Using High Key in Nik Software Color Efex Pro

Nik Software has some cool filters in Color Efex Pro, but it’s easy to get into a rut and use the same ones over and over. Maybe it’s time to branch out and try something different.

Going Against the Grain

Sometimes you can create a dramatic effect in your images by choosing processing techniques that may go against the grain for the type of image you shot. In this case, I’m processing an photo from a performance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends.  Here’s the original shot without any processing.

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The shot captures a moment at the end of the performance; the crowd goes wild. It’s just that the shot doesn’t really convey the energy of the moment. Why? They’re all pumping up a fist in unison, looking strong and confident. The energy just doesn’t go with it, though.

The reason is because the stage lighting, at that moment, doesn’t convey any sense of energy for the moment. It’s just bland, flat light on the performers with some harsh shadows in the background. It doesn’t show much depth of dimension on the subject’s clothing, except perhaps for Greedo. So what can we do?

Nik Software and High Key To The Rescue

The High Key filter in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro isn’t one that I use very often, but it’s perfect for this shot.

The first benefit it provides is to essentially re-light the scene, which is what gives us more energy in the final image. Our subjects are mostly wearing dark clothing and aren’t popping from the background. Using the High Key filter, we can come close to blowing out the background and giving our Dark Lord’s a bit of backlighting. It also provides a bit more light on their clothing to add some definition.

Don’t underestimate the power of backlighting to make your subject’s pop a bit more. Watch a few concerts and stage performances and you’ll see them use backlighting at key moments for emphasis – often on the stage level rather than up in the rafters. The High Key filter let’s us steal that kind of lighting emotion because we have a relatively light background for our subjects.

The other part of the High Key filter that helps us out is the built-in Glow feature. I’m a big fan of using a glow or some kind of soft blurring effect on the background while leaving the subjects relatively sharp. I used a High Pass filter to accentuate the features that I wanted to sharpen and let everything else soften up in the glow.

The only thing left was to crop out some of the empty space above the subjects. I tend to like 16:9 crops and it worked well here, putting their faces along the upper-third line in the image.

With just a quick filter and crop, the energy in the image changes quite a bit.  Party on, Darth!

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