Boost Lightroom's Creative Options with Topaz Lens Effects

Expanding Lightroom with Topaz Labs Plugins

It's been a while since I paid you all a visit here at Lightroom Secrets; it's good to be back! Today I will show you how to expand Lightroom's editing capabilities by integrating third party plugins into the mix. Typically, this is handled via the Plug-in Manager in the File menu, but we'll follow a slightly different process here. Specifically, we'll look at Lens Effects from Topaz Labs (which incidentally, you can get for $50 off between now and December 24, by entering the code "simplefocus" into the Topaz shopping cart).

Lens Effects is a plugin that contains a variety of creative blurring effects, as well a number of traditional lens filter effects. Examples include things like a Tilt-Shift lens preset, motion blurring, a Graduated Neutral Density preset, and something called Creative Blur, which is the preset we will focus on in this tutorial. The objective is to take a silhouette image of a cliff diver at sunset, and use a combination of creative focus and some selective processing in Lightroom to create a scene that draws the viewers eye to the divers without taking away too much detail or color.

Quick Setup Tips

To access Topaz Labs plugins from Lightroom, you need to do two things. First, install the Lens Effects plugin as you normally would, then, install an add-on program (should be available from the same installer) called "Fusion Express 2". Once you've done that, go to Lightroom's Preferences and under "External Editing", select the Fusion Express 2 app and apply the settings shown below.

From this point, you can right-click on any image thumbnail in the Library module, in the Filmstrip, or on any open image in the Develop module, and choose Edit In > Edit in Topaz Fusion Express 2. When you do this, you will be greeted with a dialog that lets you choose the specific Topaz plugin you want to use  (shown later).

First Steps

For this photograph it was necessary to perform some edits in the Basic panel as well as the Details panel, in order to smooth out the over-exposed sky a bit, ensure there was a more more detail in the water and a lot less noise. I also desaturated it slightly because the original orange cast in the sky was so strong it distracted from the main compositional element (the diver and cliff). The settings I used are shown below.

The next step is to open this image into Topaz Lens Effects. Right-click on the preview as described earlier and choose Edit In > Edit in Topaz Fusion Express 2. Before the Topaz dialog shows up, you will see the standard Lightroom dialog, asking if you wish to edit a copy or the original. Choose Edit Copy with Lightroom Adjustments. I also opt to "Stack with Original" so I don't lose track of the file when it's opened later  in Lightroom. Once you do that and click Edit, the Lens Effects window opens. Here I have collapsed the right side initially to maintain a larger preview.

The top-most preset list shows the different types of effects, whether relating to lens blur simulations or lens filter simulations. The lower list provides different variations of the specific preset you have chosen. For this example let's scroll down and take a look at the Lens - Creative Blur option and choose the Cornered - Top Right option. This will put the default focus region somewhere near the cliff. Because the cliff itself was slightly blurred in the original, we'll need to move the center point next.

Customizing the Effect

The final steps in customizing the preset are quite simple. For many of the Lens Effects options there are just a few sliders to adjust, in order to achieve the look you're going for. The first thing I like to do is reposition the Effect Center. Do this by clicking the Effect Center button and then with the crosshair cursor, click the spot on the document that you would like to have more focus, including the immediately neighboring areas. Here I clicked below the diver's feet, just above the cliff outcrop. As you can see the diver is now more in focus.

All that remained from this point was to set the general focus level, and "push" the blur effect away from the cliff and horizon a little bit, so that enough water details showed through to give the composition better context. This can be accomplished using the Blur Amount, and Focus Width / Focus Height settings respectively. As you boost the height and width slider values, the focus area will expand (in effect), allowing you to position it more precisely. The shot below shows the final settings before applying the effect and moving the shot back into Lightroom for final tweaks.

One you click OK, the effect will be applied to your image copy and sent back into Lightroom. For one last creative tweak I opened HSL and shifted the hues in the sky and water to make it a bit more yellow, and I using the Split Toning panel to make the shadows more blue (that is, make the water and a bit of the sky more blue).

This tutorial provides just one example of the useful effects you can apply with Topaz Lens Effects via Lightroom, but hopefully you can see how powerful it is and how easy it is to expand Lightroom's capabilities with this plugin. Give it a try! If you enjoyed this tutorial, keep an eye on in the weeks ahead as I'll have a bunch of new stuff to share with you!