(Created by Pro Photographer Tony Sweet)

Since the release of Topaz B&W Effects many questions have come in regarding its features and capabilities. So I thought I’d answer some of those questions though examples and share some additional insight into the program. Now, I’m not going to compare B&W Effects feature by feature with the many other black and white programs, there are professional reviewers out there…so I will leave all that good stuff to them. 😀

However, I will tell you what I think is unique and fresh about it and explore some of the features that are most asked about…plus a few others that I think you will really like. Keep in mind though, the best way to really get a feel for any program is to try it out and see how it fits your creative style and workflow.

Black, white and beyond…

Topaz B&W Effects takes traditional black and white photography enhancements to the next level by integrating some unique and fun tools that open up the creative possibilities of black and white photography, allowing you to create a new aesthetic in this colorless medium. Color plays an important role in image detail and appeal, so when you remove it things like structure, lines, detail and composition become of the essence.

So, we aimed to create a tool that would change the way you see AND process black and white images and help enhance your image essentials. The versatility of the tools allow you to apply detailed, stylized and HDR-like effects, as well as apply historically-accurate black and white looks. In addition to traditional black and white conversion, it also integrates a variety of creative effects such as Simplify, diffusion and posterize – which open the door to new styles of B&W.

(Created by Topaz User Brian Donegan)

Options and Flexibility

Topaz B&W Effects is the brainchild of the many Topaz users that sent in requests and feature suggestions to us over the years. It was designed to be a great option for those new to black and white photography as well as a great supplement to any existing black and white workflow; integration for B&W Effects is similar to that of Topaz Adjust.

For many users, Adjust offers a quicker and easier way to create HDR-like results from a single image, while more seasoned users apply it as that final touch for already HDR-merged images (created with great HDR programs like Photomatix and HDR Efex Pro). Creatively combining Adjust into an existing HDR workflow allows users to give their image that extra edge and that WOW factor. B&W Effects was designed to be supportive in the same way; as a user, you benefit from powerful and versatile conversion and enhancement tools that can work alone or along with your other image enhancement programs.


Unique Features

Once your initial color to black and white conversion is complete, there are a variety of adjustments that you can make to perfect the tonal range, adjust detail, reintroduce color add boxers, grain and more. These flexible options are what sets B&W Effects apart. Let’s take a look at some of these features and how they can impact your work.

Stage-Based Layout
Like many users, I enjoy the simplicity and intuitiveness of B&W Effects’ layout. The left side of the interface offers 8 collections with over 200 presets for quick, 1-click workflows. Then, for those that want more control and flexibility over adjustments (or that want to understand more about how each element works to create an effect) the right side of the interface features individual slider controls. The adjust sliders are broken down into sections that walk you through each step of the workflow. You can use or skip any of the adjustments (in the sub-tabs) or even enable/disable them using the local checkboxes included for each.

Adaptive Exposure – Which happens to be my favorite!
Originally a feature of Topaz Adjust, the controls in Adaptive Exposure work to bring out detail. Here, you can add more localized contrast and control how that is dispersed throughout your image, allowing you to enhance texture, detail and depth. This also makes dynamic and painterly HDR effects possible. The gritty, grunge look can also be achieved using Adaptive Exposure.

You can also eliminate detail by lowering the Detail and Detail Boost sliders. The Detail slider is going to affect larger details, while the Detail Boost slider will affect the smaller details. I urge you to use the Detail Boost slider sparingly to avoid busy and over-sharpened side effects.

(Image created by Topaz user Keith Burrows)

Collections
As I (briefly) mentioned before, the library of 200+ presets are divided up into 8 collections that each simulate a different type of black and white style.

The Traditional Collection simulates traditional Silver Gelatin black and white processing with adjustments made to exposure contrast paper tone and more.

The Toned Collection simulates realistic toning of a Silver Gelatin print. Based off of common tones used in a wet-darkroom.

The Stylized Collection offers highly-stylized effects for a variety of creative and artistic black and white looks.

The Cyanotype, Albumen, Van Dyke Brown and Opalotype (non-silver, non-traditional processes) are all based off of historical printing processes (Thank you Nichole!).

The newest collection – Platinum Collection – is highly regarded for broad, delicate tonal ranges and the ability to hold important image detail. Platinum prints range from warm blacks to silvery whites and can contain warm gray tones.

