Topaz Software Review – How I use Topaz Plugins

Before I begin, if you know what TopazLab product you want and are here for the Topaz Labs discount code, use PHOTOTRACES at the checkout to get 15% off any Topaz plugin or complete Topaz Labs bundle at Topaz Website.

Topaz Software Review

If you follow my blog, you know that I am pretty open about my editing as I reveal the processing steps for almost every photo I publish. You also probably noticed that every photo posted on this blog was edited, at some point, with at least one or two Topaz Labs plugins.

Not surprisingly, two of the most common questions my readers ask me about the Topaz products are: “What plugin should I incorporate in my editing workflow and when do I use it?”

I have to admit that Topaz Labs has one of the most confusing structures of its products. They have a total of 16 different plugins and, in most cases, their functions overlap with each other. Needless to say, it took me a long time to figure out what product to use and when.

Do not get me wrong; I love and value the Topaz Plugins, but I wish that instead of 16 products they had three or four, combining different plugins together.

But, I guess a very confusing product structure is making a very successful business model.

In order to help photographers who are just starting to use Topaz software, I have listed the plugins I use in the order of importance for my photography. [Read more…]

Sunset At South Shore of O’ahu (Hawaii)

I already featured photo I took almost from the exactly the same spot while visiting Hawaii (Sunrise Over South Shore of O’ahu). The big difference though between two shots is the photo below I took at the sunset and the previously published shot was taken at sunrise.

It is not often you came across the place which is perfect for both sunset and sunrise photography. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail on the O’ahu island of Hawaii is one of those amazing spots.

Hawaii. O’ahu Island. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Loc: 21.304722, -157.651389


This is the extreme example of sunset photography. I was shooting directly into the sun, but it was already partly shielded by the Koko Head Mountain making the shadows of the scene very dark. The light of the scene was very dynamic. When I checked the dynamic range of the HDR image during the processing phase, the value was 19.3 stops.

Here are some dynamic range values for you to compare:

  • Scene: 19.3 stops
  • Human eye can see: up to 14 stops of light
  • Sony a6000 sensor: 11.4 stops
  • Computer monitor: 8 stops

The human eye is considered to be the best and the most sophisticated optical device, but even a human eye can not see the entire range of the light here.

This was the perfect scenario to use HDR photography and I took 3 bracketed shots with 2EV intervals (-2, 0, +2) on a tripod. [Read more…]

The Minimalist Guide to Editing Family and Vacation Photos in Lightroom

I take and edit a lot of photos. I have over 100,000 images in my Lightroom Catalogue. Over the years, I became more efficient in organizing and editing. Now, when I return from a long photography trip with 4,000 new photos, it does not scare me at all because I can organize and edit them relatively quickly in Lightroom.

But, one aspect of photography with which I struggled for a long time was family photography. Every time I returned from family vacation, I was always behind on my work and family photos were never the priority. Plus, the fact that family photos typically never have a hard deadline was also of no help. The photos often stayed on my travel hard drive for weeks or even months, which did not go over well with my wife and the rest of the family. My wife kept calling me a “shoemaker without shoes” (Russian idiom). [Read more…]

Sailing in the Fog Under the Golden Gate Bridge (California)

This photo is the perfect reminder why I only shoot RAW format. I embraced RAW from the moment I bought my first camera which supported raw (Canon Rebel). When I opened the first raw photo in Photoshop and I saw its potential compared to JPEG I was convinced immediately and I never looked back.

The only time I switch a camera to JPEG mode is when I shoot sports.

The day I took the featured photo I spent the entire afternoon shooting water polo in Berkley and when after the games I decided to go to Marin Headlands for the sunset, I completely forgot to switch my camera from JPEG back to RAW.

