nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 (and panoramic landscapes)

I finally upgraded my copy of nik Color Efex Pro.1 It has this new feature called “u-point” which allows you to do zone system tone masking a lot like LightZone. This means I can finally edit without masks. The other advantage is it finally works again on the Mac version of Photoshop. 😉

So I re-stitched an old panoramic of mine and then imported it into Photoshop to try out updated versions of my old nik filters as well as a new one.

Rock cave remnants

Greyhound rock
Santa Cruz beaches, Santa Cruz, California
Olympus C-2500L
(8 images, 1/250-1/1300 sec) @ f/5.6, iso 100, 9.2mm (36mm)

Please view large on black.

[nik professional filters and panoramic photography after the jump]

The filterz

For the curious, I used:

  • a light blue Graduated Color Filter: to bring back the color in the sky;
  • a Neutral Density version: to bring open up the foreground—if I had Vivenza, this wouldn’t be necessary and unfortunately the graduated color version is missing this feature;
  • Contrast Color Range: to bring some color contrast back to the rocks—this filter is like a color version of using color filters for black and white film; and
  • the new Film Efects to compare it with DxO FilmPack—verdict: it’s easier to test and compare samples, but the film effects concentrate mostly on just color and contrast, in the future, I’ll abort on using the contrast color range filter, and use this instead.

Editing mistakes

There is a lack of dynamic range in the shadows which created a lot of color noise on the water reflections. I should have used NeatImage before stitching.

The autopano-sift code, while doing a good job, messed up the enblend on the ocean. I had to blend it back in. Unfortunately there is a contrast mismatch there which the post processing really brought out.

Easy panoramic photography

By the way, it is very easy to take this sort of panoramic photograph yourself with almost any camera. (This one was shot with a ten year old 2.5 megapixel camera whose “wide angle” is not as wide as your typical digital pocket camera!)

The key is to zoom all the way out, use program/automatic mode (for autoexposure), frame the camera vertically in portrait mode(!) and ensure a 1/2 frame overlap between successive images. As you shoot closer to the sun, put even more overlap (2/3 of a frame). You can even shoot it handheld like this one was done.


A single image used to build the panorama. You can see the colors look a lot different than the final processed output (as explained above).

Notice that the wide angle is perpendicular to the panorama. Also notice the huge barrel distortion in the image which was corrected for by Olympus’s software. Distortion on your typical Canon SD series pocket camera is much less than this camera and, what little there is, is corrected for automatically with the right settings in Panorama Tools-derived software.

This turned a 2.5 megapixel camera into something that can generate a 7.4 megapixel image.

More advanced panoramic photography

For more advanced stuff, you can preset the white balance, use a tripod mount with parallax correction adapter, and shoot bracketed exposures.

Ponytail Falls from Horsetail Creek

Ponytail Falls from Horsetail Creek
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Nikon D70, Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G
12 exposures (.8 sec – 3 sec) @ f/22, iso 800, 12mm (18mm)

With the right equipment, you won’t have merge issues in the foreground, can shoot extremely wide angles (believe it or not, you can walk under the waterfall you see in the image), and have no trouble handling 10 stops of dynamic range to make a 25 megapixel image.

Please view large on black.

Software for stitching

As I mentioned before, I use PTMac. There are various panoramic stitching programs that do a great job, but be sure to get one based on the open-source Panoramic Tools code. I recommend the freeware Hugin. Don’t trust the one that comes with Photoshop.

Have fun taking panoramas!

1 When I upgraded, I had nik softtware ship me the boxed version because, if there is anything that can use a printed manual, it would be a set of photographic filters. The only manual they provided was a three page quickstart guide in a huge cardboard box. What a waste of a tree. Don’t bother with that, get the download version.

8 thoughts on “nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 (and panoramic landscapes)

  1. “For more advanced stuff, you can preset the white balance, and use a tripod mount with parallax correction adapter and shoot bracketed exposures.”

    Do you happen to have any suggestions on good parallax correction adapters?

  2. @Jeremy: There are a number, but that would be for another blog post. Since I am a nature photographer, I use Arca-Swiss mounts (another blog post). And therefore I use a MPR-CL II rail from Really Right Stuff. (I own a Gitzo self-leveling tripod so I don’t need a panoramic clamp.)

    Ponytail panoramics, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area

    Read about it here.

    As always, I never recommend my solution. My solution is a matter of my tastes and my choice in equipment.

  3. Wow, now I know how my Dad feels when he reads my blog. I do good with iPhoto’s tools to enhance photos. Any more than that and I would be lost I fear.

  4. @Brian Sorry I had a breakdown of communications. I guess I need to write better in the future.

    In the meantime, I reorganized this article to hopefully make it more readable. 🙂

  5. I’m a big fan of Color Efex Pro 3, although I’m finding I often prefer to reduce the application strength or layer opacity as the full-on effects can be a bit much. Have you tried Nik’s Viveza? This is another tool that lets you do some cool Lightzone-like effects.

  6. @Jack, I mentioned Viveza in the mouseover under LightZone. 🙂

    I should mention that Nikon Capture does the same thing as Viveza if you stick to working on Nikon RAWs only and this software comes free with my Nikon D3. nik is a privately held company, but I believe Nikon owns a huge chunk of them. u-point first appeared in Capture.

  7. Why so you did! That’ll teach me to read without using the mouse! 😉

    I’ve seen similar comments about Nikon Capture before, but I’m using Canon cameras these days & haven’t seen Nikon Capture. I love the technology, wherever its provenance!

  8. Canon’s RAW tools are pretty awful. However Adobe Camera RAW does a great job on Canon RAWs so it’s a wash. Viveza is costly, but combined with Lightroom and Photoshop, it makes a great replacment.

    Viveza will also be a plug-in to Apple Aperture in May. Unfortunately, Apple tunes their RAW processing after the vendor RAW processing so a number of Canon photogs prefer Adobe Camera RAW (and thus Lightroom).

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