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Capturing the “Miniature” Moments in Nature with Travis Hale

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

I initially became involved in photography in 2014, starting with general landscape and nature photography. I very quickly developed a passion for the natural world including birds in-flight, insects and spiders (but only the cute ones). It had been a while since I had participated in any photography (back in school with a film camera) and having seen some photos online, I thought it might be time to take up digital photography. Once I started getting back into it, the natural progression for me was expanding into micro and macro photography, since I conduct a significant amount of microscopy through my profession. I quickly discovered the beauty of nature both on the large (e.g. wildlife) and tiny scale (e.g. microbial life).

With your background in microbiology and microscopy, how does that affect how you see a subject in your photographs?

The microscopic world opens up a whole range of possibilities, many are right in front of our eyes without us even knowing. I think the more you get involved in the macro and microscopic worlds, the more you start to look for the finer details in a photo, things like patterns which may not always be visible to the naked eye. This can be things like disused timber, peppercorns and even the colors that appear from a crystal (like Aspirin below) when you cross-polarize the light. These are not manipulated colors but what actually comes from the camera.

Crystals from an aspirin tablet captured by polarized light microscopy.
Benzoic acid crystals captured by polarized light microscopy.

This kind of photography can be so difficult to master, but you make it look so easy! What advice would you give to a photographer looking to take and perfect their own macro and micro photos?

There are two areas to look at; microphotography usually requires some specialized equipment (e.g. a microscope) to get started and is, in my view, the more difficult of the two. I have an article on my specific microscopy setup and some on focus stacking (which is generally required for microscopy due to the shallow depth of field). 

In terms of macro photography, that is much easier to get started in. It may be worth considering extension tubes, which are a cheaper alternative to a macro lens, but eventually the lens is the way to go if you can fit it in your budget. The benefit of digital photography, in general, is that you really get the chance to see what is working and what is not working as you go, so then start to adjust your technique as you take your photos. 

This is especially important with macro photography as this has a shallow depth of field and can be less forgiving than other styles. Essentially though it comes down to practice (there is no shortcut). Start off with simple still objects (pepper, soap bubbles, kitchen items etc.) and progressively move through to leaves, flowers and then to other things such as insects.

Iridium captured under a microscope.
Stained cross section of a pine needle.

I am a strong believer in “do no harm”, so when capturing images of insects, it is important to capture and photograph them in a delicate and harmless way. As you start to progress, also remember to be aware of your surroundings and to treat the creatures with respect. It can be very easy to get lost through the lens when photographing something like a bee, where you may disturb others, possibly resulting in injury.

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

I have an interest in the natural world, and I think to a certain extent my style came from that. I like showing the detail within a scene or flora or fauna, which can include things like the structure, but also equally the colors. I think photography is a great tool that really allows us to share the fascinating world with others who may not always be able to see / experience these things.

I use a number of different tools based on the style and look of the photo. I usually start off with Lightroom as a digital asset manager, from there I begin to work on the photo using a range of different photo editing tools. This often includes Topaz Adjust AI to bring out the colors, clarity and detail. 

For the macro work, Topaz Gigapixel AI has become a great tool within my workflow as it allows me to really increase the resolution of the image. This is especially important when the image is tightly cropped as is often the case with macro work.

For night and low light photos, I find Topaz DeNoise AI invaluable as it is rare that a night photograph is taken without having some noise (be it from high ISO, or thermal / sensor noise from long exposures).

Several of your presets appear in the new Adjust AI, including: HDR Natural Boost, Vivid Night, and Landscape Pro. Would you tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind these presets? 

Vivid Night is all about taking some of your night-time cityscape photos and bringing them to life through boosting the colors, contrast and clarity. This preset was inspired from a night photo I took at Docklands, Victoria which included the Melbourne Star Observation wheel which lights up at night. The photo did not do the scene justice and this preset was designed to bring out the detail and color we often see in night scenes but don’t always replicate in the photos themselves.

