Topaz Labs

Antique tractor show

After shooting sunrise at Clingman's Dome and the Roaring Fork Trail, I headed back to the hotel to find that the neighboring hotel was having an antique tractor show.  There was no admission and I already had my camera out, so why not stop? 

I've seen these shows around before, but never stopped to check one out up close.  There were several different kinds of tractors there.  First I came across regular old John Deere lawn tractors, but not your ordinary grass cutter.  These had racing tires, chrome rims and young men out there making engine modifications to them on the spot. 

Then there was fancy, sparkly, shiny, completely restored tractors.  Some of those were showroom quality and some the owners had put their own spin into when restoring them.  Some were made to resemble hot rod cars and some looked like old rat rods.  Then there was my favorite...the well worn, workhorse, rusty tractors.

I walked around the show capturing images with my Fuji X-E1 and 18-55mm lens.  All of the shots were hand held and later processed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.   

Farmall tractors were there in full force.  They probably outnumbered the other manufacturers by 4 to 1.  I imagine that has a lot to do with how long they've been around.    

This first image is one of the rusty Farmall Tractors that I decided to process in black and white.  I like how it turned out in color, but I like the b&w even better.  It was very bright out, so I shot at my lowest native ISO setting throughout the show, ISO 200.  I also went the entire show shooting on the aperture of F/8.  I was able to alter my depth of field without changing the aperture by getting physically closer to some of them.  Then I also used the camera's Macro mode a few times that helped create a more shallow depth of field.   

This next image I framed up of just the engine compartment.  I liked all the dirt, grime and small details.  I made it a point to include as much of that kind of stuff as I could, as I knew it would work great for the way I wanted to process it.   I processed this with the help of the new Topaz Clarity Plugin for Photoshop.

Finally, I got this shot of an old International Harvester.  It was positioned so that an old, quilt barn was behind it off in the distance.  I knew I wanted to somehow make it a part of the image, so I walked around the tractor looking for a composition that would allow me to include it while keeping the other clutter out of the background.  Here's what I came up with.

If you live in the south, it's not if, but when you run up on one of these types of shows.  I suggest next time you stop and check it out.  They can offer some interesting images if you look for them. 

Houston Skyline

Last evening I shared an image i had made of the Houston Skyline on my Facebook page.  Many people had nice comments and I appreciate that very much.   Tonight I thought I'd take a few minutes to tell you what it was like making that image.  

First off, the image was made from a pedestrian bridge.  The bridge was maybe 2.5' wide, but at least it were only for pedestrians and you didn't have to worry about vibration from vehicles.   The bridge was covered in chain link fencing on both sides.  You can see this in my first attempt below.

Oh yeah, I've got to figure out how to get the lens through that stuff!  Luckily I was shooting with my new travel setup, the Fuji X-E1 and the XF 18-55mm lens.  It is a small rig and allowed me to get mostly through the fence.  I was using a tripod, as most always, but I still had to get creative with how the lens was wedged through the fence and put pressure on the back side of the camera/tripod to keep it from moving.  My first attempt at that with a 18 second shutter speed was not a very good one...

Yeah, someone (me) must have moved my tripod while trying to hold it against the fencing.  OK, time to make some adjustments to that whole tripod holding, lens through the fencing gig.  This time I tried a shorter shutter speed...10 seconds. 

Hey, now we're starting to cook with gas...If you look at this image above, you can see I got some of the fencing in the upper right and lower left corners of the image.  I was shooting at 18mm, so I kinda expected something like that.  I think I can work with this, though.  A little tweaking in Adobe Lightroom 5, some help from content aware and the cloning brush in Adobe Photoshop CC and Topaz Labs Clarity Plugin, I was able to get the final image below. 

Now, this one I can deal with!  I wanted to kinda show you the progression of how this shot came about.  It's not always a "one and done" scenario.  In fact, it seldom is.  It is about trying different compositions, sometimes experimenting with a tripod pressing, lens through the chain link method until you can get something to work with.  I try not to rely too much on Photoshop to fix things like this normally, however this time I accepted a momentary defeat to the chain link...until I pulled out the ole content aware brush. ;)

Topaz Clarity is Awesome!

So, I'm a little late to this party because I've been so busy lately, but I finally got around to checking out Topaz's latest offering in Photoshop filters - Topaz Clarity.

Being a huge fan of Topaz, and having several of their other filters, I knew this would be a must have for me.  And I was right.  This is probably my new favorite Topaz filter, although it may be a photo finish between it and Adjust ;)

I wanted to give you a few examples of before and afters I did quickly this afternoon.  Most of the afters are just one click solutions using the Topaz presets, which are also labeled in a way that make picking one for your particular photo easy and straight forward.

Let's start with a macro example.  Here's a pretty neat shot.

Macro shot before using Topaz Clarity Filter.

And here's the pretty neat shot after Topaz Clarity.  Holy Wowzers!  For this I used a preset.  It was in the Macro preset category (fitting, huh?) and the preset was called Flower III.  I tell ya, these Topaz folks must be simple minded, like myself.  Although, I could never create such awesome filters.

Macro Photo with Topaz Clarity Filter applied

Next up a shot of some koi in a pond I took with my new, fancy pants Fuji X-E1.

Koi before applying Topaz Clarity Filter

And the after....

Koi after Topaz Clarity Filter has been applied.

I hate to keep on with the wowzers, but c'mon.  This is impressive stuff.  I used another preset for this, but they didn't have a "koi in a pond" preset so I went with one called Low Contrast Color Pop II.

Last up is a shot from inside the old TN State Prison.  This is one area I'm going to absolutely eat this Clarity filter up...HDR.  HDR photos and clarity have always gone great together, and being an advocate of HDR, I was certainly excited to see this filter come to life.  So I jumped right in with this shot.  Here is it before.

Prison before Topaz Clarity

And now for the after...

Prison after Topaz Clarity Filter is applied

Ok, so I know your thinking they can't have a "old abandoned prison" preset.  Well, not exactly, but close.  The preset I used is found under the Architecture category (again, fitting) and was labeled Interior Strong.  Since I was inside and all...I went with Interior and it worked well.

Another thing I wanted to point out was I commonly get questions about using multiple Topaz products and which one to use first, second, yada, yada.  Topaz says on their webpage that their is no right or wrong order the filters, or plugins, can be used in.  That's a good thing for me, because if there was a wrong way, I'd find it first.  However, here is a template for Topaz's suggested workflow when using more than one Topaz product that I got from their official blog page.  Hopefully this will clear up any questions you may have had.

Topaz suggested workflow

If your on the fence about getting Topaz Clarity I hope I helped push you on over, because for a limited time price of $30, it really is a no-brainer.