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Developing a Unique Style with Hazel Meredith

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in photography.

I have always had an interest in art, crafts, and photography – taking snapshots of family and on vacations back in the day. I also have a graphic design/typesetting background (pre-desktop publishing!). I purchased my first SLR in 1979 – a Minolta XG1 – which I loved. Primarily I was still taking snapshots, but I was learning more as time went on. 

My husband, Dave, and I began covering auto racing around 1991. We had both grown up going to races – me at Riverside Park (MA) and Danbury (CT) with my parents, and Dave in Western NY. We both liked the modified-style cars and when we met someone at a racing show that was starting a new monthly regional newspaper, we offered to contribute articles and photos. We did that for about 13 years pretty regularly, but after ten years of photographing mostly cars, I felt the need to get back to some other kinds of photography too. That’s when I joined a local camera club and really began learning “the rules” and then how to break them. I’m still very involved with camera organizations at the local, state, regional and national levels.

How did you develop your style? Which tools do you find completely irreplaceable in your workflow?

I purchased the original Topaz Adjust after seeing it demonstrated at a regional camera conference. I was hooked on Topaz from then on! In the past six years or so, I really began to work more with textures, so of course, Topaz Texture Effects is my favorite!  I was honored that Topaz included some of the textures I created in the program too! I’ve written two e-books on working with textures, and often combine Topaz and Textures into a seminar or workshop. To me, they go hand-in-hand as creative “partners”.

Tulips with Topaz Texture Effects

I have regularly used Topaz DetailClarity, and Impression as well – now with the new AI products, my workflow is shifting to DeNoise AI and the new Adjust AI.

A hint of your style appears in your contributed preset, Painterly, in the new Adjust AI. What kind of images are best for this particular preset?

I created this preset to use on a landscape image that I had processed in a painterly style with the original Adjust. I was trying to recreate that look in the new AI version. I think this new preset is even better than the original! I like the ethereal quality it gives my images. This preset will work especially well on florals and landscapes, two of my favorite things to photograph. You can give it a try on your own images right now by downloading Adjust AI! The Painterly preset is under “Soft Effects” in the preset panel.

I love to take shots of iconic locations and with the use of Topaz and textures, turn them into something uniquely my own.

Purple Curves with Painterly Preset
Smoky Mountains Cabin with Painterly Preset

What images do you particularly cherish? What’s your most memorable shoot?

Hmmm, that’s a really tough question! I’ve traveled to quite a few of our national parks, especially in the Southwest, and the majesty of those areas are just breathtaking. The Red Rocks of Sedona; the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon; the Grand Canyon…all amazingly beautiful! 

On the other hand, I also love to photograph old abandoned places, old rusty cars and trains and such! The mystery of the stories that old buildings could tell fascinates me.

Those that have been able to catch one of your workshops live are lucky! Tell us a little bit about teaching photography around the country.

It’s been a busy spring and will continue into the fall! I recently did a seminar for the Photographic Society of Chattanooga called “Alternative Visual Artistry with Topaz & Textures”, and then a half-day hands-on workshop on Topaz products for the group. At the end of July, I will be heading to the Southwestern Michigan Council of Camera Clubs conference; in October to Mike Moats’ Macro Conference in Cleveland; and next March to the PSA Southern California Chapter event. And more events are on the horizon! 

My husband and I also run our own Creative Photography Conference, and we held our 3rd event in May here in New England. We will begin moving the conference to other areas of the country next year. This conference focuses on all things creative – both in-camera and post-processing. Fellow Topaz webinar presenter, John Barclay, was a speaker at this year’s event along with seven other talented photographers. 

I’ve also been busy with developing a new series of online videos and doing online one-on-one training. The internet makes it easy to work with people anywhere!

And, we are going to be relocating from Connecticut to Tennessee this fall, so things are extra busy right now with purging and packing!

For those that won’t be able to see you in person, what advice would you give to a photographer looking to achieve their own unique style or get started with photography?

For those just starting in photography, I think joining a local camera club or MeetUp group is a great way to learn as well as have fun with like-minded people. There is a TON of information on the web – watch videos (Topaz has past webinars on their YouTube channel), read tutorials, and just get out and practice! 

And yes, you do need to read the camera manual! You need to become intimately familiar with the workings of your camera so you can concentrate on what you are shooting when out in the field, and not fumbling about trying to get the settings right. You can download your camera manual to your phone or tablet to have it handy when on the road.