Local Adjustment Brush
Selectivity is key in many adjustments. The Local Adjustment tab features a 5-in-1 selective brush used to dodge, burn, smooth, add color
and enhance detail. Also integrated is advanced edge-aware technology that allows you to easily set the edge sensitivity and then brush freely – letting the brush detect and protect edges for you.

So what does each of the 5 tools do for your image?

Dodge – Lightens specific areas of the image.

Burn – Darkens specific areas of the image.

Color – Brings back original image color…great for black and white with a POP of color!

Detail – Enhances image details.

Smooth – Smoothes out areas…which is great for skin.

Real grain library
Because traditional film grain does not exist in digital photography, the ability to add in grain is great for creating a more authentic and timeless feel. The B&W Effects grain engine offers a variety of grain options that were developed from scans of real film and can be customized for your image.

Quad Toning
This 4-color toning technique is used for specialized color and tone techniques. Typically, you would have control over silver and paper which really offers only two hues, so with quad toning you will benefit from multiple tones and more flexibility in those tonal adjustments.

Quad Color is controlled by the selected Region Color and the corresponding Color Region Slider. Each Color Region spans from 0 to 255 – with 0 being black (the darkest value) and 255 being white (the lightest value).

By clicking on the color squares you can launch the color picker to set your color and then that region will look like the selected color. Then, using the Color Region Slider (below the selected color square) you can specify where that color is introduced into your image.

Any tone that is that value will have the selected color applied to it. This tool will automatically apply a natural blend from your selected color region to the next selected color region. In the image below you can see how each of the selected colors are applied to each region to create the unique toning effect.

Another great use for Quad Toning is using it to gain additional contrast control over the shades of gray in your image.

So instead of making colorful selections, you can instead select 4 different points on the grey scale (black, white and two additional tones that rest somewhere in between) and then adjust the Color Region sliders to control the overall contrast and control.

This technique is going to offer you immense flexibility and control over your tonal range.

Tip: Play around with the sliders and colors to see exactly how the regions are impacted…this will give you a better example of the various toning effects that can be created.

Creative Effects
Features creative effects like posterize, infared, painterly effects – Simplify, silhouette, quad tone, diffusion, cartoon, grunge and shake. These options are great for adding some creativity to images. Or, if you’ve ever run across an image that you felt was unusable you can repurpose that image by making it more artistic with creative enhancements.

More Color and Tone Options

Color Sensitivity adjusts the sensitivity of different colors throughout the image. Most often I find myself working with the Red and Yellow sliders. The Red slider is also key when you are working with any of the infared presets.

The Color Filter tab simulates a color filter being applied to your exposure or conversion.

The Curve Tool is used to adjust image tonality to help emphasize tones, contrast and brightness within your image. Click and drag to add/move points, controlling image contrast, brightness and tone or you can select one of the included Curve presets from the drop down menu.

Silver and Paper Tone offers additional toning control with the option of two hues – one for Silver and one for Paper. The Silver hue controls darker tones, while the Paper hue controls lighter tones. The strength sliders determine how strong the effects are applied to your image.

Transparency allows you to introduce up to 50% of the original image color back into your image.

Image Selection

A great question that I often get is: “Is there anything in particular to look for in a photo that makes it a good choice for using B&W Effects?”

Without color you in essence lose an aspect of detail…so your other image elements – detail, composition, texture becomes really important. Personally I like to look for images that have great detail and lines and then really pump up those features. Honestly though…it’s up to you. Chose an image that speaks to you!

I would also encourage you to check out the 10 Tips & Techniques for Digital Black and White Photography – created by Pro Photographer and Topaz User Joel Woflson.

What’s your favorite B&W Effects feature? Drop me a line below to let me know. And if you have any questions not covered the be sure to ask away!

One of my favorite features in the new Topaz B&W Effects is the integration of Topaz Adjust’s Adaptive Exposure, which I’m sure you’ll agree helps add a whole new dynamic to black and white enhancement. Now, for those that may be new to Topaz, Adaptive Exposure allows to you add more localized contrast to your image. The tools included in Adaptive Exposure make it easy to enhance texture, detail and depth throughout your image – great for brining flat images to life!

