Category Archives: Software

HDRsoft’s Merge to 32 Bit. A simple and effective Lightroom HDR workflow

logo_hdrsoftHDRsoft, the makers of Photomatix Pro 5  the top selling HDR software, also make a Plug-in for Lightroom that allows you to select your exposures in Lightroom and then Merge those files into a 32-bit Floating Point Tiff file and automatically re-import back into Lightroom for all your Tone-mapping and finishing needs The plug-in; HDRSoft’s Merge to 32 Bit, makes the whole process easy, effective and pain free. So let’s look at the plug-in and then follow through with some thoughts on a quick and easy yet thorough workflow using Lightroom only. Continue reading »

OnOne Software solves your Adobe woes


OnOne Software solves your Adobe woes

I don’t think anything has caused a bigger stir in the Photography World, then Adobe’s announcement they were going to a Subscription based Licensing (Creative Cloud) instead of their long standing Perpetual Licensing.

While subscription licensing makes sense for a lot of businesses, it’s not something that either small businesses or Hobbyists are used to nor do they like.

At first the cost was prohibitive, but that’s lessened a bit, but still for a lot of people that want to buy and then hold for a few product cycles it proved to be a thorn in their side.

I’m not here (nor will I) debate that subject. Nor am I here to do a full review of onOne Perfect Suite 8, which was released yesterday. I truly believe, it doesn’t matter much what I have to say about the software, they have a 30 day free trial so you have a whole month to take it for a spin and decide for yourself.

But I am here to tell you that onOne Prefect Photo  Suite 8 IS a replacement for Photoshop/Lightroom if you so desire one and a good one at that.  Continue reading »

Topaz Labs brings Clarity to the Milky Way – Photographing the Milky Way

Milky Way Shoot ABDSPTopaz Labs brings Clarity to the Milky Way – Photographing the Milky Way 

I’ve always loved looking up at a star filled sky in wonder. When I was a kid we would go camping in Canada. It was so dark up there away from all civilization I don’t think there was a star you couldn’t see. I remember seeing satellites fly across the sky when satellites were still new. 

But the truth was/is I’ve lived most of my life in or near big cities, first NYC and Philadelphia and now San Diego. So in my normal everyday life there wasn’t much star gazing. But there was something special about it. 

In my photography there wasn’t much of it either. Sure I did a few long exposures when I was out in the National Parks like Zion or Yellowstone. But that was when I shot film and film didn’t always offer the same possibilities or capabilities, whether it was max ISO or reciprocity. This was especially true when it came to shooting the Milky Way in color and having the stars static. 

Continue reading »

Topaz Labs introduces ReStyle

ReStyle_box_clear-125x175Topaz Labs introduces ReStyle 
I’m sure most of the readers here are familiar with Tone-Mapping. Where we take a specific tone (lightness) and change it to a different tone (Lighten or darken). But what if we could instead do the same thing but with Color and Hue..In other words; Color-mapping. Taking something of a specific color or hue and changing bit to another.
Well, the good folks at Topaz Labs have brought that to you. With “Styling” apps all the rage for your Smart Phone Pics, why not take that idea to a professional level. Whether it’s a cross processed look or a dark and Smokey look to your image. Just about anything is Possible with Topaz Labs Re-Style

Software Review – Topaz Lab’s new -Clarity

Clarity_box_clearTopaz Labs Clarify – Get the Funk out of your HDR

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.

Continue reading »

Topaz Labs releases B & W Effects 2.1

bwbox_transparentToday Topaz Labs announced the realease of B & W Effects 2.1

As always the update is fre to anyone that owns B & W Effects

The new updates to B&W Effects 2.1 make it the most powerful and comprehensive black and white conversion software on the market. The two biggest additions are:

The Zone System Viewing Mode lets you see your image broken down into 11 zones that represent the full tonal scale going from 0 as black to 10 as white. Zones are shown in different highlight colors for easy viewing. This viewing mode helps you determine whether or not you have the full tonal range in your image and then make exposure adjustments in our conversion module to correct these tones.

Continue reading »

HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6 – Using ACR

Photoshop CS6I’ve never been a fan of making HDRs in Photoshop; other programs like Photomatix and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 were just simpler and just had much better results. So when I upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CS6  ® a few months ago ( Which I absolutely LOVE), I have to be honest, I really didn’t even take much more than a cursory look at its improved HDR module. 

