Enhancing Your Images with Nik Color Efex Pro

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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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  • Nice – I like how the greens in the foreground stand out more in the last image. To me it added a lot of depth to the image. I’d love to be there by the way…looks like a great place to hang out.

  • Tennyson-Aldane

    Great post and I love that image. I swear we must be the only two people on earth that use color efex pro. I honestly love that product and what it can do with it’s filters.

    It’s not until an efex pro image is placed next to another image that you can really see and feel the difference.

  • Christopher Kenison

    Awesome to see you back here on DPS, Rob! I look forward to your posts. Thanks for the tips. I will try them out. Have you ever used Topaz? It seems like an alternative to Nik.

  • Subtle glow is always a favorite around photos with bright lights, as well as in photos with faces or fruit (same thing ;))

    Does this exist for Win? And how much does it cost?

  • Rob

    Thanks for all of the comments. I’ll be back here on a more frequent schedule after the new year. I use Topaz Adjust quite a bit and will cover it in a future post. Color Efex Pro is available for Windows and is available in three editions priced $99-$299 USD when downloaded directly from the Nik website.

  • Sam

    now THAT is a good post. not that the fundamentals aren’t an important part of this site…they are. but THIS post takes it to the next level and really provides good tips for those of us who are already comfortable with dressing our clients for their shoot and choosing appropriate aperture settings, etc. thank you, Rob. Merry Christmas to all!

  • NIK Color EFX Pro is amazing. Have been using it for quite some time now and I love the flexibility and results I get with it. It’s great at adding that little extra bit of life to an image. I typically combine HDR shot in Photomatix with a Polarization filter and possibly a few others depending on the shot to get the image right. In my opinion, it comes out very well.

    Here is one such image of mine using this process.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/scingram/3961363430/in/set-1474271/

    As for a comparison to Topaz. Topaz is a little limited in my opinion, and the results always seem a bit noisy to me. Color EFX seems to be a more robust tool. Although I have combined them in the past and it can work well.
    This is an example of Topaz and NIK together.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/scingram/3490762728/in/set-72157614443405650/

    All in all, well worth your $$, its a fantastic product for both landscape and portriat work.

  • This was the first plug-in I ever bought. Heck I got this even before I got Photoshop! The best there is at what it does!!!

  • Martin

    I like the effect overall but wonder whether the orange and greens need to be toned down a bit.

  • I have all Nik plug-ins for quite some time. I almost don’t need photoshop itself anymore. I use the plug-ins for every single pictures. Can’t praise them enough they are really great! Also the support and tutorials on their website are very supportive! Thank you Nik!

  • I hate Cinque Terre– all those Japanese tour groups snapping eachother in front of one thing and another– but you created a really beautiful photograph. Congratulations!

  • very nice description of the power of this software! is there a trial version available? i’d love to try it before buying it.

    cheers,
    günther

  • can we see a before and after next to each other? it’s a great image, but the capture is pretty strong by itself without any PP, if you ask me.

  • Maybe it’s just me… but I actually like the original better… (and I own all of the Nik plug-ins).

  • agreed. is trial version available?

  • Just bought the Ultimate pack of Nik software. So excited to start trying it all out! I already know that I LOVE Silver Efex Pro.

    Check out my most recent image using Silver Efex http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/2011/01/black-and-white-reveal.html .

  • Just took a look at the new Color Efex Pro 4 and I can t wait to get mine … it looks amazing with new filters and the new features in it including multiple filters at once which is quite handy and a lot more check it out : http://www.niksoftware.com/colorefexpro/en/index.php?view=intro/features.shtml#new_features

Some Older Comments

  • Elias September 8, 2011 07:27 pm

    Just took a look at the new Color Efex Pro 4 and I can t wait to get mine ... it looks amazing with new filters and the new features in it including multiple filters at once which is quite handy and a lot more check it out : http://www.niksoftware.com/colorefexpro/en/index.php?view=intro/features.shtml#new_features

  • Jessica S. January 7, 2011 09:31 am

    Just bought the Ultimate pack of Nik software. So excited to start trying it all out! I already know that I LOVE Silver Efex Pro.

