Topaz FX Labs

I have fallen in love with an old program that is fairly new to me; Topaz FXLabs, I received this in a bundle I got a little while ago from Topaz Labs. Sure I regularly use other programs in Topaz; Adjust, Denoise, B&W, Impressions, just to name a few. Some of them seem to crash while trying to use them and I eventually gave up. FXLabs didn’t really seem to make much sense until I watched an eye opening tutorial by Jai Johnson at Daily Texture.com. Once I learned just how amazing and powerful this program could be, I could not wait to start playing with it.

Now my first few tries, weren’t exactly a huge success, but it did not take long to get use to it. It has built in layers and masking and scale, and adjustments, you can open multiple images from Photoshop or without, but the beauty is you can then access all the Topaz plugins directly, and so far………..NONE of them crash while inside FXLabs.

The control and ease of use of the program as become a go to for me, sure there are some things I still do in Photoshop and Camera Raw and basic editing I still use Lightroom, but I must say I am adoring this cool new (to me) program. It can be used with other editing software, like Paintshop Pro as well.

I must admit I have done several YouTube tutorial by Jai now and they are mostly quite long, but very informative on this subject, her backgrounds and overlays which can be purchased are truly stunning as well, and yes I have purchased a few to play with.

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I was concentrating mostly on animals, birds in particular, but have branched out and used it with people with equally stunning results.

There is something so sumptuous and earthy about these textures and this technique, I love the end results I am achieving. There is a 30 day Free Trial available on Topaz Labs if you want to check it out too, it’s not on special or anything and quite frankly the whole bundle is expensive, but if you can get it on sale or afford just a few of the kits, FXLabs, Clarity, lens effect, Adjust and Impressions……….it’s a great start.

~ Julz

Creating a Concept Shoot

I thought today I might share a little of the behind the scenes information on shooting a conceptual shoot, as I find it is the most often asked question……..

“how or where do you get your inspiration?”

Firstly I find if I work in a series it is far less stressful. I can work out the basic scenario and then I just have to work out the individual images. The hard work is in the initial setup.

I have a shoot list and I will pick random things that can help me create the base image; colour, mood, theme, character, emotion, scene, time period, props, etc. So I might pick red, woman, dress, sorrow, ocean, cliff, dark and intense, sitting or standing, late afternoon sun. So I have pretty much all the elements; a woman in a red dress, sitting on a chair, on a cliff overlooking the ocean, sun glinting off the waves. Then I might add unexpected elements, the balloons and bear, is there a story in the teddy bear and balloons? What does it say to you? I love the juxtaposition……I mean why on earth is a woman sitting on a cliff in a red ball gown with a teddy bear and a bunch of balloons? Such fun!sunset-reflections

Same dress, same location, but I wanted a sense of freedom with the light breaking through the clouds and wind blowing her hair and dress. In both of these images I went for over saturated colours. I wanted to create a sense of freedom and flight.juliepowell_fear-of-flight

This next image is so simple, yet powerful at the same time; a simple tu-tu and ballet pointe shoes. Same again I wrote a list; Blue, tu-tu and ballet pointes, dark and dramatic, no people, a little mysterious. Does it tell a story, where is the drama or point of interest, add a pop of colour and heavy contrast……what story does it tell?dsc_6473

Things that also need to be considered is;

  • A clever (or fun) Idea and great photos
  • Cool setting or Background (Even a plain black backdrop is great in the right setting)
  • Beautiful Models or real people (Someone you can connect with, sometimes it is anonymous with no faces as such) remember the hero does not have to be a person.
  • Unorthodox wardrobe (Honestly some of my ‘clothes’ are sheets pegged at the back)
  • Unexpected Props and poses  (Red Balloons and teddy bear)
  • Composited elements (will I add additional elements or just as it is shot)
  • Trick Photography (levitations shots)
  • Textures for toning
  • De-saturated or over saturated/ Dark or Light
  • Use of one striking colour (perhaps red or blue on black or white, I love mauves, blues and reds.)

