Finding Joy In Manipulating Reality: Enhancement And Some Tricks

While it may not be nice to fool Mother Nature, photographers have been doing just that since Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths photographed the “Cottingley Fairies” in 1917, but a lot has changed since then and we’re now more skeptical of images that appear “shopped.” (Portrait photographers engaged in retouching even before Mathew Brady opened his New York studio in 1844.) To me, part of the fun of photography is enhancing reality, creating images that could be true or might be true in a parallel Fringe-like universe. That’s one of the reasons I like shooting digital infrared images because photography, for me, is all about having fun and if you happen to play a harmless—emphasis on harmless—photographic April Fool’s prank on someone, let’s hope it’s accepted in the spirit of the day.

Plugging-In To Fun
Alien Skin Software has redesigned Eye Candy 7. It’s easier to use and I hope this new interface gets carried over to their other plug-ins, because it not only looks great but is more functional. Now there’s less clicking and more visual browsing required to produce a final result. Eye Candy 7 is now a single entry in Photoshop’s Filter menu and instead of choosing an effect category from a text list, you’ll see icons showing typical uses of each effect. Once you choose an effect, you can quickly explore presets by using a small window that instantly updates. You don’t even have to click to preview the effect. Just mouse over preset names and the Navigator shows how the effect looks with your photograph in a thumbnail view.

By making the appropriate selection in Preferences, you can choose to apply the effect to a new layer or not. I prefer using layers because it’s more controllable but everybody has their own workflow, so there’s a choice. Eye Candy includes some of the best effects from the now discontinued Xenofex, including two of my favorites: Lightning (shown) and Clouds. Eye Candy 7 costs $199, but owners of previous versions or Xenofex can upgrade for $99. Free upgrades will be sent to anyone who purchased Eye Candy 6 from Alien Skin Software during September 2012 or later.

© Joe Farace

Plug-In Of The Month
Detail 3 from Topaz Labs is useful for those times when you want to add its precise and intricate detailing capabilities to your photographs. To select the effect you desire, this $39.99 Photoshop-compatible plug-in breaks the image down into three levels of internal detail separation and three levels of tonal separation. This allows you to selectively enhance or remove detail in your image without halos or unwanted artifacts. The latest version offers a boost in processing speed that was noticeable even on my aging Mac Pro (a Windows version is also available) along with the ability to handle large-sized image files.

Detail 3’s Effect Mask lets you selectively brush detail in or out of your photographs using tools found under the Effect Mask’s tab and uses Topaz’s IntelliColor technology to produce natural and balanced tones. Because of the way effects are applied, you don’t have to worry about surprises such as changes in an image’s tonal ranges and highlights, increased saturation, highlight desaturation, color artifacts, hue variation, or even colors turning “neon.” As with all Topaz Labs products, Detail 3 includes lots of presets—there are 50 new ones—and lets you create your own. Download a 30-day free trial of Detail 3 and try it with your photographs.

© Joe Farace

Add A Splash Of Color
Admittedly, mixing black and white with a splash of color on a photograph has become a cliché, but I like the effect and portrait photographers tell me so do their customers. So, if you would like to add a splatter of color to one of your images take a look at Akvis’ Coloriage, an innovative image-processing program that’s also useful for colorizing black-and-white images and replacing colors in color photographs. Coloriage, which means coloring book in French, offers selective desaturation and colorization and can even fix the dreaded redeye in snapshots.

The program applies color based on the lighting, shadows, or clothing folds and works equally well for portraits, landscapes, and still life. Built-in skin, sky, and tree color patterns help you to select realistic colors (or not) for your picture and Coloriage 9.0 contains an improved Eyedropper tool that displays a color ring to let you precisely select colors. It runs on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 and Mac OS X 10.4 to 10.8, in either 32- or 64-bit mode, and is available as a Photoshop-compatible plug-in or stand-alone application for $75. You can download a full-featured 10-day trial from the company’s website.

Courtesy of Akvis

Speedlight Accessories
LumiQuest’s new Location/Portrait Kit is a useful set of lighting tools for wedding and high school senior photographers who need to make great-looking portraits on location with the least possible muss and fuss. Weighing in at less than 15 oz, the kit includes the following LumiQuest products: the SoftBox III, the Snoot XTR, the FXtra nine-piece colored gel set, and two UltraStraps, all of which fits into a compact storage wallet.

The front face of LumiQuest’s SoftBox III is approximately 20 times the size of a typical speedlight’s flash head and the old lighting rule of “large source equals soft light” applies here. The telescoping Snoot XTR can be used for a hair or accent light with your speedlight and the FXtra kit contains nine colored gels for balancing your flash for tungsten and fluorescent light, but they can also be used to add color to location shoots. Instead of using glue or sticky touch-fastener tape, LumiQuest’s UltraStrap is a non-adhesive mounting strap that lets you mount any of these accessories on a speedlight while applying a constant 3 lbs of pressure for a secure fit. For less than $100, LumiQuest’s Location/Portrait Kit will improve the quality and salability of your on-location portraits.

Courtesy of LumiQuest

App Of The Month: SonicPics
SonicPics is a $2.99 app that lets you produce a slide show and narrate it on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You can add images from your photo library or make new ones, then arrange your photos however you like. The cool part is being able to record a voice-over narrating your images as you swipe through them, creating a virtual “walking tour.” When finished you have an MPEG-4 video clip of your photographs synchronized to your narration that you can post on YouTube, share on your computer via Wi-Fi, save to your photo library, or e-mail to friends. Everything is processed right on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and no third-party services are required.

Courtesy of Humble Daisy, Inc.

Alien Skin Software:
Humble Daisy, Inc.:
Topaz Labs: