Pro Photo

Turn Your Photos Into Works of Art

Photographers using plugins for special effects have to learn to not become dependent on them to create art.

The offer attracts many people: create beautiful paintings from your photos with Topaz Simplify. That's the marketing from Topaz Labs when presenting their collection of filters, now upgraded to version 4.1. Yes, it is true, you can create some fantastic imagery with the program, that extends the possibilities of your photo editor to levels you would hardly achieve simply by tweaking the sliders on your Photoshop or Lightroom. Besides, Simplify, as many other programs from Topaz Labs… simplifies the process of changing your images.

I absolutely believe in the interesting aspects of the program, using it myself for some photography, but photographers should be careful if they decide to use Topaz Simplify. Some will tend to use it as a crutch to transform photographs that were not interesting to start with into “wannabe” masterpieces. The program does make changes that will baffle some people, and make them say the usual “wow, it looks like a painting” that some people tend to accept as a compliment, but that photographers should regard as an insult. I am not a painter, I do not want to be a painter, I like the medium I use. This said, I've met my share of photographers (!) that got overly excited when they discovered the first filters in Photoshop, years ago, and suddenly “discovered” they had a dream from their childhood: become painters. Even if they could not draw a straight line…

First create the best photographs you can, then, if you want to, use a filter to transform them in someting different

I've nothing against the use of Simplify or any other special effects filter for some projects and some photography. I use it to obtain results, for one or another reason. I also believe some people will regularly use these digital filters in their photographs, for a special effect or mood. I think it is interesting to do a series of images, for example, exploring some specific effects. I am all against the use of filters as a crutch to hide bad photographs. First, create the best photographs you can, then add filters, if that's your thing. But do not get into the habit of using these filters, especially those in the Simplify class, as the final step on all your photography. If you do, then maybe you should sell your camera and invest your money to buy other tools…

Topaz Simplify offers you a wide choice of effects that you can also tweak to create your vision

Now that I've presented my rant, let me state that although the idea of “creating beautiful paintings” is what first seems to attract people to Topaz Simplify, the program does much more than that. Its ultimate goal “is to make it as simple as possible to create great art from your photos.” Its tools let you mix and match edges, details, and other image features in ways that weren't possible before. In fact, you can also create sketches, watercolours, cartoons, and more, to make your art uniquely personal. Furthermore, the program is not a collection of cookie-cutter effects, it lets you change multiple parameters, and in the end create your own filters. So, in fact, it can be a starting point for your own explorations, allowing you to achieve results at a faster pace, due to the use of specialized digital art technology. Just remember: do some GREAT photographs first.

The word here, as with everything in life, is parsimony. It's good for the creative juices to flow to play, now and then, with the collection of special effects from Topaz Labs (or any other brand of this kind) to fully understand what works and does not work with different images. It's good to use a  filter to obtain a specific result, as I did for a BTT photograph I recently prepared for an advert: I needed to create one image that was powerful but where the people depicted was not recognizable,  and a Topaz Simplify filter did the trick.

Used as a tool and not as a crutch, Topaz Simplify will give you a magic effects box to enhance your photography

I can even create a “painting” from a landscape, if I want/need to, but there are so many other options available in Topaz Simplify box of tricks, that limiting your options to just one or two is… anything but creative. So, do buy the program, it is an interesting tool to explore, and it even has a new interface now, showing the changes Topaz Labs may introduce in their whole collection, but do not let yourself be restrained to simple canned solutions, use the presets available as a starting point for new explorations.

The special price on Topaz Simplify ($19.99 instead of $39.99) available until the 28th of February, along with the upgrade to version 4.1, makes the collection of filters an interesting option and a bargain for those looking for some extra filters in their special effects collection. It works as an extension of multiple popular program, from Photoshop to Aperture.


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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…