I’ve got to be honest. I’m compiling a list of my top ten worst Color Efex Pro filters (yes, there are some duds in amongst the great ones), and the Sunlight filter was on it. But in a spirit of fair play I thought I’d better find out for sure what it actually does and whether I was missing something.
And you know what? It’s going to get a reprieve, because it did turn around this picture postcard shot of a row of country cottages.
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I’ve always had trouble with this shot (I’ve been to this place more than once) because of the deep shade you always get at the end of this lane. There’s too much contrast, and what should be a bright, summery shot looks dense and dull. HDR software sort of works but makes it look a bit artificial, and I was beginning to think nothing would work.
So it’s the last chance saloon for the Sunlight filter – can it live up to its name?
01 Default settings
There are a whole bunch of presets for this filter – you can see them in the left sidebar – but I wanted to start from the default settings to get an idea of how the manual controls work. The default settings have given this picture a slightly warmer look to it already, but there’s a long way to go…
02 Light Strength
The main control is the Light Strength slider. This adds a kind of ‘fill light’ to the scene, working most strongly on the shadows and progressively less on the brighter tones. It adds a subtle soft-focus glow at the same time, which adds to the hazy summer feel without softening the image overtly.
I’m pushing the slider right up to 75% for this shot. I think it needs a big adjustment to bring out those shadow areas and overcome the original shot’s rather oppressive feel.
03 Light Temperature
The Light Temperature slider acts like a kind of white balance control, though over a smaller range. I’ve pushed it right to the far left to get the strongest warming-up effect – if you push the slider to the right, the colours become cooler, which is more attractive than it sounds.
I’m not going to bother with the Brightness and Contrast sliders because they’re self-explanatory and the picture looks OK already. But I will use the Saturation slider to boost the colours just a little.
05 Opacity control point
This looks like a pretty good result, but there is one more thing I want to fix. The wall of the white cottage in the middle distance is looking blown out, so I’m adding a ‘-‘ (minus) control point to remove the effect from that area.
These are one of Color Efex Pro’s most useful features, and you’ll find the Control Points panel underneath the filter controls. They don’t offer the advanced adjustments you find in Viveza, for example – they’re much simpler than that. The have a single, ‘opacity’ slider which you use to control the strength of the effect in specific areas. They’re also ‘self-masking’ – I’ve added a control point to the white wall, so it’s only that wall and its tones which will be affected.
06 The finished picture
This is certainly a lot better than the original picture, and Color Efex Pro’s Sunlight filter has worked where most of the other techniques I’ve tried have failed. Now that I’ve spent some time figuring out how it works and what it does, I might start using it a bit more in the future.