more on color efex pro

Impression, early summer, New Forest

I’m still playing with Color Efex Pro from the Nik suite.  It’s fun, and it’s giving me ideas, but I have some mixed feelings about it that I’ve been trying to sort out.  On the one hand it’s allowing me to get the look that I want a lot more of the time, but on the other there’s something that bothers me about it.

I’ve never been a purist about post-processing.  While I would always want to get as much as possible right in-camera, and I hate to see a fundamentally poor shot being tarted up with special effects in an attempt to make it acceptable, what seems most important to me is the resulting image and not whatever means were used to achieve it.  I’m not going to go into all the tired old arguments about this but it’s a fact that, even in the days of film, extensive work and adjustments were done in the dark room post-shooting and it’s neither here nor there that this is now done digitally instead.

I’ve also never been interested in straight representational photography – most of it simply doesn’t appeal to me greatly and doesn’t hold my interest for long.  I find it boring to do, and technical perfection – while I do admire the skill involved – can sometimes seem rather chillingly intellectual.  I’m far more interested in attempting to express a mood, a feeling, an emotion, or a story.  Most of the time, I like my pictures soft, often blurred, with some mystery and ambiguity present.

But how far do you go to do that?  The image at the top of the post has been dramatically altered using Color Efex Pro, and is now the way I’d like it to look and the way that the place felt to me while I was there on that day – dazzling light and soft colours.  However, the original image looks significantly different.  To let you see the change, I’ve put the before and after together, below.

Before and after diptych

I’m happy with the changes here, and I could no doubt have got the same result using Elements/Photoshop, although I’m not sure I would have known just how to get that to happen.  But the great thing about Color Efex Pro is that you can apply and remove the changes with one click, and you can stack and unstack several effects at once, making it really easy to compare and see what works and what doesn’t.  This shot had three effects applied to it – Neutral White, which sorts the colours out quickly and easily, Polaroid transfer, which smoothed out the too-obvious movement lines caused by the ICM process, and Film Fade, which gave it a high-key, faded, dream-like look.  Although the colours are more intense and the light is brighter and stronger than in the original, this is how it felt to me to be there on that day.  The in-camera image didn’t give me that feeling.

Playing with another of my ICM shots, I discovered the Indian Summer effect.  Now I like this effect a lot, and it makes a lot of images look really good, but I do have a problem with it.  But first, let me show you what it does (you can see the original here).

ICM, New Forest, Indian Summer Color Efex filter

Basically it gives every image you use it on an early autumn effect.  I do love these colours, and this take on the original, so what’s my problem? – well simply, it’s not how it felt to me at the time.  Had I been there in late summer/early autumn, then it might have helped capture the essence of my experience, but as it is it feels removed from my experience and only satisfying on a decorative level.  Doesn’t stop me liking it, but it doesn’t embody what I’m trying to do and I don’t feel it expresses anything of myself.

However, the opposite is true for the image below.  While out walking, we came across this little tree protectively surrounded by mature trees, and lit up by a band of sunlight.  I took quite a few shots, but none of them showed what I saw at the time.  I tried, using Elements, to bring out the contrast between the sunlit baby tree and the darker trees around it, and I got a bit closer to what I wanted but it still wasn’t there.  So I popped it into Color Efex Pro and finally managed to get it to look much more like how I’d envisaged it.  It’s still not totally there, but lots better.

Little tree in sunlight, New Forest

One thing that helps is that Color Efex goes further than I often have the courage to go.  I had already tried applying a vignette effect to the original using Elements, and it had helped a bit, but my mistake was that I didn’t take it far enough.  There’s surely a lesson for me here, but it took Color Efex to get that through to me.  The vignette it applied was much darker and stronger – and more effective – than my more tentative efforts, and there was also an option – which I took – to lighten the centre of the shot.  You can see the comparison between the original post-processed shot below, and the same shot after using Color Efex – the change is subtle but effective and pushes attention towards the small tree, which is what I wanted.

Little tree diptychYes, I could have done it myself in Elements/Photoshop, but I didn’t.  And the one-click nature of Color Efex made it very easy for me to see what was needed and what did and didn’t work.

My conclusion is that Color Efex Pro makes it much easier for me to get to where I want to be with a shot, but that it would be too easy to rely on its effects to cover up a poor image, or to seriously overdo them and move towards the ‘gimmicky’.  I have a certain fear that I’m going to get carried away with it, like I did (and many other beginner photographers do) with the Hue/Saturation slider when I first discovered it, leading to images that will make me wince and wonder what on earth I was thinking when I look back on them in the future.  On the other hand, it does encourage me to play, in ways that I never would otherwise, and that surely can’t be a bad thing.  And if we never make any mistakes, we cease to grow and learn.












You can have any colour, so long as it’s black

Buy the The SLR Sloop at the Photojojo Store!

Just seen this rather nice camera bag on Photojojo.  I get so tired of every camera bag I see coming in black only, or at  best some other dull and uninteresting colour, don’t you?  This one’s a bit expensive though – I should think the first person to produce something like this at a more affordable price would clean up………….particularly if it didn’t involve shipping from the US.


Camera straps – one for the girls

Photography has traditionally been a very male-dominated world, despite the fact that nowadays there are at least as many women who’re serious about taking photographs as there are men.  It’s probably due to its association with technology – I suspect that the reason my beginners workshops usually have significantly more women than men in them is because of the title: Digital Photography for the Technically Challenged.

Anyway, you’ll be relieved to know that this is not going to be a polemic on gender politics.  It’s just that one of the manifestations of the male bias in photography is that when it comes to photographic equipment and accessories, they’re designed with men in mind.  For instance, if you want to buy a camera bag or strap, you can have any colour of black you like – or you might just find brown, khaki, or navy if you’re really lucky.  Good, plain masculine colours.

Now I’ve always believed that even utilitarian things should be pleasurable to look at and add something to the aesthetics of the world and, really, I’d just like to get a pretty strap for my camera, or a brightly coloured camera bag – I don’t want girly pink, just something bright and cheerful.  So I’ve been searching the web to see what’s available and this is what I’ve come up with.  Unfortunately, nearly all these suppliers are in the US, although they’ll ship to the UK.

Etsy  (

A quick search on Etsy brought up loads of fun, pretty, camera straps at fairly reasonable prices – just be aware that some of them are camera strap covers rather than actual straps.  Sassystrap have a particularly good selection of proper straps and do some fantastic designs; here’s just a sample:

This one's called Yellow Daisy and is a little more feminine

If you want to go really girly, you can get one with ruffles on it

Phatstraps (

Phatstraps do a good variety of straps, some of which are rugged enough not to embarrass the most macho man, while also being far more interesting than black webbing.  As this is for the girls, I’m not going to show the more masculine ones here, but I like these two:

Other sources

Also worth looking at are

And finally, if you’re a voluptuous sort of woman you’re probably aware that, worn across the body, normal camera straps are less than comfortable.  Someone has finally come up with a solution, although sadly only in black and at an extortionate price – it’s a specially designed camera strap made to fit a woman’s shape.  UK readers can find it at Picstop, but just do a Google search for Black Rapid RS-W1 Women’s Camera Strap and you’ll be able to find a stockist wherever you are.

Part Two – Camera Bags – coming soon

I was going to look at camera bags as well, but now I’m thinking that would be better left for another post.  For the moment, is there anyone out there in the UK who’d like to design and sew some fun camera straps? I’m convinced there’s a gap in the market.