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Topaz Tutorial: Editing Landscapes with Miroslav Petrasko

Landscape photos are quite different from cityscape photos. If you are not shooting right into the sun, you usually have much less local contrast and extreme differences in brightness in the photos. You can’t just take one and be done with it, so some editing is always required–even if it’s only to fix lens problems.

Sharpness is really important in landscape photos. Together with a bigger depth of field, it makes landscape photos stand out more. Here is where Topaz Sharpen AI can come in handy.

A Stunning View

This is a view from the Five Fingers lookout platform in the Austrian Alps, high above the town of Hallstatt. It was taken during an overcast day, so while it’s properly exposed, it’s a bit dark, hazy and bland. I won’t go through every edit I did on these photos, but will point out some of the most important techniques to help you get more from your landscape photos.

Original Image (Click to view at 100%)

I took three exposures for this photo in 1EV increments. I could have gotten away with just using a single exposure, but I knew I would want to lighten and darken certain areas. So, having a proper exposure of every area makes for a cleaner photo than one that was over or underexposed in post-processing. Here are the two additional exposures.

(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)

There is a photo post-processing technique called matching, which I’ll show you below. By doing so, you end up with a nice even blend that looks like one seamless photo. The idea behind it is to take the RAW files as smart objects into Photoshop and blend them together to get the desired exposure everywhere. 

(Click to view at 100%)

Once this is done, you go back into the RAW editor and tweak the RAW files, to create a similar look for each one. You do this by mostly tweaking the exposure, highlights, and shadows. You can also add enhancements like vibrance, dehaze and clarity to the RAWs, to make further editing even easier.

(Click to view at 100%)

I blended the photos into one by using layer masks and luminosity selections. Once done, I matched the exposures and added vibrance, clarity, and dehaze to them. Above is a screenshot of the blended, tweaked underexposed RAW and below is how it looked afterward. You can see that the blend has almost no contrast to it. That is normal because when you remove highlights and shadows, you also remove contrast. 

(Click to view at 100%)

From this point on, all of my edits are just tweaking brightness and contrast, maybe a bit of saturation here and there. Usually, you don’t need to edit saturation at all, as adding contrast makes the photo more saturated on its own. But as this was very overcast, I wanted the foreground color to stand more.

(Click to view at 100%)

You can see in this Photoshop screenshot all the layers I used and how I only painted them by hand to the areas I needed them in.

Best Practices for Sharpening

With this done, we’ll move on to sharpening. There are three things to consider here. Firstly, the whole photo should not be of the same sharpness. Our eyes are drawn towards sharper (and brighter) areas so you can use that to draw it towards your main subject. In this photo, that would mostly be the foreground and the middle area around the lake.

Secondly, not everything should be sharp. For instance, you would not expect the peaks in the further background to be as sharp as the closer ones. And you wouldn’t expect to have much darker clouds than the rest of the scenery.

Thirdly, it is good practice to resize the photo to your final desired resolution and only afterwards sharpen it. 

Topaz Sharpen AI

Let’s sharpen this photo now. We need to merge all the layers into a new one, and then use Topaz Sharpen AI from the plugin menu. There are multiple processing modes available in Sharpen AI to target specific problems–Sharpen, Stabilize, and Focus.

With a landscape photo, you can use all of them. For instance, if you got your focus a tiny bit off, you can try the focus mode to return some sharpness to the out of focus areas. Or perhaps you had a bit of wind come through and the foliage moved. In that case, you can try the stabilize mode.

Sharpening in Topaz Sharpen AI (Click to view at 100%)

For this photo, let’s go for the standard Sharpen mode. The standard settings look a bit strong for this photo, so let’s move the Remove Blur slider to 0.4. You can see a few areas in comparison below, all are at 100% zoom.

(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)

We can remove the sharpness from the areas where it’s not needed, and tone it down in others. You can choose to go back to Photoshop and remove the sharpness from the clouds, if you want them to be a bit blurry and soft. I also removed the sharpness from the peaks in the distance and toned it down on the peaks that are close. Like this, there is a nice progression, with the sharpest things close to you, losing the sharpness the further away you look.