These are questions I ask myself, I don’t use all of the aspects listed above, but just a few, so one simple pose, one single prop, plain Black background. For Instance in my Tarot series I am mostly going for Dark desaturated colours. Jess below in wearing just street clothes with a platinum blonde wig and a black cape, holding a wooden branch in front of a black background

Page of Wands

Ace of Wands

The smoke, light beams, vines and butterflies are added in post in photoshop. Also I used additional textures subtly to add depth. The below image is shot on site, with just the bird added in post, so the actual shot was taken keeping in mind I wanted to add a bird on Mel’s finger, and she is looking directly at it.

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So even after all this I still get asked, where do the ideas come from? Dapper Rabbit came to me in a dream and the story flowed from there, once I had the story I had the images I would required, the models, scenes, props, poses etc.

Alice………so easy; Jess had the costume and I just watched the movie and flicked through Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration, wrote out a shot wish list

The Tarot, my initial inspiration was from Rusty McDonald and Dividing Me……and then of course I went straight to the Tarot Cards for my shot list, needed particular props and poses; wands, swords, crowns, cups and am still working on my pentacle.

The Red Dress series was inspired by a red ball gown I was given, just needed different locations and moods and props. This is a continuing series. So I have a woman (usually) in a red dress…….I think of different locations and props. The Beach, a forest, sitting, standing, add in some props, do I want day or night, do I want happy, sad, anger etc. What mood, what atmosphere etc, etc, etc.

If you practice on these enough, it becomes a much quicker process. I also am always looking on-line; Flickr, IG, 500PX, DeviantArt, ShiftArt, YouTube, plus of course some of my favourites like Brooke Shaden and Rusty McDonald for an endless supply of inspiration.

~ Julz

P.S. Still not sure? Try  this one hour YouTube video from Brooke, it literally changed the way I think and work.

 

Gramblr & IFTTT App Reviews

I feel I have fallen behind with a few things lately and have been looking at ways to help me out, one is to make Social Media a little less crazy, how does one keep up with it all? Posting to Instagram, Facebook, 500px, Flickr, Twitter, Guru……it’s all exhausting, but there is help, there is a better way….

I have not reviewed an App in quite a while, I did some software a little while ago, but that has been about it…I don’t get paid for these reviews (I Wish), but am only passing them on for I feel they are a value add…IFTTT is definitely one, so is Gramblr. 

IFTTT

So what is IFTTT? It stands for If This then That and it has become a sanity saver. Check the link to see exactly how it all works but basically you hop on your computer and program you applets to do things for you……..still lost?

Example

I post an image on Instagram and tag it #Digitalart, I then have applets in IFTTT that go to work, they see that Hashtag and immediately post to my Pinterest Digital Art board, my 500PX and Flickr Digital Art Albums, my Facebook page, Twitter account, I could take it further and make it run a blog post as well, but I prefer to write those myself.

If I hashtag #StillLife IFTTT then posts to Still Life albums on Pinterest, Facebook, 500PX, Flicker, FB, Twitter and so on. I don’t even have to check them or bounce around from one social media to another. And you can add so much more.

And there are applets pre made for just about anything you can think of too, got Alexa? You can program it to make Alexa turn on the AC, the oven the kettle when you leave work. You can program your phone to switch between wi-fi or silent mode when are work or sleeping, stock reports, so much ‘stuff’………..I just stick to the social media organising things for me, perhaps I will branch out to other stuff one day.

Suit your needs

There are 100s of applets premade, but trust me it is fairly easy to create your own too. I ended up creating them for specific Hashtags and I run mostly from my Instagram.

GRAMBLR

I also use a new Instagram Tool from my PC too called Gramblr

Gramblr is a desktop application that allows you to upload pictures or videos on Instagram. It features a similar upload wizard – so that you don’t need a smartphone!

OK I must admit I found it a bit tricky to set up, but it has been very good. It does not remember Hashtags like Instagram, it also does not let you access @names for tagging, but I find it a lot easier to type #hashtags or even copy and paste from a list on the PC than the phone.

