Evolve An Existing “Final” Image Using Topaz Simplify

A Request

A few months ago a fan of the New England Photography Guild Facebook page asked if I would explain how I created this image of Winnekenni Castle in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I promised her I would, so here’s the story behind the shot.

Winnekenni Castle Topaz Simplify

Winnekenni Castle


I began by bracketing 3 shots (-1, 0, +1 EV) of the castle. Using my Nikon D300 and Tokina 11-16mm lens, I deliberately shot wider than needed to capture the total essence of the entire subject area. (I knew I would later do my final cropping in post production to best showcase the castle and visually draw the eye of the viewer into the scene.)

Bracketed – 1 EV

Bracketed  -1 EV


Bracketed 0 EV

Bracketed 0 EV


Bracketed +1 EV

Bracketed +1 EV

Photomatix Pro 5

Using the three bracketed images, I then made a single tonemapped HDR image using Photomatix Pro 5 by HDRsoft and saved it as a jpeg. (You can download a free trial of the software by clicking here.)

HDR Tonemapped Uncropped

Uncropped Tonemapped HDR Image

Photoshop CS4

I always do some additional tweaking to my images from within Photoshop. For this tonemapped HDR image, I opened it in Photoshop CS4. (This was done prior to my upgrading to Photoshop CC.)

From within CS4 I made some post-production adjustments to such things as levels, shadows & highlights, etc., as well as cloned out any distractions. I also did my final cropping to the image at this stage.

The end result was this final HDR image.

"Final" HDR Tonemapped Image Cropped

“Final” Cropped Tonemapped HDR Image


If there’s one thing I’ve learned in recent years about photography it’s that nothing is ever really “final.” Post production software and post production techniques continually evolve, and thus so can your “final” images. Such was the case with the above “Final” Cropped Tonemapped HDR image when I discovered Topaz Labs Simplify 4 plug-in filter. In my mind’s eye I suddenly envisioned my final HDR image evolved into a more painterly version. I now knew how I could make that artistic evolution happen.

Topaz Labs Simplify 4

While HDR initially brought out all of the detail and tonal contrast in the image, I knew that the Topaz Simplify 4 BuzSim Preset would be the perfect filter to compliment that detail by softening it a bit — as if with an artist’s brush — without losing the detail itself.

Winnekenni Castle Topaz Simplify

Winnekenni Castle “Evolved”

Selective use of the BuzSim preset’s Global Adjustment sliders led to my “Evolved” image shown above. While I could go through each and every slider and tell you the exact settings I chose to create the image, I feel that would be a disservice. Art is subjective. I feel that you should always work to make your images a true reflection of your own personal vision.

Topaz Simplify is a great software plug-in. The best thing you can do is simply explore its features and play with the different presets and their accompanying adjustment sliders. Helpful Tip! Hovering over the control button on each adjustment slider will open a window that explains exactly what that slider does.

There are also plenty of free tutorials available online, many provided by Topaz Labs directly. Simply do a Google search for “Topaz Simplify Tutorials.” As of this writing, the latest version of the program is Topaz Simplify 4. For a complete introduction to this version of the software, click here for a comprehensive video overview from Topaz Labs.

Carpé Diem!

With fall foliage season soon peaking in Massachusetts, a visit to Winnekenni Castle might be a great destination to consider shooting. (Check out those trees in the background!) You can then try out Topaz Simplify for yourself. It’s available here for a free trial download!

~ Liz Mackney


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Fall Foliage: Think Outside The Box

This time of year in New England is what most photographers live for. The trees in reds, yellows, oranges and combinations of the three combined with waterfalls, ponds, barns, churches and mountains. Classic New England imagery that turns northern New England into a seasonal mecca for leaf peepers. While these images are classic and iconic and I have many in my portfolio, in my opinion, they tend to become routine.

So how does one take something so monumentally iconic as New England fall foliage and put a new spin on it? It’s something I’ve been toying around with for a few seasons and I’ll gladly share some tips with you.


By far the easiest spin on foliage is the abstract. It can be as simple as using a long lens and zooming in tightly to a cluster of trees on a mountainside instead of going wide and capturing the whole scene. A classic fall abstract is to simply shoot the reflection of the foliage in moving water. It’s timeless, and when done right, can sell for a million bucks like the famous Peter Lik photo “One”. To get a true abstract, try using intentional camera movement. Focus on part of a tree, set your shutter speed slow enough that you can zoom in while the shutter is open. Try panning side to side or up and down while the shutter is open, or get really creative and twist the camera while exposing. It’s generally hit or miss, but when it’s a hit you can walk away with a really amazing and unique image. The following images are examples of some of these techniques.

2012-10-21-Hunts Mill - Gammino-175-13.jpg2011-10-11-White Mountains-054-179.jpg2011-10-11-White Mountains-054-185.jpg2011-10-11-White Mountains-054-221.jpg2011-11-06-Backyard Fall-062-47.jpg2013 White Mountains20131005-45.jpgTurner and Meadows20131022-37-Edit.jpg

Long Exposures

Try using a 9 or 10 stop ND filter, or stack a 2 and 3 stop ND to get a long exposure during daylight. This can have a really dramatic effect when combined with water and moving clouds. I have used both my 9 stop and two 3 stop filters in the late afternoon to get 90-second exposures of foliage reflecting into a pond with clouds that appear to be racing by.

2010-10-14 Turner Reservoir_0022.jpg2010-10-22 Turner Reservoir_0013.jpg

Seascape Foliage

There is foliage along the coast that turns color in the fall. Most people either forget that or are unaware. Beach roses in particular, turn very vibrant orange, red and yellow in autumn. The grasses and reeds that grow along salt water marshes also turn golden in the fall. These can be used to create some dramatically different fall foliage images.

Gooseberry Sunset20131110-Edit.jpg

Man Made

Many of the iconic fall images include something man made, like a barn or church. Step it up a notch and include city streets, or an old factory. An abandoned car in the woods would make an excellent subject when surrounded by bright fall foliage. Instead of focusing on the barn and silo, find the tractor or baler and compose it with the foliage.


Close Up and Depth of Field

You could use a macro lens or extension tubes and zoom in really close to backlit leaves. Or zoom in tight with a small aperture and shoot at the sun to get a star burst behind a leaf. Sometimes a little fill flash helps with this. You could use a wider angle lens but open up to as wide as you can and focus on some foreground leaves. This would leave (no pun intended) the background soft and out of focus. This would even work with an iconic shot of a white church blurred in the background. Another option I’ll add in here is a Lensbaby. If you have one, try it out on foliage landscapes. You might end up with something really amazing.

2008-10-26 Slater Park_0025.jpg2010-10-12 Meadows_0034_5_6_tonemapped.jpg2010-10-9 Meadows and Waterfire_0030.jpg2012-10-07-Hunts - Burrs-167-5.jpg

Fall Flowers

Instead of focusing on the trees, turn your camera to the variety of fall flowers and berries that appear in October. Put the trees in the background, and you can have some really great images.


Blue Hour and Night Images

Fall foliage looks its best in good light, but how about moon light? Get out to one of your favorite spots after the sun has gone down and take a few shots. This will look especially good if there is some moonlight. The blue hour, or twilight, also can also make some great images. Light painting would also yield a unique image, especially if you would like to include stars or the Milky Way in your image. Taking a foliage shot at night in an urban setting will let you get artificial light on the foliage and possibly turn the points of light into starbursts by using a small aperture. Shooting in low light conditions like these can be tricky to get proper exposure, so bracketing and combining your images in post may be a good solution. I have to admit that I haven’t personally tried shooting foliage at night yet, but I will have by the time this foliage season is over. I do have this example taken about 20 minutes after sunset as the blue hour was beginning.

2010-10-17 Luthers Pond_0008_09_10_11_12_tonemapped.jpg

In closing, this fall, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your foliage images.

~ Bryan Bzdula





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Should I Do a Calendar?

I would imagine at one time or another many of you have given thought to the possibility of doing your own calendar and putting it up for sale. I know I have wrestled with this idea for about 10 years now. I have enough of a portfolio where I could do an Ireland calendar, a Portugal calendar, a desert southwest calendar, a bird calendar, a wildlife calendar, a lighthouse calendar, and a New England Calendar. Looking through calendars in stores, I would look at the pictures and think: “I’ve got similar work, I could do this.”


Where Do I Fit In?

The big question was, what would the market be? The stores at Christmas are full of calendars of Ireland, The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, New England in the Fall, New England in the Winter, New England Lighthouses, New England Historic Places, Birds, Wildlife, etc. So, if I did my own calendar of these same places, where would it fit in? How could it compete at the prices I would have to charge when many of these are selling for $5.00 or so?

Looking Close to Home For The Answer

The answer is, it couldn’t. Friends and family would buy them, maybe I’d sell some here and there but how would I create a demand for a calendar that people can buy commercially for much less? For the answer I went back to the beginning when I first started to shoot in 1968. Back then I had 2 subjects — cars and my home town of Warren, RI. When I retired and started to put a lot of time into photography, my main subject was still my home town. It had everything I needed — a very photogenic, historic working waterfront, boats, colonial charm, New England farms, and salt marshes. Being surrounded by water – both fresh and salt – the subject matter was endless.


