So Topaz have released a new version of their BW Effects and I have been playing with it this week. I did do a review of their version 1 release here so this is more about looking at the differences. Of course if you have version 1, you get a complimentary upgrade which is very nice!


If you’re upgrading, it’s worth following the instructions on their website as there are a few comments worth reading through before beginning. Also, I don’t have a standard install and needed to install BW Effects to a different location which meant putting my license key in again. Once installed though, it seems to work just fine – certainly as a plugin to Photoshop.

What’s New?


The email from Topaz states that there are colour filter improvements, a better grain engine, more control over the special effects with a preview pane and a redesigned user interface. The biggest improvement by far is the preview pane though. One of the problems with BW Effects was the fact that you had to actually make the change before you could see the effect. With their presets all now having a preview pane, you can get the general idea before you click. This is a great boost to time spent processing. There is also a “Last Used Settings” preset which is extremely handy if you forget to save your last used composition settings!

The User Interface is definitely improved too. It’s not just marketing speak! It feels more intuitive and less crowded. One thing I’d really love though is the option to turn previews off. As someone that likes to skim through them just for fun before getting to the serious business of B&W’ing a photograph, it can get intrusive waiting for the PC to process the preview every time my mouse goes to the left of the screen.

I’ll be brutally honest here and say I can’t really see any difference to the grain engine. Perhaps dedicated film enthusiasts would disagree but it’s a function I rarely use anyway. After shooting HP5+ and seeing the lovely analogue grain on that it feels… odd… trying to recreate it in the e-Darkroom. Topaz say that these are often requested features, so I must be in a minority. As this is a free upgrade though, I am not going to make a big deal out of it.

Lastly, I thought I’d take a look at the colour filtering options. I really love this capability as it allows true creative control over your image. Colour can be a distraction to a photograph and vibrant bright colours will tend to fall to the extreme end of the B&W spectrum (white or black) when processed electronically. Having control over this is essential. Take, for example, a man in a lurid bright pink T-shirt. Converting to B&W would make this almost white, but having control over the reds allows you to reign that T-Shirt back to middle-grey to let the viewer focus on the story of a scene/image rather than “that big blob of white”.


The only true way to compare improvements would be to do a side by side comparison of a photography with lots of colour in it.

So here’s an image I took earlier. It’s a landscape shot with some blues and greens in it. I deliberately pumped up the saturation of those colours to hopefully better illustrate how this all works.

What I’ve done is taken several screenshots of how BWEffects compares to BWEffects 2 with the same settings. I’ve also done an “approximation” in Photoshop just for curiosity sake to see how that compares too.

Initially, I reset all the settings in both plugins to utterly neutral. This was so that I’d be starting from the same page. I also wanted to make sure both programs don’t do anything “odd” with a basic raw image. To get to this state, you need to click those drop down arrows on the right hand side and uncheck everything to make sure there is no image modification going on. Below we have a full sized Before/After of the UI and the raw image. I’m happy to say that the image looks the same to me in both programs. You can also see the new UI look which isn’t massively different from the old one. That darker background to version 2 looks better to me though.

So now that we know we’re starting from the same point, we can look at how version 1 handles colour filtering against version 2. I made a note of the slider values and made the same adjustments to both images. the resulting shots below are screen captures so you can see there’s no other strangeness going on. No other changes were made, so this is perhaps a harsh test, but I just wanted to see the difference. Here you go!

It’s most certainly different! You can see how version 2 has a much more subtle effect when moving the sliders to the same points. It’s a more refined control which really helps. I’ve gone for a striking process here, pushing green and yellow towards the “white” end of the spectrum and darkening the blues to give an infra-red feel. it really is quite a dramatic difference between version 1 & 2 as you can see.


It also might be easy to say “version 1 is worse”, but for me, it’s just different. I prefer more refined control, and version 2 seems to have this.

To the right here, you can see my Photoshop comparison, using teh B&W conversion tools available there, and they have the same sledgehammer type feel as version 1 (though not quite as pronounced). That’s not to say that v1 is “just like Photoshop”. far from it. Version 1 has a myriad of other controls (detail sliders etc) that do different things. I’m only looking at the colour filters here.

For me – this function alone is worth the upgrade from v1, and I feel that anyone looking to pick up BWEffects 2 without upgrading (i.e. paying for it) is going to get a very decent affordable software package. There are still some improvements to be made (in my humble opinion). I’d like to see images updated as you drag the sliders rather than having to drop them and wait for the software to process the result. I also don’t find the local adjustment brush very useful, but then I have access to layer masks in Photoshop which are much more powerful.

Finally, if you haven’t yet picked up BWEffects and are looking to do so, TopazLabs are offering a 30% discount until 28th February with the code bwfx2.

