Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0; Forget Everything You Know About Photoshop Plug-Ins

In the strictest technical terms, Color Efex Pro 3.0 may be a compatible plug-in but in reality it's an imaging environment that clings remora-like to Adobe's Photoshop, extending its capabilities and allowing you to produce incredible effects in little time. In that respect, Color Efex Pro 3.0 becomes a major productivity tool as well.

Interface Me
The product includes 52 filters and over 250 effects that are whisked into a single interface. That's right kiddies, the total number of effects filters in this latest version appear to be less from Version 2.0, and that includes several new ones that I'll get to later. The big deal is that instead of having five different Midnight effects there is now one, but all of the effects formerly available for Midnight, Midnight Blue, Midnight Green, Midnight Sepia, and Midnight Violet are right there in a submenu. Now you don't have to open Midnight Sepia and say, I should have used Midnight Blue, then close that filter and open the other plug-in. Nope. It's all there in a single, elegantly-designed interface that provides maximum control over the effect using a wonderfully intuitive design.

Instead of a bunch of filters with a small, non-re-sizable interface, Nik's Color Efex Pro 3.0 combines all of the filters into a single re-sizable interface that lets you move back and forth to try different effects and view before and after images in three different ways.

Instead of 2.0's tiny preview window, there are three ways of looking at an image: single image, split preview, and side-by-side preview, so you can click an icon in what you might call Nik 3.0's Option bar to choose the view that works for a specific image. Complementing any of these views is a Loupe window that gives a magnified view of wherever you place your mouse. If you zoom in on the image in the preview window, the Loupe automatically switches into Navigator mode.

You can get to Nik's Color Efex Pro two ways: One way is through the traditional Filters menu, the other by selecting Automate>Nik Selective Tool that keeps this floating dialog box on top of your Photoshop work space, allowing you to navigate easily through the many filter effects available.

Color Efex Pro has always been unique in that it lets you selectively brush on effects with a graphic tablet and Color Efex Pro 3.0's Selective Tool lets you quickly and easily brush effects onto your image, too. Layers and masks are automatically created, so you're free to experiment. But not all of us like using a stylus and are more comfortable with a mouse, especially one as ergonomic as Logitech's ( cordless Laser Mouse. For all of us Mousketeers, Nik has a secret weapon: U Point-powered Control Points--first seen in Nikon's Capture NX software--let you selectively control where each filter is applied or is not applied to the images without making complex selections or masks. You simply click the point and control its effect and opacity via some clever sliders that are surgically attached to the point. You can add as many control points as you like and while I used two to three for some of the images here, Nik's Tony Corbell told me he has placed as many as 20 on a single image.

Bleach Bypass

The Bleach Bypass filter simulates the look of the photographic technique known as Bleach Bypass or Skip Bleach, resulting in a high-contrast, low-saturation image. It's supposed to work best with low-key images, such as this one made at PMA 2006.
Photos © 2006, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Cross Balance

The Cross Balance filter simulates the look of shooting either tungsten-balanced film in daylight or daylight-balanced film under tungsten lights. I used this filter to create the cool blue water but used U Points to keep the "living statue" at her natural color. This is the kind of effect I used to get by shooting on a Tungsten color balance setting but having a complementary colored gel on the flash to keep the subject neutral.
Photos © 2006, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

New Filters
With any new version ya gotta have some new filters and Nik has offered an interesting cornucopia, some of which I like and some I just couldn't use, but I'm betting your favorites will be different than mine. In addition to slick updates to existing filters, Color Efex Pro 3.0 offers nine new filters.