But I thought, if I’m going to talk and teach HDR I need to look at all the tools out there. Not everyone will have the same tools and they may need advice on using a different one. 

So I went back to explore HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6. ®

Continue reading »

Using Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 (or any Filter) as a Smart Object in Photoshop

Nik BannerUsing Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 (Or any Filter) as a Smart Object in Photoshop 

How many times have you finished tone mapping an image and made your final Tiff or Jpeg image only to think that you wish you would have done things differently in your HDR program when tone mapping or adding adjustments during the HDR process? 

Do you wish that you could just go back to where you left off in that process and make any change you wanted? 

Well of course you could just merge the images again and yeah you were smart enough to save the recipe you used as a preset. But what about the 20 control points you added to the image. Plus all that time spent remerging and aligning the initial images. There has to be a better way. 

There is, using HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Smart Filter in Photoshop.  Continue reading »

Turn Down that NOISE! – Topaz DeNoise 5

Noise: The digital age equivalent to “Grain” when we shot film. Although it’s somewhat popular now, film grain wasn’t always the welcome trendy thing that it is today.

Maybe 40 years from now we will look back and be putting noise into our images remembering it with the rose color fondness that film grain has and debating whether Nikon noise or Canon noise looked better. 


What is Noise? 

Just what is “Noise”? Where does it come from, how can we prevent it and how do we get rid of it if we can’t?  Continue reading »

Update your Video Card – Update your Video Card Drivers

Photo editing software these days is placing extraordinary demands upon your computer and it’s resources. Motherboards, CPUs Memory. But increasingly, Photo software companies are moving a lot of that load to your video card and it’s own memory and processors. Since the introduction  of Photoshop CS4, Adobe has shifted a lot of the work of editing photos over to the GPU (Graphic Processor Unit) rather than only the  CPU.  So much so that Adobe set about standards that Graphics boards needed to meet for their software to run at its optimum

A lot of Plug-in makers like Nik software, Topaz labs or onOne  rely heavily on Video cards and Open GL Continue reading »

Follow up to the Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 Review

Over on Facebook someone asked to show the differences between Nik HDR Efex Pro and the New Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 in a side by side comparison image.

Which is a reasonable request but there are some problems with this if you don’t look at it with a few things in mind. HEP2 not only has a new HDR Algorithm, it also has some big changes in controls. So how do you separate out what is due to the algorithm and what is because of the controls? Then on top of that even if the controls were exactly the same the images would not look similar because the beginning default image is of a lighter luminance value with the new algorithm than the old Continue reading »

So how much dynamic range did I actually capture? Photomatix Pro HDR Histogram

So how much dynamic range did I actually capture? Photomatix Pro 32 Bit HDR Histogram

Note! For this example, you must have the latest update to Photomatix HDR Pro V 4.1.3 or later. Please go to HDRsoft’s website and update or click check for updates  from your program’s help menu. 

How much range?

So you shot 88 frames 1 stop apart and for sure you must have captured all the dynamic range in the universe…or did you? Well how would we really know what the captured dynamic range was of all our exposures.
We really can’t count on our finished product, after all it’s really not a high dynamic range image, it’s just a tone-mapped one that simulates to our eye the range that was in our scene. And if we are heavy handed in our Tone-mapping we may even have a lower dynamic range than our single image is capable of.
So how can we tell what range we actually captured? Via a little known and little talked about feature that was added to Photomatix 4.1 (Fixed in V 4.1.3) – The HDR 32 Bit Histogram.
The what? The HDR 32 Bit Histogram. This histogram only works with the 32bit Intermediary HDR image that is generated before you go to tone-mapping. If you don’t allow the software to stop at this point before it continues on to the tone-mapping screen, perhaps you should. It may tell you some fun things.
Now unfortunately, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this histogram. the truth is I really couldn’t find much about it anywhere. But I did find it.
To activate it when your 32 bit file is open, click ctrl/cmd H or go to view>HDR Histogram. At the bottom of that screen you will see “Estimated Dynamic Range” and it  is expressed as Contrast Ratio X:1. There is also a Log Scale from -6 to +6 and the resulting histogram for the file.
In the test I did with different files, it seems to be accurate. Is it exact? I have no way of knowing, but scene I knew to be low in dynamic range and those high in dynamic range seemed to fall in place exactly as I would have expected.
Here are a few examples of  32 Bit Images and their HDR Histogram.
In this one I knew it was low dynamic range and the resulting image was poor
 This was a very high dynamic scene and the contrast ratio proves that
Even though you would think this was high dynamic range because the sun was in it, it actually was typical for a mid day shot
This one was a 9 Exposure 1 Stop image. I actually thought it may have been a higher dynamic range. But it was very overcast that day or maybe I didn’t shoot it as well as I thought
Here is a chart so you can get an idea of what those contrast ratio mean in a practical sense
If you would like to know more specifics about Dynamic Range, checkout my buddy Sean’s website Cambridge in Colour
I thought this was interesting and fun to look at, it may actually be helpful down the road to look at what works and what doesn’t work and really what we are shooting. For me it fills ina few more parts of the puzzle and makes me more confident in what I do.
Anyway, Hope that helps,

