Saturday, November 30, 2013

December 2013 discount coupon

As December, the month of gifts and celebration is around the corner, we decided to offer you 20% off any purchase from
This offer is available from NOW till January 1,2014 and is available using the coupon code at check-out:


Please spread the word so that more people can benefit from this offer. A share with your friends is much appreciated!

PS: I have enabled this for all major currencies and Scandinavian currencies, however if for some reason the coupon is not working in your country, please let us know an we will take a look.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Topaz B&W Effects Review

Dear friends, we are in the process of moving the blog on our Zenfolio website. We will publish the next few posts in both places, but pretty soon this blog will not be updated anymore.

This is an image that I processed using Photoshop CC, Topaz B&W Effects and Topaz Denoise. It is called "Tribute" as it is part of the Beisheim Center in Berlin, a tribute to american Art Deco architecture.


I will start this review with a bit of background information. I am a long time user of various Topaz plugins. The first ever Photoshop plugin that I used was Topaz Denoise , which is still part of my current workflow (I remember at that point I was not even using Photoshop but Gimp and it was quite a struggle to make Topaz plugins working inside it). Later on, during the period when i was experimenting with HDR, I was a happy user of Topaz Adjust and Topaz Details. Now most of my work is in black and white, so I had explore more or less all the conversions techniques, from simple Film&Filter, to more complicated channel mixer techniques in Photoshop and more sophisticated plugins like Topaz B&W Effects and Nik Silver Efex. Also it is worth mentioning that black and white conversion is only one step of my complex workflow. It is usually followed case by case by 2 or more exposure blending, lots of layer and masking work, light painting, local and global contrast adjustment in order to achieve the final look according to my vision. But being a relative early step in my workflow, it is an important base to start, hence it is critical to have it done as good as possible. Lets take the example two adjacent areas of an image, having the same saturation and luminosity, but different hues. In the color raw file they very well separated, but after a basic b&w conversion you cannot distinguish between each other. So its critical that the early b&w conversion takes care of the tonal separation, so that there is no need later to solve this problem using dodge and burning techniques. Of course, my expectations for a good b&w plugin is not to push a button and get the final look of the image. It can work for other types of photography, where it is not required or allowed to alter reality too much, but in fine art photography, as I said, the plugin is just a starting point. So my expectations about a good b&W conversion plugin are:
- good overall contrast of the image
- no lost details
- good local tonal separation
- ability to control whites, blacks and various mid-tones area separately
- ability to have a quick evaluation of the zones in my image (Ansel Adam's zonal system)

Here are B&W conversion right after applying Topaz plugin. It consists of two different layers, one conversion for the buildings and one conversion for the sky, blended together in Photoshop CC:

DSC_1438_skyB&W conversion

The version that I reviewed is the latest Topaz BW Effects 2.1, which added the zonal system representation. An important addition that I am really happy to see in Topaz plugin, and one of the must to have features for my work.

Zone-ModeZone Mode

Other important additions to this new version, include:
- support for different languages (Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese, making it really helpful for anybody not so familiar with English.
- ability to stack up various effects by using the Apply button
- a multitude of new borders option
- quick access to the 5 toning presets (Selenium, Cyanotype, Copper, Sepia and Antique Dye)

A quick introduction to the user interface of the Topaz plugin:

topazbw_guiTopaz B&W GUI

The interface consists of 3 different sections: the presets section in the left, the image preview in the middle and the Settings section in the right. You can easily get rid of the first of last of the three, using the "Change viewing options" button. For example while working at an image, you can start by selecting only Presets and Image Preview, select the preset that is closer to your need, turn off the Presets panel and turn on the Settings panel and start fine tuning your image. Turning off one of the left or right section, gives you extra space for seeing the Preview image larger.
As the Presets panel is quite obvious how it is organised (all the presets are placed into one collection, including your own saved presets placed in My Collection) I will spend a little time in explaining how the Settings section is organised and how different parameters can impact your image. Settings Panel consists of 4 categories of parameters: Conversion, Creative Effects, Local Adjustments and Finishing Touches:

