Picture1The image selected by Topaz for this discussion reminded me of the images of the late 15th, early 16th Century German artist, Albrecht Dürer. One of Dürer’s favorite subjects were small animals. His famous Young Hare was done when Dürer was a young adolescent (shown left).

This image could be a photograph, but of course it isn’t. I find inspiration in the great art and artists of the past – particularly the expressionists and impressionists. I am fortunate to live near a city where I can go and see many of the originals. I wonder if Monet was creating his work today if he would be working with oils and canvas or would it be Nikons and Apples?

My goal is also to present the subject as I would if I were presenting it with pigments on paper, canvas or board. I realize that this is an apostasy for the photographic purists. But I will point out that I’m working with digital images, not photographs.

A word about my workflow: I depart from the conventional approach in Photoshop and don’t use their powerful layers tool. I like to make originals each time so I only work in one layer. It is simply a personal choice and I’m not advocating it, just noting it.

Starting Image

Picture2The image I’m exploring here took a journey from a RAW NEF file to a final .jpg.  The backstory on this image is that I was working on a commission to do an image of a Maryland Blue Crab and was having lunch with the customer at a restaurant near Annapolis, Maryland on the shores of the Severn – eating crabs, of course. We were sitting outside under an awning on a rainy day and these gulls were nearby and I had my camera with me – and was catching grab shots of the gulls.

1. Toning in Lightroom.


First I set the tone with the temperature and tint of the image (top sliders in Lightroom). For this image I wanted cool tones that captured the feeling of the dark gray overcast and rainy day, so i moved the temperature slider into the blue and the tint more towards green.

2. Cropping and Brightness in Lightroom

Next I will frame the image using Lightroom’s cropping tool, then adjust the exposure to a dark tone (-2.15), , recovery (white area density up to 64) and clarity into the negative (-35) to soften the detail in the image.

2. Vingetting in Lightroom.


In thinking about how we see and perceive things, we don’t have precise boundaries or frames in our mind – so I make heavy use of vignetting to isolate my subjects. I feel this makes it easier for the viewer of my images to see them as I do. Most, but not all of my images use a darker approach to vignetting rather than a lighter one. Light areas tend to attract the eye and I wish to make the subject the lighter area that attracts the viewer.

3. Edit in Photshop / Topaz Impression


It is at this point that the image is moved to Photoshop and Topaz, It’s important to note that as this tutorial doesn’t require layers necessarily, you could just go straight to Topaz Impression as a standalone, but as we’ll be using a brightness contrast adjustment in Photoshop later I’ll head straight into Photoshop and open Impression as a plugin.

Impression is now accessible as an adjustment through Topaz Studio. In order to launch Impression through Topaz Studio, simply select the Topaz Impression Workflow under the “Specialty” section of the workflow panel.


Here is the first cut with Topaz Impression – using the Oil Glaze by Blake Rudis.

4. Photoshop Touchup Brightness / Contrast Adjustment

Picture10We’re going to be processing a few times in impression we just need to bump up a brightness/contrast adjustment to bring in a bit more light and some more of that blue tone.


Impression added this beautiful texture into the image that we’re losing, we’ll be using the sharpening tool in Photoshop to enhance the texture applied in Topaz Impression.

5. Final Impression Pass


Then it’s back to Impression to apply a reduced application of Turner Storms II preset to slightly alter the texture by changing the overall Strength to 34% using the strength slider in the bottom left of Impression.

Here is our final image:


Though I have been a photographer in some form most of my life, probably from the age of eight or nine – roughly the last sixty-five years, my approach to photography has gone through a number of stages. During that time I have gone from nascent amateur to active professional and back to amateur. With the advent of digital photography my vision took a radical departure from where it had been prior to that time. I think the concept of digital photography is confining and what we might label it is digital imaging. The ability to manipulate ones and zeros which are then reflected in images on a screen and possibly as a physical print has expanded the artist’s horizon to the point that virtually anything and everything is possible. The combination of tools like Adobe’s Creative Suite and Topaz Labs plug-ins are the brushes, pigments and canvas of the digital artist. I no longer see a vision of an image in limited photographic terms, but I have available the entire realm of the graphic arts.


About John Ellingson

John  has been taking photographs since the 1950s.  He was trained in fine arts in college and also worked professionally as an advertising photographer as a technical illustrator. Along the way through photography John had the good fortune to come into contact with many interesting individuals and fine photographers. He was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Ansel Adams, who had retained John’s work in his personal collection now at the Arizona Center for Creative Photography.

John has had a life-long interest in the visual arts from drawing, painting and film making through photography to the expanding universe of digital images.

See more of John’s work here.

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