Topaz Adjust

Article by Ben Fewtrell

If I could only have one plugin… what would it be?

I have decided that I am no longer going to call what I do just ‘HDR’, instead, I am going to call it ‘HDR plus’, as I ALWAYS spend more time post processing after the initial HDR is created than I do creating the actual HDR image…

So imagine for a moment that some external powers from above have taken away all of your software plugin licenses and will let you have just one… just one! As tough as it may be… if you could only have one photoshop plugin what would it be?

As I thought about this it was a hard decision, there are so many great plugins, and I have 5 or 6 that are just favorites for me… but when it come down to choosing just one, I choose Topaz Adjust. Topaz Adjust for me is a good ‘all rounder’ and today I am going to show you how I use it to make my image POP.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, lets have a quick look at party bouncy castle what Topaz Adjust is, when and how I use it and how you can get it too…

Topaz Adjust is part of the suite of plugins offered by Topaz Labs. They make some pretty bold claims about their software, and I must say, most of it is pretty good! You can download a 30 day trial for yourself from and follow along as I show you how I use it.

The reason I call it a great ‘all rounder’ is you can do everything from bring out detail, control color, a whole bunch of exposure control and reduce noise (it doesn’t do the noise reduction thing all that well)… and this is just a tad of what it can do. The other thing I love about it is that you can make local adjustments just like in photoshop with a brush, and you can stack effects too.

So when is the best time to use Topaz Adjust? I use it as the last part of my processing workflow. I would have done all my layer masking and got the image looking pretty close to what I am after. It’s at this point I take a step back and look at the image and think to myself, “what could be better?” – and then I decide what plugin to use. For today though, we just have Topaz Adjust…

We’re going to work on an image I took of the Sydney Opera House.

Here are the original 5 exposures….

Here’s the HDR straight out of Photomatix including my settings …

I now take my 5 original images and the Photomatix version and open them into photoshop as layers, and spend a little while sprinkling magic dust all over the place until I get an image that I am fairly happy with… here it is… it is okay but it lacks some pop.

In particular I think it would look better if the Opera House ‘stood out’, right now the image looks a little flat and boring. (If you’re unfamiliar with what building is the Opera House… it is the one with the pointy roof in the foreshore)

My first step is to make a layer copy (CMD J for macs or CTRL J for PC) and I select the second layer to open using Topaz Adjust.

When Topaz Adjust opens it uses your last setting and applies it to the image, this is great if you’re doing a series from the same shoot or a HDR pano so you can apply the same filters and effects to all of your images before you stitch them together. For the purpose of this exercise, we will start with a new preset, you will find them on the left hand side of the image… one of my favorites is ‘Photo Pop’ and I am going to use that as my starting point today.

Before we go any further we need to have a quick chat about what I am aiming to do in Topaz… let’s get one thing clear, I am not looking to create my final image in Topaz… instead, I have to start thinking ahead… even though I may apply something EXTREME in Topaz, I may only brush a little of it through a layer mask in Photoshop after, and I may use Topaz several times, each time with different settings to get desired looks for particular parts of my image… today I will do that just to show you what I mean.

On the right hand side of your image you will see three main sections.

1. Global Adjustment – this applies the effects to the entire image

2. Local Adjustment – you can use a brush to control where the effects are applied

3. Finishing Touches – some stuff you can just do in photoshop later….I rarely use these.. sorry… never use these.

What I Normally do is use section 1. Global Adjustments as I am going to use Photoshop for my local adjustments using layer masking. Here’s what you get to play with in Global Adjustments.

You get 5 areas, from exposure control to the all familiar curve tool.. nothing too scary in here… so lets get started. Oh, one other real cool feature, you can see the original image you started with just by clicking anywhere on the image…

So I want to make the Opera House POP… there are two ways to do this, one is to make the background more boring and the other is to make the Opera House sharper and more vibrant.

I suggest you just play around with each slider and you will get a feel for what they do, if you ever go too far and just want to get back to the preset, click it on the left.

I have used the detail section to bring out the detail in the Opera House, I then made another layer copy in Photoshop and used Topaz Adjust a second time to tame the color and Exposure, then I used the noise reduction to soften the buildings in the background. Doing this has made the Opera House stand out from the crowd.

Here is the Before and After images. Before Topaz AFTER Topaz



Ben Fewtrell is based in Sydney, Australia and has been a keen photographer since the 1990’s. He fell in love with HDR in early 2012 and now processes 95% of his images this way. His main interest is landscape photography and most mornings you will find Ben with his Nikon D800 on the coast of Sydney waiting for the sun to rise… you can find him at or follow his blog

Ben also has a free HDR ebook available: