In this tutorial I will make a demonstration of how I use the Topaz plugins in my Photography Drawing™ (PhtD – in short) workflow and what I consider as the best plugins and features to use when processing a B&W image, a long exposure architectural photograph in my case, so you can get the results I’m getting in my work and that brought me numerous awards and distinctions.
The image I will demonstrate my workflow on is Fluid Time II, from the series Fluid Time which is an image of the Prudence Plaza building, shot in Chicago using a Canon 5D Mark III camera and a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II tilt-shift lens. The image was shot with 8.5 degrees tilt at 45 degrees rotation of the lens, so to create the characteristic tilt-shift blur on specific portions of the image (upper and lower side of the image, diagonally disposed), and it was realized with the technique of long exposure (121 seconds exposure). To create the long exposure effect I used two stacked ND filters – 10+3 stops in total, the Formatt-Hitech ProStop IRND Joel Tjintjelaar Signature Edition.
What is Photography Drawing?
First of all let me explain what is Photography Drawing.
Photography Drawing is a personal processing method that I developed and that allows me to express my vision in the most creative, correct and impressive way. The innovation of this method is that I am incorporating in the processing workflow the basic rules and principles used in the case of classical and architectural drawing in black pencil, principles that can stand also for other kinds of drawing and even for other visual arts and that I adapted here to photography, especially to black and white architectural photography.
The method of Photography Drawing is related to how to shape the objects by using light as a tool, and the concept I developed is about how to process and render an image the same way you would draw it, using the same principles of shaping the light as in classical and architectural drawing, only this time putting them in practice by using different tools than in drawing: processing software instead of paper and black pencil. I am dedicating an entire chapter to Photography Drawing (principles, rules and processing steps) in the 424 pages book From Basics to Fine Art – B&W Photography, written with co-author Joel Tjintjelaar, award-winning B&W fine art photographer.
You can read there many more details about this method and how to apply it, plus a general extensive insight into B&W photography, long exposure, architectural photography, explained from a theoretic and a practical/processing point of view done by me and my co-author.
Here is an example of how I draw an architectural object using black pencil (as an architect, I used to make a lot of drawings like this one in the past and I’m still using drawing in my work) vs how I process an image of an architectural object, following the same principles of using light and shadow and applying them on my object by means of either a pencil, or a processing software. I have chosen 2 objects that are somehow similar as shape so the parallelism can be more easily noticed.
The software I use most of all in processing my black and white images through the method of Photography Drawing are Photoshop, Lightroom, and the Topaz Plugins, especially Topaz B&W Effects. There are a few other plugins I’m regularly using in my processing, including DeNoise, Clarity, Detail and ReMask.
But let’s see my Photography Drawing workflow step by step now. One of the Topaz plugins I’m using firstly in an image, a tool I’m using in all my images to remove the noise, is Topaz DeNoise and you can see below my settings in the image Fluid Time II. This is the color RAW file of the image after having made a few adjustments to it in Lightroom.
Let me first give you a very good tip about all the Topaz plugins. Every function of the program is explained in detail in a pop-up text that appears if you hover over the respective slider in the plugin interface. You will find this very useful especially when working with plugins you are not very familiar with. Don’t forget to use it.
Another thing to keep in mind is to always duplicate your layer when you open the image in a plugin so the result can be saved in a new layer.
I started with the DeNoise preset RAW Moderate (I’m mostly using RAW Light and RAW Moderate in my images, unless the amount of noise is very high, in which case I may use RAW Strong or RAW Stronger). You can then see the adjustments I made to this preset, which were to adjust the shadows, and to recover some detail.
Next in my processing flow comes Topaz Clarity, that I use to enhance the definition of the tones and to emphasize the edges of the object in the shot. I started here with the preset Cityscape II, which adds a very good clarity to the image and I enhanced the blacks of the image a bit by sliding the Black Level (from the panel Tone Level) slightly to the left.
I also applied the effect only to the sharp area of the image, not on the area with the tilt-shift blur or on the surface of the sky, so to preserve the softness I needed in these areas.
You can see the mask I applied, where I apply Clarity only in the center of the image (the white portions of the mask), masking out the blurred/soft edges that you can see in black in the mask. I did this by using the Linear Gradient tool that you can find in the Masks panel (a great tool to use with this plugin).
