By Robert Lachman
This week I am going to review HDR Darkroom Pro from Everimaging LTD which is available from the Mac App store.
HDR or High Dynamic Range programs generally combine photos of different exposures of the same scene into one photograph. It’s a software process of taking the best exposures and combining them into one photo with much better tonal range. It’s tough for just one photo to contain detail in the shadows and highlights. It’s a little too much to ask from your camera.
Depending on your settings, the results can vary from natural to extreme. It’s really a matter of personal preference.
HDR Darkroom Pro has a simple interface. When I went to the help menu it took me to their website, I was confused how to add photos. It should be basic step.
I could find only user guides for similar programs like HDR Photo Pro or Darkroom. I didn’t see a specific guide for HDR Darkroom Pro for the Mac. (They have recently added a new PDF manual for HDR Darkroom Pro for HDR Darkroom Pro. I just received an email from the support team).
The guides were helpful though and I discovered I just needed to drag the photos to the left side of the interface. Later I noticed their was a little “i” I should have checked. It gave me more of the instructions.
I am hoping they will add some nice video tutorials for this software.
I tried out the software using photos of two images: one from the Orange County Fair and the other of bicycles at the Huntington Beach pier. I used three differently exposed images on each: two stops over exposed, one normal exposure and one two stops under. This is my normal routine for most of my HDR photos.
The procedure upsets my wife to no end, when I don’t reset the her camera back to automatic.
First, I dragged the photos to the interface, they appeared on the left sidebar, then I highlighted the three images by shift-clicking, then I dragged them to the middle. Next there was a pop-up labeled: No Aligment and Alignment. I picked Alignment.
My next choice of adjustment on the right sidebar was the style of Tone Mapping.
Local Tone Balancer, Local Tone Enhancer and Fast Tone Compressor. I chose Local Tone Enhancer.
Next I ramped up the strength, adjusted the fill-light and then added a little saturation.
Lastly, I saved the photo to my desktop as a JPEG.
It was a simple process after I went through it a few times. In the future version, I would like them to add some better examples and presets.
This seems like an early version of the software, but they have started it out at a low price so you may want to check it out. There are many other HDR programs available like the more expensive Photomatix or HDR Efex from Nik software which are much more polished.
By Robert Lachman
This week I am going to review the MacBook sleeve protector made by Colcasac which works with the MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and a smaller version for the iPhone.
The distinctive sleeve which uses a simple velcro closure to secure the laptop, includes a small pocket on the exterior to hold the charger or a couple of CDs or DVDs.
This case has an old-school feel. It’s almost seems like you might find an old photo of a young Steve Jobs or Woz back in the day using a sleeve case like this if they had just invented the MacBook laptops a few years earlier.
The exterior of the sleeve (in top photo) is made from a basket weave canvas materials. The interior of the sleeve is lined with a very warm and fuzzy polyester sherpa fleece. It certainly will keep your MacBook Pro or MacBook protected with it’s woolly feel.
The Colcasac sleeve doesn’t have any handles or shoulder straps so it’s best designed for added protection in your brief case, shoulder bag or backpack. It wouldn’t be great for carrying any long distances by itself.
Ok, Why do I need a case like this? It’s perfect for those who are looking for something different than the typical Neoprene form-fitting style case or translucent hardshell case. Remember there’s only room for your computer and the power adapter but, not much else.
The Colcasac sleeve is definitely a niche style product. So if you’re looking for a softer, more friendly looking sleeve style protector for your laptop, be sure to take a look at it on their website: www.colcasac.com. The ColcaSac sleeve I tried sells for $33.
Topaz Detail interior strong detail preset with a little added saturation
By Robert Lachman,
Topaz Labs always seems to be working hard to keep new Photoshop plug-ins at a reasonable price. One of my main complaints about most plug-ins is the high price, but Topaz seems to make them at a more modest cost.
Topaz Detail bold detail preset
So what can Topaz Detail, the latest offering from Topaz Labs, do for you? Let’s say you just have a photograph that looks flat, maybe low on contrast or you need the subject to pop off the page. Maybe you want that new-school, HDR, specially-lit composition. You know it, the Dave Hill or the Lucis Arts look.
