How to Use Nik Color Efex Pro for Nature Photography
Why did you first pick up a digital or mirrorless camera? For me, it was an escape from the rest of my life. I wanted to express myself and share my unique perspective with the world. I also wanted to play with color, explore mood, capture memories, and celebrate the beauty of the natural world. Picking up a camera shouldn’t mean straining my eyes while juggling the lasso tool, layers, and exposure levels in Photoshop for my nature photography. Editing our nature photos should help us enhance our visions, not be a painful chore. I regularly use Nik Color Efex Pro (Part of Nik Collection) on my nature photographs for that reason. Color Efex Pro allows me to effortlessly refine my images – manipulating mood, focus, and tones without a 100-step workflow. Nik Collection is a powerful suite of eight photo editing software plugins that are available as stand-alone plug-ins for Photoshop or as part of Nik Collection 3 by DxO.
My primary goal for nature photography has always been creative exploration. Filter and adjustments in Nik Color Efex Pro sets you free to explore creative possibilities with your nature photos. These filters and adjustments are not canned Instagram filters found on your smart phone. Instead, they give you a variety of adjustment slides to put you in complete creative control. Their U-Point technology makes local adjustments selection a hassle of the past. With this technology and the NIK Collection, you can see the creative possibilities with your nature photography.
Here are my top ten Nik Color Efex Pro filters for nature photography. Save your time and energy for finding your creative voice and leave the slider bars to Nik.
- Pro-Contrast: Without a doubt, this is my favorite filter. At least half of my images end up with the Pro Contrast filter. I like it because it adds a bit of drama without overcooking an image. The presets on the left-hand side give you great out-of-the-box contrast correction options. Select one you like or use the sliders on the right-hand side for more control.
Using this filter, you can correct color cast, correct contrast, and more importantly adjust the dynamic contrast. This is my favorite part of this filter. It analyzes the entire image and adjusts the contrast of each portion in your image based on the tonality. Use this slider to create richly detailed images without blown-out highlights and shadows.
- Detail Extractor: This filter does a fantastic job bringing out details that are already in the your nature photos but are not readily visible. The Detail Extractor slider brightens the shadows and darkens the highlights while exaggerating details. I use it extensively in my nature photography workflow but the opacity range is usually very low (10-25%).
- Glamour Glow: I use this filter to stylize my floral images with dreamy, soft effects. It reminds me of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This can also be used as an alternative to Orton effect in Photoshop.
- Sunlight/Reflector Efex: These are two separate filters. I like to use only one or the other in my workflow and even then sparingly. We have all been at a photo shoot where the light just wasn’t quite right. The sunlight was falling in the wrong place or you left behind your reflector and the light is too harsh or uneven. This filter offers the effects of a skylight filter, a warming filter, and the light diffusing properties of a reflector. Use this filter to remove offending blue casts or apply an intelligent warming function to colors.
- Polarization: The Polarization filter is one of the powerful filters in Nik Color Efex Pro 4. Just like a polarizing filter for your lens, this preset enhances blue skies and enriches colors. Get crisp, detailed photos of the sky and other details, even if you left your polarizing filter at home. However, this filter should not be used as a replacement for circular polarizer.
- White Neutralizer: This filter subtly removes color casts from subjects. I use this filter to clean up white and pink tones in floral images without affecting other colors in the image, or for removing bluish tones in greens in landscape images.
- Brilliance and Warmth: This adds a cool or warm cast, as wanted, to an image while applying a saturation effect. I usually use this filter to add some pop to my golden hour images.
- Darken/Lighten Center: This draws the eye toward or away from the center of the image. Sometimes when my shots don’t quite have the lighting I want, I use this filter to relight the scene, for brightening the main subject or focal point, and for darkening the rest of the frame.
- Midnight: I use this preset when I want to create a storybook look. This filter creates the illusion of a photograph taken at night with a dark, moody feeling. Use the Midnight filter to create a cinematic effect and softening details throughout the image.
- Solarization: Simulates the Sabatier (a.k.a Solarization) darkroom process. I use this quite a bit in my floral images to make some unique art generally in black and white. The examples below show the before and after effect of this filter.
Real World Nature Photography Examples
This photo was taken in the Palouse, an agricultural region of Washington State. This original image could use some work – it’s hazy, low contrast, and the colors are drab. This gives us great places to start. After applying some minor enhancements in Lightroom, I opened the image in PS. I converted the layer into a smart object and opened it in NIK Viveza. Using the control points, I made some local adjustments to pop the colors. And in Color Efex, I played with the Pro Contrast filter to emphasize the rolling hills crisscrossing each other. I also added a few more filters with various opacities to enhance the image. As a finishing touch, I sharpened the image in NIK Sharpener Pro and reduced the noise using NIK Define.
In one version I decided to emphasize the warm natural tones. This makes the purple field in back pop, as well as deepens the greens in the mid- and foreground. I feel a lot of movement, cheer, and joy when I look at this picture. In another version, I wanted a darker mood. So I brought down the brightness, lowered the sharpness, and drew out the blues in the photo. The purple field in back takes on a different mood entirely and the softer hills in front feel lusher than before.
Graduated Neutral Density filters built into NIK Color EFex can be used to balance light for your landscape photos. Here is an example of how a graduated ND filter along with polarizer and pro contrast filters in NIK Color Efex Pro can be used to take your landscape photography to the next level.
I love flower photography and this morning glory vine gave me a lot to work with in Nik Color Efex Pro. Solarization, color enhancement, and glow applied in various ways in the set, created two vastly different flower photos. Each tells a different story and each speaks to me differently and can be used as part of the Fine Art Nature Photography collection.
I often use NIK Color EFex Pro to change light and colors for macro photography. This allows me selectively bring out details and colors and draw the viewer’s attention to my macro photography subject. Here is an example of how you can subtly change the lighting in the image using Darken/Lighten Center in NIK Color Efex Pro.
I hope that you’ve been inspired by this article. Plug-ins can open up new realms of possibility for you, both creatively and technically without spending hours and hours tinkering in Photoshop. I highly recommend Nik Plug-Ins for any photographer who wants to put down the lasso tool and get back to creating artwork that speaks to them!