Last Updated: October 15, 2013
In this Color Efex Pro tutorial we are going to look at some of the various image processing options available from within this plugin. Color Efex Pro from Nik Software enables you to quickly correct specific colours in your image, and make global creative adjustments via a whole host of digital filters.
I’m not going to through every filter as they are many of them and we’d be here all day, so I’m just going to focus on a few of the ones that I use the most.
Working with Color Efex Pro
Before using the Color Efex Pro plugin in Photoshop it’s best to give your photo any required basic processing in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. Once in Photoshop select Color Efex Pro from the filter menu at the top, once this loads you’ll be presented with the screen options shown below.
The workspace is nice and simple, all the available filters are on the left, once a filter is selected, the adjustments and creative control is actioned via the panel on the right of the image.
At the top of the image are a few buttons allowing you to see split image or side-by-side preview. If you are working in single image preview there is a compare button which will show you the original image when you hold it down.
Once you have applied a filter from the left-hand menu it will apply across the entire image. Each filter has various sliders that you can adjust via the top right-hand panel. In addition to this, with Color Efex Pro (and all other Nik Software) it is possible to adjust only selective parts of the image via control points. We’ll cover these in more depth later in this tutorial.
Tonal Contrast filter
The Tonal Contrast filter is one I use an awful lot, this filter adds lovely textural detail to your image, it works well for a variety of image types, but particularly for urban-based shots and landscapes. In this example I’m using a shot I took on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Below is the original, it’s a nice enough shot taken at twilight after the sun had dropped, but it’s a little flat, so I want to boost tonal contrast and texture, mainly in the sky and coastal buildings on the left of the image.
The screenshot below shows the image with the default tonal contrast settings that are automatically applied when you select the filter. This is already looking much better, with more detail and interest across the image.
I want to adjust things further however, to make it even better. The slider controls on the right for this filter as super-easy to use, there are four main sliders for precicse control — highlights, midtones, shadows and saturation.
In the screenshot above I’ve made further adjustments via the sliders, giving a boost of the highlight strength to 61% to make the clouds and white buildings pop a little more, and an boost to overall colour of the image via the saturation slider.
I’m now fairly happy with the image, but I don’t like the effect that global adjustments have had on the sea area, I want the sea to have none of the filter effects that I’ve applied to it, so the sky and buildings will stand out a little more. To remove the effect from the sea I’m going to use a control point.
There are two types of control points available (seen in the panel above), one to selectively add filter effects to your image, and one to remove from areas of the image, in this case I want the later option to remove the effect from the sea area. The control points can be adjusted from where they are deployed on your image. You can have multiple control points per image.
Drag the top slider to increase the circular selection area, note that only areas with a similar colour and tonal qualities will be adjusted within this area. At the bottom is a slider where you can adjust the opacity of filter effects you want to add (or remove in this case).
This may sound a little complicated if you’ve never used it before, but in practice it’s easy, here’s a good video from Nik Software themselves that might help explain control points a little more. Let’s have a look at the final shot after all the above adjustments:
Cross Processing with Color Efex Pro
We’ve previously covered how to create your own style of cross processing in Photoshop, Color Efex Pro makes life much easier with nineteen different types of cross processing filters for you to use.
These filters will not look great with all types of image, so select a shot that you think will benefit from a retro-style look, I’ve chosen a shot I took in Havana, Cuba, below is the original taken straight from Lightroom with only basic sharpening and contrast added.
After selecting the cross processing filter you will have basic control over the effect, primarily by adjusting the strength of the effect via the main slider, and adjusting shadows and highlights if needed.
Below is a screenshot showing the various cross processing options via the dropdown menu on the right-hand panel.
Here’s the final shot, for this I used the ‘CO1’ option and increased the strength right up to 70%, then did minor highlight adjustments:
Detail Extraction filter
This is a really cool and versatile filter, used at default setting it produces quite a grungy feel to the shot, but push the settings a little further and you can achieve an almost HDR-like result. For this example I’m using an image I captured in Dungeness, Kent, below is the original with only minor Lightroom adjustments:
Below is the image with the default detail extraction settings applied, you can control the strength via the top slider on the right, and also adjust contrast, saturation and the effect radius.
I want to boost things a little further to achieve a more HDR style image, you can see the exact settings that I used below, these are quite an increase from the defaults, I really boosted the saturation to make the rusty and grungy tones in the image stand out as much as possible.
Let’s have a look at our final image, local detail and colour are all massively boosted from the original image.
This tutorial only scratches the surface of what Color Efex Pro is capable of, there are a load more filters, and an awful lot more you can do with each one. But I hope this article does give you a good idea of what can quickly be achieved with this software, I’ve used it for years, and am still finding new techniques that I can put to use in my photo processing workflow.