Topaz Detail interior strong detail preset They’re the portraits that have the grunge look that just flies off the page or landscapes or interiors that are 3D masterpieces.
According to the developer, “Topaz Detail is uniquely designed to give the user full creative control over all aspects of detail enhancement without creating edge artifacts. It internally separates the image into three detail sizes – small, medium, and large details – and offers exceptional control over the precise manipulation of each detail type.”
Ok, let’s try and break it down into what this means. Topaz Detail lets you add sharpness and contrast without adding the noise usually associated with the process. While the Detail software is similar to Topaz Adjust it does a much better job of creating the enhanced effect without the increasing edge artifacts or over-sharpening.
Topaz Detail uses the normal Topaz Labs software interface with presets down the left side with examples, a large window for the preview of your photograph and sliders at the bottom to make adjustments.
I usually click on one of the presets and then make minor adjustments from there. Presets include: creative detail accent, micro-contrast enhancement, edge softener, soft looking, deep-blue sky, black-and-white contrasted, bold detail, and interior strong detail.
Topaz Detail softlook preset
With the Topaz Detail software, you do have a choice of making the images more contrasty, softer or even changing to black-and-white, so plan on spending some time working with your photographs. This is one of those software programs that gets addictive, once you get started, it’s hard to stop.
Topaz Detail works on Intel-based Mac OS with either 10.4 or 10.5, older PowerPC processors are not supported. It works with Photoshop CS3 and CS4 and Elements 6 and 7. They do support Aperture 2 by Apple but not Lightroom.
Topaz Detail bold detail preset
They do offer a free 30-day full function trial on their website or you can buy it for $39.99. They are offering the newsletter subscriber price at $19.99 until August 31st with the coupon code “SODETAILED” so check the Topaz Labs website to see if it is still available.
I think Topaz Lab has really come up with a fine piece of software at a great price. The software is comparable to others that cost over ten times as much. I won’t mention any other names. Topaz Detail is a little slow when working with large files. I tried it with a 41M Photoshop file and it took Detail about 2 minutes to load on my older model G5 Intel iMac. But, once it’s loaded, it works very quickly when you click from preset to preset or make adjustments.
It does look like Topaz Labs has a winner with Detail at an affordable price. Also available on their site is a bundle price for a limited time which includes, Adjust, DeNoise, Simplify, Detail, Clean and DeJPEG for $149. (It works with Windows and Mac OSX)
Topaz Detail interior Strong detail preset
All photographs by Robert Lachman © 2009 taken with the Canon G10 camera
By Robert Lachman
Focal Point from OnOne software is a photoshop plug-in for adding selective focus to your photographs, emphasizing the subject and eliminating or softening distracting backgrounds.
It’s a way of limiting your depth-of-field without purchasing very expensive lenses with f/stops of 1.4 or 1.8, or maybe even a tilt-shift lens. This software lets you add this style of effect after the fact, with control of how much and where you want the focus at a much cheaper price. The software also makes it very simple to add a dark or light vignette to your work.
Now, it’s possible to create the effects without the plug-in using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements by themselves, but it’s a complicated and time-consuming process.
When I first check out software, I usually go to the company’s website to see how much instruction is available. The OnOne FocalPoint tutorials are first-rate and very high quality, explaining how the software works.
The topics include:
- Launching FocalPoint
- Understanding the User Interface
- Using the FocusBug
- Working with Layer Masks
- Tilting the Plane of Focus
- Using the Vignette Controls
- Batch Processing
- Real World FocalPoint Examples
Once you take a look at the tutorials you’ll really have an appreciation of the software, and how easy, and how much time it will save you. I tried the OnOne FocalPoint software plug-in with Photoshop Elements 6 on my iMac and it worked without a hitch.
First up, was adding a little selective focus to a portrait. I opened a photo in Elements, then selected FocalPoint from the menu. The image opened in a new window with setting for Aperture Shape of the FocusBug which includes controls for feather and opacity. Changing the blur is next with amount and motion. Following down the list is Vignette with lightness and midpoint. The last control is Film Grain amount.
