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Topaz Labs has just released a brand new “painting” program, called Impression.

Topaz Impression

Impression will run both as a standalone program and also as a plugin. In their promotional piece, Topaz Labs emphasizes the power and flexibility of the program that can yield up to 7 billion variations for any pictures. I don’t know how they arrived at this number, but after browsing through the 47 presets/filters and numerous sliders/customization options, the number of possible variations seems indeed mind-boggling.
The selection of one of the available presets is simple and easy, but it is just a starting point. After choosing certain painting style, you can vary the brush size, stroke width and length, opacity, color saturation, contrast, blending mode, and more. And if that is not enough, you could even combine multiple styles.

According to Topaz: No prior knowledge of art is required – all you need is a photo and an unbounded imagination!

When you start the Impression program in the standalone mode, it will present a simple small window where you can browse your images and select one. The program loads very quickly the source image, displays it on the screen, and then it takes a few seconds to initialize its workspace. Then it will show the following screen with the first of the available presets which happens to be an Abstract style. All available presets are shown alphabetically in the right panel.

You can quickly review all “looks” in the right panel and choose something you like. Once you pick a desired preset, the right panel will display the customization sliders.

You can also select a canvas type and background texture.

The following section shows some of the styles which I applied to my Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse image.

Monet

Cezanne

van Gogh

Oil Painting

Pointilization

Chiaroscuro

Charcoal

Urban #1

In the above examples, especially in the small size, some options look very similar, so make sure to click on them and view them in larger size. Another thing to consider, is that the individual painting styles will behave differently for different type of images, and on top of it, you can customize each style by changing the brush and light parameters, as well as the color saturation and contrast.

Since the original image still exists in the memory and sits below your new creation (when using the program in standalone version), you can create yet another painterly version by changing its opacity and blending mode (similar to Photoshop). When you use it as plugin in Photoshop, you can create separate layers for several Impression presets, and then use the blending modes and opacity slider in Photoshop. This option may be overlooked, but it offers interesting and powerful transformation possibilities.

Here are a few more examples from my FineArtAmerica collection, demonstrating the renditions of Abstract, Oil Painting, Van Gogh, and Charcoal presets.

Art Prints

Art Prints

Art Prints

Sell Art Online

Photography Prints

Sell Art Online

Photography Prints

Art Prints

Photography Prints

Photography Prints

Art Prints

Photography Prints

Topaz Impression is a 64-bit program and it should work on the current crop of Mac and Windows systems. You can download a trial version for free and use it for 30 days. Note that if your graphics card doesn’t support OpenGL 3.2 or later, you won’t be able to install the program. If you have OpenGL 3.1 or earlier, visit Intel’s Driver Download page and follow the instructions to manually identify your graphics card driver.

If you already own the Topaz Simplify program with the simple painting presets, you can compare the two programs and see for yourself how much the automated painting evolved in the new Impression program. It’s definitely worth the try!

To download the latest Topaz Impression, use the following link to enter the Topaz Labs website.

Topaz Impression

To purchase it, use the same link and a discount code “lespalenik” for 15% discount. This will work at anytime for any Topaz single plugin or a complete bundle.

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Topaz DeNoise 5 from Topaz Labs is the latest version 5 of the noise reduction program. Among other improvements Topaz Labs introduced two innovative noise reduction tools – a Dual-directional Debanding technology that tackles banding noise, and a Correct Black Level parameter that helps to restore shadow tones. Topaz claims that while other competing noise reduction tools utilize a range of subtle blurring techniques that often removes detail as well as noise, Topaz DeNoise 5 is the only software of its kind that is able to recover crisp detail while simultaneously removing up to four stops of noise with the utmost quality.

Below is the DeNoise screen that appears after you invoke the plugin from Lightroom, Photoshop or other host image editing program (click on the image to display it in full resolution).

Topaz DeNoise 5 Screen

The screen will be familiar to existing Topaz users, with several standard, easy-to-use presets on the left panel and detailed adjustable settings in the right panel.

Topaz DeNoise Presets

The right panel also includes a handy magnifying switch that allows you to view the noise reduction effects at 100-400%.

Topaz DeNoise Presets

In most cases, using one of the standard presets will be fully adequate. For images with a low amount of noise, use the Light or Moderate presets, and for really low-ISO images with a lot of noise and color contamination use one of the Strong presets (Strong, Stronger, Strongest, Strongest with Debanding).

If your image requires a more advanced treatment, start with the Moderate or Strong preset and then switch to the right Settings panel.

