December 2008

Bokeh Software Review

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
Alien Skin Bokeh Software - AFTER
Alein Skin Bokeh Software -  BEFORE
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?

Bokeh3When 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.

Topaz Adjust Review

After Using Topaz Adjust

Before 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.