Next, I selected the round shape and clicked on the photo which gave me the FocusBug with all it’s controls. Even though the shape says round you can change the size and shape with handles which extend from the bug. Other handles give you control of blur, feather, opacity and blur blend. Also, you can see the actual layer mask by selecting Show Mask from the menu. While this isn’t necessary, it’s very informative about the process.
For a finishing touch, I added a little vignette to the photograph and it sealed the deal for me. The software really passed the most important test. It’s fun and easy to use.
For my next photograph, I tried the Planar shape. This effect simulates using a tilt-shift lens with rectangular shaped FocusBug extending through the entire image from top-to-bottom or side-to-side. This gives you softness or blur on each side of your subject. If you use option-click you can add it to only one side.
Portraits and sports photography with distracting backgrounds is where I think consumers would use this software. Most people can only afford zoom lenses which don’t really produce photographs with much limited depth-of-field.
The full version of OnOne Focal point is $159 which may seem expensive, especially if you’re using it with the much cheaper Photoshop Elements 6 instead of CS4. The price is competitive with most plug-ins on the market today and it’s a quality product which I would recommend.
By Robert Lachman
Snap Art 2 by Alien Skin software is a Photoshop plug-in which changes your photographs into art work. If you need to turn a beautiful landscape image into an oil painting or a senior portrait into a water color it’s a perfect fit.
I tried it out with Adobe Photoshop 4, but it will work with Photoshop CS3, Element 4.0 or later for Mac and Photoshop Elements or later for Windows.
According to the developer, “Snap Art 2 expertly applies thousands of brush strokes. You simply show where you want more detail. This improved level of control makes it easy to render stunning portraits.”
The software is very easy to use. It’s simple: just open up your photo in Photoshop, click on the filter menu, roll down to Snap Art 2, and pick out the expressive style you’re looking for which include: color pencil, comics, impasto, pastel, pen and ink, pencil sketch, pointillism, stylize, and watercolor.
First, I clicked on color pen, it added some white snow to my photograph. It’s really a different looking effect. It looks like it’s snowing in the photograph, but it’s artistic. Next, I tried medium pencil, low saturation.
Since I have no idea from the title and there are no examples. I found there was a lot of clicking and trying stuff out. If you have time to experiment, it’s great but if you’re in a hurry it may be a problem.
Next on the my list was Comic. It made an interesting effect with large dots. This isn’t something I would probably have a specific use for, but maybe if you’re a graphic designer, it would be a cool way to jazz up your work and give it an imaginative style.
Pen and ink was next on my list. This turned the photograph into a black-and-white drawing look. Next up was Oil Paint and this really transformed my photo into a painting. I’m truly an artist now.
“To turn your photo into a beautiful work of art with a single click,” like the Alien skin software sites says, it will cost you $199. You can download a fully functional demo for 30-day tryout from their website.
Alien Skin’s Snap Art 2 does deliver artistic looking photos. Again, like I usually say about a lot of plug-ins, it seems a little pricey, but then, it’s a lot of work for the developer.
By Robert Lachman
After spending hours, days, or weeks working on a multimedia project and burning it to a DVD, why would you just label it with your Sharpie Permanent Marker? Sharpie’s do a great job of writing on CDs or DVDs, although there always seems to be a question about the archival problems with the ink.
It’s just such a weak link in the chain. You’ve drank endless cups of coffee, cleaned up the sound, picked out the perfect transitions, chosen the music, made those still images come to life with the “Ken Burns Effect” turning it into professional looking movie.
Then it’s “Sharpie Time.” Well, now I’ve seen the light. I am going to finish what I’ve started and I’m going to finish strong. After checking out a number of products, I chose from Disc Cover 2.3 (updated March 2009) from Belight Software for my disc labeling. The program works with iPhoto and Aperture.
This new version of Disc Cover is simple and fun to use. This software is another example of how great the Mac developer makes things easy and so simple for the user.
When you open Disc Cover you start with the assistant which gives you a choice of numerous templates and they show up in a nice cover-flow looking window.
They ask you to choose a design from a drop down menu: Music, Photos, Files and Data, DVD, General, and Blank.
I picked the Photos which gave me a choice of about 40 templates. I picked Lady Sketch for a friend’s 40th birthday party pictures. Then I clicked on next which took me to my iPhoto library
I clicked on finish and now my photos of the birthday party appeared in the left window pane of the software.
