We’ve been pretty quiet on Twitter and the blog lately, but that’s because we were busy preparing a new product that we just released today called Topaz ReMask. Thanks for the very positive reaction!

There are a few commonly asked questions so far that I wanted to clear up. ReMask is definitely a little bit different as plug-ins go (mainly because it doesn’t have a user interface) but as soon as you get the hang of it it gets much easier and faster.

First, you don’t actually need to use the actions to run the software. The actions can speed up the process and make it easier on you, but they’re not required. The Topaz ReMask workflow with actions looks like this:

1. Open image and select layer.
2. Run “Before Masking” action.
3. Immediately brush gray for areas you want ReMask to process, white for areas you want to keep, and black for areas you want to remove.
4. Run “Process” action.
5. If refinement’s necessary, run the “Refine Mask” action and then run “Process” after you’re done refining.

That’s the ReMask workflow with actions – it’s simple and without too much fiddling around with layers and different views. Now, the actions won’t work if you’ve already completed some of the steps by yourself. For example, if you’ve already created a layer mask and you run the Before Masking action, you’ll get an error that says the “Make” command is not available. This is because it can’t make a layer mask on a layer that already has one.

By the way, the actions location was incorrect in the Quick Start video. Here are the actual locations:

Mac: HD->Library->Application Support->Topaz Labs->Topaz ReMask->Actions
Windows: C:\Program Files\Topaz Labs\Topaz ReMask\Actions

Or just download the actions here.

But it’s perfectly possible to use ReMask to great effect without using actions – there’s just a couple more things to keep in mind. Basically, ReMask requires the following condition to run:

You must have a layer selected with a layer mask containing white, gray, and black. The layer itself must be selected (not the layer mask).

Under the above condition, Topaz ReMask works completely fine by itself without the help of actions. After playing around with it for a bit, though, I find that using the actions greatly sped up my masking process. (For example, did you know that I actually did time trials and practiced my masking speed before making this video? Turned out that actions shaved off at least a couple of seconds from my record…)

But it’s up to you whether you want to use the actions or not. If you want to learn a bit more about exactly how ReMask works and our recommended workflows, please check out the Quick Start and How ReMask Works tutorials in the ReMask tutorials section.

Thanks! Feel free to pose any ReMask questions here.

This post was originally posted on September 26, 2009

(Note: this contest has already ended!)

Twitter is great as a communications tool. I was answering questions and discussing our software with Twitterers (…Tweeple? Twitterholics?) by the first month. The communication barrier is much lower than email or phone – a simple @topazlabs and we’ll get your message or feedback instantly and be able to respond equally as quickly. And on your end, you’ll be able to receive our updates instantly and unobtrusively. For example, if we have a discount that we announce through Twitter, you’ll know about it without having to open up an email or check our website.

So on that note, we’re giving away a Topaz Photoshop Bundle to three different Twitterers at the end of September! To enter the contest:

1. Follow @topazlabs on Twitter.
2. Tweet this message:

RT @topazlabs: 3 free Topaz #Photoshop Plug-In Bundles! To enter raffle: follow @topazlabs and retweet! Details here: http://is.gd/2Lxbd

We’ll be picking the winners by taking three random @topazlabs followers (generated from a randomizer) and then making sure they have the above tweet in their timeline. We will announce the winners at the beginning of October. Good luck, and comment here with any questions!

This post was originally posted on September 1, 2009

Topaz products that have to do with detail manipulation often have a peculiar setting labeled “Boost”, which is the source of some confusion among photographers.

“How is adjusting the Boost setting different than just adjusting the Strength setting?”

Adjusting the regular detail strength setting proportionally enhances all the details in the image. Adjusting the Boost setting disproportionally enhances the weaker details.

Basically, setting the boost higher means that the weaker and less contrasty details will be heavily enhanced. The weaker the details the heavier the enhancement on that detail. So while a strong and well-defined image detail will still be affected by the boost setting, the weaker details are affected a lot more. The opposite also holds true: setting the boost to a negative setting means that the weaker and less contrasty details will be disproportionally reduced.

On the other hand, the regular strength setting just linearly increases and decreases detail no matter how strong it is. This preserves the original relative detail strengths.

This is why the boost slider often seems to create a much heavier effect than the regular strength setting: giving all the less obvious details more definition can sometimes produce an overwhelming effect. Still, it’s useful to know what the Boost parameter is doing to your pixels.

This post was originally posted on August 19, 2009

Working at a software company means that I’m more than familiar with phrases like “advanced technology” and “breakthrough algorithms”… sometimes too familiar! Although these are actually decent descriptions, sometimes it’s nice to know exactly how the software works in order to be able to use it most effectively, instead of just knowing that it’s “advanced”.

Now, this is immediately relevant because we just released Topaz Detail, a plug-in that specializes in detail enhancement without halos. It does use pretty new technology – for example, a detail enhancement product that doesn’t create halos would have been impossible to develop just a year ago.

