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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.

Get the Topaz Applications Featured

Topaz DeNoise AI

Shoot anywhere in any light with no reservations. Eliminate noise and recover crisp detail in your images with the first AI-powered noise reduction tool.
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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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How to Use the Basic Adjustment

Hi everyone! There’s been a few questions popping up about how to use the all new Topaz Studio like “What are Adjustments?” and “How do I add an Adjustment and what should I do with it?”

To help get you started, I’ll be going over the most useful and popular Adjustment in Topaz Studio, the Basic Adjustment! This Adjustment is a great starting point for correcting exposure and color in images. You can learn more about the Basic Adjustment on the Basic Adjustment Information Page but, if you’re ready to get started now, you can follow along with this entry level introduction to learn more and to start working immediately on your own images.

Overview of the Basic Adjustment

Topaz Studio is a simple to use editing platform with Topaz Labs’ powerful acclaimed photo enhancement technology. It works as a standalone editor, a plugin within Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as a host application for your other Topaz plugins. It is free to use the program, all 1-click effects, and 10 Adjustments.

The Basic Adjustment is one of 10 free Adjustments within Topaz Studio! You can get access to all the common tools you need to balance your exposure, correct color, and control image detail. Feel free to follow along as I show you how you can correct images in this beginner level tutorial.

Don’t have Topaz Studio? Topaz Studio is free to download! You can get it now by using the links below. If you need more information about Topaz Studio, check out this overview: Introducing Topaz Studio

Free Topaz Studio Download

What You’ll Need

This introduction tutorial is really easy to follow along with but you will need just a few things if you’d like to follow along with me:

1. Topaz Studio. You’ll need Topaz Studio on your computer if you’d like to follow along during this tutorial.

2. An Image. Grab an image to follow along and try it out for yourself.

3. About 10 minutes. This beginner’s level tutorial will only take about 10 minutes to complete.

I’m going to teach you about each slider and what it does but it’s up to you to decide what looks good on your image! Ready to go? Let’s get started!

Step 1: Add the Basic Adjustment

There are a few different ways to add the Basic Adjustment in Topaz Studio.

  1. Click the Basic Adjustment icon in the Adjustment Buttons (pictured here). All 10 free adjustments are located here.
  2. Click the More Button in the Adjustment Buttons to show a list for all Adjustments. Click Basic Adjustment to add it to your Adjustment Stack.
  3. Go to Menu > Adjustment > Basic Adjustment to add the Basic Adjustment.
Add a Basic Adjustment in Topaz Studio

Click the Basic Adjustment icon in the Adjustment Buttons.

The Basic Adjustment in Topaz Studio

The Basic Adjustment in Topaz Studio.

Adjustment Overview

The Basic Adjustment

The Basic Adjustment might look intimidating because there’s a lot going on but it’s very simple to use! The Basic Adjustment features Integrated Masking, Blending Modes, an Opacity Slider, Adjustment Level Presets, and sliders. The sliders are Exposure, Clarity, Shadow, and Highlight. There’s also Saturation, Temperature, and Tint. Usually, sliding to the left is “less” while sliding to the right is “more”. I’ll be going into each slider’s function in depth so read on to learn more!

Adjustment Level Presets

Every Adjustment in Topaz Studio has Adjustment Level Presets. These Presets are a great place to start when editing an image. You can see each slider change when you roll over a different Preset. To commit a Preset, simply Click the Preset Name that you like.

Try it Out: Click on the Adjustment Level Presets and see how they affect your image! Once you see how the Presets change your image, Reset the Adjustment. To completely Reset your image, which deletes all Adjustments used, click Reset in the bottom right corner of the program.

Basic Adjustment Presets

Basic Adjustment Presets.

Make Custom Changes

The Topaz Studio Basic Adjustment is a great starting point to adjust and correct image tone and color. Postproduction is made easy with 4 exposure related value sliders and 3 color effect related sliders. Making custom changes to any Adjustment is fast and easy. Simply click and drag a slider to make a change.

Let’s take an in depth look at what the sliders do in the Basic Adjustment. Now that you know how to Reset your image (remember, bottom right hand corner!) you can make changes without any fear of commitment. You can also use the Undo/Redo buttons in the bottom right of the program.

Exposure Related Sliders

Basic Adjustment Exposure Related Sliders

Basic Adjustment Exposure Related Sliders.

Exposure Slider

Change Exposure in the Basic Adjustment

You can easily update the overall exposure of the image by adjusting the Exposure slider. Simply increase the value of the Exposure slider and the image will become lighter. By decreasing the value, the overall image will become darker. No matter what you do, you’ll never lose color or image integrity, even with extreme adjustments.

Try it Out: Click on the handle (the white dot) and slide it around to see how your image is affected. You can also manually type in values from -1.00 to 1.00, use your arrow key to change the value .01 at a time, or click on the slider to move the handle there instantly. To reset the slider, put it on 0.00. You can also click the Slider Title to reset it.