It’s all a numbers game with IG and #Hashtags…….I usually only get between 30-50 Likes, but recently I experimented with some different Hashtags and got 100’s in fact My Hungry, Hungry Hippos got almost 300………..OK so I’m no Kardashian but 300 for me is awesome. I will keep experimenting and trying different lists, lets see how I go?

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So that’s it, no pretty pictures………check them out if you wish to save your sanity….your call.

OH OK! here is a really cute Hippo!

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Have an awesome day peeps and happy snapping…

~ Julz

 

D.I.Y Dyeing Fabric Natural Ingredients

I was playing around with dyeing some cheesecloth I bought with natural every day ingredients from home, I wrote a full blog post here. I used Coffee, Green Tea and Grenadine (Pomegranate Syrup), I figure I regularly stain my clothes (accidentally) so how hard can it be?

I first did a bit of research….oh Google, where would we be without Google? Found several different websites, all pretty much saying the same thing, so I thought I was on the right track. I washed and dried and prepared the Mordant as directed and then made my dyes……..there was a huge amount of info on exactly how much of each ingredients, apart from the tea bags (6), so I guessed. I must have guessed wrong or I stuffed something up as my Pomegranate which should have been purple only had the slightly touch of pink and the tea and coffee were very faint. Perhaps I need to dye them again for stronger colour? Perhaps I need to smash up a real pomegranate, although I know for a fact that Grenadine stains quite well…….maybe I didn’t put in enough? trust me that water was very PINK!

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The colours are much softer than I expected, even after soaking for 24 hours……..but perhaps that is the beauty of natural dyes, the softness; that or I stuffed up!

~ Julz

 

Pick myself up, dust myself off and keep moving forward…

My gallery exhibit finished last night and I have to be honest and confess I didn’t sell a single piece. It stings! Man does it hurt. Of course my initial reaction is that no one liked my artwork. I’m not good enough, who am I kidding, what business do I have putting my artwork out there? and the rest of the self doubt that flows in as an artist or creative person. Why are we full of such self doubt. Then Luanne posted this post about rejection, which then led me to another video by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love fame), which led me to her TEDTalk video and a few others. WOW! Powerful stuff.

Isn’t funny how sometimes the universe (Or Karma) gives you exactly what you need at the right moment in time, not necessarily WHAT you WANT, but what you NEED. A quick kick up the butt, stop feeling sorry for yourself, so what if no one likes your art, you do it because you love it, you live for it, no one promised a free or easy ride. This life owes you NOTHING! If you want something, work for it, but there are no promises you will be rich, or famous, or a success.

You have a creative soul and even if no-one gets it (chances are they will) and even if no-one buys you work (this time), you are doing it because it is who you are. You are a better person when you are creating, striving for the thing you want……the alternative is nothing and I don’t want nothing, I want something. Living a fulfilling, artistically creative life is not about fame or fortune (well maybe for some), it is about working hard and enjoying what you do. Sure you may have to have a day job to support what you love, but that is OK, your dayjob doesn’t define you – your art does.I picked up a camera because I wanted to learn how to take pretty pictures, amazing pictures. I travel to see amazing places, but have learned that there are some in my own backyard. I launched myself into Photoshop to learn how to create better, more fulfilling art. I have taken class after class, after class, because I found I really enjoy learning new things or new ways to do old things with my art. Learning is FUN. I have also found teaching is FUN. So many people have freely given me their time and knowledge and it is only fair to give some of that back. So many artists over the years have been depicted as depressed, drunks with social issues and penchant for extreme over reactions or no reaction at all. That is not what most of us are like, not at all. The problem is we all tend to be a trifle emotional about our art; whatever it is. We put our heart and soul into creating whatever it is we do; paint, sculpt, music, write….most accountants or electricians or plumbers don’t live and breathe their work, artists do.