Now I could drag over the photos individually, but I went for the collages menu. I couldn’t resist. I went for a collage called photo-cross. I dragged over the collage ungrouped it and and removed two of the photos to customize it. Now I dragged photos over from my iPhoto library to replace the placeholder photos the software put in. Now I double clicked on the photo and was able to crop and rotate as needed. The program gives you complete flexibility.
Five minutes later I’m ready to bring to my Epson R200 printer which can print directly on the DVD.
Other very nice features in the software include: importing your song titles automatically into the project. Also can redesign each element of your work independently. There is a large clip art gallery, which also features a place where you click on the small globe and the software will search for art on the internet based on the information from your iTunes data. There’s a random background generator, a good selection of layer masks which can also be applied to images, drop shadows, a variety of borders and the option to curve the text.
I give the software five out of five stars. If there was a fault with this program, I couldn’t find it. The cost is $34.95 via download at www.belightsoft.com. The also have excellent tutorials available on their website.
By Robert Lachman
This week I am going to review doubleTwist software. This is a free program to organize and transfer your media from your Mac to a cell phone like a Blackberry.
Since I use a Blackberry, this software really piqued my interest. It is possible to move media around, but it’s a pain, because you need to manually resize your movies and photos and then drag them onto the phone’s flash card.
doubleTwist makes all of this very easy. It’s simply a matter of point, click, and drag.
The software supports a variety of phones including the Blackberry Curve, Pearl, Storm, Bold along with G1, Android, Nokia, Sony, Ericsson, LG, and Motorola.
According to doubleTwist software company,
“Browse through your media and play anything. doubleTwist supports all major audio and video formats.
doubleTwist works with your phone, MP3 player, PSP, camera, video, and other media where you go.”
The multimedia software requires an Intel Mac with OSX 10.5 Leopard.
The software uses your basic iPhoto-like looking interface. It allows you to move media from Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, and the Pictures folder. You can add any folder on your hard drive to the media selection pane.
I just plug in my Blackberry Curve via USB, and after it appears in the left pane, I just drag photos, video and music onto the Blackberry icon. doubleTwist sizes down your photos and videos automatically. I couldn’t find any way to customize the sizes.
The answer to the big question is NO. It does not remove the copy protection from your protected iTunes music. You’re either going to pay Apple 30 cents extra per track for DRM free music, or figure another way to turn them into an unprotected format like MP3s.
doubleTwist, which is now in public beta, also has a web component which makes it a breeze to upload your photographs to Flickr and Facebook. You can also email links to the photos or movies. For now, the web based cloud service, is free to store the media on your doubleTwist account.
I did run into a problem when I tried to move an AVI movie file from my iPhoto library. The video looked good on my Blackberry, but had sound problems with only static noise on my audio track.
Also, I thought it would be nice if you could eject your device from the interface.
I posted my problem and suggestion on the doubleTwist community help forum and received a quick response from the developer. The software is new and it seems like they are happy to take your suggestions and work them into a promising and much needed software.
Since doubleTwist is in the developing stages, you may find some minor problems along the way. As a Blackberry user, I’m looking forward to a more polished version to solve my cross-platform multimedia needs.
Car photographs by Elaine Lachman @ 2009
By Robert Lachman
This week I am going to review Topaz Simplify from Topaz Labs software.
Simplify is a plug-in for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements which basically removes small stuff from your photographs. Sounds confusing. I mean it specializes in removing really small details, although this software lets you adjust how small. I guess you’re not sold on it
Topaz Labs demo at Macworld 2009
yet. Especially when you buy expensive cameras to give you more pixels, more information and more details.
This software almost sounds counterproductive, but this isn’t the case.
The main effects produced by this software is converting your photos into color or black-and-white line-drawings or making your photographs look like paintings.
I know, Photoshop and Elements have these features, but the Topaz Simplify plug-in makes it so simple with very fine controls.
Topaz Simplify is very easy to use and it works great. Maybe if I went through one of those giant photoshop books, I could figure this stuff out on my own, but I don’t see that happening. I need simple and fun, Topaz Labs’ plug-in Topaz Simplify hits the mark simple and fun mark.
