Sometimes a photo just pops out. The colors are vivid, the exposure dynamic, the details almost alive. And sometimes a photo is just... well... blah. Topaz Adjust ($50, 30-day free trial) allows you to take ordinary photos and turn them into vivacious images similar in appearance, in some cases, to the high dynamic range photos (HDR) that pros create by combining two images in professional software, such as Photoshop. But Adjust does it with only one picture and a handful of easy-to-use sliders-at a non-pro-like inexpensive price.
Adjust uses a tabbed interface, broken down into five types of adjustments: Presets, Exposure, Details, Color, and Noise.
What is particularly nice about the Presets is that the thumbnail view shows the effect on your current image. You can add to the 23 provided presets by saving your own settings or importing others from the Topaz online community. Or, you can save temporary snapshots, to compare two separate groups of settings during a single session. (The snapshots disappear when you close the interface.)
In Exposure, Details, and Color, you use sliders to better balance the light, shadows, and color in your image, or to make them pop. However, if you intend to print your picture, you'll want to be careful not to end up with overly heightened (out-of-gamut) colors that your printer can't reproduce.
As you would expect, the Noise tab provides sliders for reducing noise--random specks of color and light--using a similar engine to Topaz's rather good DeNoise software. It's not as advanced as the full DeNoise program, but it performs simple de-noising jobs well.
The interface is very intuitive, with context-sensitive hints that pop up whenever you hover your mouse over a slider control or button. (When you outgrow these helpers, you can opt to hide them.) As a Photoshop-compatible plug-in, Adjust works within Photoshop-like programs, such as Elements and Irfanview. Like other Topaz plug-ins, it supports both 32-bit and 64-bit Photoshop, and is compatible with Photoshop's Smart Filter engine for non-destructive editing. You don't have to register to download the trial version, but you won't be able to save your images. However, a 30-day, fully functional trial version (including the ability to save) is available if you register for a free trial license. By the way, the program file doesn't include the User Manual, which is a separate free download.
Topaz is a fun-to-play-with program that can be quite serious at the same time. Any photographer (hobbyist or pro) will enjoy trying out the various sliders just to see what affect it will have on their picture.
Note: This trial/demo version works for 30 days, but does not allow you to save images. To unlock the 30-day, fully functional trial version, register the program for free at the vendor's site.