labs Detail) and the image was done
Here are a few before and afters of my own work and then some of the B & A’s from Topaz
I took one of my recent HDRs, a 3 Exposure +-2EV sunset at the beach. I processed the exposures in HDR Efex Pro 2 with my normal workflow except that I didn’t add any contrast in the HDR Process because I really wanted to put Topaz Clarity to the test on what is basically a very flat image, Not a lot of contrast in any zone, and especially not in the midtones that have been compressed in the HDR Process
This image that we used for the controls explanation above is just a single normal image and the effect Clarity has on the RAW image
Topaz Labs Clarify Highly recommended