Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Topaz Software & InFocus save a throw away photo

Your mother warned you this would happen… :-)

It happens to everyone – even Top Photographers – at some point. Your camera’s auto focus hits the wrong spot and the result is something like the shot above - a nice sharp elbow with much of the rest horribly out of focus. When it happens with a good shot it is even more annoying, so what do you do? Well, if you are lucky and have taken multiple frames then maybe you have a decent shot that you can edit and you can toss the blurry shot.  However, what do you do if your blurry shot is a good shot that you wanted wish you could save (i.e., baby’s first smile, the photo you took of your spouse at an overseas landmark you’ll never visit again, etc…)? Well that’s where Topaz Software’s InFocus comes in! The purpose of InFocus is to try to save that shot you’d otherwise trash.

Now this blog is no stranger to the concept of saving bad photos as my review of Focus Magic (not recommended), and Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro have both taken on this problem with Sharpener Pro being the incumbent winner for this problem – until now. 

Saving a photo with Topaz Labs InFocus

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Photo Save After InFocus and Friends
Mouse over to see the before shot

Now when I first used InFocus to try to save the photo above it didn’t seem to work for me. I went through the getting started guide and just didn’t get it, so I sent Topaz Labs a copy of my shot and asked them to prove to me that this wasn’t yet another piece of junk software making a claim that it couldn’t live up to. Here was Nichole Paschal of Topaz Labs response:

Thanks so much for your interest in writing about InFocus, and I hope I can provide you with some information that will be helpful.  Also be sure to check out our new workflow tips and tricks:


I played around with your Santa girl for a minute, and I've attached what I was able to achieve in about 5 minutes.  I would take more time, however I want to show that it can be a quick process if needed and I'm a little rushed for time myself :). 
First, for any image that has noise or jpeg artifacts, the best results will be seen if it is run through DeNoise or DeJPEG first (I chose not to here for time constraints...but usually I would have). When I downloaded and opened your example, I noticed immediately that the girl's elbow had become the focal point in the image and her face and hair had become fuzzy.  Because of my experience with InFocus so far, I've learned that if only part of your image is out of focus (her face), the clear/in focus areas of your image will generate high amounts of artifacts (the settings of InFocus are applied to the entire image, not just the out-of-focus areas).  Therefore, I knew I needed to selectively use InFocus on her face and parts of her hair.

Once I had selected the area I mainly wanted to bring into focus, I took it into InFocus.  First, I used the Generic Blur type, however was unable to find a setting that really worked.  I also tried the Out of Focus blur type, as I usually try these two before moving on to the Unknown/Estimate Blur type.  However I did end up in Unknown/Estimate Blur type.  The important thing to realize about this blur type is that you will probably need to try several different settings and areas/zooms of your image before optimal results are seen.  With your example, I started out at a 100% zoom, trying almost all of the Blur Radius options before zooming in to 200%....this pattern continued until I reached 400% zoom, with the settings I've attached in the screen shot....this is where I felt the best results for this image was.  As a guideline, it is best to find an area of your image that has strong lines and is the area you are trying to bring into focus (with a large image, it may take some time to find the area/zoom that will produce the best results).

I pressed OK and brought the selection back into Photoshop.  While I am not ecstatic about how her eyes turned out (they seem a bit animated at 100%), I believe it is an improvement...note that her hair surrounding her face has been enhanced as well....view it at 66 or 50% for best results.  I did no other adjustments or sharpening, which I would usually do....probably an overall general sharpener, avoiding her face of course.

From this email I both learned a bit and discovered that it wasn’t impossible to save the shot, so I gave it a try myself on the same photo to see if it would really work – or if it was just smoke and mirrors.The shot you see at the beginning of this section is the result – along with some additional enhancements I’ll discuss below. While I wouldn’t send the result in to Maxim for the cover of their Christmas issue, I’m satisfied that it is a save that is usable for personal use. Because it is a human and we are drawn to eyes on humans, this makes it the toughest subject we can throw at InFocus, so I think it did okay for the subject matter. If this were building or some shot where you can’t see eyeballs like you see on the Topaz web site, I think the results would have been much better than this.

