Topaz Labs released a new filter, Lens Effects, for those photographs which could use a little shallower depth of field, or a bit darker background, or many other lens-induced effects including errors introduced by toy cameras. In my opinion, like all special effects filters, this one is not a substitute for learning to use the right f-stop, or the correct lens for the job but to save one photograph in which everything else works fine if only we used f/4 instead of f/11. Of course it can also be used for experimental treatment of some photographs and can even be useful to learn what would have happened had we opened up the diaphragm by seeing the effect in real-time in Lens Effects.
I installed the filter as a plugin to Photoshop CS5 although it will also work with Lightroom (via Fusion Express freely available from Topaz Labs), Photoshop Elements 6-9, PaintShop Pro, Photo Impact and Serif Photo Plus. To test the filter, I chose a photograph of an owl in which the background could have been a bit more out of focus. After making a new layer to retain the original image, I invoked Topaz Lens Effects. The interface is quite similar to other topaz filters. On the left is a panel of presets, the middle is used for the image preview, and on the right are the adjustment panels.
The process is based on a depth map where black is near and white is far. A graduated map from black to white will create a graduated focus field. Creating a depth map is quite straight forward and simple. Topaz incorporated their selection technology to Lens Effects and choosing the right area is a simple matter of “painting” on the image with the right shade of gray from black to white. They call this “Topaz Smart Brush” and it is indeed quite smart. There is also a gradient brush for quickly creating a more nuanced selection. For the initial run, I wanted the bird to be as sharp as it is and the background to be as blurry as possible. So, I painted on the bird with black and on the background with white and the filter quickly created a very nice selection.
The next step is to work the Focal Plane Adjustment. The first thing to do here is to pick the “focal plane”, essentially which shade should be in focus. I clicked on the button with that name and clicked on the eye of the bird, any point would have done the same since the area covered with the bird is black. This makes the black area in sharp focus and makes it the “foreground” in this example. By moving the “Background Blur Amount” slider all the way to the right, I was able to quickly achieve the effect I wanted.
There are further adjustments that will finesse the effect even more by changing the blade curvature, rotation and others. It is even possible to apply some sharpening to the focus area and adjust the brightness, contrast and saturation. Since there is already a selection in place, it may be smart to make some subtle adjustments here.
A nice feature is to apply some effects cumulatively. When one set of adjustments are done to your satisfaction, clicking on the “Apply” button will make them stick while allowing you to move to a different effect and cumulatively adjust the image. Instead of experimenting with those, I chose to create a more complex depth map which would put the wing in the foreground slightly out of focus. That was quite easy and the mask you see was created with minimum effort.
Like all filters, it is easy to get carried away and one has to be careful not to make the image scream “I AM PHOTOSHOPED!”
It may be an interesting tool in your toolbox. Although much of the results can be obtained in Photoshop, Lens Effect makes the process quite simple. To get a first hand experience, download their free trial version and see for yourself.
Here are the test images I used, the last one shows the first two side-by-side for a good comparison. Note that in addition to blurring the background, I sharpened the foreground, darkened the background and reduced its saturation a little, all in Topaz Lens Effects. As you can see the masking is quite effective and clean.
Topaz Lens Effects is available from Topaz Labs, $79.99. They run occasional sales if you are not in a hurry and remember, PSRI members get 15% off. If you are a member, login and check for the codes under Members Only.