Clarity Slider

Change Clarity in Basic Adjustment

The Clarity Slider is one of my personal favorites! You can make your image soft and smooth or detailed or even HDR-like! Clarity’s microcontrast technology emulates a skilled retoucher’s method of selectively brightening and darkening parts of your image. Bring out details in images by increasing the value of the slider. To soften image details simply decrease the Clarity slider.

Try it Out: Move the handle all the way to -1.00 to see how smooth and clean your image can look. Then, move the slider to 1.00 and you’ll see how detailed your image can become.

Shadow Slider

Change Shadow in Topaz Studio

Selectively manipulate shadows and dark tones within any image with the Shadow slider. Lighten all the shadows within an image by increasing the value of the slider or darken shadows and lowlights by decreasing the value. Any adjustment made will only affect the darker image tones and shadows.

Try it Out: Click on the handle (the white dot) and slide it around to see how your image is affected. You’ll notice that the dark areas of the image change. Try out a couple different settings and see which one you like best!

Highlight Slider

Change Highlight in Topaz Studio

The highlights in the image are where the image has whites or very light areas. You can effortlessly control image highlights within any image with the Highlight slider. Lighten all the highlights within an image by decreasing the value of the slider or increase the brightness of highlights by increasing the value. The adjustment will selectively affect the lightest areas of the image.

Try it Out: Click on the handle (the white dot) and slide it towards the right. See how bright your image becomes in specific areas? This is where your highlights are and they are changing because of the Highlight Slider changes! If you slide the Handle to the left the image highlights will become darker. Change around the slider to see how your image is affected. You can also manually type in values from -1.00 to 1.00, use your arrow key to change the value .01 at a time, or click on the slider to move the handle there instantly.

Color Related Sliders

Color Related Sliders in Topaz Studio

Basic Adjustment Color Related Sliders.

Saturation Slider

Change Saturation in Basic Adjustment

The Saturation slider in the Basic Adjustment is one of my favorite sliders! It easily adds and removes color from images. Increase or decrease overall image saturation by changing the value of the slider.

Try it Out: Click on the handle and slide it around to see how your image is affected. Try desaturating your image by sliding all the way to the left and trying oversaturating your image by going all the way to the right.

Temperature Slider

Change Temperature in Basic Adjustment

The Temperature slider allows you to effortlessly make images warmer or cooler. Increase the slider to add more yellow to warm up an image or decrease the slider to add more blue to make an image appear cooler.

Try it Out: Use the handle to change the Temperature. The slider is more blue to the left (-1.00) and more yellow to the right (1.00). This comes in handy if you have a color cast from shade or sunlight.

Tint Slider

Change Tint in the Basic Adjustment

Update an image’s overall color cast with the Tint slider. Decreasing the tint value will increase the green tint to an image while increasing the value will create a magenta tint.

Try it Out: Use the handle to change the Tint. The slider is more green to the left (-1.00) and more magenta to the right (1.00). This slider is great for balancing colors.

Adjustment Level Tools

Every Adjustment has tools. You’ll find adjustment level masking, an opacity slider, 28 blending modes, and more in the adjustment header. You can also turn the adjustment on and off, use advanced tools in the menu, and delete the adjustment.

Adjustment level tools make it easy to customize the Adjustment.

1. Masking. You can mask out (or in) pieces of your Adjustment with the Adjustment Level Masking Tool. There are 5 options including Spot, Brush, Gradient, Color, and Luminosity. You can invert the mask, make adjustments to it, stack different types, and much more!

2. Disable Adjustment. Turn the Adjustment on and off.

3. Menu. The Menu allows you to Copy, Paste, and Duplicate Adjustments. You can also Copy and Paste Masks or head over to the webpage by selecting Learn More…

4. Delete. Use the trashcan icon to delete the Adjustment.

5. Opacity. Use the Opacity slider to make the Adjustment lighter or stronger.

6. Blending Mode. Choose a Blending Mode to blend an Adjustment with only parts of your image.

Give these a try and see what they do! You can always use the Undo and Redo buttons in the bottom right hand side of the program. Topaz Studio features unlimited Undo / Redo so experiment as much as you like!

That’s It!

And that’s everything you can accomplish with the Basic Adjustment in Topaz Studio and how you can do it! I hope you tried out a few new things today and learned a little about the endless possibilities within Topaz Studio.

We’ll also be adding more tutorials and videos so be sure to give us a follow to learn more!

If you’d like to share your images with us, tag us on Instagram with @topazlabs and Twitter with @topazlabs. We’re also on Facebook and YouTube!

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Basic Adjustment Tutorial

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About Jodi L. Robbins

Topaz Labs - Jodi L. Robbins

Jodi is currently the Art Director of Topaz Labs. She has been an artist and photographer for over 15 years, starting with black and white film photography and alternative processing. After completing her BFA in Studio Art from Southern Methodist University and her Masters in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked in product photography for companies such as Heritage Auctions, Neiman Marcus, and the Dallas Cowboys.