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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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Getting Started with Topaz Sharpen AI

This article is to introduce you to and provide you with some helpful resources to using Topaz Sharpen AI, the industry’s most advanced image sharpening solution powered by artificial intelligence!

Why You’d Want to Use Sharpen AI

There’s nothing worse than the feeling of taking the perfect photo, rushing home, opening it up on your computer… and realizing that it’s blurry at 100%. Our goal of getting sharp images is one of the major factors we invest in great cameras and equipment, and why we’ve invested so much time in learning the best techniques!

But even with the best equipment and expert techniques, we sometimes still end up with images that could be sharper. When this happens, it’s usually caused by one of three problems: camera shake, focus issues, or general softness.

So, let’s get into Sharpen AI and how you get more out of your photos!

When to Use Sharpen AI in Your Workflow

We recommend using Sharpen AI in the middle of your workflow. Eliminating noise as a first step is key because it will ensure that you are working on a clean image! It is always important to remove any damaging defects before applying any color, detail or creative adjustments to your images.

How Sharpen AI Works

There is a reason that nobody has released an deep-learning sharpen AI tool for photographers so far.  It is quite an engineering challenge.

We trained our artificial neural network with millions of blur-sharp image pairs. The neural network eventually “remembers” what the sharp image should look like if it sees a blurry image. After months of training, the neural network produces a sharper image when given an image it has not seen before.

Installation Tips

Here’s a quick rundown to get you up and running with Topaz Sharpen AI!

BEFORE YOU DOWNLOAD, please check out the system requirements of Sharpen AI and see what kind of performance to expect:

After meeting the requirements, simply follow the directions below:

  • Download Sharpen AI from the Topaz Labs Downloads Page.
  • Log in with your Topaz Labs account or the email address that you used to purchase.

To start a free, 30-day trial, please follow the directions below:

Extra Tip: Started a trial, bought the product, and still seeing “trial” on the application? No worries. Simply click “Help” in the top toolbar and then click “Update Product Ownership.” And with just those few clicks, your product will be updated.

Using Sharpen AI

The key to getting the best results from Sharpen AI is determining the root of the cause: camera shake, focus issues, or general softness. Sharpen AI includes a separate module to handle each one.

Stabilize: natural shake reduction

Even the steadiest hands don’t compare to a tripod when it comes to image sharpness. Unlike a tripod, though, you always have your hands with you! Sharpen AI’s Stabilize module has been trained to reverse motion blur and make handheld images look like they were taken from a tripod.

Focus: better focus correction

Focus correction is a notoriously difficult problem that’s easy to get wrong, but Sharpen AI’s Focus module excels at correcting up to ten pixels of focus blur. This is perfect for sharpening out-of-focus eyes or correct issues caused by incorrect in-camera focus. Tip: use selective adjustments for best results!

Sharpen: general input sharpening

Even with no motion blur or focus issues, images generally come out of the camera soft. Sharpen AI includes the Sharpen module that specializes in correcting small amounts of general softness without any artifacts or halos.

Other Resources for Sharpen AI

We have a couple other pointers regarding noise reduction. To understand more about the causes of noise and how to avoid them during your next shoot, you can read our article Sounding Off on Noise in Images.

Topaz founder and CTO, Albert Yang lends his expertise in another article, Let Sharpen AI Sharpen Your Photos, detailing the technology behind image sharpening and the process of developing Sharpen AI.

Still have some questions on Sharpen AI? No worries. We’ve gathered up some frequently asked questions and our knowledge base of Sharpen AI articles.