Compositing the HDR Portrait – Topaz ReMask 3

Compositing the HDR portrait – Topaz Remask 3 

I was challenged to do this by a few people, last week a Long Island Photography group asked if it was possible (most said no). Then this week, a friend sent me a link to Joel Grimes and his commercial work blending HDR and sports photography and kind of challenged me to see what it would look like if I did it. (Never challenge me) 

I’ve had this idea for almost a year now but I had a different vision for it, which I still will try next weekend when I have a model for a different reason but if we have spare time I will try my other method. But inspired by the above I thought I would give an HDR Portrait a whirl using compositing of two images using Topaz Remask 3 to make the selection masking process as easy and precise as possible. 

First let’s take a look at out two images. 

Our background: this was an image I shot in San Diego’s Balboa Park a little over a year ago. It is a 3 exposure HDR, finished in Photomatix Pro.






















 The Model Image was shot two months prior when I was shooting images for my book, How to Take Great Photos. It is a standard photograph shot using OCF


Topaz Adjust 5

The first thing I did was take my background image and it needed more of an HDR look to it…yes I actually wanted to grunge it up a bit. I could have started from scratch and reprocessed the image in Photomatix, this time with a heavier hand. But I knew that wasn’t really necessary as I had a tool that would do it with much less work: Topaz Adjust 5 

I opened the image in Photoshop, duplicated the background and then used my plug-in for Topaz Adjust 5. I went to the HDR Presets and selected HDR Heavy Pop Grunge. This provided just the look I was after


 With my background image as I wanted it, it was time to move to my Model Portrait of lovely Noelle and to start the masking process for a smooth and precise selection

 Topaz Remask 3

Opening the image in Topaz Remask 3, It was a simple task of painting red what I wanted to remove, painting green what I wanted to keep and using the Blue Compute brush to paint a line around the subject to compute what stayed and what went


After about 15 minutes to really get things right, slowly refining the mask till it was perfect. I had the mask I needed for the selection


Bringing it back into Photoshop, here is the selected image of our model Noelle.


After a few adjustments it was time to drag our model onto ourBalboaParkbackground. Using the move tool, I simply dragged the selection onto our background image. At this point I needed to mirror flip her so that she was facing the right direction to fit into our scene. I did that with Edit>Transform> Flip horizontal. Then, again using the move tool, positioned her where I wanted in the frame.























At this point she really wasn’t blending well into the scene so I thought she needed a little HDR look to her too. I duplicated the layer and again I returned to Topaz Adjust 5 but this time I went a little lighter handed and used one of the Vibrant Collection presets: Detail – Strong. 

Now she had the detail I wanted to match the background but she still didn’t blend with the tone of the image as much as I would have liked. So I used a trick I showed you a year ago when I did the shoot at the harbor. I duplicated the model layer again and this time opened Topaz BW effects and selected the Platinum preset. 






















I then turned the color layer above back on and changed the opacity of the color level to about 65%. Now she seemed to blend in pretty well, but I still wanted her to look more natural because going too far can highlight things that are not flattering to a woman. 

After a few tweaks here and there with position, and a little use of the blur tool around some of the edges and a little dodging and burning. I had the look I wanted for the image


The last step was to take a soft brush and some dark gray set to a medium opacity and on a new layer add some shadows behind her feet to make her blend in better


























 At this point I though it best if the image was cropped but I couldn’t decide which way I should crop it to 8  x 10 proportions, so I did both.
























