TOPAZ PHOTO AI
NOISE REDUCTION SOFTWARE AND IMAGE ENCHANTING
You may have noticed that Topaz is currently running a fairly massive campaign for its product, Topaz Photo AI. I'm usually immune to ads, but in this case, it caught my attention. And because I still feel that it was the right decision to get Topaz Photo AI, I'll try to show you what mainly impressed me about this software and how well it works. Topaz offers a demo version with all features except the ability to save. This allows you to try it out for yourself and make an informed decision about whether to invest in and use this software in the future.
There are two situations where technology fails me
although I shouldn't really call it that, as both cases are my own fault. Topaz Photo AI
could offer me the opportunity to improve the technical quality of the resulting photograph
without limiting me too much during shooting.
The first situation is when there is a high level of noise and loss of details,
which is related to the low quality of the image.
When shooting under poor lighting conditions, it is difficult to combat this. Limited light with a less luminous lens forces me to use higher ISO, which inevitably leads to more noise in the resulting photo and less contrast in the drawing. I cannot command animals to be the most active at a time that would suit me best technically. Also, I find the atmosphere and light during sunrise and sunset the most beautiful. A brighter lens could help me a lot with this, but it is not a solution for me right now. Or rather, I don't have it at the moment :D, so I'm trying out the alternatives that are available to me.
The second situation is the loss of detail
which occurs most often when taking photos from the ground. I often try to take pictures from the lowest possible position, at least at the level of the animal's eyes and often even lower. I shoot through vegetation and let the lens create an almost abstract environment in which we discover the subject. I enjoy how light and optics can play beautifully with it and how the resulting photos look. I know that I am not making it easy for myself. Often there is something in the way between the lens and the photographed animal - a branch, a blade of grass, a leaf - but because of the blurriness, it is not even visible in the final image, although it always affects the sharpness of the photographed animal. It is something that I often struggle with, but I don't want to give up this way of photographing. I enjoy the photos that are created this way.
I've been thinking about how to approach this article
Should I write it as a software review, which is already abundant, or rather as a practical demonstration of how I incorporated Topaz AI into my photo processing workflow? I've opted for the latter and will show you my editing process on one photo. I won't go into too much detail, but I'll show you the techniques I use, what works for me, and point out the software's limitations.
It's worth mentioning that I'm currently using the latest version of Topaz Photo AI 1.3. I'm mentioning this because Topaz constantly develops and updates its software. Each new version differs slightly and offers different techniques, and the output quality changes as well. Of course, it usually improves.
I use Topaz Photo AI in several steps
First, I remove noise from the Raw file, which I then process in Capture One. Afterwards, I do final adjustments and sharpening in Photoshop. I know it's not the most straightforward process, but I spend quite a bit of time on photo editing because it's an integral part of my creative process. I probably won't belong to the group that only recognizes photos captured by the camera and rejects any editing. On the other hand, I'm not particularly extreme in my editing and retouching, I'm just too lazy 😅. My adjustments usually involve only color and simple tuning of the atmosphere. If necessary, I can occasionally retouch something.
I chose a blurry photo with a lot of noise to demonstrate. This duck was photographed very early in the morning when there was almost no light. It wasn't intentional to take it under these conditions, but I took advantage of the opportunity when the duck came very close and stayed near me for some time. I think it's precisely on this photo that I can show how I'm able to restore detail to the photo thanks to Topaz AI. I'll try to turn a technically failed photo into a photo that would be usable even for a 60x40cm print and maybe even larger.
1. In the first step, I remove noise from the image
I work with a Raw file, which I import into Topaz AI. I export the resulting image in DNG format for further processing. I recommend performing these adjustments on the Raw file for several reasons. Firstly, you are working with data from the Raw file and therefore have access to as much color information as possible. Secondly, I make corrections and adjustments to the image after the noise has been removed. This avoids the addition of contrast and exposure, which would otherwise accentuate the noise if adjustments were made to the original Raw file. The disadvantage is the size of the DNG file, which increases from 50 MB to 260 MB when noise is removed from a compressed Raw file.
In this first stage, I usually only remove noise from the image and don't sharpen it, or only do so slightly. The reason is that Topaz sometimes over-sharpens certain parts of the image, creating artifacts. You don't want to have these artifacts in the DNG file because they are irreversible. Topaz also supports sharpening masks, where you can choose where to apply the sharpening in the image. Honestly, working with these masks is not as good as in Adobe Photoshop or Capture One. For this reason, I have abandoned sharpening in this stage and only sharpen the image in the final stage. The difference between sharpening on the Raw file and TIF is so minimal that sharpening on the already processed image makes sense. Although it means an extra step, I believe that the resulting photo quality is worth it.
In most cases, I let Topaz do the work for me. Their algorithm usually evaluates the intensity of the noise and removes it from the image perfectly. If I ever intervene, it's because of the intensity of the details. I try to see if it's possible to get more detail from the image without unwanted errors appearing. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I have to admit that Topaz chose the optimal settings.
2. I further process the DNG file in Capture One
I crop the image for better composition, make color corrections, and locally adjust exposure and contrast. Each photograph requires a different approach to editing... and it also depends on my mood and what I want to convey with the image. Perhaps I will write an article about Capture One someday, but my editing process is often spontaneous and I do not have a universal procedure to share. Most of my adjustments focus mainly on colors and occasionally alter the lighting atmosphere of the photograph. I add contrast and brightness for greater drama, or conversely, reduce contrast for greater mystery and a somewhat dreamy mood :D.
3. For final sharpening, I use Topaz AI plug in in Photoshop.
This allows me to apply sharpening only to the areas I want, using masks. Topaz AI functions as a plug-in in Photoshop and can be used on layers, parts, or the entire image. It's a bit more time-consuming and demanding, but in my opinion, the result is worth it. I understand that processing a large number of photos this way will be challenging, but it will teach you to sort and process photos and keep only those that deserve it.
Describe your image
Describe your image
Describe your image
Describe your image
Topaz offers one of the best solutions for noise reduction and sharpening of photographs. Topaz constantly works on software updates and offers new enhancements. Although it is not yet perfect, especially in terms of sharpening details, it provides plenty of options to improve technically imperfect photos and sometimes even save them.
Now, as I'm writing this, Adobe has released their noise reduction system. And actually, I don't know if my first sentence still applies... Anyway, companies like Topaz, Adobe, ON1, Dxo, and others are now really getting into it and will compete for some time to see who does it best. Just like with photo technology, it doesn't make sense to switch brands right after the competition comes out with something new. I would prefer to have similar options for editing photos in one software and not generate DNG files. Just like adjusting contrast, exposure, etc. in a Raw file editor, you would apply noise reduction and sharpening. You would control its intensity through masks... I would like this. But if I'm not mistaken, even Lightroom generates a new DNG file after applying noise reduction.
Lets see what will come in future.