#452. A Beginner’s Review of NIK Film Effects Filters – or, How I Use Them Without Pain

By Leonard Norwitz | How-To

Feb 03

While NIK Film Effects filters can certainly be used to rescue dodgy shots or to create wowish effects, my default approach is to employ the tools in NIK Color Efx and Silver Efx, just as I make use of PhotoShop: to realize the print (paper or digital) that I have in mind when I click the shutter. Sometimes, my intention is impressionistic, other times it’s realistic.

There should always be the understanding that photography is not a 1:1 translation of what we see with our eyes. In other words, photography is always subjective, regardless of intent. There should never be an issue to be made of things not being rendered “as they are” – whatever that means. A photograph is no more the thing itself than a phonograph (or digital) recording is a musical performance. It is always thus – and that’s the end of it. The objective is to achieve the print desired, preferably when you took the picture.

It should go without saying (that’s why I’m saying it) that I start with an image that gets me on the right track: correct choice of focal length, exposure, camera attitude in relation to the subject, lighting – all these should be managed so that my digital darkroom can best take it from there without unanticipated losses or corrections.

First, a few quick and dirty before & afters.

When I shot this:

0088_olympiad_juan_de_fucaoriginalcameraneg Nik Film Filters review

I had something like this in mind, accomplished with a healthy dose of NIK’s Ektachrome 64 Pro film effect :

0088_juan_de_fuca_Ektachrom64 Nik Film Filters review

Here is the original camera negative, cropped, ready for further processing:

0120_olympiad_juan_de_fuca_ocn+crop Nik Film Filters review

NIK’s Portra 400VC gave me some significant contrast boosting, but also a subtle change in color rendering

0120_olympiad_juan_de_fuca_crop+portraVC Nik Film Filters review

I had the wrong lens and position for what I wanted here, but film, as they say, is cheap, so I took the shot anyway.
0091_port_townsend_originalcameraneg Nik Film Filters review

Thanks to a high-res image, I was able to crop, align and introduce a combination of K64 and Color Cast control filters for a deliberately rosy effect:

0091_port_townsend_k64+removecolorcast+blend Nik Film Filters review

Here’s a couple of images that demonstrate my global process. First, a shot taken at roughly mid-day, though the dreariness of the light suggests dusk.

0049_deltaoriginalcameraneg Nik Film Filters review

What I wanted was a brighter day with as little loss in the sky and its reflection in the water as possible. I also wanted a “truer” color correction applied to the boats and houses – in short, whiter whites, but not affecting the pink in the sky and water. I could use PhotoShop layers for this, and I usually do, but here’s an alternative. Using the Kodachrome 64 Pro filter in Film Effects in NIK Color Efx Pro, and increasing the Brightness slider about 10% and the Shadows another 15% I’m already in the ballpark of what I wanted, though there are unacceptable losses of color in the water and sky.

0049_deltaoriginalcameraneg_K64pro Nik Film Filters review

Before flattening the image I re-instated some of that original color in the water:

0049_deltaoriginalcameraneg+K64pro Nik Film Filters review

Here’s another direction entirely. Lately, I have often allowed myself to be seduced by the dark side. The rich cloud structure latent in the original image is manifest by adding the Dark Contrasts filter to the Kodachrome while still in Color Efx, and pulling back on the effect to suit:

0049_deltaACRmanual_K64pro+darkcontrast Nik Film Filters review

The same Dark Contrasts filter combined without pulling back to the Velvia filter makes for a more forceful, if surrealistic, painterly effect. A little much, perhaps. More shadow detail is wanting, yes?

