I bought Topaz Adjust 4 quite a while ago for a bit of extra punch to my images. After going through the bow-wave of mad editing, I have started to use this plug-in with a little more restraint and this post is about techniques and ideas to use some of the tools within the plugin for less “dramatic” effects. This post also really relates to version 4. I’ve not really looked at Topaz Adjust 5, but if you’re thinking of buying it, it’s likely to be better than 4 and these ideas and techniques can be used no matter what the version. One thing that’s common to both this and BW Effects, is that when you apply the filter effect in Photoshop, it doesn’t add it as a new layer. I find it to be good practise to duplicate your existing layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) or if you’re just working on one layer, duplicate that with CTRL+J. This allows you to non-destructively work with just the Topaz Adjust layer on its own.

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

Anyway, lets take a look at the UI in a bit more detail. If you’re used to the Topaz interface, then this will seem quite straightforward. Detailed controls over to the right, presets to the left. In the middle is your edited image, and left clicking on it will bring up your original image overlaid. As with BW Effects, the presets you choose on the left really just modify all the sliders to the right, so there is no “trick” to this. As you can see, I have added a few presets of my own as well as downloaded some, and these just appear at the bottom of the preset list. Also, it’s always worth doing an internet search for more presets!

Topaz Adjust Presets

The gallery below shows before and after comparisons with a handful of presets. I’m not sure if this has changed in version 5, but these presets are quite severe. When viewing the gallery, if it’s not obvious, the “original” file is the one with the red highlights in it. Mobile phone viewers may struggle with the gallery as it’s forced set to 1,000px wide to allow the detail to show through. I think it does a good job though of illustrating how some of these effects are quite strong. As an example though, they serve their purpose.

 

 

Each of the Presets can be adjusted with the sliders on the right, and there are no real “right” ways of doing anything. Version 5 allows one to layer adjustments on top of one another which is a really great feature. Prior to that, I would generally make duplicate layers in Photoshop and just apply a new preset to each one. Don’t be frightened about over-cooking your image with this plug-in. If you apply it as a filter to its own layer in Photoshop, you can control the opacity of it later on. Lastly, the plug-in can add a significant amount of noise to an image. As you can see from this example, it’s well worth using the de-noise function within the plug-in as a “last step” before you confirm any changes back to PS.


Keeping Things Real

Once you have your image back in Photoshop, you can really begin to manipulate the effects. If you have made sure that your Topaz Adjusted image is a layer in its own right, you can alter the opacity of it to lessen the effect. You can also mask off certain areas. This is where a deft touch, and an eye for “not overdoing it” can really help. As you can see in the example below, I have added quite a heavily processed Topaz layer on top of my original image, but by reducing the opacity and masking out certain areas, the effect has been dramatically lessened.



All in all, the Topaz Adjust plug-in is a great tool for adding a little punch to your images with a little finesse. You can find out more, and see other tutorials on the Topaz site here.

As always – thanks for reading! And if you’re interested in the slider I used to show the before and after images, it was a paid-for version from CodeCanyon here. There are free versions of this, but the support is not great and I struggled to get it working in Chrome despite various suggestions for a fix. Just search “BeforeAfter plugin” for more information.

Ian.

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!

Upgrading?

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?

topaz_bwfx

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”.

bweff_origi

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.

ps_proc

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!

(2013 Updated review for BWEffects 2 here)

So it’s been a long while since an update to this site, mainly because of work commitments, and the summer holidays.

With the kids heading off back to school next week though, I thought it time to actually sit down and absorb my emails.

And one email in particular caught my eye. Topaz Labs produce plug-ins for Photoshop (amongst others) and I recently purchased their Topaz Adjust plugin for general tweaking of my images. However to hear that they had a Black & White plugin coming up certainly caught my attention.

Now, I understand that some people feel that Photoshop’s Black & White conversion tools are more than capable, but as I used to do a good deal of black & white work, I spent a good bit of time hunting down plug-ins to do the job. Also, I spent a lot of time reading other people’s reviews of these plug-ins.