The next step in my Photography Drawing processing workflow is to apply Topaz Detail. This plugin is the main sharpener for me and I usually apply it on the entire image (minus the sky).
This time, due to the soft and blurred areas created by the tilt-shift lens, I applied the sharpening only in the areas that needed it, the sharp areas of the image. the same area that I used in the case of Clarity above.
See the mask in this case also to see where the effect was applied. I started with a preset in this case too, as in most of the cases when I use Topaz in my processing and this is because the presets in Topaz are so good that many times you don’t need to do anything else than apply them.
In this case I used the preset called Micro Contrast Enhancement II, and I added a bit of detail in the Small Detail and Medium Detail areas, as you can see in the highlighted Detail panel.
This is the moment I can call my color image final and start the B&W conversion with Topaz B&W Effects. And this is where the particularities of the Photography Drawing method start to be seen better. Since this is a practical tutorial, I can only show now what I do practically to apply this method, but you can read extensively in the book From Basics to Fine Art, that I mentioned before, about the “why” part and about how to understand the rules and principles of Photography Drawing, so you can apply them in your work to express your own vision and personal style.
This is a very important step in creating fine art photography, understanding the “why” behind the “how.” Only then you can be original and not be the prisoner of a technique, but the master of it, since it will be for you only a tool, a tool to express yourself and your originality. This is where diversity will be seen in photography, even between artists who use the same exact technique to create.
Back to the converting to B&W step; one very important thing that sets apart this method is that, just as in the case when you were to draw the image on paper with a black pencil, or with ink, or even to paint it in water or oil color, you will have to think the rendering of the object as being made on each different surface of the object separately. Which is another particularity of this method: work on each surface separately so you can control the disposition and intensity of your tones in the image.
Here is how the image you see above will be converted to B&W by using B&W Effects.
Let’s make now a short analysis of the settings you see in this image and talk about a few things to keep in mind when you convert to B&W. Before anything, I will mention that I will show now how I work with a single B&W conversion of the image, but that I could do the same by creating two B&W conversions, one for the dark tones and the other for the bright tones of the image and blend them together afterwards in Photoshop.
Many more about the features of B&W Effects and about how to work with it you can find in this extensive review I made to it a while ago and that I recently updated with new tips.
Starting with the Conversion Panel
I use Basic Exposure to make the general exposure adjustments to my image, meaning whatever tweaks need to be done in order for the image to cover the larger tonal range, so its processing will be more effective in the following steps. In this case I lowered the overall brightness, at the same time boosting the blacks and the whites to increase contrast in the image.
A very useful feature of B&W Effects is Adaptive Exposure. I use it to create richer mid-gray tones and generally to find the right amount of detail and of contrast in an image, while at the same time keeping a wide range of mid-gray tones. The key to find the best settings for this feature is to play with the Regions and the Adaptive Exposure sliders until you find the best balance between detail and tonal coverage.
As a rule, if you keep your Adaptive Exposure and Regions sliders lower, you get a softer image; if you push them up you will have more detail. The best solution is a balance between the two that will suit the kind of image you work with.
Keep in mind that with Protect Shadows (used in Adaptive Exposure) you can bring back the dark tones in an image that lacks them or set the dark tones to the level you need and keep it this way while you modify other shades and intensities of gray.
Next is the panel Color Sensitivity. What I did here was to dial down the brightness of the blue and cyan channel, which are responsible for how dark the sky will be. As I want my skies to be dark most of the times, this is a feature that I use very often in my processing.
Curve Tool – another tool to check out your tonal distribution and improve it. In this case I applied an automatic preset option (Darker) to give me slightly darker results.
Moving to the Next Step – The Local Adjustments Panel
The first thing I do when working in this panel is to apply a mask on the image that will reveal the sky and conceal the building so I can selectively darken my sky even more than I already did it in the Conversion panel.
A very important thing to retain and use here is the Edge Aware feature of Topaz B&W Effects, in my opinion one of the best tools this software offers for processing B&W architecture. The idea is that you will be able, by using this feature, to create a perfect selection inside certain edges in your image.
Push the slider to maximum and keep your cross-hair inside the surface you want to work in (no need for the entire brush to be inside the surface, just the small cross-hair in the middle) and you will be able to apply the effect you choose only inside those edges. You can see how great this tool works even in the case of the blurred edges resulted from tilting the tilt-shift lens.