The Final Result

Final Result (Click to view at 100%)

About Miroslav Petrasko

While I started as a game designer, I switched to photography around 10 years ago. Since then I have been working with different luxury travel brands and almost daily, stubbornly updating my blog at hdrshooter.com with new photos, articles, and guides. It really is not an easy task.

Below are a few other landscape photos from my travels. The first three are from Austria: the view from Dürnstein Castle, Grossglockner High Alpine Road and the reflection at Altaussee. The last two are from Switzerland: the peaks over Zermatt and Matterhorn.

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Topaz Tutorial: Editing Cityscapes with Miroslav Petrasko

When editing cityscape photos, Topaz software can be a big help. There are many sharp edges and details in cityscapes you’ll want to preserve. To achieve this, you can get a lot of help from Topaz DeNoise AI and Topaz Gigapixel AI. Both are useful with reducing noise while preserving sharpness and adding clarity. And today I will show you how.

Cityscape Fireworks

Let’s look at one of my cityscape photos with fireworks. When I capture photos, I prefer to do multiple exposures, so I can blend them later in post-processing. Unfortunately, this does not work that well with fireworks. So, there are two ways I can approach it: I either take separate photos of the scenery before the fireworks and blend them in, or I just work with a single exposure and try to make the best of it. Over the years, I’ve settled on the second option.

Working with only one exposure creates some other issues though, namely noise. Since you can’t predict the brightness an explosion will create in a scene, you will end up with a lot of underexposed photos. You don’t want to overexpose, since you can’t easily fix overexposed areas. What I like to do is double-process the photo: I create a copy of its RAW file and process it once for the highlights and once for the shadows. Then, I put them back together in Photoshop.

Let’s look at a photo to understand it better.

Fireworks in Budapest

Base RAW Image (Click to view at 100%)

This fireworks photo was taken in Budapest, Hungary, during the St. Stephens celebrations there. It’s the biggest holiday in the country and always ends with huge fireworks over the Danube River.

This is the base RAW image I captured. As you can see, while the fireworks look a bit overexposed, the foreground feels dark. So, let’s break it into two files and edit them both.

(Click to view at 100%)

The photo above is edited for highlights, where I toned down the bright areas a bit.

The photo below is edited for shadows, where I opened the dark areas a lot. 

(Click to view at 100%)

Now I can put them into layers in Photoshop and using luminosity selections, I select the shadow areas and paint in the brighter version.

(Click to view at 100%)

While I won’t focus on this technique here, you can find a detailed description on my blog.

I also did a few tweaks to open the shadows even more. One thing I like to do in photos like this one is to brighten the lightest areas of the fireworks, to make them stand out even more.

Now it’s time to fix a few issues that were introduced with this post-processing. Since we had to brighten the shadow areas, they now have much more noise than the rest of the photo. This can be fixed by using Topaz DeNoise AI. We can either use it on the whole photo or just on the parts where it’s mostly visible.

Noise Reduction with Topaz DeNoise AI (Click to view at 100%)

Let’s open the image in the Topaz DeNoise AI plug-in. The automatic processing worked quite well here, but let’s also manually move the Remove Noise slider to 0.25 to get rid of a bit more. I like it when the clouds and smoke in the sky feel soft, so I want to remove the graininess that was created during editing.

Below is a comparison of the results of DeNoise AI in multiple areas of the photo. All examples are at 200% zoom. It looks good, so I will keep it for the whole photo as it is.

(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)

We need to save the photo in Photoshop before moving on to the next step. Let’s save it as a TIFF file, as a copy, and without layers.

Now, let’s add some clarity in the photo. While Topaz Gigapixel AI is an image enlargement solution, and not specifically designed for this task, it can be used in this way. What we want to do is use oversampling here. Basically, we’ll enlarge the photo using Topaz Gigapixel AI, and then scale it back down in Photoshop.

