Rad A. Drew Photography: July 2020

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Two Great Editing Tools: Topaz and Luminar 4!

Processed in Topaz Studio 2

Topaz Labs tools have been a part of my workflow for about six years. During that time the tools have improved, new tools have been introduced, and older tools have been replaced or retired. I use this software, much of which employs artificial intelligence and machine learning, almost daily to process my Fuji and Lumix images, both color and infrared images, RAW and jpeg files. In the past year, I’ve begun using it to process select iPhone images, especially using Gigapixel AI to enlarge these smaller files for printing larger with integrity.

More recently, I became acquainted with Skylum’s, Luminar 4, and have fallen in love with its powerful editing tools (many of which use artificial intelligence) and its intuitive interface, and, most importantly, its compatibility with Topaz Labs tools, many of which can be invoked as plugins in Luminar 4.

Processed in Topaz Studio 2 with Impression

Full disclosure: In addition to being a fan and almost daily user of these tools, I’m also an affiliate representative for Topaz Labs and Luminar 4. That means that in exchange for sharing my experience with these tools, I can offer you a discount code for 15% off Topaz tools and $10 off purchases of Luminar 4. When you make a purchase using my links and codes, you get a discount and I earn a small commission. Know that I represent only products I love and use frequently and these two fall firmly in that category!

Processed in Topaz Studio 2

In this article, I will share both my Topaz Labs workflow and my workflow for Luminar 4 from which various Topaz Labs tools can be invoked as plugins. I share these workflows with the hope that they will help you see how one person uses these tools. There are many workflows out there and these are mine. I’m not claiming they're the “best,” just that they're the processes I’ve adopted. I’m pleased with the workflows and with the final results.

Although I have Lightroom and Photoshop on my desktop, I don’t use them as a routine part of my processing workflow. Instead, I use Topaz Studio 2 to process my RAW files and from there, do most of my other editing and stylizing.

Processed in Topaz Studio 2 with Impression

After recent updates, DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, Adjust AI, and Mask AI can be invoked as plugins in Topaz Studio 2, which allows workflow consolidation within that one editor.

Last fall, I discovered the editing power of Luminar 4 by Skylum. Luminar 4, which also employs AI and machine learning, is a great companion to Topaz tools, many of which can also be invoked as plugins from within Luminar 4. In this way, I can use the best features of Luminar 4 along with the unparalleled Topaz AI tools, like DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, and Studio 2, all from within Luminar 4.

I’ll describe my Topaz Studio 2 workflow first, and then share my workflow when starting in Luminar 4.

Processed using Luminar 4 with Topaz Plugins

My Primary Workflow when Using Topaz Studio 2

These are the Topaz Labs tools that I have and use most frequently today:

  • Topaz Studio 2, Topaz Lab's photo editor
  • DeNoise AI
  • Sharpen AI
  • Mask AI
  • Gigapixel AI
  • JPEG to RAW AI
This is my basic Studio 2 workflow that I apply to most images, whether I am planning to stylize them with effects or not.
  1. I open my file in Studio 2. This can be a RAW or JPG file, but the RAW file contains more data that can lead to better final results.

  2. As a first step I invoke DeNoise AI from Studio 2 to remove noise from the image. This is an important first step that eliminates or reduces noise before doing other processing. It ensures that we’re not processing noise as we go through our workflow.

    Note: If I’m processing a RAW black and white infrared image, my first step is to convert the image to B&W using the Black and White adjustment.

  3. Next, after DeNoise (and this is controversial), I run Sharpen AI. Conventional wisdom suggests sharpening at the end of our workflow. I’ve done it both ways and I believe I see a negligible, or slightly better result, when I run Sharpen AI as the second step in this workflow.