- Conversions is very important for any type of effect as it controls the Basic and Adaptive Exposure, the Color Sensitivity and Color Filter and offers as well a Curve Tool. Basic Exposure is where you control the overall look of your image: the overall Contrast, the Brightness , the Black and the Whites of your image. Here you can achieve a good starting point for your conversion and fine tune it later using the other parameters. Adaptive Exposure section is a nice tool developed by Topaz for Adjust plugin, which helps you to do local adjustments on the image. Here you can control the separation of the smaller area (if you want smaller granularity just move the Regions slider to a larger value) and the Details of your image. If you are looking for a more HDR-ish effect on your picture, this is the place to achieve it: Adaptive Exposure and Detail slider, at higher value gives exactly this kind of effect. Protect Highlights and Shadows are rather helpful to avoid clipping whites or blacks as result of too much local separation:

Color Sensitivity and Color filter are a must have for any B&W conversion tool, and the ones offered by Topaz work quite nice. I like that in Color Filter section you can chose from a hue slider, rather then couple of predefined colours. This actually gives you an unlimited amount of different colour filters, to fit exactly your needs. In the Color Sensitivity section, you can control the strength of Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue and Magenta, achieving a darker or lighter tones in the B&W conversion for this colours. The Curve Tool is very helpful in doing all kind of effects on the global contrast of the image. I like that it has a Reset button but I find the control a bit too sensitive (whenever I add a point on the curve, it just need one click and the point is already moved up and down)

Creative Effects is a collection of fun things to try, but I am not really into all this effects. So my advise is to play with them and see if there is something that you like. Simplify and Posterize can be helpful for those looking for cartoonish effects, but something like Camera Shake I find it kind of useless. I bet I can shake my camera better than a piece of software :-)

Local Adjustments gives you access to a brush and 5 different effects that can be applied selectively on your image: the classic Dodge and Burn, Details and Smoothness that reveals and hide the details and the Color that reveals the original colour of the image, for selective colouring effects. Very similar with the Lightroom concept. The brush is a smart brush that can be edge aware if you use a high value for the slider with the same name. This means that the effects you apply will be aware of the edges of the objects.
The last section of the settings panel is Finishing Touches, that collects quite a lot of interesting effects. Here you can apply the toning effects, either by Silver and Paper technique or by Quad Tone technique. I can only recommend to play with those methods, as you can have almost unlimited ways to tone your image, by choosing the colours from a Hue slider. Film grain is an interesting option, giving you ability to add different type of grain, similar with the ones of some famous films, Kodak, Ilford, Fuji and couples of others. The grain can compensate for uneven noise reduction or for the banding effect produced by gradients, so I find this option very useful. Edge Exposure darkens or lightens a particular edge of the image, according to a gradient whose size and smoothness can be control by Edge Size and Edge Transition sliders. Using the option with the same name, you can add vignette to your image, by controlling the centre location, the size, the smoothness of the transition and the curvature. Using Border option you can add borders to your images, choosing from a predefined collection of types and sizes. Transparency is another very useful option if you are using the plugin from a non-layer based host and you want to apply the effect just partially.
A quick visit in the list of presets can reveal that one of the main targets for Topaz B&W plugin are the people who love to tone their images rather than use a traditional B&W. They will really have a blast with Topaz B&W Effects, discovering that most of the time, their choice of toning can be as simple as one or two mouse clicks. On top of the above mentioned quick access buttons for some of the toning, there are 6 different collections of presets: Toned Collection, Cyanotype Collection, Albumen Collection, Van Dyke Brown Collection, Opalotype Collection and Platinum Collection.

I have picked up on example from each of the collection, just to give you an idea of what you can achieve and how easy this can be done:

Toned Collection: Sepia and Selenium I
Toned-CollectionSepia and Selenium I

Cyanotype Collection: Cerulean Cambridge Dynamic
Cyanotype-CollectionCerulean Cambridge Dynamic

Albumen Collection: Levander Grey Dynamic
Albumen-CollectionLevander Grey Dynamic

Van Dyke Brown Collection: Raw Umber Dynamic
VanDykeBrown-CollectionRaw Umber Dynamic

Opalotype Collection: Flavescent

Platinum Collection: Platinum VI
Platinum-CollectionPlatinum VI

Of course, on top of this, you can easily make your own favorite toned image, using the Finishing touches section of the settings and choosing one of Silver and Paper or Quad Tone techniques.