This is a great feature also for the kind of processing I’m applying in Photography Drawing where I need to work selectively in each separate surface in part to be able to limit my processing to that surface, since every surface will be processed differently, depending on how the light influences it – some surfaces will be brighter, others darker and this is a very good way of applying this selectively in the image.
After this step I will generally move to Photoshop and create some selections there, if I didn’t do that already before converting to B&W. You can also make accurate selections using Topaz ReMask and do that even more quickly than you would do it in Photoshop.
The selections I make will help me work with the image more freely since I’ll be able to work on the surfaces selectively. Again, we don’t have enough space to elaborate here, but much more about how to work with selections and most important how to apply light and shadow, how to render an object considering the light conditions, how you can change the light in an image to suit your own vision and many more about Photography Drawing (PhtD), you can read in the book From Basics to Fine Art – B&W Photography.
Now let me show you an example of selections I made for this image so you see in practice what I mean:
I will use these selections and also the Edge Aware feature of B&W Effects – Local Adjustments to add shadows and light on each surface of the building in part and create like this the image I envisioned in the beginning of my processing workflow.
In this phase I will go back and forth between Photoshop and Topaz B&W Effects to create the best disposition of tones in my image. Another example below on how to selectively apply light and shadow on an object using B&W Effects’ tools and especially Edge Aware. Look at the mask to see where I darkened my image (the gray areas) and how to accurately apply an effect by using the Edge Aware tool.
Before I close my tutorial, there is one more important thing I want to mention and that will be extremely useful in a B&W processing workflow – The Zone Mode in B&W Effects, in my opinion one of the most important tools for the B&W photographer.
I consider this tonal chart one of the most powerful tools in digital editing for black and white images. What this chart does is that it allows you to check at any time where all the 11 zones of the Zone System (gray tones plus black and white values) are placed in the image, by clicking on each value shown in the buttons below the chart. The eye alone is not capable to see clearly all the tones f the image, other than intuitively, so a tool checking these tones for us is a valuable one.
Also, something that is even more important for realizing a correct black and white image, that is, covering the whole tonal range between black and white, the chart allows you to see which tones you already have in the image, and to what extent, so that you can see if you have covered the whole chart of tones and if the disposition of your tones is the right one and a balanced one also. I warmly recommend you to use this Zone Mode in every B&W conversion you make with Topaz.
You can see in the image above how the program shows all the different tonal values with different rendering hatches and colors. Priceless tool!
As a final note, let me show you an extensive preview of the book From Basics to Fine Art – B&W Photography, written by me, together with co-author Joel Tjintjelaar, book that I was talking about during this tutorial.
The book comprises 33 chapters and 424 pages, all about B&W photography, long exposure photography, architectural photography, and generally everything related to fine art photography. What you will learn from this book is firstly how to create good B&W photography, no matter the style or genre you are working in.
Some of the aspects of digital and B&W photography that we talk about in the book have never been treated before in any other book about photography. You can find there everything you need from theoretical and practical/processing point of view, explained examples from our work, everything that helps us, the authors, create photographs that won multiple awards and distinctions in the most important photography competitions worldwide.
We wanted to share this knowledge so that everyone can discover the tools that will help them express themselves better as artists. This is also why the book is written in easy English, so it can be equally accessible by native or non-native English speakers.
The book had extremely positive reviews, I could say raving reviews, from the moment of its publication, being compared to Ansel Adams’ or to Bruce Barnbaum’s books on photography, that, as we all know, are fundamental learning resources for the photography of the 20th and 21st century, and in general it is considered a reference in the contemporary literature about digital photography.
We hope you will enjoy it, that you will find it useful, and it will help you create your next B&W masterpieces.
About the Author:
Julia Anna Gospodarou: www.juliaannagospodarou.com. Architect with a Master degree and multi-awarded internationally B&W Fine Art photographer (en)Visionographer, with high distinctions in the most important photography competitions worldwide (SWPA, IPA, PX3, IFPA, B&W Spider Awards, ND Awards – 1st, 2nd, 3rd Prizes and other distinctions), Julia lives in Athens and is mostly known for her B&W long exposure architectural photography, which shows her signature style and expresses her artistic sensibility.
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