    Note: In earlier versions of DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI, I set the sharpen and de-noise values manually. In the current versions of this software, however, the feature which automatically sets these values is spot on most of the time. If you choose these values manually, be careful not to smooth your image with too high a setting in DeNoise, or over-sharpen your image in Sharpen AI. My point? Give AUTO a try. I start there. I can alway override the software’s decision if I want. I think you’ll agree the software is very intelligent at choosing these settings for us. 
  1. After running the image through DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI, my next step is to make exposure adjustments. Some refer to this as “setting the black and white point.” For this I use the Basic Adjustment tool.

    Note: Normally, I would open the histogram in Studio 2 and use it to guide me in setting these values. At this time, the histogram in Studio 2 is not functioning. It’s slated to be restored later this year in the next Studio 2 update. Therefore, I make these adjustments visually by looking closely at the image. If you’re uncomfortable setting these values without the aid of the histogram, you may choose to do your RAW processing in another tool before opening your image in Studio 2.
Processed in Topaz Studio 2 using Impression
  1. After setting the black and white point using the Basic Adjustment, I next apply Dehaze to see if it has a positive effect on the image. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. I find that it can be helpful with some landscapes. I test it and then decide to keep it or not.

  2. Next, I run the Precision Detail adjustment. If you are a long-time user of Topaz tools, you might remember the Clarity tool. Well, Precision Detail is the Clarity tool on steroids! It allows you to be very selective about the parts of the image you adjust, allowing adjustments globally, and to shadows or highlights alone. If you're new to this tool, I highly recommend the presets that can be found at the bottom of the Precision Detail panel. There are a variety of presents and one of them will usually get you to where you want to be or very close. After selecting a preset, you can always return to the sliders to tweak the adjustment to your liking.

  3. My next step is to apply Precision Contrast. It, too, allows for precision with contrast adjustments to Micro, Low, Medium, and High contrast areas in the image. Sometimes I may opt not to apply contrast, depending on the image. Check and see how the result appears in your image.

    Note: Both Precision Detail and Precision Contrast have Lighting adjustment sliders in their panel. Sometimes making these adjustments can throw off the exposure settings you were so careful to set in Step 4, above. After making adjustments with Precision Detail and Precision contrast, check your exposure values and make appropriate adjustments, if needed.

  4. Next, on color images, I’ll apply the HSL Color Tuning adjustment. This tool allows for selective adjustment of the hue, saturation and lightness of individual colors in the image. You can also make global color adjustments.

  5. Optional: As a final step, I may create a vignette to direct my viewer's eye to the subject of the image. Not all images will benefit from a vignette, but for those that do, this is often a nice finishing touch.

  6. Optional: Another optional adjustment that I sometimes make is to apply about two to four increments of Radience (a little goes as long way!). This can only work in small doses, but it can give your image an Orton-effect-like glow that I find attractive, especially with B&W infrared images.

One of the things I like to do is to add my signature watermark to my images. In the original Topaz Studio, now referred to as Studio Classic, there was an adjustment called Image Layer that allowed for the creation of composites by adding one image on top of another. The Image Layer adjustment was useful in adding the transparency file of my signature to my finished image. When Topaz Studio 2 came out, the Image Layer adjustment was not included. (Its expected later this year in an upcoming Studio 2 update.) In order to continue using this feature, I have kept the original Topaz Studio on my desktop. After completing my image in Studio 2, I will save it and open it in the original Studio and use its Image Layer tool to add my signature. It’s a bit kludgy, but it gets the job done until the Image Layer adjustment is added in Studio 2.

Processed in Topaz Studio 2 using Mask AI

This concludes my basic Topaz Studio 2 workflow. At this point, I might continue to stylize the image with the Impression adjustment or a Texture adjustment, or I might choose to add a Look, one of the many presets that come with Studio 2.

Note: If I choose to continue to stylize my image with textures or painterly effects, I will often wait until after I’ve applied stylizing adjustments before adding a vignette or applying Radience.