To most, Silver Efex Pro is the king of B&W plug-ins – however it has a rather prohibitive price tag for the enthusiastic amateur. Currently, it’s showing as about £140 which is a lot of cash for something that could be argued is do-able in Photoshop (or even Lightroom). At the other end of the scale is BW Styler for $50 (about £30) which is pretty good, but lacks the finesse of the Nik version UI (User Interface). There really isn’t much in-between, and for most, it’s a case of messing about with the various options Lightroom and Photoshop have to offer.

BW Effects is an excellent mid priced tool, and may even have the edge over Nik’s offering. Let’s take a look at what it has to offer…

Overview of the Topaz interface.

A view of the main plug-in window

When launching this from Photoshop, it is best to duplicate your image (CTRL+J) into a new layer first. Then click on “Filter”, “Topaz Labs”, “Topaz BW Effects”. This launches the above window. Creating a duplicate layer allows you to make changes without altering your source image, and is always good practice before making any changes.

This interface window maintains continuity with other Topaz products (in particular Topaz adjust) which makes everything a little easier to understand. 1, 2 & 3 are all areas dealing with presets. 2 being a “top level” menu with 3 showing the expanded versions underneath. If you hover over a preset, you can see the effect in the preview window (1). And there are a LOT of presets! What I tend to find though, is that presets are great to give you a launching point, and by selecting a preset, you will change all the sliders buried in the menus (6).

4 is the main window where you get to see your edits and changes as you make them. Left clicking on this image (with no tools selected) will reveal the original image underneath, but if you prefer a split screen view you can click the option in the top right corner of the window. 5 will show you your original image.

6 is where all the business happens. Clicking on a menu header will open up a series of sub menus underneath. Each of these “options” can be toggled on or off with the check box –  a handy feature for turning off an effect quickly.

An expanded view of the main menu windows

So here you can see the screen with the menus exploded. And there are a lot of controls!

Every time you click on a preset, these controls will change, allowing you to “fine tune” the preset to your own preference. You can then go on to save your tweaked settings as your own preset. No doubt over time, the Topaz community will create new ones…

I’m not going to go through each tool here, as it’s probably best to play around with them as you go.

BW Effects – The Verdict?

It’s $60. However until September 18th, there is a significant reduction on this to $30 with the code “bwandbeyond” entered during the checkout stage. This is an awful lot cheaper than Silver Efex Pro – especially if you buy it before 18th September.

But even after that date, $60 for a plugin of this quality is really very good value for money. My pros and cons below all benchmark this plugin against Silver Efex Pro, which is over five times the discounted price!

The Cons…

I’ll do these first, as they are really nit-picky.

– My biggest bugbear with this program is that as you move the sliders, you have to “let go” of the left mouse button before you can see the effect on the screen. Silver Efex Pro makes the changes as you move the slider, so you can get realtime feedback with your mouse moves. BW Effects has to calculate the effect of the change before presenting it on screen, making it relatively slow in terms of seeing your effect.

– The “extras” aren’t brilliant. The borders are fairly plain (black or white, just a simple extended canvas, no fancy border effects), the “Creative Effects” are of limited use and can be easily replicated within Photoshop. Also,I have been really struggling to get the “Quad Tone” feature to work intuitively, although that could just be comprehension fail on my part.

The Pros…

– Controlled masking. The “Local Adjustments” allow you to really selectively edit/retouch areas of your image with Dodge, Burn, Detail and Smoothness sliders. Whilst this is all available in Photoshop, it’s very handy to have in the plug-in itself. Even Silver Efex Pro doesn’t offer this level of control (although it does have selective retouching – it’s just a circle though).

– I love the duo tone functionality. It can be really really subtle and is one of the few B&W plug-ins that makes subtle duo-toning easy.

In closing, I only really asked myself one question. Is Silver Efex Pro five times better than BW Effects? No. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s right up there with it in terms of functionality and useability. The slider issue (which is really just me being grumpy) is the only thing that lets it down.

So. Head off over to Topaz Labs and download the trial. Don’t forget though – if you decide to purchase, and it’s before September 18th, use the code “bwandbeyond” for a $30 discount.

Thanks for reading! Here are a couple of finished images…

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin