This is the debut of a new column where we talk to pros about their equipment and techniques.
by Grayson Schaffer
Last week, San Diego–based Nik Software released the fourth version of Color Effex Pro, their popular Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture plugin. Like Photoshop actions, CEP4 allows photographers to quickly combine multiple small adjustments into different treatments or filters. But unlike actions, and even its own previous versions, CEP4 has a stand-alone user interface that makes adding and blending multiple enhancements fast, easy, and intuitive. We spoke with Denver-based adventure sports photographer Lucas Gilman, one of Nik’s beta testers on CEP4, to find out how it integrates into his workflow. Gilman was recently featured on Good Morning America discussing a shoot of Jesse Coombs first descent of Oregon’s 100-foot Abiqua Falls.
Grayson: What does Color Effex offer that regular Photoshop can’t?
Lucas: It allows a photographer who maybe doesn’t know the technical side of Photoshop to make some really nice changes without having to become a Photoshop master. If you know how you want the image to look, it allows you to do that without having to understand layers or masking.
What’s new in this latest version?
It’s a lot faster and incorporates multiple enhancements on an image within one control pane—what they call recipes. In CEP3, if you wanted to use the Brilliance-and-Warmth filter to add a bit of saturation, you’d do that, and if you wanted to add another filter, you’d have to reopen the image in CEP3 and add a second filter. In this version, you can do multiple enhancements. For example, I like the Tonal Contrast filter; it really brings out the detail in things like snow, rocks, and water. Then I’ll add Brilliance-and-Warmth. It creates a nice, pleasing warmth that doesn’t just look like someone popped the saturation up in Photoshop.
So the algorithms here are more complicated than just mixing Photoshop actions?
Under the hood, I don’t know technically how it all works, but from a photographer’s perspective it allows me to enhance color and saturation without it blocking up and losing detail or looking like a blob of color on the screen. You can also save your recipes so you can reproduce them consistently over a body of work.
With software now making it so easy to give photos these looks, what does it mean for photographers who have built their careers on a certain look?
That’s an open question. I mean the iPhone’s Hipstamatic Prints can do a lot of these looks—whether it’s sepia tone or bleach bypass—that people have spent years and years in the dark room perfecting. It means that photographers have to not only be smarter and produce better images constantly, they also have to understand what the visual trends are and how to consistently deliver to clients.
Is this kind of software good for professionals or bad?
The Nik software in particular allows photographers to remain focused photography and not on the back-end work. It allows people to spend their time going out and doing photography and not being a lab tech.
Here are a few examples of photos Gilman has retouched using Nik filters:
I used Viveza (another Nik product that works specifically with color) to build a mask over the reds on the rocks. It allowed me to bring out the detail and contrast in that rock, which was a bit muddy and shaded. Then I added CEP’s Tonal Contrast filter.
I used the Tonal Contrast on that one, again. You choose the range that you’re changing the contrast on. When you change the contrast in Photoshop, it changes globally—in the highlights, midtones, and shadows. With Tonal Contrast, you can select any or all of those three. So I boosted the contrast on the highlights to help the snow pop on the dark sky. And then I went into the midtones to change the contrast selectively [to bring out the lichens on the rocks]. It’s just three different sliders instead of having to mask off those specific areas.
I try to get the white balance right in the camera, but, especially in snow, you’re often left with a bluish cast. I output it as close as I can from the raw format into tif format, but it’s never perfect. Nik has a filter called Remove Color Cast. It’s like auto-white-balance in Photoshop, but this one seems to work. It removes the color cast without changing the exposure. This way, it you’re not losing any data. For snow and watersports, I can’t afford to lose detail in my highlights. But it’s always a battle.
Again I use that tonal contrast filter, which allows me to keep a lot of detail in the rock. That was in a deep dark canyon. Being able to bring out the detail in that rock without changing the contrast globally really helps to make the image work. [This photo was shot] right after a rainstorm and a shaft of light was landing directly on those greens. That’s why they’re almost nuclear. With the Nikon cameras you can also choose custom profiles. I shoot in “vivid,” which is similar to what Fuji Velvia would have been back in the day.