Link to Topaz Labs

Thanks for reading!

What is High Pass Sharpening?

Every digital image you capture records the scene in front of you depending on the settings in your camera. The sensor measures the light hitting the cells and the camera processor turns this into an image. Depending on how you shoot, it might be heavily processed into a JPEG file (if you shoot in JPEG format) or it may be lightly processed into a RAW file. Either way – the important fact to remember is that it is processed in some form.

Once you review the image at your leisure, you may decide that it’s not sharp enough and want to do something about it. Some reasons for lack of sharpness are:

  • Missing the focus point: Maybe you hit the portrait subject’s ear instead of their eye and the eyes are a bit blurred.
  • Poor lens quality: Some lenses are not as good as others and things like edges of photographs can sometimes be a bit blurred, especially on wide angled lenses.
  • Lens out of alignment: Maybe your lens is faulty?
  • Not sharp enough: Maybe the processing in-camera (either RAW or JPEG) didn’t sharpen the image enough for you.
  • Movement: You moved during the shot and blurred it.
  • Aperture: Some lenses are considered to be “soft” at their widest apertures. (f1.4 for a 50mm f1.4 for example, or f2.8 on a 70-200 f2.8 lens)

Software can take care of sharpening for you. Lightroom has excellent sharpening tools for example, as does Adobe Camera RAW. However the High Pass sharpening method (in Photoshop) allows you to have a degree of control not only of how much sharpening you apply, but where it is applied too.

So you can see for yourself, here is a landscape image that was a hand-held HDR, so there is a blur to the branches of the tree (you may need to do a page refresh to see the image whilst I iron out some creases). Drag the slider (or just click on the image) to see how sharpening has improved definition in the tree branches but hasn’t affected the sky or foreground.



High Pass Sharpening In Photoshop (CS5): The Process

The process is very simple and has a lot of flexibility.

  1. Open your image in Photoshop
  2. Duplicate it with CTRL+J
  3. Click on Filter>Other>High Pass. This should make everything go grey. Don’t panic. The pop up box should be asking you for the pixel radius. Now, the radius you set and the effect it has will depend on your overall image size. You want to adjust the slider so that the edges are peeking through the grey. For my 50D which has an example 5000 x 3000 pixel image, I tend to use a radius of between 3 & 5 pixels. On lower resolution images though this will have a more pronounced effect.
  4. Change the Blending Mode from “Normal” to either Soft, Hard, Vivid or Linear light. “Soft” will give a much more delicate effect. Linear light gives a very pronounced effect. I find “Hard Light” to be the best “middle ground”.
  5. (Optional) Reduce the Opacity if you need to. This allows you that last degree of control over the whole sharpening process.

That’s it. Dead simple.

The last step is another optional one. In y example image above, I have just applied sharpening to the trees. How is this done?

Optional Step: Layer Masking

Layer Masking is quite a simple technique and really useful for other areas of Photoshop and not just sharpening. It does require a bit more work though.

If you look down at the right hand lower corner, you should see your background, with “Layer 1” above it (your sharpening layer). Photoshop builds images in layers so you have to imagine that you are looking down at your image (the background layer) through the sharpening layer. What Layer Masking does is “erase” bits of the sharpening layer to allow some parts of your image to be sharp, and others to retain their blur.

  1. On the bottom row, next to the “fx” button, you should see a rectangle with a little hole in it. Hovering over it should give you an “Add Layer Mask” pop up. Make sure your “Layer 1” grey sharpening layer is selected, then click on the rectangle. You should end up with a white box next to your grey layer.
  2. Press “D”, then “X”. This should set your foreground colour to Black and your background colour to white.
  3. Pick a soft edged brush and set the opacity to 50-80%.
  4. Start Painting on your image. Now, wherever you paint black on the mask will “block out” your sharpening. “X” will swap your foreground to white which will “reveal” your sharpening.

If you start getting black paint on your image you’ve probably selected the background by mistake.

This technique allows you to “paint out” sections of the image you don’t want sharp with a very fine degree of detail. So what about when you want to reverse the process? Let’s say you have a portrait where you want the eyes to be really sharp, but not the rest of the face, it’s a very long job to sharpen the image, then spend hours painting everything around the eyes.

In step 1, before you click the “Add Layer Mask” button, hold down the Alt key (Alt+Click). This will create a mask that’s automatically black and you can paint white straight onto the image. This will save a lot of time if you’ve only got eyes to sharpen (for example).

Hope you enjoyed this short tutorial. High Pass Sharpening is a great and simple to use technique.


