Tag Archives: Liz Mackney Photography

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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Posted in Creative Processing, Fine Art, Historic Landmarks, Massachusetts, Photo Techniques, Photoshop, Plug-ins, Post Production, Scenic New England, Scenic Travel, Technique | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , 4 Comments

Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask Filter – Are Your Images Flawed?

About The Unsharp Mask Filter…

Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask Filter is the most common sharpening tool used by photographers during post production. Although its name sounds like an oxymoron when the goal is to actually sharpen an image, it definitely does exactly that — sharpen. Well, sort of. Applying the Unsharp Mask Filter actually results in the illusion of sharpening, where the human eye is tricked.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Most photographers new to Photoshop have a tendency to do a bit of overkill when first learning the program and experimenting with its filters. I know I was certainly guilty of that in my early days with the program and my entry into the world of digital post production.

Use of the Unsharp Mask Filter is certainly one area where lack of experience — or limited understanding of the filter’s slider controls (Amount, Radius, and Threshold) — visibly shows its hand.

The sharpening error that most often appears in the details of certain images is called “halos.” However, halos are not always due to inexperience and overkill. There are times when halos are just a byproduct of a perfectly legitimate use of the Unsharp Mask Filter.

Regardless of whether due to inexperience or a legitimate byproduct, halos are ugly and distracting.

What Exactly Are Halos?

Halos are those white (sometimes dark) lines that appear between highly contrasted areas. View your images on-screen at 100% and really check the edges of your subject matter. While halos might not be that visible in a small size print, they will be exponentially more visible in larger print sizes. Definitely not a good thing!

Let’s Take A Look

Here’s an example where I deliberately oversharpened my image. At first glance the overkill might not look too obvious. Don’t be fooled. Halos are indeed there.

Oversharpened using Photoshop Unsharp Mask

A beautiful sunset, except for…

Now Let’s Take A CLOSER Look

When we zoom in to take a closer look, you can clearly see that oversharpening produced very noticeable halos along the edges of the lighthouse (as well as along the railing, rocks, and horizon in the full image above). Can you imagine just how obvious and distracting that would be in a nicely framed large size print? Ugh! That’s why it’s important to always check the details in your images on-screen at 100%.

Unsharp Mask halos

Halos revealed

Now if I noticed the halos during my initial post production of this image, I could immediately correct the flaw by making some adjustments to the Unsharp Mask Filter control sliders. But what if I only discovered the halos after the fact?

Don’t panic. It’s never too late to correct the problem.

To start, find your current “final” image file and open it in Photoshop.

How to Fix Halos In Your Images

Photoshop Darken Blend Mode

Darken Blend Mode

As with most things in Photoshop, there are several different methods on how to do something. This includes fixing halos. Most techniques for fixing halos have one thing in common — selecting the Darken (or sometimes Lighten) layer blend mode.

Here are a few different video tutorials to show you how to remove halos in greater detail. Try the different techniques and decide which method works best for you and your image.

Unsharp Mask Tutorial

Let’s go back to basics for a moment. For those of you new to Photoshop or those of you simply in need of a quick refresher on the Unsharp Mask control sliders, Adobe’s Principal Digital Imaging Evangelist, Julieanne Kost, has a great video tutorial on the very subject.

In A Nutshell

Before you have prints made from your files, do yourself a favor — check for halos first. You’ll be glad you did.

~ Liz Mackney


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Posted in Filters, Photoshop, Technique, Tips | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2 Comments

Using Texture to Transform An Image

The Present Becomes The Past

There are numerous ways to take your images to the next level. Sometimes it’s simply through diligent practice; other times it’s by utilizing more advanced equipment and/or incorporating the latest post-production software. One of my favorite ways to transform an image is to incorporate texture.

Sepia toned textured image of schooners

Transformation into the past

In The Beginning…

This is the original image upon which the transformation above is based. I took the shot during the annual Gloucester Schooner Festival in 2009. As you can see, it was a picture-perfect sailing day, complete with a steady wind to fill the schooner sails.

Gloucester Schooner Race

Gloucester Schooner Festival Race for The Esperanto Cup

History’s Influence…

The history behind this event — and the magnificent vessels that take center stage — are what turned my thoughts to the sailors of long ago. That’s what gave me the idea to turn the present into the past by incorporating texture into my existing image.

Choosing A Texture

For the transformed image I chose to incorporate two different textures from the Joel Olives Textures collection. Old world color and an aged pattern were my primary considerations when selecting the textures.

Joel Olives Texture

Joel Olives “Catherine” Texture

Joel Olives Texture

Joel Olives “Burnt Tones” Texture

Applying The Texture

I began the transformation process by first opening my present day schooner image in Photoshop. I then selected and placed the “Catherine” texture file (File>Place>Texture File Name) on its own layer directly above the schooner image layer and selected the Normal Blending Mode from the Layers Palette. Note: It’s worthwhile to select each of the different Blending Modes to see which one works best for your image.

Photoshop Blending Modes

Blending Modes pulldown menu

Next, I adjusted the Opacity Level of the texture layer and then applied a Mask.

Remembering that “White reveals and Black conceals,” I then used my brush tool (while continually adjusting its Opacity Level as creatively desired) to selectively apply the texture to my original schooner image.

I then merged the layers and repeated the same process using the “Burnt Tones” texture.

Final Tweak

To get the color just the way I wanted, I flattened the image and then applied the Topaz Labs BW Effects “Sepia and Selenium I” filter.


That’s it in a nutshell. Texture transformed my image from the present into the past.

Other Subjects For Texture

Texture can be applied to a wide variety of subjects. Today I showed you just one. Other examples of where I’ve applied texture to transform an image into something new can be seen by clicking on the following subjects:


Pet Portraits

Birds in Flight



Final Thoughts

I hope I’ve lit a flame in your creative mind. Look through your images. I’m sure you can find one or two where texture just might take it to a whole new level.

~ Liz Mackney


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Posted in Cape Ann, Creative Processing, Creativity, Filters, Sailing, Technique, Texture | Also tagged , , , , , , , Leave a comment

Filter Play For A Cold Winter’s Day

Winter In New England

It’s been an interesting winter here in New England thus far. We’ve certainly seen an extreme range of temperatures, not to mention some “wicked” ice storms and a recent Nor’easter blizzard.

During this time of year, many of my fellow photographer friends love to grab their camera equipment and venture out to face the elements head on. I wish I could say that I was one of those adventurous photographers, but alas my thin blood and extremely low tolerance to the cold has me instead living vicariously through them.

While I’ve added many new “To Buy” items to my “Winter Photography Clothing Gear List,” in reality I spend most cold winter days indoors staying warm and exploring my creative side through a variety of post-production filters and techniques. I will touch on a few of my favorite post-production filters here today.

I Know I’m Not Alone…

I suspect I’m not the only photographer who tends to avoid the possibility of frozen fingers — and exposing my equipment to ice, snow, and sub-zero temps. So for those of you with simpatico minds — and I know there are more than just a few of us — this article might give you a few new ideas on how to reinvent an existing image, or perhaps take your post-production process in a new direction altogether.

So let’s get to some of those favorite post-production filters of mine…

Poster Edges

Photoshop comes equipped with several built-in filters. Poster Edges is one of them. You can easily access it from the Filter pull-down menu at the top of your screen. (Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges). The filter’s image adjustment sliders then let you alter such things as Edge Thickness, Edge Intensity, and Posterization to your preference for that image.

For this image, I took a macro shot of a coneflower. I then added a texture layer for a fine art effect. For a final step, I applied the Poster Edges filter to give the image a contemporary look.


Coneflower with texture layer and Poster Edges filter applied.

Oil Paint Filter

Another favorite Photoshop filter of mine is the Oil Paint Filter. This filter comes packaged with Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC. The Oil Paint effect also shipped as a free Pixel Bender Gallery plugin for Photoshop CS5.

Note: Variations of an oil paint effect are also available as third-party PS plugins from software makers such as Topaz Labs.


My beloved Mia. Pixel Bender Oil Paint Filter applied.

“Less Is More”

To what degree one applies the Oil Paint Filter to an image very much depends on personal taste. I’m a big proponent of “less is more” when it comes to using this filter. Being conservative with the adjustment sliders gives the image a far more realistic oil painting look in my opinion. However, there are no “rules” to creativity. Surrealism certainly has its place, so by all means feel free to experiment and turn reality into something as abstract as your imagination envisions.

Annisquam Lighthouse Oil Paint Filter

Annisquam Lighthouse with PS CC Oil Paint Filter applied.



Motif #1 with PS CC Oil Paint Filter applied.

Flaming Pear Flood Filter

I love the Flood Filter by Flaming Pear. You can use it to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, or to give added dimension to a visual story.

In this shot, I used it to add a dramatic — and somewhat surreal — effect to one of my HDR Battleship Cove images taken in Fall River, Massachusetts. The adjustment sliders for this filter give you great latitude for “flood placement” and water detail manipulation.