About compatibility: I have performed this review using Adobe Photoshop CC, the version that I am using for my work. However Topaz plugins are compatible (with some exceptions )with Lightroom, Elements, Aperture, Irfanview, Paintshop Pro, Photo Impact and Serif Photo Plus (read the compatibility page on their website). And more, if you are an open source lover and a keen fan of GIMP, there is a good news: Topaz Labs plugins are working with GIMP as well (I tried this combination successfully 2 years ago).

Things that I like:
- a very easy to use and professional looking user interface, where I can customize the appearance by removing some of the panels, maximizing the working area
- Adaptive exposure section where I can easily control the details and the local contrast of my image
- The Edge aware option of the brushes which make them smarter than traditional Photoshop brushes
- The ability to save snapshots (settings at some particular points in time). They are pretty useful as one can save intermediary steps of processing one particular image, compare them and restore them at any point in time. You can save up to 99 presets

Some things that I would improve to make it even better:
- I would like to apply finishing touch at the end of my workflow, without any a
- I would like more control on the Curve Tool. Something similar like the hand picker in Photoshop, where I can click some area of the image and move the corresponding point on the curve
- I would like a real split preview where you can view before and after just by dragging a slider inside a single image. I consider this a better way of previewing than the classic side by side before and after
- It would be good if Topaz BW Effects, when used from Photoshop CS, would duplicate the layer before applying the effect on the image.
- The preview speed has been improved a lot since the first version of the plugin, but I think there is still room for the improvement
- More traditional B&W presets would be useful
- Ability to type in the parameters value additional to the slider

Conclusion: After this review, I can say that Topaz B&W Effects plugin can definitely do the job. It is a very reliable piece of software, with a lot of powerful features that can produce good quality B&W and toned images. I can highly recommend and I will definitely use it more often in the future in my workflow.

Final thoughts: in the world of B&W photographers, for quite some time, Nik Silver Efex was the uncrowned king of plugins. We all know it is so powerful and easy to use, so making a competitor for it is a very daring job. Topaz started this few years ago and managed to produce some innovating technology in their software. And B&W effects, only 2 years old has improved quite a lot and really closed the gap comparing with Nik Silver Efex. And considering the speculation and rumors following the Google acquisition of Nik Software, going that far as predicting the end of the Nik professional plugins, I think Topaz has really an opportunity to continue their good evolution. They should ask and listen for opinions of various photographers and use their feedback to improve their software even further. And even if Nik plugins continue to exist and improve, there is still enough room in the market for more players.

UPDATE: Topaz is running a 50% sale on B&W Effects from November 5th through November 19th. Just use the code : "novbw" (remove the quotes) to benefit from this.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Back from Berlin, storm and some precious medals

We came back from Berlin last night, and found a post apocalyptic Copenhagen: chaos in the airport, no train running in or out of Copenhagen, or locally, pieces of windows, wall bricks and other things laying on the streets, cars with broken windows
Today the city is slowly getting back to normal, cleaning the wound of what was the strongest storm in the last 10 years. I am not sure if it was worse than in UK or not, but it makes me realize how weak we are in front of the unleashed forces of nature.
Condolences to the family of people who died in Europe due to this storm.

On a positive note, this morning I just run into the People's Choice awards on P3X (not sure when they have been announced, I totally missed this one). And I had quite some very pleasant surprise:

Eyes to see the world got first place (gold award) in Fine art/Architecture and
Blue series got second place (silver award) in Nature/Landscape category

Lonely in a sea of dreamsLonely in a sea of dreams

More images from this series here

I am very honored and thanks a lot for all who have voted!
We will come back with more about Berlin, "normal" images and hopefully some fine art architecture in the near (and not-so-near future).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mixed feelings

