|Orchid, Original and Five Topaz Labs Detail 2 Filters|
Like many people who do digital photography, whether as an art form in itself or to present their creations, I have learned to use image processing software to create more accurate, compelling images. Photoshop has long been my software of choice, first by necessity because it's what I used in my print and online publishing jobs, then by convenience because it's what I had on my computer. Photoshop does a good job of lightening underexposed images, enhancing the colors, and sharpening up details to some extent, but I always found it lacking for that final "oomph," particularly with detailed images. Then a friend introduced me to Topaz Labs' Detail plug-in, which provides not only technical but also creative control far beyond what I've found to be possible in Photoshop. I hesitated to pay $40 for "just" a filter, but it has turned out to be money very well spent. And no, this is not a paid endorsement; I am actually *that* excited to blog about this all on my own so I can share what I've learned with other photo-bloggers.
The photo above shows an image I Photoshopped last year, then five Detail pre-set filters I applied this morning. This plug-in, which loads into Photoshop's "Filters" menu, offers more than 2 dozen pre-sets that give you various effects ranging from super-sharp to soft and neon to black-and-white; the best part of the software is that it also provides slider controls for each and every aspect of control. These include (separately) small, medium, and large details, tone, saturation, hue, and several other image factors that allow you to customize the effects and even create your own pre-sets. I created several pre-set options for jewelry photos using variations on the "Micro Contrast Enhancement" and "Interior Strong Detail" pre-sets, which allow me to do my usual pre-processing in Photoshop and then quickly apply the Topaz Detail filter as a final step. If you have a professional-level DSLR with a top-notch lens you may not need to do so much post-processing; in any case, though, it does give you an extra level of control, and also some creative options, that allow you to make your images closer to what you see with your eyes, and/or in your mind. I also sometimes use Topaz's DeNoise (primarily for landscapes; my entry-level DSLR kind of sucks at landscapes, particularly in low light) and HDRSoft's Photomatix (which is more general purpose and does not offer me enough control for detail), but for my jewelry and macro photos, Topaz's Detail plug-in gives me the best options for both rote post-processing and for playing when I have time. It's available for Windows and Mac, and is compatible with Photoshop CS3-CS5, Elements 6-9, Lightroom 2 and 3, PaintShop Pro, and Apple Aperture 2 and 3. Again, this isn't a paid endorsement; for $40 this is just awesome software.
As much as I love Photoshop and Topaz Detail, I'm always open to suggestions, so tell me: what do you use for post-processing?