Posted by: In: Plug In's, Software 03 Feb 2013 0 comments Tags:

Following on from my posts about setting up your own website and getting started with WordPress, I have had a look at some of the premium themes that can really make your blog/portfolio site stand out. The following themes are themes I have either downloaded myself, or had an extensive look at. They were all shortlisted as potential photo-blog websites and would appeal to anyone considering paying for a theme. Yes – these are premium themes. They are designed for photographers looking to showcase their images rather than deliver blog content. Don’t get me wrong – they all provide blog pages, but they’re not the main reason for the theme.

In looking at these themes, I also considered how responsive they were. By responsive, I mean how well do they scale down to smaller displays – typically the smartphone sized displays. Do you need a responsive template? the best thing to do is check Google Analytics to see what browsers are visiting your site.

Some things to watch out for when looking at a Theme:

  1. How do images respond when you resize the browser window? (a good test of responsiveness)
  2. How easy is it to modify basic colour schemes? (some will have an option field in WordPress, others will require you to edit the .css files or more!)
  3. How does the theme cope with images that are different sizes? That wonderful Panorama might not look so good when it’s been auto-resized to fit your screen. Even worse with portrait images!
  4. How do galleries cope with different sized images? Images in galleries should resize automatically – but some don’t!
  5. How quick does it load the pages? Whizzy html 5 code, or scripted galleries might look amazing, but if you spend more time looking at a “loading” icon that’s not great. Bear in mind, if you are uploading hi-res images, this will likely be worse.
  6. Look at a “Page” (i.e. “About Me”) as well as a blog post (usually “Blog” or “Latest News”) and not just the landing page.
  7. Does it do what you want? Think about your site as you navigate the menu.
  8. Social… Most themes now have social network icons built in. Do they have the ones you want? Do you know how easy it is to modify them? Can you add/remove at will?

Choosing a theme can be time consuming due to the amount of things to think about. My suggestion is to try the demo, if you like it – bookmark it. When you have your shortlist, go back to them all and read the comments to see how responsive the developer is. Double check that the latest version of the theme is compatible with your version of WordPress. Discard anything that doesn’t come up to scratch.

Anyway – here is the shortlist I came up with and tried (in some cases) before deciding on the theme you see before you today.


1. Agency Fullscreen (DEMO)



This theme is really all about displaying your work. It’s responsive, and supports the “swish” navigation of various iDevices. It’s more of a Portfolio theme than anything else and things like the “blog” (News) are not as elegant as I’d prefer. Images in the grid on the homepage are all square which might mean that landscape photos (for example) might lose their impact.

2. Crea WP (DEMO)


This theme was one of my favourites. It’s quite discreet, with the nav menu across the bottom and a whizzy looking slider on the home page. Background colours and patterns are all configurable from within the theme, which is excellent. For displaying photographs the user experience is “ok”. Navigating between images is done via a thumbnail column on the left of the screen, or by using the arrow keys – which prompted me to ask how one can do this on a non-desktop. The downsides for me really were the lack of description as to whether the theme is responsive or not, and the scroll bar inside the window of posts and pages. These things almost didn’t stop me buying it, because it seems to deal with unorthodox sized pictures quite well. The developer of this also manages the Chocolate theme which is responsive and well worth a look over if you like this style.

3. Photolux (DEMO)


This is another great theme for photographers. The main thing about this is – once again – your image dimensions don’t all have to “fit” the theme requirements (small, large, landscape or portrait). Everything falls into a neat grid. The homepage shown here can also have a filter button allowing your visitor to instantly filter for just the images (s)he is interested in. There is excellent Gallery support with many different gallery options included, and even the blog pages have plenty of space. This would make an excellent “hybrid” site for the photographer looking to showcase their images as well as write about them!

4. Slash (DEMO)


This is a pretty looking theme, and the downsides for me were the fact that it is quite prescriptive in its look. Homepage images are either portrait or landscape with no obvious provision for square cropped images (or medium format neg scans…). The jagged crop to all your images for thumbnail purposes might get a bit annoying, but if you shoot primarily landscape or portrait shots you should be OK. The gallery is very swish, but I found there to be a bit too much clicking going on to see the image I wanted. The blog page is “functional” and not for me, but you might like it… The notes state that this is also a responsive theme – good for smartphones and other smaller devices.

5. Zoom (DEMO)


This is a great theme for landscape photographers and is primarily a portfolio theme. The blog functionality isn’t great, but when it comes to displaying landscape images, this is a lovely theme. Minimalist design allows you to really showcase your shots without having intrusive menus in the way. That little “+” sign in the image pops out a small sidebar with (customisable) contact information etc. Google custom fonts are supported so don’t worry about the “sci-fi” look of the typography as it can (presumably!) be changed.

