Exploring Topaz and NIK Plugins

Crane Operator Silhouette (Topaz Adjust Version)
Crane Operator Silhouette (Topaz Adjust Version)

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Last week I was shooting in the eastern approach section of Spaghetti Junction to create a record of the work going being done by Walsh Construction as the Ohio River Bridges Project progresses. Currently there is  a lot of preparation going that is primarily focused on the foundation work for the overpasses and ramps that will make up the revamped Spaghetti Junction portion of the project. There are several cranes in this section that are driving piles to anchor the new Spaghetti Junction overpasses and ramps.

On this particular morning the sky was very dramatic and I wanted to capture the sunrise and the clouds. As I walked through the area I came upon this crane operator who was clearing the windows on his crane of the morning dew. I thought he would make a good silhouette against the sky so I shot my customary three shot bracket set of +2, 0 and -2 EV in anticipation of creating an HDR image of the scene. As I was preparing to edit the bracket set I decided instead to use only the 2 stop underexposed frame and experiment more with some of the Topaz Adjust, Topaz Clarity and Topaz ReStyle plugins.

For this first image I decided to use Topaz Adjust to see what I might discover. I like the Spicify preset so I used that as my basis for this image. As with most of my plugin use I began with the preset and then started adjusting the sliders to get just the right combination for my concept of the image. I seldom simply apply a preset and move on since I consider the presets to be starting points not end results. After using  Topaz Adjust to get the shadows and highlights where I wanted them I returned the image to Aperture 3 for final adjustment and finishing.

Crane Operator Silhouette  (Topaz Clarity Version)
Crane Operator Silhouette (Topaz Clarity Version)

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For this second image I decided to use Topaz Clarity to see what result it would give me. I used the Color and Contrast 1 preset as my starting point and then went into the color channels adjustments to bring out the sky and the faint glow of the crane’s windows. I made some small adjustments to the contrast to reveal a small amount of detail in the silhouette of the crane and the operator. I didn’t take the image back into Aperture 3 for any additional adjustments, like I usually do after applying a plugin, since it looked like it was as saturated and defined as I wanted it.

Crane Operator Silhouette (NIK Viveza Version)
Crane Operator Silhouette (NIK Viveza Version)

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Finally I decided to try out the NIK Viveza plugin to see what results it would produce. As you can see it produced an entirely different coloration of the clouds and sky and left the crane operator rendered as a full silhouette without any indication of detail in the shadows. I also used a slightly different crop on this image because of the lack of recognizable detail in the shadows which threw the larger composition out of balance with too much black space in the lower right hand side.

I like all three versions for different reasons but my main takeaway is that through the use of different plugins it is possible to take an underexposed image and still create something that is pleasing and acceptable. In the future I will probably continue with merged bracket sets and HDR processing for most of my work but on occasion I can always apply Topaz and NIK plugins to create powerful images from a single frame.

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