0049_delta_DC+velvia Nik Film Filters review

Closer to sunset that same day, this shot resulted in a very flat and peculiarly green image:

0060_deltaoriginalcameraneg Nik Film Filters review

I applied that same Kodachrome 64 Pro which brought some life into the shot, but adding the Remove Color Cast filter and adjusting the slider to approximate a white/grey for the building was better still. Note that the truck in front of the building is close to white, which is important to use as a reference so that building does not go too white (regardless of its actual color in sunlight):

0060_deltaoriginalcameraneg_K64pro+removecolorcast Nik Film Filters review

The truth is that when I took the picture I was thinking of something else entirely, which was to emphasize the starkness I “saw” in the light. NIK’s Paper Toner filter is just the ticket. I generally prefer a neutral Paper Toner effect. This one is #5.

0060_delta_papertoner5 Nik Film Filters review

Either way, the illusion of a sunset is entirely lost, but a nice helping of Dark Contrasts against the Kodachrome 64 filter, and: Voila! Before flattening I brushed away some of the Dark Contrasts to give the building and foreground a chance to breathe:

0060_deltaoriginalcameraneg_K64pro+removecolorcast+tweak Nik Film Filters review

The key in processing, I think, is to not flatten layers too quickly. The application of any NIK filter results in layers, the other layer being the image prior to working in NIK. This gives you the opportunity to step back and seriously consider how much of the filter you really want applied. What looked cool while in the NIK application might seem overkill as you move the Opacity slider for the NIK layer toward zero effect. In fact, it’s a good idea to move it all the way to zero for a moment, just to remind you of where you were before you went bonkers with effects.

0060_delta_k64Pro(-10%) Nik Film Filters review


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  • Sean says:

    Hi Leonard,

    That’s it, and it has never been other than what you clearly state in that “… photography is always subjective, regardless of intent … It is always thus – and that’s the end of it. The objective is to achieve the print desired, preferably when you took the picture…”.

    Something else to think about is that the frame dimensions of the camera, in combination to the lens used, together contribute to how the photographer’s subjectivity is exercised and decisions taken, whether undertaken consciously or sub-consciously.


  • Philberphoto says:

    Wow!!! Very instructive, Leonard! Alas, I went over to Capture One, which does not lend itself to using NIK easily, but I will look into their available presets ASAP. Thanks for the illuminating tutorial.

  • Yeahhh says:

    Do you click a bunch of presets? How creative is that?

    Ah, just kidding. I have a bunch of VSCO film packs as well and they are a real time saver. The key is not to get mental with the filters but stay true to your vision. For me this means a very subtle use of it.

    Why would one use such bad film emulators anyway? Because editing is – and ever had been – an essential part of photography. Everyone who’s not editing his images squander a lot of opportunities. Decades ago, we sat in our darkrooms, choose chemicals, paper, film and light, too get the look we wanted. Today it’s Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, Hipstamatic … You name it.

    But why film emulators? For me, it’s not about the actual truthful emulation of a certain film (nor would I claim to distinguish a certain film but then Porta, Astia, Ilford Delta and maybe Ektachrome). But when you scan real film slides or negatives, digital becomes so flat and muted. It’s not a bad thing in general because neutrality can be a good point to start of. So you can create a couple of general presets on your own or just buy professional solutions, which maybe are more universal too. Better film emulators give useful options and inspirations in a realistic spectrum than your average preset collection.

    That doesn’t mean, one should only use these emulators or just click random on your presets. You should know about editing, should be able to edit from scratch on your own and have a vision for your photography.

  • Leonard says:


    Your addendum is so right on. A big part of the reason I have left off zoom lenses and returned to primes is that they force me to think in terms of what that lens sees. I walkabout imagining a scene as would the lens. Then comes the subjective processing of the scene into the final print.


  • Leonard says:

    Yeahhh –

    Indeed, whether using film emulators or any other global tweak, it is important to keep one’s original idea alive and not simply rely on some preset. The preset, regardless of how little it affects the image, should be considered only as a starting point to achieve one’s “vision” of the scene.


  • willywilkinson says:

    The pulled largometraje stocks are pretty much the polar opposite of the pushed stocks.

  • thadsharman says:

    But I digress, people can easily judge for themselves by searching flickr for images tagged with a specific largometraje type and compare with the shots above.

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