6. ANAN Photography Portfolio (DEMO)


Another one for landscape photographers, this is a portfolio site with a slightly better blog layout than Zoom above. The sidebar folds nicely out of the way to allow a better showcase for your images. There is no mention of responsiveness though in the theme notes, so I’m not sure how well this would translate onto a small device. the clean, minimalistic styling though works very well.

7. Studio Zen (DEMO)


Another inventive and swishy looking theme with navigation that really seems to sit “over” your images. Lots of custom functions in here including control over how the slides appear and the ability to toggle on/off all distractions to allow the viewer to see just the images. The blog pages work well with the background images as do other custom pages although looking at pictures displayed on a background images – things can get a bit distracting. I guess the key thing here is to have a blank background on the gallery pages…

8. King Size (DEMO)



Where would a review be without a review of King Size. I liked it so much I bought it! There’s really not a lot wrong with this theme. It looks very pretty, the navigation is extremely straightforward and discreet (it can be tucked out of the way for proper image showcasing) and the blog presentation also works well. The reason I’m not still using it is because the blog is a tad narrow for my tastes. Updates and documentation are excellent. Big thumbs up for this theme.

9. Photopassion (DEMO)



Another theme that I have downloaded and paid for, Photopassion is a really good hybrid/blogging theme for photographers. It is clean and minimalistic and it’s “newbie friendly” in terms of actually putting some of these fancy effects into posts and pages. This clean style makes it easy to read posts and the various gallery options make displaying your images very easy. I wouldn’t choose this theme though if I were just after a portfolio site. That’s why it’s important to know what you want from your website (and ultimately your theme!) before purchasing anything!

10. Black Label (DEMO)


Another great portfolio theme for photographers. Black Label is very minimalist, allowing those landscape images to really shine. The Blog aspect is also very serviceable, however the slideshow background can be distracting (it’s optional!) Black Label does require a degree of work though to get it looking just how you like and I must admit that my attempts with it never really came to fruition. It’s now available with a white skin (White Label) which adds some options, but as a blogger primarily, this isn’t an ideal choice. Black Label also comes with a variety of Gallery options allowing you a degree of choice over how to display your images.

 11. Clean Space (DEMO)

ScreenShot003You might recognise aspects of this theme as it’s the current theme here at Shuttercount. My reasons for choosing this were mainly due to the minimalist design which is really clean. It’s also very simple to configure with drag ‘n’ drop boxes to layout pages. The responsiveness on other devices is excellent, and the full page spread really gives me a lot of room to arrange my writing. I haven’t yet uncovered or exploited all the features but I’m working on it! It’s a very “blog” oriented theme, but has the capability to add some really impressive slideshows with the Layer Slider gallery feature. If you’re after a more portfolio style feel from the same author, then the John Doe theme is well worth a look.

12. Self Titled (DEMO)


Just a quick look now at a couple of themes that cater for portrait style images rather than just landscape. Self-Titled is another minimalist and responsive theme that has an impressive looking home page. Posts and Pages within the site look a little narrow, so this again is more about displaying your images than putting written content at the forefront of your site.

13. Softymedia (DEMO)



Much like Clean Space above, this theme looks really professional, elegant and clean. It’s a responsive theme and it’s well worth having a look at the Projects page and the Blog page to see how they look. This is more a theme for blogging photographers as the focus is clearly on written content, but the large landscape style sliders across the top of the pages make it possible to have some lovely images alongside your words.

14. Blitz (DEMO)


I did it! I found another theme that can display portfolio images that aren’t just landscape! I really quite like this theme despite a few shortcomings. Getting the “bad” over with first… Hmm… I can’t think of anything. Maybe the fact I can only have a light & dark template… Or maybe the niggle that there’s no real room for a header image. Even that seems mean. Navigation is really simple, which means I can find what I want very quickly. This is always a bonus! Looks like images all have to be the same height, but they can be really narrow or really wide and everything seems to slot together nicely. Have a play with the various portfolios on the bottom left nav. Social icons are fun to play with too and apparently you can add your own. I really like this and can see me giving it a field trial in the not too distant future.

15. Spaceship (DEMO)



This theme has grown on me as I’ve had a look around and I’d recommend you do the same. Galleries can be set to “fit to height” so that whatever the crop on your images, they will always fit. Blog-wise it’s a bit poor, but if all you want are pages and some way to showcase your photographs, you’re in for a bit of a treat. Well worth a poke around as there seem to be many ways of adapting the style to work in a variety of ways. The menus can be hidden (light bulb on the left hand edge) and the drop-down arrow on the top right pulls down essential information about you and/or your site. It feels clean and responsive and as with the other themes here – I can get to what I need to get to quickly.

So there we have it. 15 themes for you to have a think about. I really hope you enjoyed looking through these. Finding the right theme can be time consuming and I found so many of this type of post helpful, so decided to do one of my own!

Thanks for reading!