Software Filter Fun

I consider myself an old-school photographer - I get the greatest pleasure from shooting the picture, not creating something on the computer. Every now and then, though, I'll take some time to play with software filters and see what happens.

Most editing software includes filters, both standard and special effects. The standard filters do the usual stuff like sharpening and blurring. The special effects are fun to try, giving you black and white conversions or more artistic choices. If you really get serious about using these filters, you’ll eventually end up looking at third-party plug-in sets that can be added to your editing software.

I’m a long-time fan of Nik software (, having used their Sharpener Pro automated sharpening filters for several years in my printmaking. They also make a set of creative filters, Color Efex Pro, that do everything from black-and-white conversions to infrared to portrait effects and on and on. That set has recently been released as version 3, with even more filters and finer levels of control. That’s what makes Nik’s filters so good – it’s not just an on/off choice, but many more choices within each one. The variables you control include strength, color, contrast and even different “flavors” of the filter.

If you’re working with layers-based software like Photoshop or Elements, Nik’s built these filters so they can be run as layers. As an instructor for Nikon School (, Nikon’s Capture NX 2 has become a regular part of my editing workflow over the last few years. I like its ease of use with the Color Control Points and the extremely small files I can create as “Master” files with Instruction Sets. Since NX 2 is written by Nik Software, it’s no surprise that Nik’s Color Efex Pro filters also come in a package designed to work with NX 2 as just another step in the Instruction Set. And that’s how I found myself wasting a fair chunk of time this week.

I wanted to try some of Nik’s new filters, like Polaroid Transfer. Cool. After doing that, I thought I’d try one or two more. And as always, once I start with Nik’s filters, two things happen. One, I understand why some photographers love them and make one or two of these filters part of their style. And two, once I get going, hours go by before I stop.

Will filters become part of my worklfow or style? Doubtful, but who knows. One thing’s for sure – they’re a lot of fun to play with.

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