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Featured Interview: Travel Photographer Chiuki

We interviewed pro photographer Chiuki. He’s traveled most of the world — 167 countries and counting — and captures stunning images that will make you see travel photography in a whole new light.

Tell me about your background. How did you get into photography?

I’ve always been around cameras and photographers since I can remember, but I got my first photography job when I was 14. A local newspaper hired and trained me to be a photojournalist. I was given assignments to cover, but was also free to find other newsworthy items — which started my love of street photography. I was taught to ‘tell a story’ in as few pictures as possible, but also write a small article to give more context and detail to the photos. At that time, everything was shot on film. I made contact sheets then decided which frames to print, how they would be cropped, etc., then handed them over to the editor with my story.

Some years later, my best friend (a pinup artist) asked me to help him make reference photos for his paintings. He would ask random people to pose for him, and I built a photo studio. Eventually he wanted to approach specific models from magazines and movies to collaborate. After seeing his work and the pictures we had been making, everyone said yes. Other artists also began to approach me, as did the models’ friends and agents. Before long, I was approached by Playboy, Penthouse, and several other magazines and video companies to shoot their models as well as promotional material. It went so well, that I soon created a merchandising and promotions company around the artwork.

Describe your photographic style and setup.

I shoot 2 types of images — travel/hospitality as well as female nude/erotic & lingerie/boudoir. For studio work, I use Hasselblad and Canon with Elinchrom. For travel, I use Canon and Sony/Sigma ART plus SLIK & 3 Legged Thing with Manfrotto gearhead. I especially like the increased cropping options I get from the bigger sensor.

I live in Amsterdam, and from the moment I saw it, I fell in love with the beauty of the city and people. I had no preconceived notions but rather took the time to explore and really ‘see’ the city. I used a cheap crop-sensor camera for a 365 project — every day for a year, I posted a picture of something unusual, beautiful or amazing and wrote about it in Dutch (with help). This accomplished 2 things — to motivate me to get out there and explore, as well as interact with the locals in their language. I highly recommend exploring rather than picking up the travel guide or going to those few famous photo-op spots. Make the story your own.

What is your favorite subject to shoot?

I love to shoot travel images — but you don’t always get the conditions you want — even with the best planning. The light, the weather, the clouds, construction — a million variables often make it a real challenge. In the studio is much easier. Almost every aspect can be precisely controlled, which is why my favorite subject to photograph is women. To be able to pose and capture the beauty of a woman in a photograph — for me, there’s nothing better.

How does Topaz Labs software help your editing process?

For my travel photography, I often shoot in the evening and at night. I love the light coming from windows and highlighting the texture of the buildings and streets — small details of light and shadow and colors — can tell a story. I love creating images that show the power of a building or city combined with dramatic lighting that transports the viewer into the scene. So rather than making snapshots, I take a lot of time to really look around and capture the scene in a way that says something, that invites the viewer to envision themselves in those scenes. But shooting in the evenings has huge challenges. People move, ISO needs to be very high to freeze motion at night. Topaz has the best software for my workflow — to remove the noise from high ISO shooting, to mask windows and objects, to sharpen fuzzy details from wide open lenses and to prepare images for large format printing. It’s simply the best application suite available for my workflow.

How do you find your inspiration?

I get inspiration from taking my time to explore and look at a scene. If I move too quickly I miss a lot. There are so many details and angles to take in — so take your time. Don’t rush. For me, it’s a process — to see, to understand, to choose, and to capture. In the studio it’s the same — before we get started I get to know the person. I ask a lot of questions to better understand how they see themselves, but also because I’m extremely curious. By asking questions, I get not only a deeper understanding but also inspiration. Someone will say things that trigger ideas and enthusiasm — it’s those moments that make me say ‘Oh! Let’s try this, or let’s try that’. Asking questions is only a part of the process — the equally important parts are listening, and really seeing.

If you could only shoot with one lens, what would it be?

Tough question! I prefer prime lenses, and I love my TSE24 and Laowa 12, but would go for the Sigma ART 20mm for travel. Sorry to say, it won’t cut it in the studio. I would struggle between a few, but ultimately probably the Sigma ART 135 because of the way it renders the face and body. The 105 and 85 are great but I think the 135 is more flattering and also has great color with both Sony and Canon. Let’s not talk about Hasselblad.

What is your biggest challenge in photography?

Making time. We get so busy and have so many commitments. We all have the exact same amount of time every day — 24 hours. It’s up to use to prioritize that time in the optimum way. We make choices and compromises. For me it’s taking the time I need to enjoy both the process and the result. If I rush — I’m almost always disappointed with the result.

Follow Chiuki on Instagram at @chiukiamsterdam.

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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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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 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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