So immediately people emailed us wanting to know how it worked. One of the more common questions was why we implemented a pre-processing technique only in Topaz Detail rather than our other software. Well, the answer is so simple that it can be related in haiku form:

Internal splitting
Precise size-based enhancement
Topaz Detail rocks!

I know that probably answered all your questions. Here’s a more complex answer anyways, manifested in a delightful blue diagram:

Topaz Detail internal flow. Click for larger. (You may have to scroll right)
Topaz Detail flow. Click for larger. (You may have to scroll right)

Click on the diagram for a larger and more voluptuous version. I’ll walk you through the internal steps that Detail takes from start to finish.

1. First, you have your original image. You now access Topaz Detail and appreciate the fine aesthetics of the pre-processing screen.

2. Pre-processing starts. Topaz Detail separates your image into one based on chrominance (color information) and one based on luminance (grayscale information). These will undergo different processing methods and will be affected by different sliders.

3. The luminance information is further internally broken down into three detail layers based on size, and a base layer. Manipulating these four layers make up the bulk of the detail enhancement functionality of the software. After this step, pre-processing ends and the Topaz Detail user interface pops up. (This is also the portion of pre-processing that runs the slowest… probably because it has the most advanced breakthrough technological algorithms.)

4. The user adjusts the large, medium, and small detail sizes, and each individual detail layer is affected appropriately. If you like, you can see what each of the four individual layers looks like. To see the base layer by itself, turn the large, medium, and small sliders to 0. To see each individual detail size layer, drag that particular one all the way to the right and set the contrast to 0 (which will switch the base layer to neutral gray).

5. The luminance layer is re-combined with the adjusted small, medium, and large detail layers as well as the base layer.

6. Highlight and shadow protection, as set by the user, is applied to the luma layer.

7. The internal luma and chroma layers are re-combined to form your startlingly good final processed image.

Steps 5, 6, and 7 take no time at all. This means that, although there can be a sometimes annoying wait for the initial pre-processing stage, there will be no actual waiting after that. All adjustments are made instantaneously after the necessary initial pre-processing.

This is the complete internal workflow that Detail uses. Now that you know, it becomes quite obvious how it can sharpen and enhance detail without creating any halos – simply because it doesn’t really “sharpen”! All it does is increase the intensity of the appropriate detail layer, which gives a sharpening effect without any of the negative artifacts normally associated with sharpening or detail enhancement.

This post was originally posted on August 18, 2009

If you have a beloved car and a beloved camera, it’s practically your civic duty to use one on the other. So, to do this I waited till dusk, drove (roared) to a decent location, and whipped out my Canon 40D. Then came the Photoshop Car Retouching!

Then I opened up Photoshop and played with it a bit. I tried to keep it natural instead of going too overboard with the retouching.

First thing I want to mention – if you’re shooting car photography, most of the time it looks better if you shoot it on your elbows and knees. Shooting below the car, or some other creative non-everyday angle, will produce a much better photo than just shooting it at standing height. So wear something that you wouldn’t mind getting dirt on, and watch out for ants.

So, I got home and opened up the image in Photoshop in all its low-contrast goodness. The very first thing I did was notice the unsightly blotches that adorned my otherwise beautiful baby – the little nicks, scratches, and grime clumps that show up in many car images. Usually to get rid of these I would use the healing brush, which makes it hard to work around edges and other detail.

However, in this case I had another tool – Topaz Simplify. I actually just duplicated the layer, Simplified it, and masked in the Simplified parts where I would have regularly used the Healing Brush. The advantages to this are that edges and color are preserved while the minor blemishes get removed, unlike when using the Healing Brush.

My next step was to apply this oh so brilliant creative exposure, detail, and color software that I somehow had access to. I’m not going to tell you exactly what settings I used because I always like encouraging people to try using the sliders for themselves.

For this pass of Adjust, I ignored the sky and only focused on what made the car look good.

I tried accentuated the reflections while still keeping the car looking natural. Then I ran Topaz Adjust again, this time focusing on the sky. Afterwards, I masked out everything but the sky by utilizing clever masking techniques brushing on a layer mask.

The only thing left after this is to brighten the chrome horse and headlights, and darken the grill a little bit. Slap a small gradient vignette around the photo, and we get the final result.

And that’s it!

Simple steps:
1. Remove blemishes with Simplify and layer masking
2. Apply a layer of Topaz Adjust on car
3. Apply a layer of Adjust on sky
4. Dodge and burn select parts, add small vignette effect

Oh, and for a finishing touch, I added some Photoshop prowess, millionaire magic, and a dash of delightful dreams.

Just kidding. Hope you enjoyed the tutorial.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions about any of this, because I know I skimmed over how exactly to do a lot of what I described. Just drop me a comment for the full scoop on any questions or comments you may have.

This post was originally posted on July 27, 2009