Some days ago, it was the big day of results for Black &White Spider Awards. I remember entering this in the beginning of the year and always puzzled why it needs so much time for judging the entries. But looking at the jury and seeing over thirty names, all directors and founders of galleries across the world, with the most known representing Tate Gallery in London and National Geographic, I was thinking that probably their schedule is really busy; so finding a window when they can all sit together and judge the whole thing might be really a tough job. The big day passed and I got the email mentioning that two images have been nominated in Architecture and Abstract category. Not bad at all. But then, few days later, all of the sudden, I got a link, from some fellow photographer , that all his thing is a big fraud and a scam, that most of the judges are not even aware they are listed on the jury page of Black &White Spider Awards; and the same stands for Photography Master Color Awards, a competition run by exactly the same people as Black &White Spider Awards. I felt for a moment that there is no honesty anymore in this world and all this happiness of getting awards and recognition is really in vain. Together with other photographers, all being awarded and nominated at this contest, I started do a bit of research. I found out that the meter is not black and not white, its somewhere in the middle, a grey. Ironically, just like a good black and white photograph. Some of the judges mentioned that they have not participated, other were involved and were disturbed to be asked this question? Disturbed by… what? It is a legitimate question, we participated in a contest, we invested money and hopes, and we might have got just a big farce in exchange.

We are heading to Berlin in a few hours. I can't sleep due to terrible coughing. I am waiting to find more truth when returning back home. I am living the ephemeral mixed feelings of a competition thats disappointed me for the real, touchable pleasure of photographing architecture.

Shape of smokeShape of smoke - Nominated Abstract category

Eyes to see the worldEyes to see the world - Nominated Atchietcure category

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Summer is over (part 2)

DSC_0165 as Smart Object-1m Port de Sóller

Our virtual trip on the Island of Mallorca continues today with Port de Sóller, a very nice seaside resort and port of the town of Sóller. Port de Sóller is situated few kilometers away of Sóller, in one of the most beautiful Mallorcan's horseshoe harbours, on the coastline of Serra de Tramuntana. The town and the resort are connected by a 5-km long tram line since 1913, that runs along the beach-side road. It's a very quiet resort, having lots of restaurants & cafes and only two beaches, one at each end of the bay of Sóller (La Badia de Sóller).
Along the main beach, there are many seafront restaurants serving traditional or international dishes, usually for lunch and dinner. And many cafes for those who need to rest a bit or to hide when the sun is too strong. The perfect choice is a frozen coffee :)
Many seaside shops selling beach accessories and other things needed are opened all day long.

DSC02160 as Smart Object-Soller Port de Sóller

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Third prize, 6 honourable mentions and Guinness to celebrate

Yesterday it was a very important day for our photographic journey, a day when the long expected recognition arrived. International Photography Awards (or on short IPA) designated its winners. And surprise, surprise, we got a third prize for our image "Shape of smoke" in Architecture, Industrial category and 6 honourable mentions. 7 distinctions out of 9 images entered into competitions.
Considering that the list of winners and mentions is stuffed with amazingly talented photographers from all over the world, we feel that this is an extremely important achievement.

Shape of smokeShape of smoke - Third Prize Architecture, Industrial category, Non-Pro

Study of light 2Study of light 2 - Honorable mention Architecture, Buildings category, Non-Pro

Eyes to see the worldEyes to see the world - Honorable mention Architecture, Buildings category, Non-Pro

Study of lightStudy of light - Honorable mention Architecture, Buildings category, Non-Pro

White ladderWhite ladder - Honorable mention Architecture, Industrial category, Non-Pro

Victorian splendourVictorian splendour - Honorable mention Architecture, Historic category, Non-Pro

Ghost boat in a cold morningGhost boat in a cold morning - Honorable mention Fine art, Landscape, Non-Pro

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Summer holiday is (unfortunately) over

Long time no see dear's been quite a while since our last post. We all know it's not indicated to sit in front of a computer when the weather outside is beautiful. This summer was very busy for us. First, we had a guest here in Copenhagen, then we spent 2 weeks in Bucharest and finally: the real holiday in Mallorca, for 2 beautiful weeks. Mallorca, situated in Mediteranean Sea, is the largest island of Balearic archipelago, belonging to Spain. This island is a very popular holiday destination among British, German and Scandinavian tourists.

Is there anything you should know about Mallorca, before booking your flight and a hotel room? Of course, there are many things you have to keep in mind while planning your trip, especially if it will be in summer. Is not just about packing your stuff, it is also about doing your homework and research every detail of your trip. Not something that we did very well though :-). Research is the key of an extraordinary holiday.

