©2010 Gary Udstrand

Dave Hill Effect

I have been trying out a new Photoshop Plugin and so far have been very impressed.   I had heard a lot about Topaz and their Topaz Adjust plugin, so much that I decided I should download the trial and see what all the buzz was about.

Topaz Adjust comes with several presets and allows one to achieve many different looks and effects.  By far the most popular use is to emulate the “Dave Hill” effect that has been popularized by Photographer Dave Hill (shocker, I am sure).

This effect has become very prevalent and can be seen in varying degrees in many images.   It is especially popular with the younger generation and results in a highly stylized image.  The effect as accomplished by Dave Hill is the result of immense and complex lighting setups and some would argue that it cannot be replicated simply by software.  And to a point, I would agree.

The effect does require the right kind of photo and lighting to begin with, but with the right source material a very stylized effect can be achieved.  The look is unique and instantly recognizable once familiar.  Be warned that not everyone likes or appreciates the results, but for those who like the look and more importantly are looking for a way to approximate the effect, this article is for you.



As mentioned above I am making use of the Topaz Adjust, which as billed by its website is a plugin for Photoshop that provides “Intuitive adaptive exposure adjustments for correction and enhancement”.    There is a trial download that is available so avail yourself of it, download and get busy making those masterpieces!  🙂


I have provided below a couple of different examples of what the plugin can accomplish.  I am admittedly very new to this style of photo and this plugin in general so keep that in mind.

Dave Hill

Over the Fourth I photographed the Tough Enough to Wear Pink Rodeo in Greenbush, MN.  The stylized effect seems to blend itself well to these kinds of photos and for this example I selected a not-so-lucky bull rider experiencing the end of his eight seconds.


There are really very few steps and most of the magic results from Topaz Adjust.  Once the image is open in PS simply hit <ctrl> J to create a duplicate layer (while this is not really necessary it is a useful way to apply the effect.  The duplicate layer allows you to control the opacity and to brush away the effect from areas where you might not want it).

Once you have the duplicate layer created select the plugin from Filter->Topaz Labs->Topaz Adjust 3.

Topaz Adjust

Along the left hand side you can find many presets that ship with the plugin.  You can also create and save your own recipes to re-use at a later date.   The presets display a small thumb giving you an idea of what effect it will have.

When you select a preset it is immediately applied to the image and the result displays near instantaneously.  When you have found a look that appeals to you, you can simply click OK and you are done.  However, I recommend that you play around with the various sliders and see what effect each has on the photo.

You can easily save one or two snapshots, allowing you to compare back and forth and/or simply save a look while you experiment some more.

As a starting point, the Psychedelic preset is very close to the effect we want.  In this case I tweaked a few sliders to get a look that I liked and I saved my work as snapshot one.   I tried a few more tweaks and experiments which I then saved as snapshot two, from there I could quickly flip back and forth between the two and select the one that I liked best.

Clicking OK applies the effect and exits the plugin.   As I mentioned earlier, you can then control the amount of the effect by lowering the Opacity of the layer.   You can also click on the create a mask button for the layer and then simply paint the image with a black brush to remove the effect from areas where you do not want it, by switching to a white brush you can easily paint back the effect in areas where you may have been too aggressive with the black brush.  🙂

Below is the finished result.

Smooth and Flat

Another preset in the Topaz Adjust package is the Smooth and Flat preset.  In this case I was out at the MSP airport toward dusk and was looking to shoot a “motion” image to submit to a local camera board photo challenge.   Using a 400mm lens and a 1/25th of a second shutter speed, I was able to pan with a landing plane and get a reasonably sharp result.  I also got the blur of the terminal lights in the background to give the image the feeling of motion.  I cleaned up the picture and entered it as below.

Unfortunately, I did not have Topaz at my disposal at the time I was working this image for entry.  I am pleased with the results but after seeing the effect of the Smooth and Flat preset I thought it gave the image a little extra boost and resulted in a better and stronger image.

As before, after the image was opened in PS (CS4), I hit <ctrl>J to create a duplicate layer, then selected Plugins->Topaz Labs->Topaz Adjust 3.   I selected the Smooth and Fast preset and presto!

The Smooth and Flat preset gives the image a nice clean look, just the opposite of the highly stylized effect above.  I only wish I had discovered this plugin before submitting my image.  😉


For those looking to achieve the Dave Hill effect the gold standard has been the Lucis Pro plugin and while it does achieve great results it is also very expensive putting it out of the range of the average photographer/hobbyist.   For those looking to try their hand at this kind of stylized effect without breaking the bank look no further than Topaz Adjust.

The Topaz Adjust plugin is a flexible and capable plugin which competes very favorably with the much more expensive Lucis Pro.   It is also a lot more affordable at $49 (at the time of this post) and you can save 10% by using the coupon code : “tnttopaz”.