Now, seasoned Adjust users may already know that working with Adaptive Exposure requires balance. Over-applying settings will often enhance any existing flaws or artifacts in the image and can also introduce new noise and unwanted artifacts. These side effects can include noise, halos, grain, grittiness, splotchiness and a grungy type of effect. While grunge can often be a neat effect to have it (at certain times) is also good to know how to avoid it.

So here are my top 3 tips to help you avoid these unwanted side effects during your B&W Effects workflow – while still producing awesome images!

1. Always, start with a clean image. Eliminating any existing noise or artifacts from your image will help reduce the presence of noise later on in your workflow and will produce better final results. So, be sure to process your image through DeNoise or your other noise reduction program before getting started.

2. Parameter Balance + PDI. Delicate balance of Adaptive Exposure and Regions is key to getting a great look, so be sure to adjust both of these sliders incrementally to produce the best results. A significantly high value for both of these sliders (adaptive exposure and regions) can produce grungy and harsher-looking effects in your image. PDI (short for process details independently) is option that I almost always use when I process images in B&W Effects and Adjust. This handy option (located at the bottom of the Adaptive Exposure tab) processes your exposure and detail adjustments separately.

Enabling the PDI will still give you that instant pop in detail, depth and exposure, but it will also help eliminate these grungy effects and render smoother effects…especially in areas like sky and water. By default it is enabled, but you can also disable it anytime by unchecking the check box. However, if you are wanting to create a gritty, grunge type of look then enable this option.


(Process Details Independently – Enabled)


(Process Details Independently – Disabled)

3.It’s all in the details. Powerful detail enhancement tools have also been included in B&W Effects’ Adaptive Exposure tab. The Detail Boost slider should always be used in moderation. The default value for this parameter is 1.00….I’ve found during my workflow that I rarely go over 1.25 Over-applying this parameter can often create noise and other undesired effects. Also, don’t be afraid reduce this parameter to eliminate smaller details – for a smoother look.

Ok, so by now you’ve heard about the new Topaz B&W Effects program….but Iif you haven’t then go ahead and check out my Topaz B&W Effects Sneak Peek to get caught up to speed!

Check out the image below created by Pro John Barclay using the new Topaz B&W Effects!

Check out more of John’s work at: http://blog.barclayphoto.com

Already there is so much excitement and LOTS of great questions about this new addition to the Topaz collection. So I’m going to give you quick rundown of the 10 most asked questions and try to give you the answers you need regarding Topaz B&W Effects.

Q1. When will Topaz B&W Effects be available?
A1. Release is tentatively scheduled for sometime next week. I don’t have an exact date but I promise it will be here soon!

Q2. Can I get a free copy?
A2. Actually, we do have some free giveaways that we are doing for the new B&W Effects program!! Just join us at one of the upcoming preview webinars for your chance to win! You can sign up on our webinars page

Q3. Presets, presets….will there be presets?
A3. Yes! Currently there are about 200 presets with more being added as we speak! You will also be able to create, save and share your own.

Q4. Is there an Apply button like in Lens Effects?
A4. No, at this time there will not be an apply button to stack effects…but they are really easy to add just by using the adjustment tabs/sliders. However, we may introduce the apply button into a later version of B&W Effects. If you want this feature be sure to let us know!

Q5. Let’s talk price…what’s it going to be?
A5. I’m not sure of the specific price, but it will be consistent with our product price range and we will definitely be a significant introductory discount.

Q6. What’s the compatibility requirements?
A6. Topaz B&W Effects will be compatible with Intel-based Macs and Windows….32-bit and 64-bit. Photoshop CS3-CS5.5 and Elements 6-9

Q7. Will it work with iPhoto, Aperture and Lightroom?
A7. Yes, Topaz B&W Effects will also be compatible with these host programs via Topaz Fusion Express. However, it will require a Fusion Express update. This update will be released at the same time that B&W Effects is released and it will not affect your other Topaz programs.

Q8. Will there be a free 30-day trial?
A8. Yes, as with all of our other Topaz programs there will also be a free, fully-functional 30-day trial. No watermarks or limitations (other than the 30 day limit)

Q9. Will it be added to the bundle?
A9. Yes, B&W Effects will be an addition to the bundle…so unfortunately the bundle price will also increase to reflect that addition but hopefully not too much! If you are already a bundle owner then you will be able to take advantage of the discounted into price to add it to your collection.

