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July
2003

LumiQuest Ultra Image

Last month I discussed some cool plugins for Adobe Photoshop (as well as some similar programs). The extensibility of Photoshop doesn’t just end with the plugins that are available, you can also write your own Actions to do some very complicated tasks. But if you aren’t up to the task of making your own, there are plenty of great ones around. This month I am discussing one such package, LumiQuest Ultra Image.

Now, in all fairness, I have to admit that I have worked with LumiQuest in the past, including on the Ultra Image user guide and master CDs. I want to very upfront about this, but I would not be writing about this package if I did not think it was worthwhile.

Local photographer Mike White created Ultra Image. Mike has had over ten years experience in digital photography, starting with a $120,000 4-megapixel camera in 1992. He wrote this set of over fifty actions to simplify his workflow, without really thinking about making them available to other users. Mike teamed up with New Braunfels-based LumiQuest, developers and manufacturers of a wide variety of photographic flash accessories, when LumiQuest president Quest Couch saw the stunning effects of Mike’s actions.

Win
Mac

Ultra Image is designed specifically for professional or serious amateur photographers using digital cameras. Most users know that shooting a great image is just the beginning, the image can be enhanced in Photoshop and has to be prepared for its final output, whether that is an inkjet print, prepress or the Web. Most of us are content to do a little color and tonal adjustment, run an Unsharp Mask and then call it a day. Those who have used Photoshop for a long time know there is more we can do to enhance an image, but we usually don’t have the time for additional steps.

This is where Ultra Image shines. Instead of having to know 20, 30 or 40 steps and the correct order in which to apply them, all you have to do is select the appropriate action and click the ‘Play’ button. The heart of Ultra Image is the eight Supersets. These are a series of predefined actions labeled for common photographic genres like portraits, weddings, landscapes and sports.

Our sample image is a typical digital camera image shot with a Nikon CoolPix 990. To process this image, click the triangle next to the ‘LQ Supersets’ action set to see the enclosed actions. Since this image is outdoors in a field of flowers, I chose the ‘Landscape’ Superset and clicked ‘Play’ (Fig 1).

Fig. 1

These Supersets are not fully automatic, you have to set a White and Black Point when prompted to do so in the Levels dialog box (Fig 2). Once you hit ‘OK’ you will see the Curves dialog (Fig 3). Make whatever adjustments you need to the Curves and once again click ‘OK.’ In this example I lightened the darker tones to see more detail in the dog’s face. While the actions could have been written to use the ‘auto’ setting in both of these dialog boxes, Ultra Image relies on the user to determine these settings. This keeps the control with the photographer instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

On a modern computer, the Superset actions take place pretty fast. If you want to see what the action did to your image, take a look at the History palette (from the Window menu select History). From this you can see that the Superset converted the image to 16-bits per channel before applying the Curves and Levels to preserve as much tonality as possible and it also sharpened the image using the Unsharp Mask filter twice with different settings for different areas of the image (Fig 4).

Fig. 4

The Supersets run several actions within each one. You can run these actions individually if you don’t want to use the full set of steps. These subsidiary actions include ones that adjust the tonal range, adjust color (including stylizations like Sepia tone), sharpening and noise reduction. Ultra Image also includes several handy actions for outputting your images. These include resizing images for standard Web and e-mail sizes, sampling up images using step interpolation and preparing an image for commercial offset printing.

LumiQuest Ultra Image works with Adobe Photoshop 6 or 7 on Windows and Mac OS, they have plans for a future version for Photoshop Elements. LumiQuest sells four versions of Ultra Image geared for specific digital camera models from Nikon, Fuji, Canon and Kodak. A fifth version supports cameras from other manufacturers. Ultra Image should be available by the time you read this for an introductory price of $59.95. You can fine out more about Ultra Image at LumiQuest’s web site (www.lumiquest.com).

LumiQuest Ultra Image is not an earth-shattering product. It uses tools that you already find in Photoshop, but the real benefit that you get is that Ultra Image distills down more than a decade of high-quality digital camera experience to the click of a few buttons. This sort of tutelage is invaluable to photographers trying to achieve the best quality images in the shortest amount of time.

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. The Graphics Guy thinks Ultra Image is very cool and has put it to good use already! If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at paulv@mac.com.

 

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