After some pestering and cajoling from persistent readers and iBuddysâ„¢ about doing some Aperture related product reviews I finally will give it a whirl. I thought why not start with the hardest, Nik Color EFX Pro. It's not hard to use, hard to understand, or hard to copy and paste a list of all of the stuff it does from another source. Heck it's not even hard to make example images for each and every one of its filters. I guess the hard thing for me is to figure out what I can contribute that would be helpful that I have not seen at a thousand review sites, on Nik software's own site, or a gazillion forum sites.
Briefly this is what is not here - No optimized shots that are prettified by a specific filter. No regurgitated lessons on how to use the software, and no feature comparisons or shootouts. Instead I thought I would do my best to tell you how I approach the product, what I think of it's usefulness, and some practical tips if you decide to use it.
Of course I must include a few images here and there so I found the crappiest, most boring, yucky image I could as a starting point to illustrate some of the crazy things that Color EFX can do. Every once in a while I'll force myself to take a walk to shoot subjects that I normally don't shoot with lenses that I normally don't use. I am usually not too careful and shoot a lot. I even force myself to shoot images that I know will not be any good. Maybe some more on why I do that some other time. To the point here is the base crappy image - perfect for doing some wild manipulations.
When using Color EFX the last thing you want to do is goose up an image with enhancements prior to sending into most of the filters. For the most part make sure it is neutral and relatively flat. There are a couple of exceptions for filters like vignette. The vast majority of the filters in Color EFX do massive manipulations to brightness, contrast, and color so it's best to send it in neutral and on the flatter side. On that note one of the biggest criticisms that I have of the product is that the default settings for most of the filters are way way way over the top. If you like subtle this alone could be a big turn off for you. Once you get comfy with the product it's not a deal breaker because you can easily save multiple presets for each filter that suit your taste and image needs.
I am not a huge fan of most of the filter sets out there, I own this one because of it's huge range of effects, the versatility of each filter, and the high quality of output. If you are evaluating Color EFX with the 30 day trial make sure you have the time to really spend with it. Even if you used it every day for the month you may have a hard time really getting a feel for all it will do. The vast majority of the dozens of filters have a depth that is far beyond the default presets and most are useful beyond the name. An example may be the "sunshine" filter. I think it is supposed to add sunlight to an overcast scene but it has a huge range of effects. So much so that different settings don't even look like the same filter.
Here is my boring crappy tree in the sun with the sunlight filter. I would probably run it through for another pass of Color EFX and do a neutral grad at the bottom on this if it were for real. That brings up an intellectual limitation of Color EFX, you cannot apply multiple filters in one shot. I say intellectual limitation because rarely would I do this, I would probably keep my in-between stages along the way anyway in case I change my mind (sort of like layers, just sequential). Actually I have rarely used more than one Color EFX filter on an image. I have but while I was working on it I kept the first and second stages until I was sure that the image was where I wanted it.Â When you hit the save button in Color EFX there is no going back and adjusting the effect. Another good reason to use the capability to save your presets for each filter. I actually have some favorite starting points and save a working set with the same project name as my Aperture project.
Actually that is one feature of the product not really discussed much, the ability to save groups of filters together and the ability to save filter presets. If you do not use these you will be sorry, trying to remember settings while tweaking a project does not work. Heck I cannot stand this any more I have to add the neutral density grad to the sunshine. That's probably over the top but hey we're having fun with a crappy image so let's let it all hang out. Not only that but I wanted to make a point. If you start out with a flatter image for some of the more outrageous effects and you need to manipulate the contrast or levels after the fact in Aperture have no fear the image output by Color EFX is a 16 bit TIFF file so you can adjust the crap out of it after it comes back into Aperture if required. Now we are getting somewhere. I knew I shot this tree for a reason. Let's go for something a little more surreal. That's the direction this thing is going and I kind of like it.
How about a going exact opposite of sunshine and use the midnight filter in blue mode. This one actually has the blur built in as well as a bunch of completely different color rendering modes and adjustment sliders. One of the things that makes Color EFX is the depth most of the effects have. One of the dangerous things is that some of the effects and settings may have so much of an effect on an image that you get sort of stuck going to the same filter or the same preset for everything but the real power is not applying the same filter to everything you shoot. It's also not flipping through every filter with every setting on every image. What a complete waste of time. I guess it's okay if you have nothing better to do and like playing with your computer. The real power is taking some dedicated time to experiment and develop a concept or visual idea for a project be it personal or commercial and then go shoot the exact material you need to realize the concept.
Having that visual concept of the post production treatment prior to shooting is the key to using Color EFX productively. Fooling around with some of your images and exploring visual concepts is just the start. I like where the midnight blue thing is going but let's go back to the sunlight thing for a moment and try a more surreal color rendition using the bi-color filters and running it back through with some soft focus. This bi-color is a cool color on the top and a warm on the bottom. Kind of interesting color but actually looks too pretty. The soft focus isn't really helping much with the surreal thing either in fact it looksÂ a little bit like glamour glow, the mother of all prettifying filters with tons of adjustments all of them good. Hell I have to do it, I cannot stop myself so here it is a glamour glow version with a cool glow color. Some advice to Color EFX users and would be users. Just get the glamour glow out of the way, the first thing you do when you are playing with any image is make a glamour glow version and then forget about it. This filter is so seductive it could make a bad picture of a pile of dog crap look pretty. It's the heroin of filters. See what I mean a picture of an old crappy tree with no leaves brown grass in the winter time looks sexy. Okay enough of that. Back to work. I sort of like the color of the bi-color filters and sort of want the not too sharp thing but a little more surreal.
How about a fake polaroid transfer. I am not a big fan of the fake old process look but the polaroid transfer filter is actually pretty good and may give me some ideas even if I choose to implement them differently in a final visual concept. This one is not over the top smeary and texture-y. I actually like this and gives me some ideas for another project but not for the tree. My final decision for the tree was the image at the top ofÂ the post. The IR black and white. It's actually credible for an IR simulation and like most of the filters has enough flexibility to get a lot of different looks. Any of these effects can be reproduced in strait photoshop but would take a bit of effort to reproduce. Having a big box of crayon colors available can be a big help developing a visual concept and help spur ideas for how you envision treating a particular project or subject matter. I do not advise randomly playing with bad images helter skelter as a work process and is certainly not the value of a package like Color EFX. Sure go ahead and play around with your version of a crappy old tree image to generate ideas or get a handle on what the final visual treatment of a body of work might look like but once you have a few ideas your best bet is to go shoot the images with a good idea of where they are going to end up rather than the reverse.
I got my Nik Color EFX here. As always comments and criticism are always welcome. Hopefully this was at all useful to anyone considering Color EFX. One other note is to plan ahead when purchasing Nik products. They are available for Aperture as plugins, Adobe, and Nikon Capture NX2. There is a dizzying array of ways to purchase them and it helps to know where and how you want to use them prior to pulling the trigger to get the best deal.