Battleship Cove Reflection with Flaming Pear Flood filter applied.

Topaz Star Effects

Who doesn’t like adding a little pizzazz to images that already feature an illuminated light? I certainly thought this sunrise shot of Maine’s Portland Head Light deserved such a treatment — and Topaz Star Effects made it possible. Again, I believe in the “less is more” approach. The “blue hour” of morning was beautiful in and of itself. Adding a subtle star effect to the beacon seemed like a nature fit to accentuate the beauty of the moment.


Portland Head Lighthouse at sunrise with Topaz Star Effects applied.

Experimental Fun!

So there you have it. Several examples of the different type of post-production filters you can play with on a cold winter’s day.

As you know, it’s only mid January. We still have a couple of months of this New England winter to go. Since we can’t change it, I say let’s embrace the opportunities it offers.

For some that means bundling up and dazzling the rest of us with spectacular winter images. For the rest of us, it means having fun — and staying warm — at our computers while we enjoy some post-production experimentation.


Macro image of a sunflower transformed into a kaleidoscope. PS CS5 Pixel Bender Oil Paint filter then selectively applied to the background.

However you choose to survive this winter’s cold weather, enjoy!

~ Liz Mackney

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Posted in Blue Hour, Cape Ann, Creative Processing, Filters, Flowers, Lighthouse, Maine, Massachusetts, Reference Info, Sunrise /Sunset, Technique | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

Cape Ann’s Halibut Point State Park

Fun to Explore in Every Season!

Cape Ann’s Halibut Point State Park on Gott Avenue in Rockport, Massachusetts, attracts a wide variety of people year round. Regardless of the season, there’s always fun to be had. Everyone from hikers to birders to coastline explorers and photographers love this idyllic location that borders the Atlantic Ocean.

A view of the quarry and Visitor Center

A view of the quarry and Visitor Center from the walking trail 

Historic Granite Quarry

Once home to a large granite-quarrying operation around the turn of the 20th century, the park is now cooperatively managed by The Trustees of Reservations and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management.

Views of the former Babson Farm quarry are diverse and include scenic vistas, granite reflections, changing foliage, and some magical sunsets.

Halibut Point State Park quarry reflection

Granite walls cast a reflection

Hiking Trails, Dramatic Surf and More!

Featuring 2.5 miles of trails and a rocky coastline overlooking some dramatic surf, the park is a wonderful place to explore. Hikers enjoy climbing the rocky ledges and traversing the trails that make their way through the woods, around the quarry, and along the edge of the ocean.

Walking trails at Halibut Point State Park

Canopied walking trail

A shoreline photographer at Halibut Point State Park

Photographer braves the ocean surf

A Birder’s Paradise

Bird watchers get a diverse eyeful year round — including loons, grebes and a variety of ducks. Tidal pools delight visitors with harbor snails, hermit crabs, and sea stars. I love to visit every season, as migration patterns bring different feathered friends to the park throughout the year.

Shoreline birds at Halibut Point State Park

Shoreline birds gather in groups along the rocky coast

A harlequin duck along the coast at Halibut Point State Park

A harlequin duck flies along the coastline

An eider duck flaps his wings in the waters off the coast of Halibut Point State Park

A male eider enjoys showing off

View from the Visitor Center

The park’s Visitor Center is housed in a renovated World War II fire-control tower near the edge of the Babson Farm Quarry. This 60-foot tall structure offers a panoramic view that includes Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Mount Agamenticus in Maine, and the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire.

An autumn view of the quarry at Halibut Point State Park

An autumn view of the quarry from the top of the Visitor Center


Halibut Point State Park is open year round from sunrise to sunset. A small parking fee is charged year round. Admission is FREE for Trustees members (proof of membership required), and also for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Self-guided Tour

On weekends from Memorial Day through Columbus day, tours of the quarry are offered by staff and volunteers.

A self-guided walking tour brochure is also available for download by clicking here.

For a closer view of the park’s map, click here.

Note: Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

Worth The Trip!

So if you’re heading to Cape Ann — or looking for a great new place to explore — make sure to check out Halibut Point State Park. It’s worth the trip any time of the year!

~ Liz Mackney

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Posted in Bird watching, Birds, Cape Ann, Historic, Historic Landmarks, Massachusetts, Migration, Nature, Scenic New England, Scenic Travel, Water fowl, Waterfowl, Wildlife | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2 Comments