Even though there are many different image processing software packages out there, for most people, when someone mentions post-processing, the first thing that comes to mind is Photoshop. This is a consequence of the popularity that the program has achieved throughout the years that comes both from a long heritage of users but also from a very powerful set of tools that allow the users to do pretty much whatever they want.
However, sometimes the Photoshop approach to some of the processing techniques is not the most straightforward, and thus different plugins and pre-programmed actions are available out there. While some free options can be found, investing some amount of money can speed up the post-processing workflow to such an extent that, in the end, the initial investment feels insignificant.
One of the most popular plugins out there is Color Efex from the software company Nik. What makes this (and others as well) plugin so attractive is that some complex processing techniques that would normally take several steps in Photoshop only take a single step when using it.
In this post I want to go though five of the most common filters from the Color Efex plugin. For this purpose, I will be using the following image from a lighthouse in Morocco.
This particular filter is not that different from making black and white photos in Photoshop. Once the dialog is open, the user can change the filter color, the strength, the brightness and the contrast.
The different parameters give some control over the final image, even though they can as well be adjusted using adjustment layers in Photoshop. However, unless important adjustments are required, the possibility of making changes in Color Efex makes it possible to save some intermediate steps.
If there is one basic adjustment that Photoshop could make simpler is the white balance of an image. While there are a couple of native options (Hue/Saturation, Color Balance, Photo Filter), the Brilliance/Warmth filter from Color Efex provides a much more intuitive approach by simply providing a slider where you can turn your image ‘Cooler’ or ‘Warmer’.
The disadvantage is that the tool works for all the colors within the image, but many times this is enough and it saves the user the trial and error involved in other methods.
This is Color Efex’s alternative for creating vignettes. While creating a vignette in Photoshop is relatively simple, once again Color Efex provides an easier and more intuitive way of doing it. By providing control over the location of the center of the vignette, its size and the brightness in the brightest and darkest spots, getting the right vignette becomes a very easy task.
A quite useful filter for portrait photography, Glamour Glow is a reproduction of the Orton effect. By combining the original image with a blurred version of itself, this filter creates a dreamy look that can enhance both portraits and landscapes alike, when used with care.
Once again, while this can be reproduced in Photoshop in a not so complicated way, Color Efex does a good job wrapping everything up in a single step.
This is a very powerful filter that is composed of three individual effects, namely ‘Correct Color Cast’, ‘Correct Contrast’ and ‘Dynamic Contrast’.
The first two have an effect on the global scale, with changes in the color and the contrast all over the image. While these two can be useful sometimes, the third one, ‘Dynamic Contrast’, is probably one of the most useful filters in the whole Color Efex plug in.
What it does is make local adjustments in the contrast of the image, making it possible to obtain a final image with a lot of structure where needed and without adding too much noise in flat areas such as the sky. However, some noise is indeed added, so be careful when using it and, in some occasions, it might be necessary to apply a layer mask to selectively remove the effect in those areas where the noise becomes an issue.
In total, Color Efex has more than 50 filters. I personally find difficult to imagine a situation where some of them could be useful, but others are definitely worth trying. What I showed here are the five that I find the most useful but, as with most things in photography, in the end everything ends up being a matter of personal taste.
Finally, keep in mind that Color Efex is simply one of the many different options that are available in the market, so you might find that some other plugin, actions suite or simply the native tools from Photoshop work best for you.