Simplify should come with a warning: “Don’t download unless you don’t want to spend a lot of time trying out the cool effects.” It’s amazing to watch the process and how easy it is.
Victor Cajiao of Typical Mac User & Typical Shutterbug Podcasts.
Examples of Topaz Simplify painting effects.
If my explanation makes you more confused you can go to their website where they have a great video tutorial which explains how it all works. They even use different side dots to illustrates how it all works and how all the small elements are affected by the software.
According to the developer:
“The software turns any regular photo into a masterpiece of art with the sophisticated Topaz Simplify plug-in tool for Photoshop. Blur the distinction between photographic realism and art to give your viewers something truly unique to look at.”
Topaz Simplify creates artistic simplification and edge effects on regular photos in a unique way.”
The plug-in interface looks similar to the other Topaz Labs. You can view the images at 100-percent or the photo can be blown up if you need a close-up view for close detail work.
Next, you have the choice of your output preview mode: Combined Image View, which shows both the image and an edge detection view, next is Base Image View which just shows the details which have been removed and the third choice, Edge View which just shows the edge detection for line drawings.
Again, like most of the Topaz Lab software, you work from left to right. Your first tab choice is the presets which include: cartoon, image crisp edge, colorful and hard color painting, painting oil, painting watercolor, sketch color, sketch hard pencil and sketch light pencil.
The next tab is Topaz Simplify which it main slider you will use the most Simplify Size. This changes the sized of your features. I do recommend working on a duplicate layer so you could bring back details you may want later. Other sliders will bring back some of the details like details strength, boost and size.
Other tabs include Adjust which includes: brightness, contrast and saturation.
Next comes the Edges tab. This is where you have all sorts of control turning you photographs into line drawing. In the Edge tab you have a Type menu which gives you the chx oice of edge thickness and color or black & white.
I think Topaz Labs has done a lot of great work with the Topaz Simplify plug-in and I would highly recommend it.
Topaz Labs v.1.0 cost $39.99. They have a free 30-day free trial offer on their website. They’re also offering a suite of three of their products: Topaz Adjust, DeNoise and Simplify for $99. It should be available at this price for the next couple of months according to the developer.
Photography by Robert Lachman © 2009
By Robert Lachman
This week I’m going to review Bokeh from Alien Skin Software, a plug-in used with Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.
The basic concept of the software is to make your subject stand out or pop by using the software to create vignettes or shallow depth of field with the background. The software makes things fuzzy, but that’s a good thing if you can control where the out-of-focus goes. Sounds complicated, but not with Bokeh from Alien Skin. It’s very simple and well designed software. Let’s take a look at who the program is designed for.
Alien Skin Bokeh Software - AFTER
Alein Skin Bokeh Software - BEFORE
First you need Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. It can be used by the professional or amateur who wants to bring some isolation or snap to the subject matter. Maybe you have a very distracting background and too much depth-of-field.
Alien Skin says, “Bokeh is the only software that accurately simulates the distinctive blurring and creamy highlights of real lenses.
You can manipulate focus just like fast expensive lenses with Bokeh, Alien Skin’s lens simulator Photoshop plug-in. Bokeh can draw attention to your subject by manipulating focus and depth of field after the shot has been taken.” It is true, the software you can really make your subject jump out or snap.
And, in the long run, you can save yourself some money on buying specialty lenses because this software can replace them in some situations. Certainly, if your shooting in a journalistic or editorial situation, I wouldn’t recommend it, but for the wedding, portrait shooter or amateur photographers it would be ideal.
A tilt-shift lens is out of the realm of most amateur’s budgets. Very few know what a Lensbaby is to add the creative tilt-shift effect and most would have a hard time reaching into their pockets to buy a 85 mm f/1.2 lens to isolate your subject with a super-shallow depth-of-field.
Bokeh does a great job simulating all of these lenses after shooting your images. For the testing, I used Bokeh with Photoshop Element 6. You just open your image, then go to the filter menu, then select Alien Skin Bokeh. Next you can select from three tabs, Setting, Bokeh and Vignette.