Re-focus and Build a Portfolio From Which to Draw

My Warren portfolio soon contained thousands of pictures of the town I grew up in. People started to say, “You have to do a Warren calendar.” At that time I wasn’t thinking small though. I was thinking large. I was thinking, “If people are going to buy, they’re going to want New England, Ireland, The Desert Southwest etc.” It took me a while to realize I wasn’t going to compete on a large scale because that market was flooded and I was priced out of it. So last fall I re-thought my focus.

Marketing Via Social Media and Finding a Printer

On a Facebook page relating to my town, where I had been posting pictures for some time, I threw out the question: “How many people would be interested in buying a Warren calendar if I were to do one?” In 2 or 3 days I had tallied up 75 calendars from people who said they would buy one, or two, or three. That was enough encouragement for me to go through with the process. In the summer, at an art show I was doing, I met Craig Bradley of Electrify Design Studio. We talked calendars and I committed to having him print them. The layout was great, the price was what I would have paid online, and the quality was excellent. Instead of a website I had a person I could talk to directly. He printed me a couple of proofs. I loved the quality and design.


How Many Should I Order?

Originally I was going to order 100. By the time I sent the order in it was 250. I took delivery 17 days ago. Half are gone already. Over 60% of the people buying them are purchasing them in multiples as opposed to single calendars. Social media has been a great tool to market them. I have shipped calendars to Iowa, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Alabama, Maine, New York, Connecticut, and Missouri. Some are being re-shipped to Australia, Afghanistan, England and the Bahamas. By focusing small I had achieved large.

The Lesson to Be Learned

The lesson I would take away from all of this is, if you’re going to do a calendar, don’t do what everybody else is doing. Scour the social media pages that have something to do with the area you live in. Find a niche, find something that connects with people. That is really the key. Find a subject they can relate to. Post pictures on these social media pages and gauge the response. Build a portfolio on a specific something that has an interest or a following and market it. Don’t join the pack, become a lone wolf. You will find it to be more successful than doing the mainstream work that you see flooding the stores every year at this time.

~ Butch Lombardi



No Such Thing As Bad Weather

Ashuelot River in the Rain, Keene, New Hampshire

Ashuelot River in the Rain – Keene, New Hampshire














Just Inappropriate Clothing

Mountain Mist, Glacier Bay, Alaska

Mountain Mist – Glacier Bay, Alaska

Photographers are supposed to thrive on bad weather. Snow and ice, rain, fog and soft overcast light are all opportunities for dramatic images that can go beyond the postcard pictures that come from bright sunny weather. In New England we have a generous share of opportunities to revel in inclement weather, but the challenges of dealing with the dark and damp was recently brought home to me during a trip to Alaska. The journey included visits to Denali, Talkeetna and Seward on the rugged Kenai Peninsula. We also spent a week cruising through the rain forested islands of Southeastern Alaska. Over 16 days we had 2 days that might reasonably be described as sunny. The rest was overcast with periods of light to occasionally torrential rain. Many of my favorite images of hump back whales, eagles and grizzly bears, as well as the dramatic misty mountains, came during the worst weather, but in coping with these damp conditions I was reminded of an important maxim that was emphasized during our trip. Whether in Alaska or the Forests of New England, it is worth remembering that…


“There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Just Inappropriate Clothing.”


Paddy Creek Rain, Cape Porpoise, Maine

Paddy Creek Rain – Cape Porpoise, Maine

Susan and I were prepared for the rain. We packed rain-proof jackets and pants and, as recommended, we brought water-proof boots that provided protection up to our knees. We routinely dressed in full rain gear before heading out on hikes through the rain forest or while exploring the coast in small zodiacs. It was a reminder of how liberating it is to feel comfortable in the rain and mist and to have no second thoughts about plopping down on the wet grass to get a unique angle on a scene. Wildlife images are usually captured best at eye level, and, sadly, I can think of many situations over the years where I missed the low angles because I didn’t want to get my pants drenched.

For me, gearing-up was not a problem, since, for some time, I have kept rain gear in the back of my car, ready for the inevitably variable New England weather. The experience in Alaska, however, made me reassess and upgrade my weather gear, and it is worth considering your own foul weather kit. The key is to have gear that is light and easy to get on when the situation arises. So to encourage the gathering of you own gear, here is a summary of what I keep in the back of my car. Nothing complicated, and there are many options out there, but it comes down to jacket, pants, boots and a hat. Gloves depend on the temperature.



Camera Jacket

Camera Jacket

I will start by saying that I will not discuss rain protection for your camera. There are many solutions for this problem ranging from a cheap trash bag with a hole cut for the lens to expensive and complication systems. I have previously discussed the options, but I will say that my most essential piece of camera protection gear is a simple towel, which for many situation serves to both protect from the rain and to dry up any drops that sneak through.