I only noticed the problem when I started to process photos back home. I could not edit this image the way I intended because every time I wanted to apply stronger contrast or more aggressive color correction image would start to break up by revealing ugly banding. I had to settle for less aggressive processing

Sailing in the Fog Under the Golden Gate Bridge (California)

California. San Francosco
Location: 37.827737, -122.482495


Even though it was middle of May it was very chilly at Marin Headlands with strong wind bringing the cold fog from the ocean to the bay. I had to put on every piece of clothing I had in my car, but it did not help. Then I had to fight the wind while setting up the tripod and trying to keep it steady while shooting.

I took 3 bracketed shots with 1EV intervals (-1, 0, +1) on a tripod.


I started with Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing (read my tutorial here), applying Natural preset from Landscape Collection and adjusting the exposure (image was underexposed) with the ToolKit. But I was not happy with the result, I wanted to convey the cold feeling of the scene by adding blue color. [Read more…]

Long Exposure Playing Field (Cuba)

I took this photo during my trip to Cuba. Cayo Coco is the popular and very busy place in Cuba. The early mornings was the only time when I could have the place for myself walking with the tripod and DSLR freely. The rest of the day I only used my compact Lumix LX7.

Cuba. Cayo Coco
Location: 22.544, -78.428


It was early morning, the sun was still behind the horizon and it was still pretty dark. Normally, I shoot using aperture around F8 and F11 but in this case I had to set it to F5.6 in order to get shutter speed below 30sec. I used a tripod to pull such a long exposure.

The main challenge was the lack of space on the small pier from where I was shooting. I could not move around to come up with the interesting composition. My goal was to make the net and the left side of the sky, illuminated by the sun, the main elements of the composition. Ideally, I would loved to step back and move to the right but that was not the option because taking long exposure shots while swimming would be extremely challenging.

When I took a bunch of shots while the sun was rising, I could clearly see that orange cloud and the net was too far apart but that was the best I could do.


The processing itself was very straight forward. I used Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing (read my tutorial here), applying Natural preset from Landscape Collection and adjusting the exposure (image was underexposed) with the ToolKit. [Read more…]

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing

How I Reduced Lightroom Editing Time in Half!

I remember the time when 100% of my photo editing was done in Photoshop. It was inefficient and time consuming process but, it was the only viable option for professional photographers.

When Adobe released a beta version of Lightroom, it was like a breath of fresh air. It was a completely new and revolutionary approach to the normal photography workflow. That’s right; Lightroom not only offered photo editing but a complete digital photography workflow.

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

The Lightroom photography workflow included Photo Organization, Photo Editing and Publishing. On top of everything and in stark contrast to Photoshop, Lightroom introduced nondestructive photo editing. Meaning that the original image is never modified and always stays intact in its initial state.

The introduction of Lightroom helped me to drastically reduce the time I spent processing photos. Plus, the Lightroom learning curve was not too steep.

Over the years, Adobe launched multiple versions of Lightroom and kept introducing new features to make it a one-stop solution for all photographers, from the occasional hobbyist to full-time professionals.

Even though Lightroom became my favorite and most valuable tool for my business, I also recognized that my time spent in Lightroom gradually increased due to the greater sophistication and complexity of the program.

When I realized that my photo editing time increased to the pre-Lightroom level, I knew I had to act. About a year ago I started to look for ways to optimize and streamline my workflow with the goal to free myself of as much time as possible. [Read more…]

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (Utah)

I took the featured photo while visiting Zion National Park. It was an eventful day. The highlight of the visit was my early morning hike to the top of the Angels Landing trail. By midday, I was completely exhausted and I wanted to take afternoon break before going to sunset hike to Overlook Trail.

I took Zion’s shuttle bus so I could rest and enjoy the beauty of Zion Scenic Drive. When the shuttle reached Big Bend I saw the group of people standing on the side of the road and looking up and pointing somewhere.

Arizona. Zion National Park
Loc: 37.273580, -112.946646

When I looked in the same direction I spotted two tiny white dots in the middle of the vertical rock. Few moments later I recognized the team of two rock climbers slowly navigation up to the top of the mountain. I spent at least an hour sitting on the ground and watching the progress of the team. It was fascinating.



