Image Processing & Processing Images: It’s All About The Tools

“Honesty is the best image.”—Tom Wilson, cartoonist for Ziggy

One of the most interesting promotional items created for my long out-of-print book The Photographer’s Digital Studio was a cartoon drawn by the brilliant artist John Grimes ( which showed trays of developer, stop, fix, and wash with floppy disks being dipped in and out of each one. The caption: “A common mistake in digital photography.” Years ago I labored many hours in a wet darkroom to produce a composite image showing what an historic statue would look like when moved to a different location. Digital imaging software would have let me do a better job in less than an hour and I wouldn’t have had to spend time working in the dark with smelly chemicals. Part of the reason some people even ask “why digital?” is that many believe that digital imaging is somehow different than traditional photography. That’s not really true. I think there is no more difference between the two methodologies than you would find when comparing photographers working with large format view cameras to those grabbing snapshots with point-and-shoot cameras. It’s just that the tools are different and this month I’ll introduce you to some new image-processing tools.

© John Grimes

Plug-In Of The Month
Topaz Lens Effects by Topaz Labs ( is a new virtual lens, filter, and specialty camera Photoshop-compatible plug-in for Mac OS and Windows that includes 20 different camera, lens, and filter simulations and over 150 presets. Lens Effects gives you tools to create the look of Bokeh; Tilt-Shift; Single, Dual, and Graduated Color Filters; Graduated Neutral Density Filters; Fisheye Lens; Creative Blurs; Pinhole and Toy Cameras a.k.a. Holga; Selective Vignettes; and lots of other effects. You can make Selective Adjustments via the plug-in’s Smart Brush for Selective Adjustments to the background or foreground of your image, making it easy to select any focal point within your image and place the emphasis where you want it.

Integrated into the Smart Brush are Gradient Brush and Color Picker tools. Lens Effects’ Gradient Brush lets you create smooth gradients by simply brushing (clicking and dragging) across your image. The Color Picker is a convenient tool allowing you to select the depth value and paint in any area of the image using that selection. Topaz Labs offers a free trial version of this clever plug-in so give it a try with your own images and have some fun with your photography.

© Joe Farace

Battery Holders Make A Difference
Although not an image-processing tool, batteries are a necessary part of every photographer’s life. Keeping them in blister packs take up lots of space in your camera bag; taking them out of the packs and allowing them to bang into one another inside your bag is even worse because it’s a recipe for disaster. Lightware Direct’s ( battery caddies are the perfect answer for my and I’ll bet your battery storage requirements.

These handy caddies let you organize, store, protect, and carry your batteries in the most convenient way I’ve found. Originally designed for pilots, I’ll bet photographers—especially anybody using speedlights—will find them to be an invaluable storage solution. The caddies protect the ends of the batteries from damage and the batteries can be taken out of the carrier with one hand, making it easy to use when you are in a hurry to get that next shot. Lightware Direct’s battery caddies are available in different sizes and configurations for either AA or AAA batteries. The 12-pack AA version that I use only costs $6.95. The six-pack AAA version is just $4.95 as is the four-pack AA version for those who want to keep their batteries in speedlight-sized modules.

Courtesy of Lightware Direct

How Low Can You Go?
Images shot from low angles are dramatic but capturing them can be a challenge. It invariably involves lying down on the ground, kneeling or crouching in uncomfortable positions. Varavon’s ( ProFinder is a waist-level viewfinder with parallax correction so you don’t need to lie on the ground, kneel or bend over backward to capture low-angle shots. All you have to do is look down into the ProFinder to see what’s happening. The device works with Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 7D, Rebel T2i and Nikon D7000 digital SLRs, and features a 3x zoom so users can magnify their shots to make sure they’re sharp. There’s also a diopter correction for near- and far-sighted shooters and a loupe. It connects to the base of the camera and sits flush against the camera’s LCD screen and costs $363.

Courtesy of Varavon

Snap, Crackle & ArtSnap Art 3 from Alien Skin
Software ( is a Photoshop-compatible plug-in that also works with Lightroom and turns your photographs into works of art with essentially a single click. There are a lot of other tools that make this claim, but Snap Art actually delivers with an interface that’s the best of all Alien Skin plug-ins so far. Snap Art 3 produces detailed simulation of individual brush strokes; canvas texture gives results that the Aliens claim are “indistinguishable from handmade art” and I have to admit they look amazing. You don’t need a tablet or stylus—just move some clever sliders and let your imagination do all the work while Snap Art expertly applies thousands of brush strokes. You simply choose where you want more detail and BAM! “Bob’s your uncle.” This improved level of control makes it easy to render stunning portraits. You can choose from hundreds of styles and natural media, such as oil paint, watercolor, and pencil sketch. You can customize anything from brush size to paint thickness to produce your own signature look. Snap Art’s wide range of controls lets you make your work look completely unique.

© Joe Farace

Photoshop Action Of The Month
Gavin Phillips ( is the creator of some popular Photoshop Actions and has just released his A la Mode Actions package. When it comes to creative effects, nobody—and I mean nobody—comes close to Phillips. This set includes 30 actions with names like Guilded (that I love), four versions of Murky Color, and for Batman fans everywhere there are three different versions of Dark Knight. The image in the example is called Yester Year; the original photograph is on the left. Because actions are cross-platform, they are compatible with both Mac OS and Windows versions of Adobe Photoshop CS2, CS3, CS4, and CS5, but Phillips’s actions don’t work with Adobe Photoshop Elements or other software. His actions sets typically cost $99.95, but Phillips often runs sales on his website and one was going on when last I visited the site. I don’t know any better way to create one-click special effects than with the A la Mode Actions.

© Joe Farace

tom1122's picture

Thanks for your information, it was really very helpfull..
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