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Enhancing Your Images with Nik Color Efex Pro

A Guest Post by Rob Dweck.

color-fx-pro.pngIn my last post, I used Nik Color Efex Pro to make subtle changes that help draw the viewer’s eye to the main subject of the images. In many cases, subtle edits are all that are needed to bring a photo closer to your vision of the final result. There are other times when more radical edits are required, or maybe a more artistic, rather than realistic interpretation of the scene is desired. Color Efex Pro has several filters that provide a number of useful artistic effects that can be applied to almost any type of photograph.

There are many reasons to go for a more artistic rendering of an image. This image from Vernazza in Italy’s Cinque Terre National Park was a result of my desire to do a different take on an iconic location. Every year, thousands of travelers walk past the overlook where I set up my tripod for this image, and you can find hundreds, if not thousands of photographs online that were shot from this very spot. Like all subjects that have become photographic clichés, it’s one of those locations that practically photographs itself. So the first question I ask myself when I’m in these types of settings, is how can I photograph it in a way that hasn’t been seen a million times before?

Since most people are photographing during daylight, one of the easiest things to do is shoot after the sun goes down or before it rises. Twilight is one of my favorite times to shoot, and this photograph does a better job of explaining why than any words I could write. Sure enough, when I returned just before sunset, I was the only person at the overlook. As the sky got darker, the lights from the town became brighter and I kept shooting until I had what I felt was a good balance between the two. Of the many different compositions and exposures I made, this was my favorite.

Nik Color Efex Pro 1

After some initial processing in Lightroom, I exported the file and opened it in Photoshop. I used a separate plug-in to reduce the noise in the sky and opened up Color Efex Pro. I have several favorite filters that I rely on, and one of them is Sunshine.

The Sunshine filter on night scene? Oh yes! One of the things I love most about many of these filters is that they provide great effects when not used for their original purpose. So even if it’s supposed to make my photo look like it was shot on a sunny day, my intent in using it was to add more contrast between the foreground greenery, the lights in the town and the blue of the sky and the water.

Nik Color Efex Pro 2

The Light and Prefilter settings are where fun lies in this plug-in. The four presets in the Light pulldown menu are meant to simulate different sunlight effects. Not wanting to make the photo look like it was shot during the day, I used setting three with an intensity of 59%. The Prefilter menu is where you can really go crazy with the color as the different settings bring out different tonalities. While it was tempting to go with over the top saturation, I wanted to keep it from looking overprocessed. By using prefilter 4 at 43%, I could boost the contrast and saturation without it looking garish and overdone.

You may notice two small sliders labeled Shadows/Highlights below the Prefilter sliders. These sliders are found in most Color Efex Pro filters and though they may be small, they work wonders when the selected filter blocks up shadows or blows out the highlights. Often a little tweak with the Shadows/Highlights sliders makes a big difference. The added contrast from the settings I chose was making the shadow areas darker than I wanted, so a little nudge on the Shadows slider and the detail in those areas was back.

Once the color and contrast were closer to what I wanted, it was time to enhance the mood of the scene via the Glamour Glow filter. This is another case of using a filter in a situation not originally intended. Glamor Glow is mainly used to get smooth, glowing skin in portraits, but it’s amazing what it’ll do to other subjects. For this scene, I wanted just a bit of ethereal glow on the buildings and the foreground. With only 3 sliders that do exactly what their labels say, it didn’t take long to get pleasing results. Rather than apply it to the entire image, I clicked the Brush button and brushed it onto the buildings and the foreground greenery.

Nik Color Efex Pro 3

The image was closer to what I had envisioned, but not quite there. I wanted a deeper, more saturated blue in the sky and sea as well as a slight vignette. I used Nik Viveza to fine tune the color (more on Viveza in a future post) and did the vignette in Color Efex Pro as described in my second post.

Nik Color Efex Pro 4

The result was, to my eyes, an artistically rendered image that that wasn’t like every other photograph taken from this location. As you can tell by looking at the final image, I love deep blue skies, and I like the way the warm colors of the town contrast the blue. It looked like what I had envisioned when I composed the scene in my mind.

As always, there were several ways to arrive at this result, with or without plug-ins, and no right or wrong way to process the image. Some might prefer the flatter tones before processing and consider the bolder colors of the final image over-processed and others may take the processing even further. With just the Sunshine and Glamor Glow filters in Color Efex Pro, you can go in either direction and get great results.

Rob Dweck is a San Francisco Bay Area based photographer who specializes in landscape and nature photography. His work can be viewed at robdweck.com.

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