There's no shortage today of various apps, plug-ins and toolkits out there to aid with the enhancement of your images. With an abundance of software available, knowing which ones to check out and which to skip can be too time consuming.
One such toolkit however will always find a use in my post-processing workflow. Nik Software's powerful Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in.
Part of a large photo effects suite from Google (now DXO), 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, this saves you the trouble of trying to remember how to create a particular effect.
Everything in Color Efex Pro can be applied non-destructively as layers. In addition, the software has a clever 'control points' system, which allows you to target specific parts of the image to apply effects, while leaving other areas unaffected.
Personally, I find a good workflow is to first perform the bulk of your adjustments first in CameraRaw/Lightroom, then switch over to Color Efex Pro to further refine and alter the look of the image.
Here's my pick for:
The Ten Best Filters In Color Efex Pro
Fantastic for enhancing dimly lit or night images, the low key filter simulates a theatrical look with high contrast and a soft ethereal glow.
I find it works best with images containing contrasting areas of light and shadow. It will crush shadow detail and enhance highlights with a softening glow effect.
I find this filter useful for enhancing landscape and seascape type images, especially when there is a clear horizon line which breaks the picture into two. This simulates a traditional two-color filter by blending two complementary tones together. There are numerous color options to choose from, even the Hollywood "Teal & Orange" look!
Glamour Glow is one of the best filters in the toolkit. Designed for softening skin to recreate a soft focus look for portraits, I prefer to apply it to foliage and water to greatly soften landscape shots.
Applied generously, it can transform parts of your images to give off that painterly feel. It is very similar to applying a Gaussian Blur with the blend mode set to 'soft light', also known as the "Orton Effect".
This unique filter increases tonality and enhances fine detail in the shadows and highlights. It works brilliantly for exaggerating texture in an image.
It can be a very powerful effect to apply to single exposure images to increase overall dynamic range for that HDR look. In my opinion, it is the best filter in the toolkit.
Just like a traditional polarizing filter, this software equivalent does an admirable job of dulling reflective surfaces like windows and reflections in water, but its best use is for deepening the tone in blue skies.
Lots of cool presets to try out here. 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 color tonality of an image. It can be used to shift the hues of green to blue (or vice-versa), switch yellows to orange (useful for night images), or swap from a cool to warm tone.
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 when applied correctly, is the bleach bypass filter. This reduces color saturation whilst increasing contrast for that super gritty feel. It works great with accentuating textures like rocks, gravel, stone and even snow.
By far the most infamous of all the filters, 'Pro Contrast' is rightly so one of the most useful in the toolkit, and many photographers absolutely swear by this filter.
Pro Contrast works best as a final step in your editing workflow to bring out that 'pop'. It's hard to say exactly whats going on, but I believe it works on tonality and adjusts contrast variably across the image, rather than just a blanket increase across everything. It's one of those subtle filters that does so much more than simply adjusting the native Contrast or Clarity sliders.
Below is an example showing a combination of various filters used together, starting with the before...
...and the after
Color Efex Pro 4 is available as part of the DXO Nik Collection. You can download the full package including Color Efex, Silver Efex, Analog Efex, HDR Efex and more directly from DXO for $69 or try a 30-Day trial - Download Nik Collection by DXO