A miracle named Topaz Labs
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A miracle named Topaz Labs

A miracle named Topaz Labs

19 Nov 2019, Posted by Petr Bambousek in Articles, Postprocess

GIVING A SECOND CHANCE TO REJECTED PHOTOS

 

Recently, I posted two photos on my social networks. On one of them is a cute squirrel, and on the other – there are three playful otters. Do you know what these two photos have in common? Originally, I wanted to ruthlessly delete them both, because there was NOTHING SHARP in them. Indeed, sadly I failed here as a photographer and these photos truly belong to the digital heaven. In terms of sharpness, these are some of the worst photos I actually have in my archive. And, in all honesty – they wouldn’t be displayed here IF… If a few months ago, I hadn’t “discovered” new tools that can save them. These tools were developed by Topaz Labs. I am not their agent nor ambassador, just a completely (positively) shocked customer. Topaz Labs is great for those who have photos in their archives that aren’t technically that successful, but you like the content. Try giving those photos one more chance before deleting them. What’s the worst that could happen? Keep on reading, as I will show you two amazing tools that might be of help. Are you ready? Here we go.

 

A MIRACLE NAMED TOPAZ LABS

 

I have been using my favorite post-processing sequence without change for a long time. All details explained in my Wildlife photography Tutorial. There has been very little creative innovation in that space. For me, the biggest change came a year ago by Capture One, which replaced Lightroom. Another one occurred this summer. By happenstance, I came across an article describing new ways of applications of Topaz Labs software, namely Sharpen AI and DeNoise AI. The AI is absolutely necessary nowadays and dare I assume that without the word ‘artificial intelligence’ in the name, programs won’t live for long. As an inquisitive boy, I installed a free monthly trial and started rummaging through my archive for suitable photos to see how it works. As the programs’ names suggest, Sharpen will be able to save out-of-focus photos, while DeNoise will excel in noise reduction. Since I almost always immediately delete most out-of-focus and noisy images, there was not much to choose from. So I started to keep photos I’d normally delete with the aim of running them through the software. What the software did with them took my breath away. After a week of testing, I bought both plugins with absolutely no hesitation, and as soon as I encountered a technically (blurry, noise etc) poor photo but with interesting content, I put it aside for testing. Because, as I wrote in the introduction, what’s the worst that could happen. If worse comes to worse, the software won’t help. That happens sometimes, of course. The software is not almighty, it’s simply just miraculous.

TOPAZ LABS – SHARPEN AI

 

To see how the programs work, have a look at the below examples. With the exception of the aforementioned squirrel and otters, all the photos are without any post-process exactly as they came out of the camera. The absolutely minimalist interface of Sharpen Plugin offers three sharpening modules. Sharpen (for sharpening relatively sharp photos), Stabilise (to minimise shake and motion blur) and Focus (perfect for photos with offset plane of focus). I used Focus on the squirrel and the jaguar. As you can see, both photos are poorly focused. The squirrel is so inferior that the plugin wasn’t applied to full resolution, but to its 1600px thumbnail on the longer side. I applied the Stabilize mode to the otters that kept on jiggling fervently. Below you can see the results. The program can be used separately or as a plugin to Photoshop. I highly recommend using Photoshop and masking the layer where the plugin is applied. You will notice that sometimes it pulls the fine details too hard or in such a place where it’s not needed. Layers will allow you to regulate the exact location of the plugin as well as its intensity, and the possibility to combine it with a regular workflow. If on the images below you cannot see Before & After sliders, please hit the refresh button (F5).

SQUIRREL – FAR BEYOND THE DEPTH OF FIELD (SHARPEN AI – FOCUS)

 

JAGUAR – SLIGHTLY OUT OF DEPTH OF FIELD (SHARPEN AI – FOCUS)

 

OTTERS – STRONG MOTION BLUR (SHARPEN AI – STABILIZE)

 

TOPAZ LABS – DENOISE AI

 

Noise at high ISO is the second most common vice next to blur. Whether it is because your camera naturally adds a lot of noise at high ISO, or because you had to reach for more extreme values due to poor lighting conditions, noise will ultimately appear in your photos. There are several ways to reduce it. Personally, I prefer to use a selective noise reduction Neat Image plugin in Photoshop. It can very well recognise noisy areas and structures where a certain amount of noise does not matter. Topaz Labs can do the same, only handles it even better at extreme values. I try to avoid using high ISO whenever I can, which is enhanced by strong stabilisation in my camera. The vast majority of photos don’t go over 1600 and even that is more of an exception. Below you will find three photos, each with a different ISO, as examples of how DeNoise AI handles them. Again, all the photos are as they came out of the camera without any adjustments to make the noise reduction as authentic as possible. On my future photo trips I will try to push the ISO a little bit to see what the software can do with it. But even so, I think it is clear from the examples here that all of the outputs are absolutely incredible. There is not much need to play with layers, because the detection of surfaces and objects with true detail is almost perfect.

ARACARI – ISO 1600

 

HUMMINGBIRD – ISO 2500

 

PHAESANT – ISO 6400

 

IN CONCLUSION

 

Wise Ancient Greeks used to say that one video on YouTube (czech only) replaces a thousand words. That’s why I recorded a short video where you can see the interface of the program in action in conjunction with Photoshop. You can see for yourself that the plugins are really easy to use. Is everything just dandy, and the software so peachy? Well, almost so. I have just one reservation. And that is speed. You need to have acceleration enabled via your graphics card. Both NR and Sharpening take place in two phases. First, the image is analysed to show you how each setting works. After that, all the adjustments are applied to the selected layer. During my testing, analysis of a photo at full resolution took about 2-3 minutes and the adjustment itself took about 3-10m. You can imagine how the whole process is slowed down if you have other programs running in the background. The more things you do in the background, the longer it takes. Due to this, I’d recommend running the initial tests on cropped photos. I would certainly not recommend including these plugins in the normal workflow with a slower computer. Still, Topaz Labs software is an absolutely incredibly powerful helper for those photos you considered a hopeless case and I would say, that from experience, you have a 90% chance of recovering.

GET 15% OFF

 

With all of the above in mind, I strongly recommend downloading a trial version first to reveal the power of your computer and to see what it can do with your photos. If you decide to buy one of the Topaz Labs software (and there are 6 of them in total), you are welcome to use my affiliate link and enter the discount code SULASULA15 in your cart. Not only will you support my photography, but you will get 15% off. Most of all however, I wish that you take such photos that don’t even need this kind of intervention!

  • Willi

    Hi Petr,

    i find that Neat Image do a better job. For me all the progamms so called “AI” dont keep there promises.

    Reply
    • Petr Bambousek

      Hello Willi, tahnks for your comment. I love my Neat Image too. From my experience it delivers excellent job especially when there are well separated parts of main object and background. With good bokeh it delivers great job. Once ISO is higher and image not so clear, Topaz delivers to me much better results. But as I wrote, try by yourself. If not working for you, good as well, you have your own solution and this is the main goal 🙂

      Reply

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