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Topaz ReMask: Is It As Good As They Say?

Published: 01/10/2009
By: larry

The shot on the right, of my son's 1890 Dutch Colonial farm house with a complicated lacy skyline is what I use to test masking techniques and Photoshop masking plugins (click on the image to see a large version). I've added the garish Spanish blue sky just so it's easy to see how the details of skyline mask come out. It's just a test situation, the sky is never this blue in the Northwest.

A few days ago David Lenhert pointed out that Topaz had introduced a new masking plugin. What every real estate photographer wants is a quick and easy method to mask skies and interior windows. Most masking techniques work great on simple boundaries that have a nice high contrast edge. The real test comes when you are in a hurry and have a skyline like the one in this photo with intricate low contrast branches on the sky boundary. So I got out my test image and put Topaz ReMask to the test.

Topaz ReMask has a little steeper learning curve than other masking plugins. It's really an action more than a plugin. Once you get the hang of how to use it, it's quite easy. Topazlabs.com has a good tutorial video. On my test image above, I found that as long as the laciness in boundary line is not too wide the plugin works nicely. The place where it fall apart on this image is when you try to get it to mask a wide swath. For example, the edge between the sky and the large Cedar on the right side of the image does not come out as nice as it does when I use the blue channel masking technique. Topaz does do a pretty good job on the low contrast lacy trees on the left edge of the photo and around the chimney. These kind of trees give most techniques a hard time.

Conclusion: I'd say Topaz ReMask is one of the better masking tools I've tried. It has problems with some situations but, all masking tools have their quirks. As you can see, you have to look at a big image to see the defects. In a 300 or 400 pixel wide image like you'd use on the MLS it's hard to see any defects. I think it's worth the money. I'm going to purchase a copy.

16 comments on “Topaz ReMask: Is It As Good As They Say?”

  1. I have all the topaz products and love them immensely. I will be getting this one as well. A little more work involved than the other topaz plugins, but masking is a lot more work anyway

  2. Larry,

    What are some of the other masking tools that would be good for PFRE? I'm looking at Mask Pro from On One Sofrtware.

  3. @Brian & @Michael- I used MaskPro a long time ago and I couldn't remember it so I just downloaded it to try it again. Topaz ReMask and MaskPro are very different.

    Topaz's main strength is speed. There are no adjustments to refine the mask although you can refine the mask if you have Photoshop skills. So it's really fast but it doesn't work optimally in all situations.

    MaskPro has many adjustments and works mostly on defining which colors you want to keep and which you want to discard. So if you have enough time you can mask anything with MaskPro although a great result may take a lot of work for a very complicated situation.

    Another alternative is to learn the basic Photoshop masking skills and you can get to the same place without either plugin. This is the approach that I've promoted in the last year or so with the blue channel approach.

    I think I'll do some more research and do a more complete post sometime soon on the strengths, weaknesses and speed of each approach.

  4. Be careful with that. You've got to be good to make it look real, and some of the photogs out here in AZ aren't so good. Anyway, when I or a client sees bad sky masking job, the house doesn't get shown because we just assume they're hiding something, like a transmission line. -Aaron

  5. I use Vertus Fluid Mask for my skies and I quite like it although it has its quirks. It has a very steep learning curve but once you get the hang of it you can do a complex sky mask in about 1-2 minutes. It doesn't work as well for windows, unfortunately.

  6. Why do people need these plug ins???
    Using Photoshop, the masking process is pretty simple and the techniques can be adjusted to the requirements of each image.
    Learn the software, invest some time and effort in yourself and reap the benefits.
    Its not Rocket science.
    We are becoming very lazy, and the quality suffers.
    When I see poor work,my wife often says, nobody cares, and nobody will see the poor work.

  7. Gilbert AZ Homes: Fortunately, we must be pretty lucky in Arizona with our most gorgeous skies most of the time. I never felt the need to replace a sky.

  8. Folks how in the world is this sample image even remotely acceptable? A clear blue sky with an obviously NOT sunlit house. Add in the numerous masking flaws and this image belongs in one place - the trash can. Sorry to be so harsh but this image (and the many others like it on MLS) are unacceptable. It's a lie. The goal of listing images is to make people STOP on a listing not chase them away. Larry I'm not picking on you sir so please don't take this personal because that is not my intent. I just want to understand how this helps make a buyer STOP on a listing?

  9. @Rick- You completely missed the point of the post. This is a masking test image that is a complex worst case skyline and I used this particular sky so masking problems would standout better. This is not intended to be an example of how one should use sky replacement to enhance a listing photo. This is about how good and how fast Topaz ReMask will mask out a sky.

  10. Hi Larry,Dropping a sky into this image in Photoshop is simple enough and the result would be far superior.I see your point.
    I think Rick has a point as well, in saying many images being produced are sub standard, these new products are probably reducing the quality.

  11. It's the people behind the controls reducing quality by not replacing skies properly.
    Larry was making a point how easy or not it is with the plugin, not how great the photo is.
    I want to see some proof that "it's so easy in photoshop" without a plugin.
    If it was "so easy" then the thousands upon thousands of fashion photographers wouldn't be raving over these plugins.

  12. As I suggested earlier, invest time in education and a few books or DVDs.The proof is all in the books .

    Thousands upon thousands ? LOL

  13. Just an FYI update: Topaz labs just released a new ReMask version with a greatly improved interface (actually now has an interface). As noted before, it isn't always the best solution for every masking problem, but it can produce some pretty good results quickly in a variety of situations. It is a free upgrade from version 1.

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