Typically, you’ll start with the luminance noise reduction. The Luma channel preview masks out the color information and makes it easier to see the luminance noise as you use the Strength, Adjust Shadows, and Adjust Highlights sliders to reduce the visible noise in Midtones, Shadows, and Highlights to an acceptable level. After making the luminance noise adjustments, use the Detail Adjustment controls to recover any details lost in the noise reduction process.

If your image contains color noise problems, switch from Luma to RGB mode or specific Red and Blue color modes and use the Red, Blue or Clean Color Adjustment sliders to neutralize the color spots. The Correct black slider is one of the new additions and it helps to eliminate haze from the black areas and make them darker.

Finally, if you see any banding noise, you can experiment with the horizontal or vertical sliders in the Debanding panel to clean it up. In my testing, I found that when debanding eliminated some abnormalities, sometimes it introduced new random patterns, but that might be what the designers intended.

Topaz DeNoise 5 is the most advanced noise reduction tool I used, yet it is very logical, easy-to-learn, and easy-to-use. Compared to Lightroom and NIK Dfine, the ability to restore fine edges, other fine details, and black levels is very good. DeNoise 5 works with both 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Photoshop CS5-CS6 and CS CC on Mac and Windows systems.

EXAMPLE 1:

Owl – Untreated Image – minimal noise, ISO 2500, D600

Owl – LR NR with Luminosity value 25

Owl – NIK Dfine Automatic

Owl – Topaz Denoise 5 – Moderate Preset

Owl – Topaz Denoise 5 – Strong Preset

Although this image didn’t require too much noise reduction, from the last two Topaz images it can be seen that the detail in eyes and feathers has been preserved better than in the LR and NIK treatments.

EXAMPLE 2:

Fruit – Untreated Image – heavy noise, H1.0/ISO 6400, D300

LR NR with Luminosity Value of 60

NIK Dfine – Automatic

Topaz DeNoise 5 – Moderate preset

Since this image started with a heavy noise, it required a more aggressive treatment. All three programs handled competently the large areas, but if you look at the end of the pepper stem, you can see significantly more detail in the Topaz result than in the other treatments.

EXAMPLE 3:

LR NR with Luminosity of 60

NIK Dfine, Automatic

Topaz Denoise 5 Strongest Preset with Debanding

In the last example, we applied the strongest possible Denoise preset that almost eliminated the really heavy noise, and although the image is much cleaner than the ones processed by LR

and NIK, the details are not preserved quite as well as with a slightly less aggressive treatment.

 

To download the latest Topaz Denoise version, use the following link to enter the Topaz Labs website to get a discount

http://www.topazlabs.com/861.html

You can use this link and a discount code “lespalenik” at anytime, also for other Topaz single plugins or a complete bundle at 15% off

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With Topaz Simplify, you can transform your photos instantly with one click into oil or watercolor paintings, monochrome sketches / line drawings or bold cartoons. I like best the oil painting modes, especially for vibrant and colorful images, but each image may benefit from a different filter, so it’s best to experiment with several filters. Fortunately, the rendering is very fast, and you can quickly test various options before committing to one. Or you can apply multiple filters to an image, stacking them onto each other, or even mix them with some other effects from Topaz other plugins.

Cut Flowers

To illustrate some of the painting filters and the different looks, I used a colorful street image scene and ran it through various filters. Each filter supports also an extensive group of parameters with easy-to-use sliders to optimize your rendition, but for the purpose of this demonstration, I never touched any sliders and used just the provided default settings.

Street Scene – Original

Before applying an oil or watercolor painting filter, I ran the image through Topaz Adjust Boost to get a more vibrant starting image. If you don’t have Topaz Adjust, you could just saturate the colors slightly.

Street Scene – Topaz Adjust Boost

then I applied the Oil Painting Toned II filter (one out of about twenty oil filters)

Street Scene – Topaz Simplify Oil Painting Toned II

to get a more contrasty scene with very vibrant colors, I used another oil filter, called Oil Painting IV

Street Scene – Topaz Simplify Oil Painting IV

For softer, less contrasty rendition with more subdued colors, the watercolor filter works well.

Street Scene – Topaz Simplify Watercolor

Another street scene using the BuzSim filter

Street Scene – Topaz Simplify BuzSim filter

and a 100% crop of the same image to see the details

Street Scene – Topaz Simplify BuzSim filter magnified to 100%

Landscape scenes lend themselves very well to artistic interpretations

Lake Superior North Shore – Topaz Simplify BuzSim filter

The following image is an artistic interpretation of an image shown in my earlier post “Drive to Lake Superior”. You can compare the two images and see how Topaz Simplify reduced the details and smoothed out the rocks.

