#157. Color Efex. Now, surely, that’s canned art, right ?

By pascaljappy | Review

Sep 20
Zen Lantern 1. Nikon D800e. Solarization preset in Color Efex 4.

Zen Lantern 1. Nikon D800e. Solarization preset in Color Efex 4.

In my previous post, I took Nik Software’s Silver Efex 4 for a spin, really not expecting to be as impressed as I was.

Various sites in and around Marseilles were used as a setting for the pictures used for the B&W conversions and the results were so good I decided that Color Efex 4 might also be worth the try …

The uneasy side of this is that, unlike B&W, colour photography allows less freedom of movement and severe filter effects can rapidly look very cheesy.

Zen Lantern. Ze original. Nikon D800

Zen Lantern. Ze original. Nikon D800, straight from LightRoom.

Besides, presenting various colour filters in photographs of various scenes will tell us more about my imagination than about the filters themselves.

So, for this review, I chose to use a single – neutral – image and applied many filters on it for you to see the difference and how well each works.

The picture above is the original. Untouched. Straight out of camera. Something few photographers will do, because it is like a model posing with no makeup, a rock band playing live and unplugged.

However, transparency always prevails on Dear Susan S, so here we go 🙂

A lantern in a tree processed wih Nik Software Color Efex 4.

Zen Lantern 2. Faded Efex.

Much like Silver Efex, Colour Efex is organised with a set of presets to the left and fine tuning options to the right. Unlike Silver Efex, there doesn’t seem to be a preview of the individual presets, which is a shame.

A lantern in a tree processed wih Nik Software Color Efex 4.

Zen Lantern 3. Vintage Efex (film 3)

Like Silver Efex, the fine tuning options on the right are made via sliders that control the basic attributes of the image (brightness, contrast, saturation, grain ..). But Colour Efex goes a bit beyond this by necessity.

Because some filters are based on the simulation of elaborate photographic processes such as cross-process and solarization their selection dictates a more varied palette of sliders.

A lantern in a tree processed wih Nik Software Color Efex 4 with bi-color filter

Zen Lantern 4. Bi colour filters.

A nice touch is the use of interesting wording for these more exotic sliders. For example, one of the Solarization filter sliders is labelled “Time” because it controls the final effect in the same way as time of exposure to light during developing would on a negative.

Since 90% of users will never have come close to a chemical darkroom, Nik Software could have stuck to more banal denominations. But old timers and admirers of Man Ray (who made the technique famous) will appreciate the gesture for what it’s worth.

I hope it also gives the others a feeling of the process they are replicating.

Other fine-tuning options go way beyong this, and are described more fully in the Silver Efex review.

A lantern in a tree processed wih Nik Software Color Efex 4 with Gold Reflector filter

Zen Lantern 5. Gold Reflector.

So, what are the results like ? I’ll let you decide what you think of the pictures on this page !

Which do you like ? Which do you dislike ?

All work for me (at various levels of liking), and I didn’t select any of the renderings that I didn’t find appealing for this particular image.

My verdict is that this is very powerful tool but one that will find less use than the brilliant Silver Efex. Technically, this seems even more of a tour de force, and the results are quite stunning with the right photograph. But I found it a bit more difficult to find suitable photographs to begin with.

A lantern in a tree processed wih Nik Software Color Efex 4 with infrared film filter

Zen Lantern 6. Infrared film.

Two small caveats :

1. Use a good file. Here the enormous dynamic range of the D800 helped pull it off and the picture doesn’t break up at all in spite of the pixel-level torture is it being put through. The camera brand or model doesn’t matter, but make sure you expose properly, focus properly …

2. Use a good computer. Judging by the save times for some of these filters compared to Silver Efex (about 10 seconds for the longest, whereas Silver Efex is almost instant), there must be a biiig amount of number crunching going on behind the scenes. My files are big, but my computer is also fast. Adjust accordingly 😉

A lantern in a tree processed wih Nik Software Color Efex 4 with polaroïd transfer filter

Zen Lantern 7. Polaroid transfer.

A more important concern is “how do I use such a program?” It’s pretty easy to fall in the quick n dirty filter trap.

First, I chose a very neutral and slightly abstract image. In most other cases where colour accuracy matters, there are far fewer filters that will work. For some of my garden pictures, I prefered to work exclusively in LightRoom, for instance, because I couldn’t find a single Colour Efex filter that improved the image.

And this is the important part ! Don’t ever just splash it on because it looks spectacular. Before you embark on such a radical process, always think before hand about what the meaning of your picture is.

Here, the compostion opposes the paper lantern with the mid day sun. Thin clouds veil the sun. The lantern hangs from thin, dead, dark branches. The image is one of opposition and balance. Only the filters that remain subtle and/or preserve this meaning will be beneficial to the final image.

Zen Lantern 8. Copper filter

Zen Lantern 8. Copper filter

To me, and much to my surprise, the first picture works very well, in spite of being subject to a very strong filter. But the overal idea is accentuated through it. The sun becomes a black hazy ball whereas the lantern gains in strength and weight. The composition becomes stronger and the opposition is now one of planes and definition, not of relative intensity. The white lining around the branches contributes to this and the scene now feels like a giant cat’s eye is peering behind a defiant lantern. Sauron defeated by a hobbit.

Of course, all of this is my interpretation and none of it was intentional when I scanned randomly through the filters. However, the important message is that if the filter creates meaning, tension or feeling, go for it.

If the meaning is not what you intended to convey with the image, it’s your decision to keep it or not.

But if the filter is nothing but colourful make-up on an uninteresting idea, it won’t make it better. And the filter might even degrade a finely executed photograph and still look flashy and visually arresting on first sight. Dump it and don’t look back.

With these caveats in mind, I’d give Colour Efex a solid SusanThumbs Up. It works really well as a creative tool and to expand your horizons.