    Check out my most recent image using Silver Efex http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/2011/01/black-and-white-reveal.html .

  • fazil January 7, 2011 07:38 am

    agreed. is trial version available?

  • Cliff January 7, 2011 02:05 am

    Maybe it's just me... but I actually like the original better... (and I own all of the Nik plug-ins).

  • gordon burkholder January 7, 2011 12:40 am

    can we see a before and after next to each other? it's a great image, but the capture is pretty strong by itself without any PP, if you ask me.

  • günther pichler December 30, 2010 09:55 pm

    very nice description of the power of this software! is there a trial version available? i'd love to try it before buying it.

    cheers,
    günther

  • Michael Padnos December 24, 2010 03:17 am

    I hate Cinque Terre-- all those Japanese tour groups snapping eachother in front of one thing and another-- but you created a really beautiful photograph. Congratulations!

  • Rosa December 22, 2010 10:20 pm

    I have all Nik plug-ins for quite some time. I almost don't need photoshop itself anymore. I use the plug-ins for every single pictures. Can't praise them enough they are really great! Also the support and tutorials on their website are very supportive! Thank you Nik!

  • Martin December 22, 2010 07:16 pm

    I like the effect overall but wonder whether the orange and greens need to be toned down a bit.

  • Scott O. December 22, 2010 05:49 pm

    This was the first plug-in I ever bought. Heck I got this even before I got Photoshop! The best there is at what it does!!!

  • Scott Ingram December 22, 2010 02:58 pm

    NIK Color EFX Pro is amazing. Have been using it for quite some time now and I love the flexibility and results I get with it. It's great at adding that little extra bit of life to an image. I typically combine HDR shot in Photomatix with a Polarization filter and possibly a few others depending on the shot to get the image right. In my opinion, it comes out very well.

    Here is one such image of mine using this process.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/scingram/3961363430/in/set-1474271/

    As for a comparison to Topaz. Topaz is a little limited in my opinion, and the results always seem a bit noisy to me. Color EFX seems to be a more robust tool. Although I have combined them in the past and it can work well.
    This is an example of Topaz and NIK together.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/scingram/3490762728/in/set-72157614443405650/

    All in all, well worth your $$, its a fantastic product for both landscape and portriat work.

  • Sam December 22, 2010 12:01 pm

    now THAT is a good post. not that the fundamentals aren't an important part of this site...they are. but THIS post takes it to the next level and really provides good tips for those of us who are already comfortable with dressing our clients for their shoot and choosing appropriate aperture settings, etc. thank you, Rob. Merry Christmas to all!

  • Rob December 22, 2010 10:51 am

    Thanks for all of the comments. I'll be back here on a more frequent schedule after the new year. I use Topaz Adjust quite a bit and will cover it in a future post. Color Efex Pro is available for Windows and is available in three editions priced $99-$299 USD when downloaded directly from the Nik website.

  • Robin Öberg December 22, 2010 10:11 am

    Subtle glow is always a favorite around photos with bright lights, as well as in photos with faces or fruit (same thing ;))

    Does this exist for Win? And how much does it cost?

  • Christopher Kenison December 22, 2010 08:22 am

    Awesome to see you back here on DPS, Rob! I look forward to your posts. Thanks for the tips. I will try them out. Have you ever used Topaz? It seems like an alternative to Nik.

  • Tennyson-Aldane December 22, 2010 06:19 am

    Great post and I love that image. I swear we must be the only two people on earth that use color efex pro. I honestly love that product and what it can do with it's filters.

    It's not until an efex pro image is placed next to another image that you can really see and feel the difference.

  • Tyler Wainright December 22, 2010 06:08 am

    Nice - I like how the greens in the foreground stand out more in the last image. To me it added a lot of depth to the image. I'd love to be there by the way...looks like a great place to hang out.

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