If you can, take a workshop with a pro. It’s another great way to get some insight, tips and techniques. You’ll develop your own style as you learn more and get inspired by the work of other photographers. 

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A.I. Gigapixel – An Inside Story

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I still vividly remember the day I was blown away when I discovered an enlarged photo similar to the one above.  I was reading a paper about deep-learning based super-resolution. In the paper, 400% enlarged photos had crisp edges, few artifacts, and — never seen before — rich detail!

As the first company to use super-resolution technology in commercial products, we keep track of all major research in this area. Theoretically, there is no way to perfectly recreate a high-resolution image from only a low-resolution image. The amazing breakthrough of this particular paper is that it uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) to fill in those missing pieces that cannot be directly computed.  A neural network is exposed to a large number of high-resolution and low-resolution image pairs.  This network gradually learns to synthesize plausible detail in the enlarged image based what it has seen.

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Everybody was excited. We wanted to let our users enjoy this revolutionary development. But wait, in this age of good digital cameras, does anyone even need more pixels?  It turns out many people do. People that develop large prints want more DPI. Photos from drones or phone cameras can be improved.

We immediately put a team together and planned to develop a product quickly. Within weeks, Chris, our youngest developer, had an app prototype and Dr. Acharjee developed the initial neural network.   However, things started to go off-track. Weeks turned into months. We had a great challenge on our hands.

First,  the published method was great for small, high-quality test images, but failed on real camera photos.  We had to develop a method robust enough for real digital camera raw/jpeg images.

Then there is the issue of speed —  or rather, the lack of it. It took many hours to enlarge just one raw image since over 4 million calculations were needed to enlarge just one pixel.  We had to find a new neural network architecture that not only produced the high-quality result but required much less computation.


 

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Even so,  a regular PC would still take a few hours to enlarge a large image. Dr. Acharjee had to develop a customized GPU neural network engine to take advantage of the computational power of your graphics card. Now it takes a laptop (with integrated graphics) 20 minutes, or high-end desktop GPU a few minutes per image.  We started to see the possibilities unravel before our eyes.

In the end, Chris made it into an image batch processor so that it could run in the background. Since there is no need for parameter tuning, batch processing is actually a better workflow for image enlargement.


Over a year after that day, with countless hours of frustration and joy, we present A.I. Gigapixel. It is still very slow on most laptops, but we are making it available so that you can enjoy the latest A.I. technology without delay. We are still tweaking and training new variations of our neural networks as I am writing this (it takes at least a week for us to know if the tweak is better or worse), and we will continue to release updates whenever better results are achieved. (Edit 10/04/2018 – We has since released A.I. Gigapixel V2 which had increased processing speed 3 to 5 time!)


I hope you find A.I. Gigapixel useful. There is so much hype nowadays about A.I., but Topaz Labs is the only company that has actually delivered A.I. based desktop photo processing application(*). We’ve already released A.I. Remix to change photos into paintings, A.I. Clear to remove photo noise, and now we hope A.I. Gigapixel can help you a little more in your pursuit of artistry.

Thank you for reading. Please give your feedback in the comments section.  If you have any questions you can reach out to our support system here.

Albert Yang, CEO Topaz Labs

(*) there are other deep-learning based photo processing products, all of them run on cloud servers instead of on laptop/desktop computers.

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About Albert Yang

Albert Yang founded Topaz Labs over 10 years ago, to form a company that adopts and implements the latest technology to introduce cutting-edge tools to the Photo market. With over 30 years of programming experience, he’s proud to offer his technical expertise to our users as the primary developer of our latest tools.

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Get started with this awesome standalone batch upsampling application. You’ve got nothing to lose.

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Behind the Facade by Alister Benn

Behind the Facade

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Who am I?

Who am I?

Am I a suit and a clean pair of shoes, punctual and articulate, or am I sleeping in the rain under a bridge in Glencoe? Am I Scottish, British or European? If I drop some money into the cup of a homeless person does that make me compassionate, or do I do that to appear compassionate? Does wearing black make me boring, or daring, a rebel or unimaginative? – Who am I? – You tell me, your perspective of these things defines who you think I am.

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Lost in Paradise

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Why ask yourself these questions?