I took 3 bracketed shots with 1EV intervals (-1, 0, +1) on a tripod standing in the middle of the Zion Scenic Drive. I knew from the beginning that I would have to use HDR photography to process this image. Even though the sky was covered with the thick clouds, making the light less dynamic, the scene still had some very dark shadows casted by tall rocks. [Read more…]

Diamond Dead Mountain at Sunrise (Hawaii)

I took this photo during the early morning hike along the Hanauma Bay Rim Trail on O’ahu Island in Hawaii. This is the view of Diamond Head Mountain and Maunalua Bay from the top of the trail.

Preset-Based Lightroom Editing

I keep experimenting with my Lightroom workflow, trying to optimize it and make it quicker. I used the workflow I outlined in one of my previous posts, where I apply various presets trying to pinpoint the detection for the final editing.

I applied 5-6 different presets from  Landscape Collection and Cross Processed Collection, then I used ToolKit to adjustments to correct the exposure, recover the shadows and increase the contrast.  After I finished with the adjustments I selected 2 versions I liked the most. The first one was created using Sunblast preset from Cross Processed Collection, and the second one was the result of End of Summer preset from Landscape Collection.

Now, I can not decide which photo I should choose for my portfolio.

Please let me know which version you prefer and help me to make a decision


Preset: Sunblast

Diamond Dead Mountain at Sunrise (Hawaii)

Preset: End of Summer

Diamond Dead Mountain at Sunrise (Hawaii) [Read more…]

View of Kremlin from Moscow River (Russia)

That was the short trip to Moscow after 20 years of my absence. Lots of changed in the city but it is still as beautiful as I remembered it. As I was standing under the Patriarchal Bridge which was only recently built (2004) I realized that the rest of the scene has not changed in 20 years and looked exactly as I remembered it.

Russia. Moskow. Patriarchy Bridge

Russia. Moskow. Patriarchy Bridge
Loc: 55.743782, 37.607831

How to Recover “bad weather” photographs

It was my very last day in Moscow and it was a very busy one besides my photography. I left my tripod in the hotel in the morning and I had only a few opportunities to use my camera during the day. It was an overcast with the gloomy sky and I knew from the beginning that I would have to work very hard during the editing to bring life into my photos.

I took 3 bracketed shots (-1, 0, +1) as I normally do, hand-held, but because of the weather I only used middle exposure to process and edit it.

I am very excited because it was the first time I had an opportunity to use my brand new Lightroom presets from CROSS PROCESSED Lightroom Preset Collections Vol.3. [Read more…]

The Very Best Of Photography Articles and Tutorials – June 2015

In the beginning of 2015 I decided to change the format of my weekly newsletter. Instead of featuring only news from, I also started to feature the best photography related content I came across in the previous 7 days.

The change was triggered by the realization that quality content is not easy to find in an enormous amount of junk.

Below is the extract from my June 2015 weekly newsletters and it represents the best photography content according to me!

The Very Best Of Photography Articles and Tutorials - June 2015

Please subscribe to my newsletter and receive weekly email with the amazing photography, tutorials and inspirational articles from around the web.

The Very Best Of Photography Articles and Tutorials from Around the Web

Google Street View Goes Up — Literally — for the First Time at Yosemite’s El Capitan
Scale Yosemite’s El Capitan in Google Maps with Alex Honnold, Lynn Hill, and Tommy Caldwell

Weeks of Planning, 5 Minutes to Shoot… Capturing a Fairytale
5 minutes. That’s all you get before your perfect lighting window closes and the sun literally sets on the photo you’ve been imagining and planning meticulously for weeks.

New World’s Largest Photograph is an Astounding 365 Gigapixels
Italian photographer Filippo Blengini embarked on a mission to take a panoramic photograph of Mount Blanc, Earth’s 11th tallest mountain. [Read more…]