Summary of Topaz Studio 2 Processing Steps:

  1. Open file in Studio 2 (RAW or JPG).
  2. If Infrared, convert to Black and White
  3. Run DeNoise AI by launching the plugin from within Studio 2
  4. Run Sharpen AI by launching the plugin from within Studio 2
  5. Apply Dehaze and decide to keep it or not.
  6. Run Precision Detail
  7. Run Precision Contrast 
  8. Fine tune color with the HSL Color Tuning adjustment
  9. Optional: Vignette
  10. Optional: Radience
  11. Continue with other stylistic processing if desired.

For a 15% discount on all Topaz tools, even those already on sale, use the following link and code:

LINK: https://topazlabs.com/ref/8/
Code: RAD15 (apply at checkout)

iPhone Image processed in Luminar 4

My Primary Workflow When Starting in Luminar 4 and Invoking Topaz Tools

  1. Open image in Luminar 4 (RAW or JPG)

  2. Start in the Essentials panel.

  3. If a B&W infrared image, convert to Black and White with the B&W Conversion tool.

  4. Invoke and run Topaz DeNoise AI plugin from Luminar's Edit menu.

  5. Invoke and Run Topaz Sharpen AI plugin from Luminar's Edit menu.

  6. Use the Luminar’s Light adjustment in Luminar 4 for setting the black and white point. This is a particularly robust tool with not only a histogram, but also a Curves tool for setting black and white as well as RGB values.

  7. Use AI Enhance and apply the AI Accent slider while observing the effect. 

  8. Apply AI Structure, excellent for bringing out detail in a subject. If your subject is a portrait, you might use the mask tool to selectively apply the Structure adjustment to the subject’s clothing but not skin.

  9. Use the Color tool to adjust hue, saturation, and luminance globally or in individual colors in the image. If a particular color appears in multiple locations in an image, but you only want to adjust the color in one area, use the masking tool to selectively apply the color adjustment.

  10. Use Details Enhancer sparingly if at all. Remember, the image has already had DeNoise and Sharpen AI applied earlier in this workflow. You don't want to overprocess the image.

  11. The same with DeNoise; Since the image has already had noise reduced using DeNoise AI, use Luminar’s Denoise tool sparingly if at all.

    Note: Why not use Luminar’s Detail Enhancer and Denoise tools? You can, and they are good, but, in my opinion the Topaz AI tools yield a superior result, so I chose them over these tools in Luminar.

    Processed in Luminar 4 with Topaz Plugins

  12. Consider Landscape Enhancer. This is one of the tools in Luminar that I find to be really exciting. Not only can you apply Dehaze, but you can also ad a golden glow with he Golden Hour enhancer. If your image contains a lot of foliage, the Foliage Enhancer can help bring out its beauty, as well as adjust its hue.

  13. Add a vignette if desired

  14. Move to the Creative Panel if you wish to continue to stylize your image. This is another feature in Luminar 4 that really shines! This is where you can replace a sky or augment the sky, add sunrays, or add a dramatic, matte, or mystical look. This also is where you can add a texture overlay, a glow, film grain or fog to your image.

  15. If you are working with a portrait  consider moving to the Portrait panel, which consists of AI Shin Enhancer, AI Portrait Enhancer, High Key, and Orton Effect. 

  16. Skin enhancer is a robust tool that adjusts for optimal skin texture and softness and even has a Shine Removal slider! And, you can opt to turn on the AI Skin Defects Removal to address blemishes. And remember, just as in all Luminar adjustments, you have the ability to mask to selectively apply this adjustment to your image.

    Processed in Luminar 4

  17. The Portrait Enhancer allows for a host of features that will improve a portrait including Face Light, Red Eye Removal, Eye Whitening, Eye Enhancer, Dark Circles Removal, Slim Face 2.0, Enlarge Eyes, Improve Eyebrows, Lips Saturation, Lips Redness, Lips Darkening, and Teeth Whiting. I encourage you to use these features judiciously and avoid transforming your subject unrealistically. In small amounts, these features can add pop to your portraits!