You tell me. 

I hope you enjoyed that. It actually was a lot of fun and challenging to do. I haven’t been a fan of compositing, preferring to do all my work in camera. But I am happy with the results and of course I really can’t resist a challenge from anyone.


Hope that helps,


Using Layer Masks

Using Layer Masks 

I’ve talked a lot about “masking this off” or using a “Layer mask”  in Photoshop with the assumption that everybody knew how to use them. And that was a bad assumption on my part. So I’m going to do a quick little tutorial on layers masks and how to make and use them. 

When we place a layer onto an image in Photoshop, it can be many things, it can be an “Adjustment Layer” where you made a specific adjustment to an image, Levels Curves, Saturation etc and applied it to an image but as a separate layer so not to change or damage the original image and make those changes reversible.

We could also add a texture layer, a color or gradiant layer a text layer, we can even put a whole photograph on top of another in a layer as we would do in a “Blend” as I showed here

Now a layer, in most cases is a solid object above the layer below. But what if we wanted to show some of the layer below this layer? Well we could just use the eraser tool to erase away the top layer. But the problem with that is once you erase away that area is gone unless you step back in your history. Erasing is very hard to fine tune. “Oops went to far can I put some back?” No you can’t. So instead we use a layer Mask, which allows us that flexibility of taking away, putting back, feathering and varying opacity.

Practice Sample.

So let’s make a practice sample so we can easily see how to use layer masks.

Start in Photoshop and go to File> New and let’s make a new image. We’ll make it easy and use one of the presets and make an 800 x 600 image. You don’t need to worry much about anything about this new image except for the size. Most likely you will now have an 800x 600 white image on your screen now. If you have a different color or even a transparent one that’s OK we’ll fix that in the next step 

Now go to your tools and select the Paint Bucket Tool, then go to the color palette and click on the foreground color. Choose any color you like but to make this more visual choose something other than Black or white. In my case I chose full red. Fill your image using the paint bucket tool with red 

Now go to Layer> New and add a layer on top of the red layer. Once again go back to your paint bucket tool and now choose a different color. In my case I chose full Blue and fill the next layer with a different color. 

You should now have two layers and your layers should look like this. 

Now at the bottom of your layer palate you will see an Rectangle with a white circle in it and if you hover over it, it will say “Add Layer mask” click that and it will add a layer mask to your top layer. You should now see a white box next to the blue box in your layers panel, The White box is your layers mask. 

Now let’s go back to our color palette and return them to the default values by pressing “D” on our keyboard. Make Black your color ( you can swap easily between white and black by pressing “X”) And grab your brush tool set to a size 200 soft brush and with black as your color, take a swipe across the Blue layer (making sure the White layer mask is highlighted ion your layer panel). What happened? You now see the red layer below. 

By painting black on that layer mask, you “revealed” the layer below. Here s the most important part to take away from this: White Conceals, Black Reveals, the layer below. 

Now switch your color back to white (x) and paint back over it. It conceals the red layer below in as little or as much as you want. 

Now this may also be a very good time to get to understand Brush “Hardness” hardness is how hard or soft the edge of the brush is. Soft would give you a very diffuse edge; Hard would give you a very defined edge. So with your one swipe across, below that change your brush hardness to 100 (by clicking the downward arrow next to your brush size) and take another swipe across your image with black. See the difference in the edge? 

So that is the basics of using a mask. Most times I use a Soft brush so there is a smooth transition between what I want to show and what to conceal but there will be times you need to use a hard edge to clearly define what you want to show, such as cutting out an object. 

But wait, what if I want to go somewhere in between? I want to show the layer below but not fully or I want to apply just a little of the effect layer in some parts and it fully in others? 

There are two ways to accomplish that. The first is to vary the opacity and fill of the brush. Here is a swipe across using 50% Opacity and full on the brush. You can see that if only partially shows the layer below in fact it turns the swipe purple with the mix of red and blue. 

But that’s not my favorite way of doing this even though it may be the preferred method of Photoshop Professionals. 

If White Conceals and Black Reveals, Then what would a shade of gray do? Exactly!

When I want to vary the amount of the layer below to show through I use varying shades of gray to paint over and accomplish this. It gives men great control and is quickly and easily done. The lighter the shade of gray, the less will show through, the closer to black the more that will be revealed. Choosing middle gray accomplished the same thing that the other method above did. 