Few details you can't miss:
1) The prices are higher than in extra-season
2) All the places in Mallorca are crowded in the summer time and I mean...really crowded.
3) It's really hot there
4) If you are a big fan of hiking and nature, be prepared to walk for miles
5) If you like English language more than German, than google for the resorts on the English-speaking side of the island (like, for example, Port de Pollenca, where we have stayed for 14 days)
6) There are so many beautiful places that cannot be reached by bus
7) If you are interested in a particular bus route, don't forget to check its timetable. You might have an unpleasant surprise if you don't do it
8) Avoid the taxi drivers, they will rip you off
9) Not always the best restaurants in tripadvisor are really good. We were disappointed by some of them
10) If you are looking for minimalist scenes...well, Mallorca and summer is not the proper combo

The first image in this post is a beautiful rural scene, very close to Port de Pollenca. We captured it at the end of an evening hike to Cala Boquer. Bales of hay, foggy mountains, was a bit of everything.

Mallorcan landscape -1-Rural sunset Rural sunset

The second image is...a minimalist one. (Only) two people on a beach is not something that you can see too often in Mallorca.

Ants in this worldAnts in this world

Saturday, June 22, 2013

PX3 Prix de la Photographie Paris


This week we got a very pleasant surprise. The image "Study of light", done back in November in Athens got the bronze medal in Fine Art- Architecture category of Prix de la Photographie Paris, It was actually the second image in the category, as no silver has been awarded.

Study of light

For those who are not very aware with this competition, Px3 is a very prestigious landmark in European Photography. Running through the jury, we can see representatives from National Geographic, Corriere della Sera, NY Times and many magazines and galleries across the world. And a quite outstanding list of winners:
- Pierre Pellegrini, and his wonderful series of trees that was the Best New talent , among other distinctions in other category
- great image by Matthias Haltenhof with the Experimenelle Fabrik in Magdeburg that got the first prize at Fine Art- Architecture - non-professional
- the stunning Milk series of Jaroslaw Wieczorkiewicz, one of the highlights of Professionaæ advertising category
- wonderful book of Tommy Ingberg - Another reality where he present a great series of manipulations
- Akira Takaue and his amazing architectural patterns - The Matrix, some images highly acclaimed before, that I knew from other competitions and websites
- great lighthouse series by Marc Koegel
- my good friends Julia Anna Gospodarou and Bertrand Chombart

Monday, June 3, 2013

Den Nationale, Aalborg and some lack of sleep

A very long weekend has just finished last night. It involved a weekend trip to Aalborg, the forth largest city in Denmark, judging a photo contest and returning with some incidents back to Copenhagen. Aalborg was a hot guest for our trip, temperature being unexpectedly high for this parts of the world. The city itself is an industrial one, trying to raise its cultural identity. Or as very correctly stated on wikipedia: "in transition from a working-class industrial city to a knowledge-based one".

White ladder
White ladder

On Saturday, I was in the jury of Den Nationale, probably the most prestigious contest for the Danish Photography. I was in a jury of 3 people, in charge of picking up the winners of Colour Prints and Monochrome Digital categories. This meant seeing a total of 1700 images in 11 hours (my brain is still projecting some random images from time to time :-)). That was a very good experience, we saw some amazing images there, making our decision of choosing the medals very difficult. There were also some images (let me be polite and call them bellow average) that made me wonder what they are doing in a such a competition. Thanks to the 2 ladies Helene and Pia with whom I worked during the day in the judging process. I would say we were a functional jury, without fights and stubbornness (maybe the late hour helped as well and strong opinions have been replaced by pragmatic aproach and willingness to cooperate). And I can say I am very happy about the final winners. Very good organisation from Aalborg photo club too- thank you guys, well done.