Deconstructing the Save

Here’s how I go the results you see in the after shot above:

  1. The original photo had skin defects that I didn’t want to show in this article so I cheated and just ran Imagenomic’s Portraiture on the background layer to quickly fix up the skin.
  2. I didn’t want to have to deal with noise from this ISO 800 shot so I ran Topaz DeNoise 5 (a big improvement over DeNoise 3 reviewed ages ago on this blog).
  3. Next up I ran InFocus just on the face as Nichole had suggested as you can see in the shot below:

    with the following settings:

  4. As you can see from the shot above, it wasn’t exactly a perfect save even in InFocus, but when I would toggle between the original and the preview and I looked at the thumbnail I felt I had done as much as I could do so the rest would be up to sharpening later in the workflow.
  5. To sharpen the photo I decided to use Topaz Lab’s Detail with its Bold Detail preset as a quick way to get some detail in the face. If I wanted to spend time with this photo I might have used InFocus again or done some manual tuning in Detail. Here’s my settings:

    Topaz Detail
  6. I still wasn’t crazy about the color so I ran Topaz Adjust 4 and used the Mild Color Pop preset as shown here:

    Topaz Adjust
  7. Now normally I’d use Viveza 2 as I did in my ColorChecker article, but this photo was just for this article – not for my portfolio so I saved and was going to just call it a night. However the background was really bothering me, so I decided that instead of using the Quick Mask tool and the selection techniques I learned in The Photoshop Channels Book, that I’d try to see how easy the new Topaz Labs ReMask 3 really was at extracting the girl from the background (see my ReMask article here).
  8. With my nice mask I just needed a decent background so I decided to turn to my favorite background app – onOne Software’s PhotoFrame. Here’s a screen shot from its UI of the the background I chose:

    onOne Software PhotoFrame 4.6
  9. I moved this layer underneath my mask, set its fill to 25% (see the layer pallete at the top of this section) to adjust it from from red to pink and that was it.

Here’s another inline copy of the save with the before on mouse over and the after on mouse out:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Photo Save After InFocus and Friends
Mouse over to see the before shot

Can anyone get these results? (The Dublin Pub Shot Test)

It’s great that I was able to bring life back into a crappy photo, but I began to wonder if I could pull the same results off on one where I didn’t have any help. I decided to try my Dublin Pub shot (used in previous reviews) where the bartender didn’t do such a good job with the shot. The results are below and you can click to get a larger version:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
After InFocus and basic sharpening
(Hover to see the before & click for a larger version)

Although it is tough to see from this small version (please click for a larger version), I think this is a big improvement and saves the shot! This photo was still just a little out of focus unlike the previous photo in this article, so I think this is more realistic about what you can really do with InFocus. Here’s my settings:

InFocus Settings

If you want to compare this photo to the original, Focus Magic or Sharpener Pro then then check out my Sharpener Pro article and click the images to get large versions that you can download and compare.

Overall I’m happy because bartenders and others that might take a shot for me when I’m travelling can now screw up a little and I can just fix it later for that keepsake travel photo like you see here.

Does it work with other shots too?

Well the answer is – it depends. I found that for some shots I couldn’t get good results (i.e., blurry shot taken while in the moving elevator on the Space Needle), but others that had more predictable motion were recovered quite nicely (like the pub shot above).

With this in mind I would expect the novice user of this product to have mixed results. If you are detail oriented and are willing to tinker for a while I think you can probably get some nice saves (please link to them to this article or my flickr group if you do).


InFocus does indeed work for some photos, but not all of them. It isn’t a magic bullet that you can run and automagically have your photo fixed as it does require tweaking.

I had the best luck with the Unknown/Estimate option which requires you to click the Estimate Blur button every time you change the Blur Radius and Edge Softness sliders. For slightly out of focus shots it will generally be a slam dunk, but for difficult blur scenarios (my Mrs. Claus girl here) then it’ll take some time and some compromises to get something out of the shot.

If your shot is an important keepsake or sentimental shot then this product is totally worth its low price after you’ve saved just a few shots that might have gone in the garbage. I definitely think this product is worth its low price (especially if you get the bundle) to us occasionally to fix your out of focus photos, and it is way better than Focus Magic or Sharpener Pro at deblurring images. 

Special Offers

Click here to see a complete list of Topaz Software products that qualify for my 15% Off Topaz Labs Discount (also found on the Discount Coupon Code page) when you use the coupon code RONMART. The full bundle offers the best value if you plan to purchase several of the Topaz products.

onOne Software also has a 15% off discount on PhotoFrame when you use the coupon code RMART20.

Additional discounts for other products mentioned in this article and updates to these codes (if they don’t work) can be found on my Discount Coupon Code page.


I was given free evaluation copies of the software used in this article under no obligation from the companies that provided it. I have chosen to write about my experiences using these products based on my own natural workflow that found me using these products.

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1 comment:

Swingline said...

Try Arkvis Refocus. I find it does a good job of creating an illusion of sharpnes.