I had planned on doing a blog post about “Hyperfocal Distance” this week, however I am postponing that by a week.

The reason I am delaying that is because of two things that happened in the last three weeks or so.  Firstly, I wanted to answer a that I was asked several times while I was on my recent Norway cruise.  That question was to do with how I managed to get really detailed and vibrant images when just about everyone else was getting dark plugged up shadows and/or blown out highlights.  The short answer is Nik Efex plugins.

The second reason for covering the Nik Efex plugins this week is that on 25 October 2017, a few days before I set off on the MV Magellen to Norway, it was announced the DXO had bought the plugins from Google, and this means they may not be free for much longer.  I am advising photographers to get hold of these plug-in NOW while they are still free.  (Keep reading this blog to find out how).

My Color Efex Workflow

The plug-in I use most often is Color Efex Pro.  Let me talk you through my workflow for using this plug-in.  In this free blog, I am just going to describe the workflow in broad brush strokes – if you are reasonably familiar with post-production work it will be enough to point you in the right direction and get you going.

I am planning on providing a much more detailed description of the hows and whys of the workflow to the Academy Members in a forthcoming post-production tutorial.  When I send that out to members, I’ll also include a download to the Color Efex recipies that I use, and the original file so that members can follow the workflow exactly.

It is a three stage process to create an image looking like the one at the top of this blog.

1. Preserve the highlights in camera

If the highlights are blown out when you capture the image – no amount of post-production will recover them.  This means setting your exposure so that you keep the detail in the sky.  To do this I have both my histogram enabled and flashing highlights enabled, so that I can check I’ve not blown out the sky.  It also means that I must shoot in RAW because that preserves all the data that the camera has captured and enables me to bring out detail in the shadows that just would not be possible with a jpg image.

When I check the image on the camera I am willing to have a very small portion of the sky apparently over exposed and ‘blinking’ – that is because I know that with my Canon 5D mk III, the RAW file contains more data beyond what the camera produced previews image displays.

If you were to see the image at this stage, on the back of the camera, it would look like a really bad image.  Even when it is brought into Lightroom, and prior to any adjustments it will look poorly exposed with no detail in the shadows.  You can see how it looks in this image:

The fjord, Romsdalsfjorden, with trees in the foreground at Andalsnes, Romsdal, Norway

2. Lightroom Processing

Colour Efex Pro doesn’t work directly on RAW files.  Lightroom will need to produce a TIFF file for it to work with.  Because of this we need to ensure that the TIFF file that Color Efex is working on has as much detail available to it as we can find.

Therefore in Lightroom, I will use the exposure, shadows and highlights sliders to bring out detail in the shadows and in the highlights.  I will also colour correct by adjusting the white balance often by setting it to shade or daylight.

After doing that the image will look like this:

The fjord, Romsdalsfjorden, with trees in the foreground at Andalsnes, Romsdal, Norway

As you can see this is much improved on the previous image, but we aren’t there yet.

3. Colour Efex Pro

With the plugin installed I open the image in Color Efex Pro.  Note that I get Lightroom to produce a 16bit Tiff, with ProPhoto RGB colourspace.  Both of those settings ensure that I am passing the maximum amount of data from LR to Color Efex.

I tend to use mainly four filters in Color Efex Pro.  Those are “Detail Extractor”, “Vignette Lens”, “Brilliant Warmth” and “Pro Contrast”.  I have created four custom recipes that using those four filters in different combinations and with slightly different settings applied.  Looking at the four previews in Color Efex I decide which one is closest to what I am looking for the image, apply that and then make any minor adjustments it may need before exporting the image back to Lightroom.

Here’s the finished result for this image:

More information

As I have already mentioned I will be going through this processes in much more detail for Academy members in the next few weeks.  So why not consider joining up it only costs £6 per month (or £60 per year).

Get Nik Collection Now

As I mentioned at the start of this blog DXO have purchased the Nik Collection from Google.  At the moment DXO are still providing the current version for FREE.  However, they are working on an updated version of the plugins and they plan to release those in 2018.

While they have not mentioned a price for the 2018 version, I would not expect it to be free.  Also, I would expect them to remove the free version at the point when they release the 2018 version.

Bottom line:  These amazing filters are currently free – they probably won’t be free forever.  Even if you are not planning to use them now, I would advise you to download the current version, while it is still free.  We don’t know how much DXO will charge, but the collection has 6 different filters in it – when they were first released they were about $100 each.  I thought I had got a bargain when I bought all six for just £100 a few years ago!

To get your copy of the filters go to: https://nikcollection.dxo.com/ – you will need to sign-up for DXO’s mailing list to get the filters, but that really is a small price to pay.

Until next time, keep MAKING great images,


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