  18. The High Key tool produces a wonderful high key effect and provides a lot of control in fine-tuning the final result. 

  19. And, finally, the Orton Effect features two different types of Orton Effect and provides sliders for controlling the degree of softness, contrast and Saturation.

A final note to keep in mind… Anywhere along the way in the Luminar process, you have the option to invoke other Topaz tools such Studio 2 or Adjust AI. Go to Luminar’s Edit menu and select the desired plugin. 

Processed in Luminar 4

For example, if you want to add one of the great Topaz Looks, invoke the Topaz Studio 2 plugin, apply the desired Look in Studio 2, then click Accept in the top menu bar in Studio 2. You will be “round tripped” back into Luminar 4 where you can continue the Luminar editing process. If you still own any of the very early Topaz stand-alone tools which are no longer sold or supported, such as Topaz Star effects, Topaz B&W Effects 2, and others, these do work as plugins to Luminar 4.3. 

For $10 off Luminar 4 and Skylum products, even those already on sale, use the following link and code.

Link: https://macphun.evyy.net/c/316692/645022/3255

Rad Drew

Thank you for reading! Click Here to Send Email. If I can be any help as you explore these tools, don’t hesitate to contact me.

In the meantime, be safe, stay well, and by all means, keep on creating!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Photographer Bob McCaffrey Guest Blog Post

The Capitol in Havana
© Bob McCaffrey
Editors note:
Photographers Bob and Cindy McCaffrey have been friends for a few years now. This past February, before Covid-19 grounded everyone, they joined Cuban photographer, Ramses Batista, and me, on a trip to Cuba that include time in Havana and several days in the Vinales Valley farm region. Bob's article and images below first appeared in the The Reflector, the newsletter of the Delaware Photographic Society, one of the nation's oldest, most respected camera clubs. It is reprinted here with permission. 

Enjoy Bob's article! – Rad

Riviera Hotel, Havana
© Bob McCaffrey

Impressions of Cuba

Words and Images by Bob McCaffery

Cuba is a land of contrasts. Rich vs. poor, prosperity vs. poverty, new vs. old, modern vs. antiquated. Cuba exists in three centuries, 19th, 20th, and a little of the 21st.

Havana at Night
© Bob McCaffrey

In early February, we had the opportunity to spend a week in Cuba with photographer, Rad Drew (who recently did a workshop and program for DPS), along with superb Cuban photographer, Ramses Batista. Our itinerary allowed us some time in Havana, and a few days in the rural farming region of the Vinales Valley. 

1948 Dodge and Proud Owner
© Bob McCaffrey

Upon arrival, from our hotel in old Havana, we were able to walk to the Cuban Capitol building. This splendid building was in close proximity to a new Grand Hotel, and a crumbling old apartment building. The contrast was glaring. The old American cars from the 1950’s and early 1960’s were very much in evidence, along with a lot of modern vehicles, most notably from Hyundai and Kia. Most of the old vehicles have now been purchased by companies who now operate them as taxis. For the most part they are well maintained and brightly painted. Few have their original engines. However, it does speak well of the skill of Cuban mechanics.

Guarding the Harbor Entrance, Havana
© Bob McCaffrey
Our four story hotel, while small, was clean and well maintained with modern amenities. In the center was a small courtyard, open to the sky. This did cause complications on one afternoon when a strong storm moved through. There was much mopping and cleaning required. By contrast the building next to the hotel (attached) appeared unmaintained, and in a state of decay.

Laundry Day
© Bob McCaffrey
In general, Cubans in Havana and elsewhere, were very friendly and open to us Americans. The drivers of the vintage cars were anxious to show off their beautiful machines – and to offer rides and provide photo ops sitting in the car (for a small fee of course).

Ballerinas in Old Theatre
© Bob McCaffrey

Early morning walks afforded the opportunity to photograph neighborhoods just starting the day, and the waves hitting the Malecón (waterfront). 