Canoe on a rocky beach – Topaz Simplify BuzSim filter

As stated on the top, in these examples I never changed the default settings that are located in the right control panel. For each preset, you can change all kinds of parameters, including saturation, contrast, simplify modes (the abstract rendering), handling of edges, vignette and other things. Once you start playing with those parameters you’ll have almost unlimited options as how to render the image. On top of it, you can make also your own presets, and configure them exactly to suit your specific needs.

One more example of a vintage car, processed in two different ways:

Vintage car – original look

Vintage car – used Cartoon preset

Vintage car – Used Buz Sim III preset

As stated on the top, in these examples I never changed the default settings that are located in the right control panel. For each preset, you can change all kinds of parameters, including saturation, contrast, simplify modes (the abstract rendering), handling of edges, vignette and other things. Once you start playing with those parameters you’ll have almost unlimited options as how to render the image. On top of it, you can make also your own presets, and configure them exactly to suit your specific needs.

To buy Topaz Simplify, use the following link:

http://www.topazlabs.com/861.html

By using the above referral link and a discount code “lespalenik” you’ll get at anytime any of Topaz single plugins or a complete bundle at 15% off

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Few months ago, we compared three Nikon 50mm lenses and examined center and corner sharpness. To complete the exercise, this time, we’ll compare three Canon lenses – Canon 50mm/1.4, Canon 50mm/2.5 macro, and a 17-50mm Tamron zoom XR DiII SP. The Tamron zoom is better and faster than the Canon 18-55mm kit zoom that was omitted from the comparison. For my type of shooting, I find also, that the 17-50mm range is more useful than 18-55mm.

All images were obtained on a bright, sunny day, at F8, and 1/1600s, and a APS-C format Canon T2i camera was mounted on a solid tripod. The images were not manipulated nor sharpened.

The first set of images shows the overall uncropped images (reduced to 720×480 size).

1. Canon 50mm/1.4 – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

2. Canon 50mm/2.5 – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

3. Tamron 17-50mm – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

The primes show better contrast and more vibrant colours than the zoom lens (notice the red chimneys and the reflection in the water). On the other hand, Tamron lets more light through at the same aperture. If you are going to print it in small size or use it just for Web, you won’t notice any difference in image quality, regardless of the lens used.

 

Next set of images shows a crop of the middle section (you can click on the images and see it in full 100% size).

1. Canon 50mm/1.4 – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

2. Canon 50mm/2.5 – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

3. Tamron 17-50mm – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

Both Canon primes are very sharp in the middle section (remember, this is output from a RAW, unsharpened image). As expected, the zoom lens is not quite as sharp, but again, printed at small to medium size or reduced to a web size, it is quite acceptable (you’ll need to view the samples at 100% to see the difference).

 

The last set of images shows the leftmost section in 100% crop

1. Canon 50mm/1.4 – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

2. Canon 50mm/2.5 – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

3. Tamron 17-50mm – ISO 200, F8.0, 1/1600s

Both Canon primes show excellent corner sharpness and some moire on the metal netting of the deck balcony. The 50mm/2.5 macro shows slight amount of green fringing along the vertical edges (noticeable on the two white beams under the roof), but that can be easily corrected in Lightroom). The Tamron zoom, as expected, is not quite as sharp, but due to the loss of knife-edge sharpness, it indirectly gets rid of the fringing, and moire on the balcony is also less pronounced.

Conclusion:
If you need the best quality, the 50mm/2.5 macro is hard to beat (it is also the least expensive of three tested lenses). In image quality almost indistinguishable from 50mm/1.4, and you get also the macro capability. Of course, if you need a fast lens in low-light situation or better isolation of the main subject, the 1.4 aperture will be the better choice. Tamron zoom is the longest and heaviest of the three, and not quite as sharp as the 50mm primes, but in good light and exposed at its sweet spot, it delivers good image quality and a useful range of focal lengths.

One more difference:

If you look carefully at the rightmost window in the cropped version in the last set of pictures, you’ll notice a startling difference. In the first two images, photographed with Canon prime lenses, the test subject sits straight and appears interested in his surroundings, whereas in the last photo he stopped cooperating and fell asleep.

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This is the third and final installment of the 50mm lens review, comparing image quality shot at F3.5 (or smaller for zooms).

——————————–
The first set shows 100% crops of the centre section.

