Earlier this summer, I won First Prize/Best In Show for one of my photographs at the Saucon Valley Conservancy Art Show. My prize included the entire Topaz suite of photo editing software. That adds up to about $1,000 worth of software - which I must confess, I would never have bought for myself. I already have a number of groovy add-ins - and firmly believe that the person who dies with the most Lightroom presets wins. But since I do the bare minimum of editing on most of my images, my life would be just fine if Topaz and I had never met.
Still, we’re friends, or at least acquaintances, and it’s been a nice relationship so far. I just sit there and move those little sliders back and forth until I like what I see. Don’t ask me what I did, I won’t be keeping track. Of course, it’s possible to do too much to an image, to go past that point of no return. I won’t be showing you those.
My favorite buttons in Topaz, when they’re available, are the little “dice,” which assign a totally random selection of settings to an image. Some will have you screaming as you scramble for the reset button - but others will amaze you. It’s a good way to learn the software - just roll the dice, go into the settings, and see if you can figure out what the magical elves changed on your behalf.
Which brings me to my Topaz conundrum - these images often look so much like paintings, I’m downright embarrassed. An artist with a pallet of oils or watercolors could get the same result, but it would take days, maybe even weeks. I don’t have the eye-hand coordination for that. So I push some slider bars around, click some buttons on and off - and in a matter of minutes, I have something that looks awfully close to hand-painted. My question: is this too easy? Is it still a photograph? Is it still art?
Bear in mind that not all my images need the Topaz treatment. Most of my favorites get a little tweak of exposure and/or contrast, maybe a vignette to draw the eye where I want it to go. But software like Topaz, ON1, and the beloved and tragic Nik Collection open new doors for photographers. When I’m in the field with my camera, I’ve started making a few images that I know are destined to be canvases in my digital darkroom. Nothing special about them in the camera - but dance them through Topaz Simplify or Topaz Clean, and something unique is born. So, yeah - I guess that's art.
I’m grateful and honored to have won the award, of course. But there’s something else, too - I'm headed down a road I would never have traveled otherwise. Please feel free to join me as we continue our travels…