My Motto for this year is Brave-R. I have spent the last two years being BRAVE, learning how to make and take amazing images with my camera, how to make amazing art (well I think it is and everyone online seems to enjoy it too). So now it is time to do something with it, be BRAVER – galleries, online, exhibitions, contests etc. So I didn’t sell anything (this time), maybe the person who wants my art on their walls wasn’t at this gallery in the last two weeks. Maybe they will be at the next exhibit or gallery. Maybe they just weren’t quite ready to buy and I will hear from them later? Just because nothing sold, doesn’t mean it never will, the rejection doesn’t mean they didn’t like my art. In fact not much or ANYTHING sold at this exhibit, wrong timing, wrong gallery? Who knows.This is not a personal rejection of me or my art, so I should not take it that way. The Curator said that there was a LOT of positive feedback of my work, and just because it hasn’t sold yet, doesn’t mean it wont. One rejection should not stop me moving forward.

Time to pick myself up, dust myself off and keep moving forward……because forward is where the possibilities are; the past has already happened and I want more than what was in the past. Grab fear by the hand, take it along for the ride (don’t forget fear can keep us safe), but don’t let it have the drivers seat; you need that for yourself. I still feel a little flat and that’s OK…..I have planned some creative things for this weekend, that will bring me back around.

~ Julz

Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions Review…

I was recently approached by the wonderful people at Sleek Lens whom asked if I would like to try and review their Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions Collection. Now I spend a great deal of time in Photoshop and I frequently use actions to as a tool to speed up my workflow, they do not stifle creativity and if used well, can really make an artist life so much easier.

For starters they have a couple of great tutorials on how to use the actions to the best effect here and here. They were easy to understand and follow along and gave great tips on using the actions.

So what do you get? 56 actions in total; base colour, base tones, colour correction and enhancement and retouching, love the Candy Store actions for quick and speedy face edits. Nice, simple and easy to work with, also completely editable, go ahead and play with opacity and brushes……..the sky is the limit. As everything is done on a layer you can alter blend modes on some and of course change the opacity and fill. Each action usually comes with a pop with instructions or there is suggested opacity and such within the action name or layer name.

Even if you have never done retouching or frequency separation, these tutorials along with the built in tool can have you on the way to fabulous portraits.

Now there is also All in One Actions, which I played with but for my money I prefer to alter each image to my own taste as I go. Even with the Frequency Separation in Portrait Perfection I found there was no glow or halo (around the model) that seems to be present in some other actions, It handles that quite well. You can change the amount of blur you would like to use in the Low Frequency as well. There seems to not be anything for hair, I have asked,  hopefully they can point me in the right direction. Below is three before and after images, including a newborn which I have created a video for, visit my YouTube channel to view Part 1 & 2, as well as the actions I used

kendal-ba_addsydney-ba_addxavier-ba_add

Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions Collection is available from sleeklens.com

The cost is a reasonable US$49.00 for 56 Actions set, they have various other action collections as well as Lightroom Presets as well. There is also some freebies, so check them out too. I was quite impressed, how the LR Presets compare I am not sure, and I must admit to doing quite a bit of my portraits in Lightroom. These actions will make things quicker and easier in PS, once I am used to it all. I also recommend watching the videos a few times to get a feel for what the different actions do.

If nothing else the Portrait Retouch Actions are amazing I love how you can really make the eyes POP!, love love love the eyes.

P.S. In offering complete transparency I was not paid any money for this review, it is therefore unbiased.

 

For more info visit
https://sleeklens.com/product/portrait-perfection-photoshop-actions/
https://sleeklens.com/product/professional-photo-editing-service/
https://sleeklens.com/product-category/photoshop-actions/)

~ Julz

Getting Crafty…

I have made two projects recently, mostly quick and easy to do, which adds so much to photos, and is cheap and easy to store.

Shabby Chic Table Top’. This is a great space saving, as well as money saving idea, as most of the items I had lying around the house, just need to buy the timber sheet, and not being an entire table it does not take up that much room. Mix and Match colours for different effects.

