I often find when I'm editing an image that I'm unsure of the final look I want to achieve, and although I could spend ages in Photoshop or Lightroom playing round with sliders to generate some effects, I like the convenience of having my little toolkits of filters and presets to play around with.
One of these such toolkits in my post-processing workflow is Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 4.
Part of a large photo effects suite from Google, Color Efex Pro is both a standalone application and a plugin for Lightroom/Photoshop offering a range of 55 filters for color correction, retouching and creative photo effects.
Whilst most of what this software provides can be achieved by those with a moderate knowledge of Photoshop, I still find that the easier solutions are often the best solutions.
All of the filters in Color Efex Pro can be applied non-destructively as layers, in addition to being able to use 'control points' which target specific parts of the image to apply effects.
I personally find a good workflow to involve getting your image as close as possible to your intended look in Camera raw/Lightroom, before switching over to Color Efex to refine and finalise that look.
Here are a selection of some of my favorite and most used filters in Color Efex Pro.
For enhancing dimly lit or night time images, the low key filter works great for simulating a theatrical look with low contrast.
I find this filter useful for enhancing landscape and seascape type images. This simulates a traditional film bi-color filter by blending two opposing tones together. Perfect for replicating the Hollywood 'teal & orange' poster look!
Glamour Glow is one of the best filters in the whole toolkit. Designed for softening skin to recreate a soft focus look for portraits, I prefer to apply it to foliage and water on landscape shots.
Applied generously, it can transform parts of your images to give off a painterly feel.
Increases tonality and brings out detail in shadows and highlights. Works brilliantly for accentuating textures in an image.
This can be a very powerful effect to apply to single exposure images to increase dynamic range for an HDR look.
Like a traditional polarizing filter, this software equivilent does an admirable job of dulling reflective surfaces, but it's best use is for recovering bland skies by bringing down those deep blues.
A very simple yet effective filter. This simply enhances the saturation in greens, and can be used to mimic different seasons e.g. turning green leaves to Fall's orange tinge.
Lots of cool presets here to play with to give your images that retro feel by emulating the effect of cross processing E-6 slide film in C-41 or vice-versa.
This filter can produce some radical changes in the colors of an image. This can be used to alter the color of water or the amber hues in a nighttime shot with streetlights.
Again, another filter designed to mimic the real thing. Grad filter plugins in Color Efex Pro are available in a variety of colors and when applied at a low opacity can help enhance an otherwise dull sky.
A major stylistic effect is the bleach bypass. This filter reduces the color saturation whilst increasing contrast for a gritty feel. Get bleaching Private Ryan!
Below is an example of some of these filters in action, starting with the before...
...and the after
Color Efex Pro 4 is available as part of the Google Nik Collection and is available as a 15 day free trail from here.
The full Nik Collection for Photoshop & Lightroom is $149 and includes Color Efex, Silver Efex, Analog Efex, and HDR Efex. I can highly recommend this suite for any photographer, and nope Google are not paying me to plug this. I genuinely love this software.