I open it in Gigapixel AI and enlarge it by the 4x multiplier.

Photo enlarging in Topaz Gigapixel AI (Click to view at 100%)

The other settings can stay as they are since they will have little effect when we return the photo to its original size. But if your photo is a little out of focus, or the camera moved while you were taking it, you can try and use a higher setting for the Remove Blur option. Click “Start” to begin the image enlargement processing.

Once the process ends, I open the result back into Photoshop. The original photo’s width was 5,161 pixels. The new one is 22,000 pixels (that’s the limit for a TIFF file). This can now be resized in Photoshop back to the original 5,161 pixels to get our clearer result.

Resizing in Photoshop (Click to view at 100%)

Below are a few specific areas of the photo to see it before and after. All of these are at 200% zoom. As you can easily see, the details are much better, and the overall clarity has been greatly enhanced. Since Topaz DeNoise AI also adds a bit of clarity, you can see their cumulative effect. 

(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)

We don’t need to use this on the whole photo, with areas where there are no details — we don’t need more clarity. If we just overlay the result with the original edit, we can use masking to apply it only to the areas where it is needed.

Clean Up in Photoshop (Click to view at 100%)

We are almost done here, except for a little cleanup. The trees in the top left and the light streaks in the bottom left have to be removed, together with few dust spots. Once it’s done, we have our final, enhanced and improved result below.

Final Result (Click to view at 100%)

You can drag the interactive, white slider bar across the image to see the improvements.

Editing Workflow

This way of post-processing works on most cityscape and similar photos. Usually, with cityscape photos, you have bright areas (e.g. artificial lights, windows, sky) and many dark shadow areas. Either by splitting one RAW into multiple images, or by having taken multiple exposures, you can properly expose both. By putting them together, you will create a nice, evenly-exposed photo that you can then reduce noise with Topaz DeNoise AI and add clarity with Topaz Gigapixel AI. I prefer my photos to look perfect at any size and this workflow allows me to achieve that.

Here is one more example below, where I used Topaz DeNoise AI and Topaz Gigapixel AI. You have here a full image and then a few before/after detail shots.

(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)

About Miroslav Petrasko

While I started as a game designer, I switched to photography around 10 years ago. Since then I have been working with various luxury travel brands and almost daily and stubbornly updating my blog at hdrshooter.com with new photos, articles, and guides. It really is not an easy task.

Let’s end with a few more cityscapes. The first one is from my hometown of Bratislava in Slovakia. The other ones are: a sunset in Paris, France, looking up under the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, then one from Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan and lastly, the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.

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Topaz Gigapixel AI

Enlarging your image without losing detail has always been impossible… until now. Upscale your photos by up to 600% while perfectly preserving image quality.
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Behind the Facade by Alister Benn

Behind the Facade

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.

[qodef_blockquote text=”Who am I? – You tell me, your perspective of these things defines who you think I am.” title_tag=”h3″]

Lost in Paradise

Why ask yourself these questions?

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!”

We choose the bits we want to show.

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.

[qodef_blockquote text=”I believe photographs, like words can be a facade.” title_tag=”h3″]

Land of Giants

Photographers are storytellers.

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?”

[qodef_blockquote text=”How does this make me feel?” title_tag=”h3″]

The Promise

How does it make them feel?

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!”

[qodef_blockquote text=”When people view our work what type of words are they going to use to describe how they feel?” title_tag=”h3″]

Magnetic Fields

We should put those feelings into our work.

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.

[qodef_blockquote text=”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.” title_tag=”h3″]

Who am I?

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.

[qodef_blockquote text=”We have the right to change our minds and be influenced by others. We have the right to say one thing and do another!” title_tag=”h3″]

Gallery

More images from Alister Benn. Enjoy!

Alister Benn a Year in Review
Behind the Facade

About Alister Benn

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

Thanks for Reading!

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!

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