I’ve always been fascinated by and enjoyed using Photoshop to manipulate images in to something that was more than the original photograph provided. In some ways it started with taking a bad image and desperately wanting it to be “good” and knowing that no matter how good my skills or the software became that pictures was still going to be trash. Well as they say one man’s trash is another’s treasure and so the fun began…

Software has advanced so much in the last few years, processing digital images would take me 10 to 30 minutes to edit back in the day. Some of that was because of my poor skill and some of that was just the cumbersome nature of using photoshop. These days there are a myriad of filters that can help do the heavy lifting and today I spend 1-3 minutes on an image. It’s really mid boggling to think you can now push a button and have a brilliant black and white conversion or an oil painting. Really some of this stuff would have taken days to laboriously pick and push pixels around to make a pseudo painting…today it’s seconds!

My filter suite of choice for manipulating images is from Topaz Labs. They make a huge array of filters and they really just make my life sooooooo easy, it’s hard to imagine digital photography without them. They range from $40 to $80 each and are worth every penny, you can also save a bundle with their umm, bundles. Sorry! :-)

So enough jibber jabber, let’s see how this stuff works.

Click any image to embiggen.

Here is my original image of a lion.

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It was great moment ruined by having too much lens and not being able to get the action properly framed. I’ve tried may times over the years to “fix” it, but never could make it work. I decided to try to make a really dark background with just the teeth being the star. There is a fancy Italian word, Chiaroscuro, for this technique. And no, I can’t pronounce it.

I need to give it back the space that is missing and so I add some canvas in photoshop.

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One of the things that I want to emphasize is the texture of the lion fur. So I am going to sharpen the image first rather than last. Yes, I know you always sharpen last, but here I want to enhance details so that the filters have cleaners edges to work with.


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Sharpened with Topaz InFocus filter.

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Don’t worry about noise or any of the artifacts that would normally be a concern, we are going to cover all of that up. And we’ll start now, by converting to B&W with Topaz B&W Effects. There are like a thousand choices in the program, but I just wanted a simple black and white to work with and I used the “Classic” setting to make this happen.

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The next step is to make all but the lion disappear. I played with several vignette options in the filter, but this needed a bit of brute force. I went back to photoshop and used the good old Burn tool and manually got rid of what I no longer wanted. Be sure that you are working on a layer and be sure to start with a soft brush and low flow and just sort of feel your way through painting away the background.

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I wanted a lot of detail for the final steps and so I added detail and contrast with Topaz Detail, Micro Contrast Enhancement. I use this filter a lot!

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Now this is the where it really starts to get artsy and I “found” this trick on the Topaz site. BTW, the site has a zillion tips and tricks and they are all super easy to use and quite helpful. To emphasize the fur we are going to use Topaz Clean and the Curly Smooth filter. This filter gives everything a bit of a round edge a curly edge if you will! Play with the radius and strength sliders to get the effect that you want and then back off of that just a little. We are going to do this one twice…

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The edges have  whispyness to them now, but I wanted a bit more…as usual…and ran the filter again.

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Running the filter again gave the fur another bit of texture and complexity that I liked. You may have noticed that the background may have started to show up again in spots and so just give it a bit of a touchup with the Burn tool.

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Well now I am very happy with what, I’ve made from my trashed image and so, I signed it!

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From start to finish this image took me about 15 minutes, your mileage may vary, but you are going to be amazed with what you can do with these filters. And mostly because I’m a nice guy and also  too see if anyone is still reading this and because the Topaz Labs people are so awseome and amazing, they are going to give you a 15% discount on your Topaz purchase. Just use the very clever code of Jeff15 when you check out and boom, save 15%! You can go to the Topaz Labs website and download free 30 day trials…HERE. Free test drive and then save 15%, I told you they were awesome!

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave me a message, I answer them all! I’d also love to see what you create!