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I make photographs for a living, and I ask these questions because as soon as we share a photograph, it and us get judged. Other people rate our work, they critique it, they make suggestions for improvement based on their perspective of our perspective and on the most basic level they make a decision of “I like that,” or “I don’t like that.” Judging is endless in photography: Is it photoshopped, is that real, that’s not a photograph, it’s a digital creation, if it’s not film it’s not a photograph etc. Much of contemporary photography is a popularity contest, which leads people to make images that in all likelihood will be popular, following the lowest common denominator principle. Judging is a fundamental of human nature – we do it all the time, usually with our first impression, which people refer to as their gut. “I always trust my gut, it’s never wrong!”

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We choose the bits we want to show.

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In my mind however, I believe photographs, like words can be a facade; something we choose to show someone else with our intention as a desired impact. Whether they represent the honest opinion of the photographer or the whole story is immaterial. For years I called landscape photography “lying by omission” as we choose to isolate the bits we want to show to tell our stories. How often do we compose the washed up plastic on a beach in our seascapes? There is no guarantee of truth in photography, only the contents of the frame.

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Land of Giants

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Photographers are storytellers.

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I would say the photographers I admire are great story-tellers, taking me on journeys, both literal and metaphorical, emotional and tangible. Do their images give me an insight to their personalities, or their true self? Perhaps, but not necessarily. I try not to judge! I can say I don’t like something, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. What is important for me when I view an image is “how does this make me feel?”

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The Promise

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How does it make them feel?

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When people view our work what type of words are they going to use to describe how they feel? “I love the mood, the energy, the emotion, the mystery, the drama, the sense of adventure” are all adjectives. Only photographers occasionally use technical language in these descriptions, but you don’t often get “I love the fact you used ISO 64 to make this photograph!”

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Magnetic Fields

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We should put those feelings into our work.

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If people are going to use adjectives to describe the impact of your work on them, it stands to reason that we should put those adjectives into our work at the front end during capture and/or processing. When I am working images I make a decision on what I want to say. I use adjectives like the ones listed above to make creative decisions on how the final image will look and feel. Is this based on reality of the event? Sometimes, or partly, or not at all. It purely depends on the facade of the day. The physical geography of the landscape remains unchanged, it is a graphical template on which to dodge and burn my expressive artistic intention.

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Who am I?

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Am I a suit and a clean pair of shoes, punctual and articulate? – yes, if I’m going into a negotiation.

Am I sleeping in the rain under a bridge in Glencoe? – yes when I was discovering Scotland’s landscape as a teenager.

Is our artistic intention to make people feel happy, sad, lonely, inquisitive, motivated, inspired, challenged? – yes, sometimes. We are a sum of many parts, changing with the seasons and each passing breath. We have the right to change our minds and be influenced by others.  We have the right to say one thing and do another! The facade may or may not represent who we really are.

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Gallery

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]More images from Alister Benn. Enjoy![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”57476″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_single_image image=”56843″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”57477″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_single_image image=”57478″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_single_image image=”57479″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_single_image image=”57485″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”57492″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_single_image image=”57493″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_empty_space][vc_separator border_width=”3″][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_column_text]

About Alister Benn

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_single_image image=”56813″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_circle_2″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”5/6″][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_column_text]Alister Benn is an award winning Scottish landscape photographer, author, educator, and guide. He lives on the isle of Skye off the north west coast of Scotland with his wife Juanli Sun. Each year they lead small group workshops and tours to select locations around the Scottish Highlands, Southern Iceland, Northern Spain and of course Tibet and the Himalaya.

Tours & Workshops | Portfolio | Facebook PageNewsletter[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_separator border_width=”3″][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

Thanks for Reading!

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]That’s all we have for today! If you’ve been inspired, feel free to comment on this post or share your own thoughts with us on one of our social media channels you can reach us on Instagram with @topazlabs and Twitter with @topazlabs. We’re also on Facebook and YouTube! We look forward to sharing the rest of Alister Benn’s year in the very near future, but until then![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

Free Download

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Feel free to download our brand new product, Topaz Studio, the all-in-one photo editor. It works as a plugin, a host editor for your Topaz products, and a standalone editor. Best of all it’s completely free to use![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”15px”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_btn title=”Windows” shape=”square” color=”primary” align=”center” button_block=”true” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fopen_beta.s3.amazonaws.com%2Ftopazstudio_online_installer.exe|||”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_btn title=”Mac” shape=”square” color=”primary” align=”center” button_block=”true” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fopen_beta.s3.amazonaws.com%2Ftopazstudio_online_installer.dmg|||”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]