by Joanne West

The Merced River flows fast and furious after a particularly wet winter.  One could spend days shooting the rapids (with a camera or in a raft) with splendid results.  Unfortunately, the image below was not one of the best, but I liked the composition and the fact that those wonderful boulders were holding their own in the rushing waters.  I decided to try to rescue the picture with the help of PSE and Topaz filters.  You are welcome to right-click and save the Before image locally to follow along with this tutorial.

Before – Strange weather and the unfortunate fact that I wasn’t using a Polarizing filter made the rushing waters wash out and overexposed

1-Merced River Image Before


After – With the help of PSE and a good dose of Topaz Clarity and Topaz BW2, the image was salvaged.

2-Merced River Image After - CopyThese are the steps I took to create the After image:

Step 1 – Adjustments in PSE

  • I use Photoshop Elements 11, but a previous version of PSE, Photoshop CS, Adobe Cloud or another post-processor should work as well.  I opened a copy of my image in PSE 11 (preserving the original intact).

Step 1-1-Merced River Before - in PSE

  • If using PSE 11, select the Quick option in the top center of the window.  The Quick Panel will be displayed in the right-hand portion of the window.
    If using PSE 9, the Quick option is at the top of the right-hand panel.  If you are using Photoshop CS, choose Image/Adjustments/Shadows!Highlights from the Menu bar, and then click the Show More Options box to display the Highlights and Shadows Levels options dialog box.

Step 1-2- Merced River Before - in PSE Quick

  • I like to see the adjustments as I make them so I always use the Before & After option.  If you only have one image in the windows, choose Before & After – Horizontal from the View drop-down list in the top left portion of the PSE11 window.  (The View drop-down list is at the bottom right in PSE 9).
  • Click the arrow () next to the Levels tool to expand that option and then click the Highlights tab in that box.  The Levels tools allow you to make tonal adjustments to the image including lightening shadows and darkening highlights.   You can use the samples displayed in the panel or use the slider (as you choose a sample, the slider will be adjusted accordingly).Step 1-3-Levels tool

  • Either drag the slider to 100% or click on the last sample in the set to adjust the highlights.
    The After image will display the adjustments.   Notice that the water is darker and more defined, while the boulders and trees have darkened, but not as dramatically.

Step 1-4- adjust shown in after image

  • You can optionally click the Expert option at the top of the window to return to the normal mode.

Step 2 – Adjustments in Topaz Clarity

  • Select Filter/Topaz Labs/Clarity from the menu bar.
    The Topaz Labs Clarity window will be displayed.

Step 2-1 - Clarity before change

  • Click the Reset button at the bottom left portion of the window to return to the default settngs.  We will not be using the Collections & Presets Panel in this tutorial – just the Clarity Dynamics sliders in the Navigator Panel.
  • Make sure the Navigator tab is selected above the right-hand Panel.
  • Click the arrow () in front of the Clarity tab in the Navigator Panel.
    The Dynamics, Tone Level, and Masks options are revealed.

After adjustment:

Step 2-2 - Clarity after adjustmentStep 2-3- Clarity sidebar options

  • Set the following slider values:
  • Dynamics:
    Micro Contrast                     = + 0.38
    Low Contrast                       = + 0.20
    Medium Contrast             = – 0.30
    High Contrast                      =   0.00
  • Tone Level:
    Black Level                            =   0.00
    Midtones                                =   0.00
    White Level                          = – 0.20.

Step 2-4 - Clarity sidebar options set

  • Click the OK button at the bottom of the Clarity window.
    The Topaz Labs window will close and the previous window will be displayed with the Clarity adjusted image.

Step 2-5 - adjusted Clarity image in PSE

You can optionally save the adjusted image at this point as an interim processed image.

Step 3 – Adjustments in Topaz BW Effects 2:

  • Select Filter/Topaz Labs/BW Effects 2 from the Photoshop or PSE menu bar.
    The Topaz Labs BW Effects 2 window will be displayed.  (You can optionally use BW Effects Version 1).
  • Click the Reset button at the bottom of the BW Effects window to return to the default settings.
  • First we will set the stage for our changes from the Presets and Effects Panel (right-hand panel).  Select the Platinum Collection tab in the Effects collection list and then choose Platinum VIII from the Presets list.
    I like the Platinum settings for at least a starting point since they give a soft brown-tone to the image.

Step 3-1 - Effects Platinum settings

  • Now we’ll move to the Settings & Parameters Panel (right-hand panel) for the rest of the settings for the image.
  • Click the arrow () in front of 1 Conversion to display the options.  The Basic Exposure, Adaptive Exposure, Color Sensitivity and Filter, and the Histogram or Curve tool options are made available.  Since we first selected the Platinum VIII preset, all the Navigator settings are currently based on that Preset.

Step 3-2 - Conversion options

  • Click the arrow () in front of Basic Exposure and Adaptive Exposure to display the sliders for those options.
  • Set the following  settings for Basic and Adaptive Exposures:
  • Basic Exposure:
    Contrast                =    -0.10
    Brightness           =     0.00
    Boost Blacks       =     0.00
    Boost Whites     =   +0.28
  • Adaptive Exposure:
    Adaptive Exposure           =  +0.20
    Regions                                  =      31
    Protect Highlights            =  +0.08
    Protect Shadows               =   -0.01
    Detail                                        =    1.55
    Detail Boost                         =    0.90

Step 3-3 - Conversion settings done

  • Click the arrow next to the  2 Creative Effects tab.  
  • The Simplify, Diffusion, Posterize, and Camera Shake options are displayed.  We are going to turn on the Simplify effect for the image.
  • Click the checkbox in front of the Simplify tab and then click the arrow to display the Simplify settings.   The settings are currently set to the default.

Step 3-4 -Simplify default

  • Change the Simplify Size to +0.04 and the Feature Boost to +0.75

Step 3-5 - Simplify adjusted 

  • Click the arrow next to the  4 Finishing Touches tab.   The Quad Tone setting is currently turned on because it is the default for the Platinum VIII Preset.
  • Click the checkbox in front of the Quad Tone tab to turn it off.
  • Click the checkbox in front of the Silver and Paper Tone tab to turn it on and then click the arrow to display the options.
    The default settings will be displayed and those are what we will use for the image.

Step 3-6 - Silver settings

  • Click the OK button at the bottom of the Topaz window.
    The Photoshop or PSE window will be returned.
  • Save your image optionally with a new (finished) name to preserve the beginning image.

Final Image:

Step 4 - final image Merced River Image After-1

About the Photographer: 

After 30+ years in the Corporate IT world near Silicon Valley, Jo and her husband, Carl, moved to a more rural setting allowing her time to indulge in her passion for photography. She made the transition from film to a Canon DSLR and hasn’t stopped shooting since. Yosemite National Park and the barns and backroads of Mariposa and Placer Counties in California have supplied endless hours of shooting and post-processing. Jo and Carl share their house with 2 Cavalier King Charles Spaniels who provide wonderful mug-shots when Jo is not on the road looking for other photographic opportunities. Visit Jo’s website here: http://jowest.smugmug.com

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