It's all about the details
One of Topaz Labs most popular filters is Topaz Adjust, which offers control over of exposure, colors, noise suppression and details in one interface. I find that the three presets directly pertaining to Details (Small Details, Mild Details, and Detailed) are too strong for the more realistic looks I usually prefer, but you can use them as a starting point and then tweak the sliders in the Detail section on the right side of the interface, or you can go directly to those sliders when you open the filter. The Strength slider controls the amount of detail enhancement, while the Boost slider controls the amount of small detail enhancement.
The Threshold slider lets you specify how much variation there needs to be among pixels before it’s considered a detail. The farther to the right you set the slider, the more variations that are considered to be details. The Radius slider lets you further refine the detail enhancement. The farther to the right the slider, the larger the variations that are considered to be details. As with all sliders, visually adjusting them to extremes often makes it easier to see the effects and thus to set them them properly to give the desired effect. In the image below, I’ve adjusted the sliders to increase the detail in the rabbit’s fur, but as you can see, other parts of the image show increased details as well. To limit the effect to the rabbit, I’d need to create a selection and use a layer mask.
|Original Image||Topaz Adjust|
Of course the more small details you bring out, the more likely you are to also reveal noise, so Topaz Adjust also contains two approaches to noise reduction, one faster and the other (the option to Use Topaz Denoise) more refined. In addition, sometimes checking the option to Process Details Independent of Exposure sometimes helps with halos and other artifacts. Although Topaz Detail 2 provides more finely tuned adjustments for controlling the appearance of details, Topaz Adjust 3 can often do the job.
Topaz Labs also offer Topaz InFocus which is a slightly different type of sharpening program intended to enhance detail. I find that although the program can be helpful to decrease some types of blurs and thus enhance details, it’s extremely easy to accidentally add artifacts with this program, especially when you check it at 100% magnification.
Tip: It’s a good idea to check your settings with any of these tools at 1:1 magnification to be sure that you’re happy with the results before applying them. Viewing the image at 100% magnification lets you more easily see any artifacts that were created as a side effect of enhancing details.
Some HDR programs, such as Photoshop’s HDR Toning (found under Adjustments), Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro, and HDRSoft’s Photomatix can be applied to a single image to use those tools to expand the range of visible details. Same image HDR processing can be a very effective way of revealing considerably more detail than was first apparent in an image but it may be challenging to maintain a realistic looking result. Often the final result may be somewhat surrealistic as shown in this image of Fly Geyser.
|Original Image||Surreal increased detail in Photomatix|
A major difference between the Nik Software CEP4 filters and those from Topaz Labs is that Nik’s controls enable you to choose whether to focus on applying the affect separately to highlights, midtones or shadow areas, or to color contrasts, or to size of details to be enhanced, whereas the Topaz tools focus on the size of the details to be modified. This is a distinction that can make a major difference depending on the image and may determine which tool will be the most effective. You may find that you prefer one tool for some images and another approach in other circumstances. Most companies allow you to download fully functional demo versions of their software to allow you to decide what works best for you.
All of these filters can be applied to the entire image, but the Nik products can easily be applied to just a localized area by using control points. (Control points are a standard part of all Nik software and take the place of time consuming selections and layer masks.) To apply Topaz filters, as well as other HDR processes, locally you need to apply the filter within Photoshop or Elements on a duplicate of the background layer and then use a layer mask. This is a bit more time consuming but is certainly doable.
Although digital processing now offers a variety of ways to quickly enhance the details in your image, you still have to use good photographic technique and focus accurately. None of these approaches can create a masterpiece from a sloppy out of focus shot!
* For full disclosure, I am a member of Nik Software’s Team Nik. However I write about the products I use and use those that are the easiest and yield the highest quality results for me. You may prefer other software to achieve similar results.