I just stumbled upon a technique using the Tonal Contrast filter in Nik Software Color Efex Pro to recover shadow detail without any visible evidence of noise or loss of detail, and without affecting the rest of your image. This is great stuff!
Two of the most common problems I’ve seen when trying to extract more detail from deep shadows are an increase in noise and/or murky shadows that just don’t look right. I haven’t done extensive testing on this new technique but the tests I have run have been overwhelmingly positive. The best part? As I’ve come to expect from Nik, it’s easy as pie. Let’s get to the good stuff.
The image you see above, from Goblin Valley State Park, has nearly featureless shadows in the foreground hoodoos. Honestly, that’s exactly what I wanted – a nice silhouette to set off Wildhorse Mesa in the background. But, for the sake of this example, I’m using it to show you what’s possible with Color Efex Pro Tonal Contrast filter.
The image above shows you just how much detail was lurking in the shadows that I was able to pull out using the Tonal Contrast filter in Color Efex Pro. No muddy, ruddy or murky shadows, good detail and virtually no noise. The settings I used to achieve this were:
Highlight Contrast: 0
Midtone Contrast: 0
Shadow Contrast: 60
Shadows Slider: Approximately 1/2 power (don’t go above 1/2 power or things start to go downhill fast)
Highlight Slider: 0 power
And, if the first example wasn’t dramatic enough, how’s the one above? Again, I personally prefer the first image with the foreground hoodoos (goblins) almost completely in silhouette. But, these two examples show you the potential hiding in the Tonal Contrast filter. Here are the settings I used for this example:
Highlight Contrast: 15
Midtone Contrast: 15
Shadow Contrast: 80
Shadows Slider: Approximately 1/2 power
Highlight Slider: 0 power
A final thought on shadow detail: Almost any time you dodge (make lighter) shadows you’re also decreasing contrast in the affected area. Using other techniques, you’ll need to first lighten the shadows and then add back some contrast in the next step. Using this technique takes care of both in one step. Lastly, I’m a firm believer that not every shadow needs to have detail. Almost every image I process has some areas that are pure, featureless black. I set the black point in Lightroom as one of the very first steps in the process. I believe that having a nice, pure black really sets off the tones and colors of an image. But, that’s just my opinion so take it for what it’s worth (maybe nothing?).
So, now I’ve shown you yet another use for the amazing Nik Software plug-ins. I’m constantly amazed at what I’m discovering with each plug-in that’s included with Nik’s Complete Collection. Extremely powerful, extremely easy to use. Less time at the computer equals more time outside making new images. Sounds like a winner to me!
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