Ballet Shoes
© Bob McCaffrey
It was also arranged for us to photograph Cuban ballerinas in an old mansion (in need of some maintenance) and in an old abandoned theatre (practically falling down) after rain cancelled the outdoor shoot.

Balerina and Tiles© Bob McCaffrey

Leaving Havana, driving West toward Viñales, one passes an area of magnificent homes, some of which are well maintained and landscaped, while others have fallen into disrepair. More contrasts.

Harvesting Tobacco
© Bob McCaffrey
Continuing on to Viñales, we stopped to photograph a tobacco farmer in his field, and another farmer plowing a field with a hand plow pulled by a team of two oxen. Ramses was very adept at securing permission from our subjects to pose for photographs.

Traditional Plowing
© Bob McCaffrey
Our accommodations just outside of Viñales were reasonably comfortable, however the rooster outside the window that began crowing around 4:30 AM was a bit annoying.

The Morning Procession in Vinales
© Bob McCaffrey
The main street of the town is several blocks long, and is lined with multiple restaurants, all of which seem to do a good business. The food was tasty, and service was friendly. It helps if you like plantain in various forms.

Carrying Sticks
© Bob McCaffrey

An early morning sunrise walk along the road into town was quite interesting as it was filled with people going to work and school. Virtually every means of transportation was used. There were people walking, bicycling, in old crowded small buses, on motorcycles, riding in a trailer behind a tractor, riding in vintage cars, crammed into the bed of a truck, riding in a horse cart and anything else that moved. People were friendly and waved as we photographed them on their way.

Proud Tobacco Farmer
© Bob McCaffrey
We spent our days in the area touring farms, stopping to photograph farmers working in their fields and other interesting people along the way. 

1939 Cadillac at the Beach
© Bob McCaffrey

We ventured to the beach area of Cayo Jutías where we photographed an old lighthouse tower, had a delicious seafood lunch at an open-air restaurant, and photographed some of the vintage cars under the beachside palm trees. The road out to the Cayo consisted of far more potholes than road surface, yet many endured it to enjoy the beautiful beach and ocean.

Sorting the Tobacco
© Bob McCaffrey
Another day saw us on horseback to visit a tobacco farm up in the hills, observe the sorting of leaves and learning how to hand roll a Cuban cigar. We also visited a family living off the land in the hills - a father and his sons. The matriarch had recently passed and the father was in obvious emotional distress.

© Bob McCaffrey
Returning to Havana we stayed in an apartment west of Old Havana, enjoyed one of the finer restaurants and visited historic hotels, and finally a ride in 1950’s cars to a seaside restaurant for a farewell dinner.

Sweeping the Prado at Dawn
© Bob McCaffrey
Cuba is a fascinating destination, but one that brings sadness to see the conditions that a large portion of the population endures. But it is uplifting to see how people manage with what they have and still smile and laugh. The opportunities for the photographer are virtually unlimited, but it certainly pays to have a knowledgable guide.

Bob McCaffrey

Bob started taking pictures when his grandmother gave him a “Dick Tracey” Camera for his 6th birthday. He later moved up to a baby Brownie and began developing and printing in black and white when he was about 8. Having a father with a darkroom helped.

As he grew older, he used his father’s Kodak 35 (with a pop bottle lens) then borrowed a Kodak Signet 35 (with an excellent lens) from his uncle when he was in high school. His uncle never got it back. In Bob’s senior year he was student photographer for the yearbook.

He continued photography as a hobby through college and received a Ricoh 35mm SLR as a graduation present. He later moved on to Nikon equipment.

Bob continued to enjoy photography throughout his professional career in the railroad supply industry and while raising a family with his wife, Cindy, also a photographer. He shot color slides and continued to enjoy black and white film photography. In 2006 he made the switch to digital and hasn’t looked back. Bob joined the Delaware Photographic Society in 2009 and has served in various capacities including president.

Bob travels extensively and has done numerous workshops with Rad and others.