Selecting vignette will give you a chance to select the color, size and feather of the effect. Choosing the Setting button gives you choices of the blur type. You can pick setting like Canon EF 85 mm f1.2 or a Nikon, Sony or Carl Zeis lens. How is that for lens control?
When you go to the Bokeh tab you get a chance to select your focus region regions like radial or planar. If you choose radial you get a circular tool with four handles which allows you to adjust the rotation and size of your sharpness area to give you the vignette.
Picking planar gives you the tilt-shift lens or Lensbaby effect where you control the blur from the edge to where you want if to be sharp on your subject. You have compete control with two handles. One larger circular handle which is the protected area and a smaller square handle which is the blurred area. You can push and drag the handles in any direction for complete control.
Next, for those who want add shallow depth-of-field, you will need to know how to make a selection to a new layer in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Once you have your selection on a new layer you can add Bokeh and have a very realistic looking shallow depth-of-field.
The success is dependent on your competence in making a good selection. But once you do the effect, it is stunning.
This price of the software is $199 which isn’t cheap. I always tend to think plug-ins should be a more inexpensive, but it does take a lot of work by the developer to work out the formulas.
Bokeh, does speed up your workflow for isolating focus and vignetting. Alien Skin is offering a 20% discount on their website of all their software until December 24 of this year (2008). It would be tough to figure this stuff out in Photoshop for most of us. For the Mac, the software requires Photoshop CS3 or later or Photoshop Elements 4.0.1 or later.
Alien Skin does offer a full feature 30-day trial download of Bokeh from their website. I definitely would recommend Alien Skins’ Bokeh software.
After Using Topaz Adjust
Before Using Topaz Adjust
By Robert Lachman
This week I’m going to review Topaz Adjust software by Topaz Labs, a plug-in for Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
It’s a little hard to explain what this software does, except it’s fun to use and adds a lot of pop to your photos.
According to the company line, Topaz Adjust uses advanced algorithms to achieve unique exposure effects and adjustments in seconds. It offers the user full control over creative exposure, color, and detail effects, and has the ability to save and reuse presets for maximum convenience.
I always love when the software companies say they use advanced algorithms. I can barely pronounce it, how am I going to explain it.
This software takes your boring low-contrast photographs and gives them an HDR end result with added color saturation or the David Hill effect on your portraits.
It makes things a little more contrasty, brings out the color and just adds a different look to your photographs. I really recommend you try it just to see the different outcomes which can be achieved with Topaz Adjust.
The software is very easy to use. It’s a plug-in and I tested it with Photoshop Elements 6. It’s nice when the software will work with both Photoshop or Elements so more people will be able to use it.
It couldn’t be simpler to use. Just open your photo, go to the menu item filter, scroll down to Topaz Lab, then select Topaz Adjust.
The program opens your photo into a new adjustable size window. You can then decide the magnification of your image.
Now the fun part begins. They do have some presets which includes, vibrance, color blast clarity, photo pop, and enhance contrast. Double click on any of these to give you an idea of some of the effects which can be achieved.
The presets give some nice examples but move on to the sliders. This is where you can experience the power of the software. Work in a left to right order as the tutorial on the website recommends.
The first manual setting is is Exposure which reveals six powerful sliders. The important sliders here are adaptive exposure and regions. Give these a try first. A little goes a long way.
Next try Details which includes the strength and boost sliders. Move to the right and pick Color for added saturation. You may start to see some grain and noise as you work with some of the sliders.
The Noise option will smooth out the grain. It does take the computer time to work out the computations so be patient.
With large photographs this will take some time. You may be used to blazing speed with your high-powered computer but you’ll need to relax and let the software do it’s work
One important note, this is an experimental and artistic process so it doesn’t work with every photograph.
Topaz Adjust from Topaz Labs is just one of those programs that’s very enjoyable to work with, especially since you only use one photograph and unlike HDR software which relies on multiple images.
You just need to fire it up and start working the sliders. Find a photograph which needs some added pop and color to the clouds or sky or a building which doesn’t have enough saturation.
It can almost make your photographs look like stylized cartoons as you ramp up the effect. It gives your simple photos a super-graphic look.
It’s not for every photograph. A lot of times you might not want this, but for so many flat boring-looking photographs an extra-cool boost may just be the ticket. Be sure to check it out.