Autumn Rain Marlborough, New Hampshire

Autumn Rain – Marlborough, New Hampshire

Rain Pants

Good water-proof rain pants are probably my most essential item. I keep my LL Bean pants in the back. The key is that they are large enough to fit over my jeans and with only a little effort I can slip them on without being forced to remove my boots.


Water-Proof Jacket

The problem with truly water-proof jackets is that they tend to retain moisture, especially if intense activity leads to perspiration. It is possible to become drenched inside not from the rain but from your own condensed sweat. There are various choices of “breathable” or vented jackets, but they all involve some compromise. I keep a rain-proof jacket, which is reasonably vented, in the car, but when the rain is mild I will often go with a “rain-resistant” jacket that is better at releasing the moisture.



For years I have kept a pair of rubber boots in the back of the car, but I have seldom struggled to put them on. They require removing my regular boots and that is just WAY too much work for me. I often prefer to drive home with wet feet than to struggle in and out of these sticky rubber torture devises. As I planned for our Alaskan trip, I searched for an alternative and found a great solution for dry feet. NEOS produces overshoe waterproof boots that work remarkably well. They are light and open wide to accept everything from shoes to my heaviest hiking boots. They wrap snugly around the leg and clip across the top of the foot to provide secure water protection up to the knee. They worked well in Alaska and were the envy of my fellow adventurers as they struggled with their rubber iron maidens. The boots weigh less than two pounds, are easily packable and leave me no excuse for avoiding wading out into those streams this fall. NEOS makes heavier duty versions of these boots that may be better for longer hikes over difficult terrain and I suspect I will be grabbing a pair of those as well.

Boot Struggles

Boot Struggles

NEOS Overshoe Boots

NEOS Overshoe Boots


Overshoe Boots Video



Ok, let me start with the undeniable fact that I’m not a hat kind of guy. I have a nice floppy water proof hat, but it makes me look even more like a doofus than I am already (no image required). I’ll stick with simple baseball caps, not impervious to water, but if I need protection I can use the hood on my jacket and in the meanwhile the cap’s visor helps to keep drops off my glasses.



I keep a small umbrella in the car. It is of little help in the wind, but in gentle air I can hold it against the left side of my camera to obtain reasonably steady and dry shots. With a tripod the umbrella is much easier to use effectively.

Rain Gear

Rain Gear



Brookside Boots, Ideal Cove, Alaska

Brookside Boots – Ideal Cove, Alaska


That’s my quick list. We live and shoot in New England and, as I often say, if you wait for perfect weather to photograph, you will get out just a few times a year. A bit of an exaggeration, but you will miss many great opportunities for dramatic images. So put together your foul weather kit and be ready to take advantage of all that our region’s weather has to offer.

~ Jeffrey Newcomer

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Migration of the Snow Geese

A flock of Snow Geese fly above Dead Creek

A flock of Snow Geese fly above Dead Creek

Birders speak of “magnets” for birds. The marshes of Dead Creek WMA are one such magnet. They sit along a major migratory route for snow geese heading south to the Chesapeake Bay area. Each autumn these geese leave their breeding grounds along the Greenland coast using northeastern waterways as their navigational aids. They follow the St. Lawrence Valley then hang a left and follow the Champlain Valley to the Hudson and the Atlantic coast. Vermont has two traditional rest-spots along this interstate in the sky — the Missiquoi NWR at the north end of Lake Champlain and Dead Creek WMA in Addison County.

Years before my wife and I made our first trip to see the Snow Geese, we did a family bike ride with our two daughters along the roads of this area. We passed impressive signs below Addison saying “Wildlife Viewing Area.” But we were confused; we saw no wildlife at all. It seems the best time to see the geese is late October.

Addison Vermont at sunset from near the Snow Geese viewing area

Addison, Vermont, at sunset from near the Snow Geese viewing area

Most adult snow geese are large and white. The immature snows are grayish. They fly in close-knit family units consisting typically of two adults and three young snows. It is unusual to see a single snow goose take off or land. They travel as a family or large groups of families.

A Snow Goose glides in for a landing

A Snow Goose glides in for a landing

Serious photographers view the snow geese at the crack of dawn. One can find lodging north on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh. There are numerous restaurants in tiny Vergennes, “the smallest city in the country.” We did this in a very unplanned fashion on our first trip. You can read about our adventure and see more photos HERE.

The photo below was used on the 2014 Vermont Fish and Game Calendar.

Snow Geese land in the fog

Snow Geese land in the fog

~ Jim Block


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