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A Guest Post by Rob Dweck.
The majority of Photoshop plug-ins specialize in one specific function or process. There are plug-ins for noise reduction, masking, black and white conversion, framing, and the list goes on. Unlike those one trick ponies, Nik Color Efex Pro and Onone Software Photo Tools both offer a huge selection of practical and creative options that can enhance almost any photograph. When I’m editing my images, Nik’s Color Efex Pro is easily the most used plug-in in my arsenal, and I will show you why over the next few posts.
With dozens of filters to choose from, I find that the time can fly by as I experiment with various filters on a single image and play with the different settings. (Yes, I said play. There’s no reason for image processing to be grunt work. You can have as much fun and be just as creative when editing as when you’re shooting.)
Two of my favorite Color Efex Pro filters are Vignette and Darken/Lighten Center. Both of these filters allow you to easily create darker and lighter areas in your frame to help direct the viewers eye within the image. Since the viewers eye is drawn to the brightest area, manipulating the brightness and darkness allows you to guide the viewer through your image.While not a substitute for selective dodging and burning, quick global adjustments can easily be accomplished. Sure, you can add a vignette to your image in Photoshop without a plug-in by using the Lens Correction Filter, but the Vignette filter in Color Efex Pro is far more flexible.
The Lens Correction filter provides only two parameters, amount and size, for applying a vignette, whereas Color Efex Pro provides seven parameters. All of those extra parameters equals more control over your final image.
On this Photograph of Mount Rainier, my goal was simple: Create a vignette to darken the edges and keep the viewer’s eyes in the image. This is especially important on the right side where the sky was brighter due to the position of the sun. That brightness could easily draw the viewer’s eyes to the edge and out of the frame.
The first step was choosing a shape for the vignette. Color Efex Pro offers four options including round, oval and two rectangular choices. I generally gravitate towards the oval vignette since the majority of my photographs are rectangular and I find it gives me the most pleasing and natural effect.
Rather than using the standard black vignette, I used the eyedropper tool to select a dark blue from the water near the bottom of the image. From there, I went between the Adapt Edges, Transition, Size and Opacity sliders to darken the edges while also taking care not to darken the top of the mountain or the bottom of the mountain’s reflection. I generally start with the Size slider, get to the approximate size of the vignette, and then change the opacity according to how dark or light I want the edges. By adjusting the Adapt Edges and Transition sliders I have additional control over the shape as well as the smoothness of the vignette. I usually stay with the higher values on the Transition slider to get a smoother, less obvious effect. Drag the Transition slider to far to the left and you’ll see an obvious border where at the edges of the vignette effect.
You may notice that the bottom left of the image is already fairly dark, so I want to apply less of the effect in this area. This is where Color Efex Pro, and Nik plug-ins in general, really shines. Using what Nik refers to as “U Point Technology,” control points can be dropped anywhere in the image and then used to increase or decrease the amount of the effect in that area. By dropping a control point in the lower left corner, I can reduce the amount of vignette and select the size of the area affected.
In the final image, the edges are darkened and the bright area on the left no longer provides an escape route out of the frame.
The power of the Vignette filter doesn’t stop there, using white, or another light color gives the opposite affect of what is achieved here: The edges become brighter instead of darker. Another great feature of the Vignette filter is the Place Center control which allows the center of the vignette to be placed anywhere in the image.
Similar to the Vignette, the Darken/Lighten Center Filter can yield dramatic or subtle results. For this Leopard photograph, I used it to completely change the mood of the image.
While on Safari in Okavango Delta in Botswana, my wife and I spent the several hours one morning tracking this elusive leopard. We first spotted him shortly after sunrise, but he was in the brush and on the move. Getting a clear shot was extremely difficult. By the time he came to a stop under a tree hours later, the sun was high in the sky and the light was quite harsh. Despite the unappealing light, I liked the pose and the facial expression, but there was no impact to the image. The biggest issue was that the leopard’s backside was brighter than his face, not exactly the makings of a captivating wildlife image.
Enter the Darken/Lighten Center filter. By placing the center point just to the left of the leopard’s right eye and moving the center luminosity slider to the right, I brightened the leopard’s head. I then moved the border luminosity slider to the far left and brought the center size slider down to 11%. This created a small bright area around the leopard’s head while dramatically darkening the rest of the image.
With the leopard’s head now the focal point, there were still some distractions and bright spots that needed to be toned down. The vignette filter took care of the edges, and with a little burning of the bright spots and some small adjustments to add detail to the eyes, the transformation was complete.
The Darken/Lighten Center filter is also effective for more subtle adjustments. Use it in portraits to add a little pop to your subject or try it on still life images to bring up details.
As with all plug-ins, the same effects can be achieved directly in Photoshop, but it will take far more time and effort to get such gratifying 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.