1. Nikkor 18-55/3.5-5.6 – ISO 320, F5.6, 1/1600s

2. Nikkor 18-70/3.5-4.5 – ISO 320, F4.5, 1/3200s

3. Nikkor 50mm/1.8 – ISO 320, F3.5, 1/6400s

4. Sigma 50mm/1.4 – ISO 320, F3.5, 1/6400s

The image quality in the centre of the image seems quite good for all four lenses even at wider apertures.
It seems that Nikon 50mm/1.8 is the sharpest (look at the lettering at lifebuoy). Sigma image is slightly lighter with more details
in the shadows despite being exposed exactly as the Nikon 50mm/1.8.

————————————————–
The second set shows 100% crops of the left edge.

1. Nikkor 18-55/3.5-5.6 – ISO 320, F5.6, 1/1600s

2. Nikkor 18-70/3.5-4.5 – ISO 320, F4.5, 1/3200s

3. Nikkor 50mm/1.8 – ISO 320, F3.5, 1/6400s

4. Sigma 50mm/1.4 – ISO 320, F3.5, 1/6400s

CONCLUSION:
The two primes demonstrate clearly their higher quality on the outside edges, and Sigma 50/1.4 is visibly sharper than Nikon 50mm/1.8. The shadow details are also much clearer for this lens.

If you use the 18-55mm kit lens or the 18-70mm Nikon lens, position your main subject in the middle, and the background is not too important or in the far distance, you won’t notice any problems. However, if you are shooting a landscape scene and want it to be sharp from edge to edge, with the above zoom lenses you will incurr significant penalty on the outside perimeter of the image. In that scenario, the prime lenses will do a much better job.

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Ownership and copyright
All submitted images must be wholly owned by the submitter.
Submissions must NOT contain any copyrighted material including paintings, other copyrighted photos, copyrighted logos, or any other artwork/sculptures/exhibits or audio which are copyrighted. If submitted material contains any of these or other types of copyrighted content, you must either submit releases from the copyright owners or you must mark the images as editorial.

Photographs of people
Any image of an identifiable person (even from behind) must be accompanied by a model release. Submissions must not contain violence, x-rated content, or any illegal content according.
Submissions depicting a minor must be accompanied by a model release that was signed by that minor’s parent or legal guardian.

Size
In contrast to the early purchases of stock images that were used primarily for printed media, nowadays many images are bought for online newsletters, websites, and blogs that do not require large image size. However, there is still need for inclusion of images in books and brochures, so it is best to submit images in larger size, i.e. 10MP or larger. Do not upsize the original images, since it results in reduction of image quality.
Typical sizes: 1920×2560 (6MP), 2800×4200 (12MP). Minimum size: 4MP

Resolution
Not important, if the size requirements are met. You can set it to 72, 240, or 300 dpi.

Colour Workspace
sRGB workspace is preferred. If you are processing your images in ProPhoto, convert them to sRGB prior to the upload.

Clean Image
This includes removal of any dust or oil spots, noise reduction, and cloning out obstructing wires, trash, or poles.

Composition / Cropping
If it is a landscape or street shot, use common guidelines, such as Rules Of Thirds, and whatever considerations you deem pleasing. If it is an isolated image of a tomato, you may as well place it in the middle of the picture.
If you start with a large image where the main subject doesn’t quite fill the frame, consider cropping the original image. This usually increases the apparent size of the main subject while removing unnecessary space. More importantly, this method makes the main subject larger in the thumbnails which are presented to the prospective buyers.
On the other hand, be careful not to crop the image too tightly and leave enough background on all sides to give more flexibility to the designers/graphics artists who will be using your image in their artwork.

Color contamination
This can result from excessive saturation, HDR treatment, or color fringing along the edges. Go easy on any HDR treatment, and examine edges and critical areas in your image for any stray color pixels or stripes. If needed, use defringing tools to remove any fringing around the edges.

Sharpening
DO NOT use any output sharpening.
If the images come out too soft from the camera, use gentle capture and localized creative sharpening to improve the apparent sharpness.
Sometimes you can improve the sharpness and salvage the image by reducing its size, i.e. from 18-24MP to 6-8MP, and then apply gentle sharpening. It’s better to have a medium-sized sharp image than a soft extra large image.
Always watch for the halos around the edges. You shouldn’t see any.

Again, in contrast to fine art prints, stock photos need to be simple and sharp. Generally, a large depth-of-field is more desirable than shallow depth-of-field, especially for landscape and nature pictures. When it comes to food or people photography, a shallow DOF can be used when appropriate, but in the beginning I would recommend to steer away from blurry techniques.

Tricks / Techniques
In contrast to fine art prints that often look best in subtle colours, stock images need to be vibrant. Apply saturation techniques in gentle and judicious ways, when you use saturation sliders or tools such as NIK Tonal Contrast, or Topaz Clarity to make the images pop out.

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