Just to re-emphasis something I said earlier: If at any point you get White or Black paint instead of just masking on your image. Make sure that the Layer Mask is selected on the Layer Palatte

And that is using layers mask, short and sweet.

Hope that Helps,


Product Review: Topaz Labs – Adjust 5

Topaz Labs – Adjust 5

 Recently Topaz Labs came out with their latest release for their Adjust series of software, Adjust 5. It wasn’t long ago that I review Adjust 4 so with that fresh in my mind it’s easy to see some of the new things that are a part of Topaz Adjust 5 and there are  quite a few things of note that make this a better program than it’s predecessor.

 It retains it’s Lightroomesque interface. Presets on the left, Adjustment panel on the right and preview panel in the center.


I’ll work my way around the interface to point out what is new.


Staring on the left with Presets, There are 107 new presets. All the Adjust 4 presets are still there but they have added 107 new presets and they have broken the presets up into categories instead of just one long list. The category lists are:

  • Classic Collection
  • Vibrant Collection
  • HDR Collection
  • Film Collection
  • Toned Collection
  • Stylized collection
    And a folder for you to store your presets. 

What I really like about the new presets is that they are things that I would use. Even though I still would suggest you add these effects on a separate layer for control of the amount of effect later, there are a lot of great effects that are good like they are. Finally someone said lets make some good looking presets that actually make sense instead of some things that look like a Peter Maxx poster on Crack (I thought I would throw in a reference for both old people and young. Kids, DON’T do drugs!) 

I especially liked the new HDR presets; they are so usable it’s crazy. I would rather have something like this as a starting point and then get crazier, then to start with crazy and have to tone it down. Cuz usually I just bypass crazy. And there still are some crazy presets no doubt but they have been balanced by some very useful ones. 

A new feature of  Topaz Adjust 5 is that now you can add multiple effects to your image. Say you want an HDR effect and then a toning effect. Just apply the HDR effect and then apply the toning effect. ( The apply button is new) Saves you the time of going back to Photoshop and then back in to Adjust. 


Moving over to the Adjust panel on the right; at the top is a new histogram. Moving down they have the same Global adjustments as before but with the addition of a Curves adjustment which is always handy. 

The other big change is the addition of Local Adjustments via a Brush tool. You can brush out the effects you have added which is a great feature if you don’t know how to or don’t have the ability to do a layer mask. You can also Dodge, Burn and Smooth the image using the Edge aware brush. 

Below that they have added Finishing Touches, where you can add vignettes and frames. Add some grain or change the tone of the image. 

The last addition is a Transparency Slider so you can vary the total amount of the effect on your image. Again, a great tool if you don’t like working in layer. 

The only thing I wasn’t crazy about is that some of the sliders seem backwards in their actions, such as the Transparency Slider. If you are used to working in Photoshop and transparency there, 100 is the full effect of that layer. In Topaz Adjust, 100 is no effect at all. A few other controls did the same thing like when you add a vignette, moving the slider to the right gives you less vignette, not more. I would have done it different. 


Here are a couple examples, the first with the HDR Heavy Pop Smooth and the second with the addition onto of the HDR, a Vintage preset





It’s a better program for the changes. The new presets alone are worth it and the local adjustment brush is really helpful. I think they have come a long way with this product. It’s great to get many looks and it’s great to use for single image HDR’s . Like I said in the previos review HDR without the mess

 I’d like them to fix two things; the way the adjustments work (make the controls more like Photoshop works left to right) The other thing I would like to see changed is the Preview. Its fine in the single image mode where you can click on the image to see the before and after, but in the side by side view, it’s in a vertical view. I wish they would also add the option of a horizontal view. 

So all in all well worth the upgrade. Speaking of which, it is a free upgrade to current Adjust Users 

This is a Photoshop Plug-in. Lightroom, Aperture and iPhoto users can get a free download of Topaz Fusion Express to use Topaz Adjust within their programs 

There are also plenty of Webinars at the Topaz Labs site to help you get the full use out of any of their software products.


To try or buy Topaz Labs – Topaz Adjust 5 visit : Topaz Labs

Till November 30th they have Adjust 5 at a special price of just $49.99 with the coupon code of : ADJUSTME