Q10. Can I use my Wacom tablet?
A10. There have been some usage issues with some of the other Topaz programs and tablets. Usually updating your drivers will resolve it. Be sure that you have the latest tablet drivers and you should be fine.

To receive the release newsletter once the program is out be sure to sign up for the Topaz Newsletter at: www.topazlabs.com/list

Ok, so Friday our friend and pro travel photographer Scott Stulberg did a webinar with us…and boy was it GREAT! Scott, who is well-known for his striking images, showed us how he uses Topaz to help create his images. He also offered some great insight on his go-to lens, loupes, model release forms and much more. If you missed the webinar you will be able to view the recording later this week at: www.topazlabs.com/webinars.

Surprisingly, though, it was what he had going on behind the scenes that caught many of your eyes. Two of the most asked questions were actually regarding his use of Photoshop Notes and Actions…both of which help him streamline not just his use of Topaz but his overall post processing workflow and productivity. (Sorry Elements users, Adobe has only incorporated these features into Photoshop)

So, I wanted to give you all some insight on these two very useful Photoshop features that you might not know about and show you how they can help you in your workflow.

Notes


Now, if you’re anything like me you will recognize the following (simplified) workflow:

1. Adjustments in Photoshop
2. Take image into Topaz and add a preset
3. Tweak the sliders in Topaz to perfect the look
4. Take your image back into Photoshop and make a few more adjustments
5. Save your image
6. Wonder later on: “what presets/adjustments did I apply to this image?”


(before)


(after)

So many times you may end up with a great final image but forget the exact combination of adjustments, plug-ins, presets and other enhancements used to create that look. This is where your Photoshop Note tool comes in! You can find this tool grouped with the Eyedropper Tool (I) in your Tool panel. Notes allow you to add written transcript to any part of your image. This is useful because you can keep track of your workflow, production notes, add comments or any other necessary and helpful information to your image. Notes are also handy if you need to leave yourself a message about where you left off in your workflow so that when you come back to that image you know where to pick up at or if you are passing the file off to a friend or colleague. You can hide/show your notes, you can use multiple notes, apply notes to a specific part or image subject and you can edit your notes.


(your note will appear as a yellow sticky on your image)

Commands for Notes:

1. Add notes
– You can add notes anywhere on your Photoshop image canvas. When you create a note, an icon appears on the image. Select the Note tool in the toolbox. (If the tool isn’t visible, hold down the Eyedropper.)

– In the Options bar, enter or specify the following as needed:
– Author Specifies the note author’s name.
– Color Selects the color for the note icon. Clicking the color box opens the Adobe Color Picker so you can select a color.
– Click where you want to place the note.
– The cursor will automatically be active

2. To Open and edit notes:
– Using the Note tool, double-click the note icon in the image. The text editing area appears in the Notes panel.
– Choose Window -> Notes to display the Notes panel, and click the back and forward arrows to toggle through all notes in the active image.

3. To Show or hide notes:
– Go to View -> Show -> Notes

4. Delete notes:
Select the Note tool, and then do either of the following:
-To delete an individual note, click it in the image, and then click the Delete Note icon in the Notes panel.
-To delete all notes, click Clear All in the options bar.

Actions


Actions, which automate repetitive tasks, are a great way to speed up and simplify editing steps and tasks in Photoshop. Actions allow you to record your workflow. As you are recording, Photoshop is capturing a memory of your steps that it will be able to reapply on any image. Incorporating Actions into your workflow is one of the best ways to streamline your workflow by doing your most common tasks in 1-CLICK!

Maybe you have a group of noisy images that have the same amount of noise that you want to quickly eliminate, you want to quickly rotate an image instead of going to Edit -> Transform -> Rotate, merge down layers, add copyright, load or save a selection, save your image for web, print, resize, flatten, create a layer copy or any other number of tasks that you repeat often.

Bottom line: Actions SAVE TIME!