Shape of smoke 2
Shape of smoke

Yesterday, not totally recovered from the day before, I started the day at 5:30am due to some pavement work near by the hotel. Honestly people, is Sunday 5:30am a good time to start paving a road? Arrived home after 11PM due to some problems with the airplane (issues with the breaks, made me very happy when the landing was over). Summing up, it was a great experience. Acting as a judge I can understand how difficult is to jury such a competition, when most of the time, you have only few seconds to make your mind about it and to award the points.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Topaz Clarity

This week I have been invited to try a brand new plugin from Topaz labs: Clarity. In a world of photographic plugins clearly dominated by Nik Software/Google (both quality and price wise as most photographers would consider), it is good when some competition spices up the things. And Topaz Labs is an interesting competitor for Google, providing a large range of photographic plugins covering almost every area of image editing. I have installed Clarity, with some ideas in mind, based on the description that I received "quick and easy to enhance contrast and color without degrading the image with halos or artifacts".
The program is very easy to use. The interface is simple and self-explaining, letting aside some minor bugs that probably their development team is working at as we speak. There are only few presets available at the moment (some categories are empty, but we expect to see some predefine presets in those soon) but as with any plugin, I suggest starting from the scratch, play with the sliders and see what really fits to your image. If necessary, save some time saving your own presets.


Functionality wise, I can see threes major components: the clarity section, a tool that affects the local contrast based on different contrast areas (very small, small, medium and large contrast parts of the image), the tonal section, a way to control the tonal range of the image by changing black point, white point and mid tones and a HSL section that allows changing the Hue, Saturation and Luminosity either overall or on colour channels (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Cyan(Aqua), Blue, Purple, or Magenta). All of these can be applied selectively using the Topaz masking tool, introduced some time ago with other plugins.


Clarity controls are the main feature of this plugin. They provide some nice tools of improving local contrast and being something new in Topaz world, I decided to focus on it.

First of all, let me explain you how it works. Depending on what area of the image it targets (micro, low, medium or high contrast areas), it increases the contrasts only in that particular area. So if the contrast is , for example, between a light green and a dark green, this contrast is enhanced by lighting the light green and darkening the dark green even further. Depending on the contrast between the two tones of green, one or other slider will achieve this effect. But this is different then a global effect as, if same light green tone is sitting next to a pure black, it will be kept untouched by the same slider that was lighting it before. So for example in the below screenshot, if you look at the small line of light green on the building, slightly visible in the left, it gets more prominent when Micro contrast is applied.


Based on the above explanation, Clarity is a very effective way of improving the local contrast of an image, targeting only some particular type of existing contrast.

But don't over-do it, as too much contrast is not so eyes pleasing:


No halos - in my tests I haven't notice the very annoying artefact that enhance the poorly executed HDR or HDR like images (if you don't know what is all about, just try some HDR processing software, move the strength sliders to the max until a lighter area is visible around your buildings, trees or mountains). Everyone got these trying to process HDR or to increase the local contrast of an image beyond some limits. But the local contrast algorithm used by Clarity is pretty nice and the halos are avoided with a success.
Whites get whiter and blacks get blacker - good thing isn't it, as strong blacks and whites are very good, especially if you are intending a B&W conversion afterwards. No colour degradation can be noticed for the non-neutral colours present in the image. But pay attention when you apply this to the whole image, as some details can be easily lost if you go too far or increase the wrong contrast.


Warning: Micro contrast should be used with care as I noticed that, when pushed at high level, it tends to add quite some large amount of noise. It also produces quite high vignetting as can be seen in the corners of the image in the small preview screen on the right, so I recommend using it with moderation and when really needed (areas with very low contrast where you want to pop it a little bit). And you should know, low contrast is there in a image for some reason, and transforming it into a high contrast area is most of the time totally unrealistic. On a positive note, it is also rather helpful to identify the sensor spots :-)


I will not spend too much time talking about the Tone Level and HSL Control. They are pretty standard functionality, existing in almost all photo editors. Using Tone level, you can do overall contrast changes to your image. You can make blacks blacker, whites whiter or mid tones lighter or darker. HSL colours control can change the hue of a colour (I can make my water pink if I want :-)

or can change the saturation or the luminosity of a single colour channel. They work as expected in Clarity plugin and I consider them a nice complementary feature to the clarity enhancements.

Overall Clarity is a helpful tool that combines two major adjustments that can be done to an image: contrast changes and colour changes. That's what you need for many types of photographs that require just slightly tweaks, no major Photoshop editing. It can be very useful for a beginner photographer that just wants to pop up a bit his images or for a more advanced photographer that looks for the specific contrast changes that Clarity offers. Clarity can be also very useful for HDR guys, that can take advantage of the "no halos" feature when processing further their tone mapped files.