Materials –

  • 600 x 1200 x 3mm Marine Ply
  • Timber Stain, acrylic (colour of your choice, mine is Merbau)
  • A clean soft brush
  • Acrylic paint (I used soft white)
  • Newspaper
  • Sandpaper
  • Paper towel
  • Raw Umber (or Burnt Umber) acrylic paint
  • Paint retarder (not essential but rather handy)

Method –

  1. Wipe down board to remove dust and particles, then give one coat of timber stain with soft brush. Leave to dry minimum 2-3 hours. Wash and dry brush.
  2. Give 2-3 coats of white paint, leaving 2-3 hours between coats. Try wrapping brush in Glad Wrap (Cling wrap) between coats and leaving in the fridge, that way you don’t have to keep washing it.
  3. Once completely dry, leave overnight and then sand back the white paint revealing the stain below, sand in some areas more, like normal wear and tear along edges etc. I have a Black & Decker Mouse, electric sander which I have had for years, making a very quick job of this, but it can be done by hand as well.
  4. Then taking the umber acrylic paint, mix with the paint retarder and lightly brush over the table top, then rub in with paper towel, and then rub off excess with wet (with water) paper towel, work in sections and move thoroughly over the entire piece, until you are happy with the result.
  5. Again, leave to dry (overnight if possible) and then sand again until you are happy with the rustic result. Another option is to rub beeswax mixed with a patina like umber to give an aged effect.

‘Dark & Moody Blackboard Backdrop’ So my other project was a blackboard paint back drop, I picked up a piece of pre painted ply, so all I had to do was get it cut in half, but you could easily get some blackboard paint and paint an old canvas or timber. I then ran some black electrical tape (well I think that’s what they called it) and join the two pieces together.

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The reason behind this is about the way different colours reflect and absorb light; white reflects and black absorbs, even more so flat matte like blackboard paint seems to suck up all the light.Very cool for dark and moody style of shoots.

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~ Julz

 

Now for something completely different

I’m excited to announce my new Vimeo Channel! Yes I am now making a few videos of HOW I create my artwork, starting with just a few Quick Edit Videos.

zebra-time

My very first video is for Zebra Time, sorry no mic, just yet so only music in the background. Check it out, more to come. And for those who inspired me to attempt this new phase (you know who you are) THANK YOU. Again another learning curve.

Til next time, happy snapping…

~ Julz

A deconstructed rose…

What started as a bit of playing around with Desley in a workshop has turned into a bit of a thing; for both of us. The whole deconstructed flower study, it is of great interest to cut things up and see what we find. It’s also Macro time, I’m slowly getting used to the whole Manual Focus thing on my lens, but still not quite as steady as I would like, tripod next time.

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Well that is it for this flower, I took a few more shots and then off to the bin……seems a pity, but after an hour or so under lights, they are not happy………cutting them up doesn’t help either!

~ Julz

Home Made Snoot

I recently did a post, where I featured a few images taken using a snoot on my light source, thinking back on it, I thought perhaps some of you do not know what a snoot is……….I only heard of it about six months ago (it might have been longer, but I didn’t know WHAT it was lol), and I had used one a few times for rim lighting and even back lighting, but never for such directional lighting.

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A Snoot was used here for highlights or Rim lighting, for her hair and feathers

So what is a Snoot?

In photography, a snoot is a tube or similar object that fits over a studio light or portable flash and allows the photographer to control the direction and radius of the light beam. These may be conical, cylindrical, or rectangular in shape. Snoots can isolate a subject when using a flash. They help by stopping “light spill”, or when lighting falls in a larger footprint than intended.

-Wikipedia

Some have been making Snoots out of Pringles can over a Speedlight; great idea, as it also has a reflective inside and I might jump up to one of those next time too.But My Snoot used in the above shots, is just a cylinder of cardboard, placed over a continuous light….

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Basic Continuous Light

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Cardboard Snoot

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shot without the snoot

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shot with the snoot

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Final edited shot

I have to admit I love the directional effect and it gives a fabulous mood. I find I am using it more and more.

~ Julz

P.S. I have just purchased some studio equipment and was given a free snoot…….make sure it actually fits your model speedlight or standard light properly……..I didn’t double check I assumed if it fits the 900 model speedlight it would fit my 910 speedlight………..guess what it does not! Colour me stupid for not double checking.

P.P.S. Sorry some of the images are a little blurry, I took them in a rush to write the post and didn’t take my mind in set up etc as I normally do, apologies