Melbourne Star Observation wheel.

Landscape Pro is all about making your landscape images pop. This uses the AI (Standard mode), as well as making adjustments to contrast and clarity, which is often an issue with landscape photos.

Finally, HDR Natural Boost was designed around making improvements to your animal and wildlife photos. It does this by using the auto-adjust AI tool (HDR mode) and then making a range of changes to the clarity, contrast and sharpness.

What images do you particularly cherish? What is one of your most memorable shoots?

I have a range of photos I really cherish, especially the one below. I love this because of the beauty of the butterfly. They really are incredible creatures and a delight to photograph. This was at a zoo, so it made it much easier since they practically landed on you. I did try and return with my six-year-old daughter, however, it turns out she is terrified of butterflies (and especially them landing on her) so that was a very short-lived stay in the butterfly house!

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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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Getting Started with Topaz DeNoise AI

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

Why You’d Want to Use DeNoise AI

You can generally point a finger at a high ISO setting if you’re experiencing noise in your images. High ISO is the most common contributor to image noise in photography. But, perfect conditions don’t always exist for capturing an image. Here are a few reasons to use an increased ISO setting:

–Faster shutter speeds to freeze motion (e.g. 1600+ ISO for indoor sports photography)

–Better performance in low light (e.g. nighttime cityscapes, Milky Way shoots, dimly lit indoor shoots)

–Reduced image blur when shooting handheld

After months of training and testing, we are now able to use a bigger network that handles more varieties of noise. DeNoise AI is trained to remove high ISO noise, sensor noise, thermal noise, banding noise, and noise from some scanned images.

So, let’s get into DeNoise AI!

When to Use DeNoise AI in Your Workflow

We recommend using DeNoise AI at the beginning 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 DeNoise AI Works

In order to train DeNoise AI effectively, we used a lot of clean and noisy image pairs as examples to train an AI network. This is so that later when the AI sees a noisy image, it can predict the clean version of it. Mathematically, we mimic the way that real-world noise is added to the image, during capture or digitization. Our noise model generated millions of noisy-clean image pairs, which were used to train the network. The DeNoise AI network is also able to receive “hints” about the noise level and type from outside as a help.

Installation Tips

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

BEFORE YOU DOWNLOAD, DeNoise AI has higher requirements than some of our other applications, so please check out the requirements below and see what kind of performance to expect:

After meeting the requirements, simply follow the directions below:

  • Download DeNoise 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.

DeNoise and AI Clear Owners: Upgrading to DeNoise AI for Free

Yes, free! If you own our Classic Plug-in DeNoise or our Studio Pro Adjustment AI Clear, we have given you access to DeNoise AI. All that you have to do is download and install DeNoise AI, log in, and it’s all yours! Here are some convenient download links to get started:

DeNoise AI Mac Installer

DeNoise AI Windows Installer

Extra tip: Just make sure that you are logging with the email address that you used to purchase DeNoise or AI Clear with. This is the email address that DeNoise AI will be registered to so if another username or email address is used, your copy of DeNoise AI will start in trial mode.

Using DeNoise AI

All you have to do is import your image. DeNoise AI will target the noise in your image and intelligently apply the best solution for removing it without sacrificing too much detail loss.

Though we’ve created DeNoise AI to be an easy, automatic solution, there are three adjustment sliders that allow you to make manual edits beyond the automated detection. With the Remove Noise slider you can apply even stronger noise reduction. Pushing the sliders to the extreme level will not give you the best output all the time. If your noise level is low, then keeping the slider in the lower range should give the best output.

The Enhance Sharpness slider allows you to sharpen images that become blurry after denoising. If you’re looking to add back specific details in your image that may have been removed by denoising, you can try the Restore Detail slider to use alpha-mask blending to restore and improve details.

Other Resources for DeNoise 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 staff article Sounding Off on Noise in Images.

You can also find our staff article The Story Behind DeNoise AI  that details the process behind the development of DeNoise AI and some of the logic behind designing it.

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