There are so many filters in Color Efex Pro that it can take a long, long time to work out all the things that it can do. Some of the tools are obvious, like Levels and Curves or Graduated Filters, but some are less so, and the Detail Extractor is a prime example.
It sounds like a tool for making your images sharper, but it’s actually something else entirely. It’s a kind of localised contrast adjustment tool which brings out details in both shadows and highlights with the kind of power and simplicity that you might wish your favourite HDR plug-in could achieve!
It’s not a true HDR tool. It works on single images rather than merged exposures, so there is a limit to just how much detail it can enhance. But it is quick, simple and very effective, and you don’t have to go for the full-on HDR treatment each time – it’s equally good at providing a subtler boost to images that just lack a little definition.
For my start shot I’ve chosen this picture of an old Victorian pier just after sunset. The colours in the sea and sky were just starting to fade and it did look as if the best moment to take pictures was gone…
01 Find the filter
The Detail Extractor is easy to miss, but Color Efex Pro helps by listing all its filters alphabetically. The key thing is, though, that if you move the mouse pointer to the right of the filter name, Color Efex Pro displays a presets button…
02 Choose a preset
When you click this button, Color Efex Pro displays a selection of presets. These are a great starting point because they show the full range of adjustments possible for each effect, from fairly subtle to full-on, and show you just what your picture could look like without you even having to push a single slider. I’m going for the ‘Strong Large Details’ preset here.
03 Manual adjustments
Once you’ve selected a preset, you can use the manual adjustments on the tools panel on the right to tweak the settings and get precisely the effect you want. The Detail Extractor is actually quite simple, which is more than you can say for regular HDR tools. The Detail Extractor slider simply controls the strength of the effect, while the Contrast and Saturation sliders speak for themselves.
Underneath is an Effect Radius menu. This controls the distance over which the contrast-increasing effect is applied, and its equivalent in an HDR program would be the ‘Glow’ radius – simply choose the one which looks best for your image.
And under this are two tools you’ll find in all the Color Efex Pro plug-ins: the Shadows and Highlights sliders can be used to recover any tones which have been lost (‘clipped’) during the adjustments, and the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ Control Points are used to apply the filter locally or shield specific areas of the image. I’ve not used either of them here.
04 The finished image
The transformation is pretty spectacular, and while I might tone it down a little if I was going to hang this picture on the wall, it does show just how effective this simple plug-in can be.
This is what Color Efex Pro is so good at – producing spectacular results with minimal effort or know-how.