Sunday, June 1, 2014

Topaz Clarity

 Still playing with the three Topaz programs. Trying to find out what works.

Probably a ‘reviewer’ should have more experience with the software before offering opinions, but when did I ever let that stop me? Two first impressions: Topaz is a hodge-podge. Of the three that I purchased there is minimal consistency between the ways they work. It off hand appears that they either purchased a bunch of separate programs and rebranded them or the various development teams do not work very closely together. True they all have a somewhat similar appearance but each is different in how the original is toggled with the recently adjusted and they are all different in how you increase of decrease the zoom. That I find strange. These just seem to be things that should be consistent across a brand. However, Microsoft can get by with it for years so I guess we should be accustomed to it.

Secondly it seems that the ‘presets’ were collected from a variety of different users and clumped together. There is little correlation or degree of graduation as you go down the list. Some have different degrees of the same correction—or at lease the names they have given them suggest a relationship—but it is difficult to see that degree when toggling between them. As far as my opinion on their presets—mediocre. They may give me various ways to look at an image that I might not come up with on my own but frankly I am not finding them very useful. They seemed to be based a great deal on color saturation and tone mapping. 

Yes, I occasionally do find a preset that will work with an image—but that preset is not likely to work in the same way with another very similar image. Example: in one of the programs is a preset called Comic Strip. I have tried it on a large number of images and it is simply way overdone tone mapping that is useless. However, I tried it on a shot Alcy did of me in a costume store. I was wearing a red and gold crown and holding a plastic scepter—a very comedic shot to begin with. Surprisingly it came out with a very interesting look—no overblown tone mapping. I have no idea why it worked on that one image and has not worked on any of the dozens of other images. It just seems very hit or miss.

However, there is always a however, within Clarity there are the tools used to create the presets. Those tools have value. For instance in Clarity you can control contrast with a good degree of precision based on surprisingly—contrast. There are four contrast selections: micro, low, medium and high. You can increase or decrease contrasts between areas that are currently low contrast or areas that are currently high contrast without basically affecting contrast in the other three areas. A very interesting tool that can be very useful.

Also in Clarify there is what is called the HSL (hue, saturation, luminosity) filter. Each of these three areas can be adjusted by color—an extremely handy tool. There are a total of eight color selections; red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple and magenta plus over-all. In addition to that there is a masking layer allowing you to be able to adjust only selected areas of color.

These two tools may not be something that I will use frequently but there are photographs where they may save the day.

I came across this photograph that I took of Janet in 2007. At the time I was doing a lot of mixed light photographs. I loved combining tungsten with daylight. The tungsten giving a warm tone to skin and the daylight playing beautifully in her gray hair. It probably looked good to me at the time, but now the skin tones are redder than I would like and it would be interesting to see the image without the bright blue in the hair.

In the second image I have reduced the red on the skin by using a global red desaturation. I could do that because there was not much in the photograph that was red other than the skin tones. I originally used a global adjustment to reduce the blue in the hair, but that turned the blouse gray. After masking the areas of blue in the hair to 'reveal' I was able to reduce both the cyan and the blue in the hair to the point where it was gray.

For the third image, after finishing these adjustments in Topaz Clarity I opened the image in Nik Color Efex and darkened the lower left corner.

Using the HSL filter along with the masking I was able to remove the blue from her hair, tone down the overly red skin tones. Is it a better photograph? I don’t know. It is a different photograph.

Then I got this bright idea and opened Clarity again. This time I used the contrast tool to see if I could increase the contrast in the very low contrast area between the back of the hair and the background. Worked like a charm but then the hair, being in shadow, was yellow. Simple solution; I masked to reveal and desaturated yellow and orange--viola, gray hair all around. 

In the end, did I achieve anything that I could not have achieved in my present software? Probably not. Was it easier than in my present software? That rates a possibly. Did I spend money just to play for a couple of weeks? Good probability. Am I unhappy? No. I might even find the programs indispensable as time goes by. Or they may end up like dozens of other software programs languishing on the bookcase behind me. Anyway, now I have a shot with blue hair and one with gray hair. Both work for me but then again most photographs of Janet work for me.

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