High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography is super popular right now, and one if its more popular features is tone mapping which allows people to come up with creative highly processed effects that have become loved by some and hated by others. In fact, this concept has become so popular that HDR programs like Photomatix are even starting to allow people to tone map a single image (versus the previously required multiple images) so that they can achieve these effects. Other products like Lucis Pro 6.0 also offer the ability to create these effects for a whopping $595!!!
This article isn’t about passing judgment on this new style of post processing, but rather showing another option called Adjust by Topaz Labs.
If you read my review of Topaz Lab’s noise reduction program, Denoise 3, then you’ll notice that this user interface is basically the same. It consists of a series of presets (for which you can create or download more), some tabs to make adjustments, and then a bizarre little menu button. It’s also not very good at resizing images in its preview window, so if you choose the “Fit” option then the results will generally look very bad (and much worse than they will in Photoshop). In fact, I highly recommend maximizing the window and using 100% when you can to see the real impact of the chosen effect.
Overall, its user-interface is functional, but it definitely isn’t as nice as what you’d typically find in Nik Software’s Color Efex or onOne Software’s PhotoTools. However, some might argue that the presets make it easier than Photomatix and equivalent to the much more expensive Lucis Pro.
There’s over 20 presets which can be used as starting points to get your desired effect. For example, here’s an enhancement I created using the Psychedelic filter. I created it on a new layer and then dropped the opacity down to 80% to remove some of the heavy noise it created, so if you hover over the image you can see the before and after images:
Here's a really boring shot of Vancouver that I took out of my hotel room when I was waiting for my wife to get ready. It was a super crappy shot as you can see by the original when you hover over the image below, but after applying the Psychedelic filter some might argue that it sucks less:
Here's my kids frog Chub featured in my Viveza for Lightroom article where I got almost identical results with just one click to apply the Psychedelic filter and a minor adjustment to the strength slider in the Details tab. The results are pretty darn close to what I got using Viveza and actually look pretty good to me, especially considering how bad the original shot (mouse over below) was:
After seeing what I could do with these crappy photos, I decided to take a reasonably decent landscape shot that was in need of some improvement and apply a series of different effects just to see how it would impact the shot. The table below starts off with the original and then shows what it looks like with various effects applied. Hover each image to see the tool tip with the name of the effect and click to see a larger version (highly recommended):
As you can see from this batch of effects, with a little masking and tweaking of the settings, you can create some really cool enhancements to your photos (i.e., check out the river water at the bottom of the falls in Psychedelic). While you might not like the entire effect all over your photo, the idea here is to experiment and potentially keep the parts that you like (i.e., clouds, trees, water, etc… effects might be more desirable than the cliff).
For fun, I decided to see what it would do to a portrait, and was surprised to see that it creates an interesting effect that is somewhat similar to shots I’ve seen done by George Fulton and Jill Greenburg (albeit with lots of noise in this particular unmodified example):
At the end of the day I had a lot of fun playing around with this filter and trying out various photos to see what it would do. A lot of the effects weren’t to my taste, but frequently there was one part of the photo where I thought – oh, that part is cool. I could see myself using part of what it does, or a toned town version of some of its effects. Given the fact it is only $49.99 (or 8.4% of Lucis Pro, yet it does almost the same thing) it is definitely very tempting as an impulse buy.