Button Mode. The screen shot above shows the Actions panel in default or “Edit” mode (on the left) and in button mode (on the right). When recording, modifying, organizing and deleting actions you MUST be in the default mode. However, if you are simply applying actions then you can do that from the button mode. Button mode allows you to easily apply an action in one-click (and is color coded) and then move on. Button mode is great for beginners or for those who prefer a cleaner more simplified display.

Commands for Actions:
1. Action Set: Store sets of actions. Actions must be saved in “sets.” A set can contain between one and 100 actions.
2. Action: This is the actual set of commands recorded in macro form.
3. Toggle Action (On/Off) command: use to enable or disable action (or an effect nested inside of an action)
4. Dialogue Control: Requires user input. When the action is running, the user may click this to modify the highlighted command. If it is turned off, Photoshop will execute the defaults for that command.
5. Play button: Begins playing an action (or set of actions).
6. Record button: Starts recording (or resumes) recording.
7. Stop recording button: When finished running an action, hit this button.
8. New set: Creates a new set in which to place your actions.
9. New action: Creates a new action within the selected set.
10. Delete action: Deletes the selected action (or steps within the action).
11. Action menu: Opens the action menu with additional menu options

And that’s it! So, now that you know about these two nifty features go ahead and open up Photoshop and try them out. Once you get the hang of them you will discover so many ways to incorporate them and streamline your workflow and increase overall productivity. Enjoy and thank you again to Scott Stulberg!!!

If you’re avid Adjust user like me, you may sometimes notice that Adjust enhances any existing flaws or artifacts in the image and can also introduce new noise and unwanted artifacts. These side effects can include noise, halos, grain, grittiness, splotchiness and a grungy type of effect. Now, there may be occasions where a gritty, grungy look is what you are going for, but for the most part I think you’ll agree that well-balanced color, detail and exposure (with out the side effects) is most desired. So let’s take a look at a quick workflow so you learn how to take control over your Adjust workflow and get exactly the detail you want.

Now, before we jump into Adjust, keep in mind that one of the most important things you can do is to make sure that you have a clean image before using Adjust. I always use Topaz DeNoise (and DeJPEG when necessary) before making any kind of color or detail adjustments…just to make sure that the image is clean. This is going to make your final results better.

Now, some of you may be thinking: “does the noise tab in Adjust serve as a substitute for Topaz DeNoise?” No, Adjust’s noise tab is not the same as the DeNoise program and does not replace the actual DeNoise program. The noise tool in Adjust is included simply to help remove minor instances of noise caused by enhancements made while using Adjust. The Topaz DeNoise program is specifically designed to eliminate noise, color noise, banding noise, restore black levels and revive detail. So naturally DeNoise is more powerful and better suited for tougher noise jobs. If you do find the need to use the tools in Adjust’s Noise tab then be sure to do this as the last step in your workflow before processing your image. Also be sure that your image preview is 50% or higher.

So onto Adjust! So, one of the most common uses for Adjust is to take a somewhat flat image like below, and give it that WOW factor by making it POP with color and detail.

So, like many users, I am going to get my workflow started by applying a preset. For this example I used the Dramatic preset. And as you can see below, my image is instantly transformed with enhanced color, exposure and detail. It may be hard to notice right now (I’ll zoom closer in a bit), but there is also a harshness (noise and grittiness) in the image which…especially seen in the sky and water. You will also notice that shadow areas are intensified as well.

So there is actually a very quick and easy way to eliminate this harsh effect. Once you’ve finished your adjustments in the exposure tab, go to the detail tab and make any desired adjustments there. At the bottom of the Detail Tab you will notice a checkbox – Process Details Independent of Exposure. By checking this option, you can maintain the color and exposure enhancements in your image, but your image details will be processed separately and this will instantly cleanup harshly affected areas of your image. In addition to improving the appearance of water and skies, using this checkbox can also help minimize halos, grain or noise-like effects, grit and grunge. This is a great way to tone down the effects of stronger presets in the program.

After making adjustments in the Detail tab, move onto the Color tab and make your desired enhancements here. If you still notice additional (smaller patterns) of grain or noise in your image, you can then go to the noise tab and use the sliders here to eliminate it.

Below you can see the final images. This first image is the more harsh one of the two.

This version made use of the Process Details Independent of Exposure checkbox and renders smoother, more appealing results.

So go ahead and give it a try in your Adjust workflow!