Four Nik Filters to Make Photo Details Pop Without Sharpening

In this tutorial, we look at four Nik Collection filter you can use to make the details in your photos pop. You’ll find all four of these detail enhancing filters in Nik Color Efex Pro. But the most remarkable thing about these filters is that the work without sharpening. You can enhance and make your photo details pop just by using these any of these four Nik Color Efex filters.

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To demonstrate the four detail enhancing filters and their effects, I’ll be using this mist, bad weather image.

Starting image before making the photo details pop

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We’ll apply the four Nik filters to make the foreground rock detail pop in the photo but without harming the mist. The four filters are:

  • Detail Extractor
  • Pro Contrast
  • Bleach Bypass
  • Contrast Only

And whilst all these filters will make the details in your photos pop, they each produce a different result.

Let’s get underway with the Detail Extractor filter.

Nik Color Efex Pro Detail Extractor

The Detail Extractor is probably the first filter most people think about when wanting to make photo detail pop.

To use the filter, open your image in Nik Colour Effects Pro.

On the left side of the interface choose the “All” option in the Filter Library. This displays a list of all the filters in Nik Color Efex Pro in alphabetical order. Then select the Detail Extractor filter from the list.

When you select the detail extractor filter you will see the filter controls appear on the right side of the screen. You can see a screenshot of the Color Efex Pro interface together with a close-up of the Detail Extractor filter controls below.

Detail Extractor Filter in Nik Color Efex Pro

The main control to set the level of detail enhancement is the Detail Extractor slider. But what you may not realise is that even when this slider is at 0, the filter still enhances the detail in your photo. With some photos you may find this is enough to make all the details pop, so please check this first. Also, don’t just use the default settings. To get the best results with this filter it’s necessary to fine tune the adjustment.

Using the Effect Radius Control

The next control to be aware of is the Effect Radius drop-down. You can use this to choose how you want to apply the detail enhancement. You can choose setting of Fine, Normal, or Large details from the dropdown.

Although it’s tempting to pick the Fine Effects Radius, do check the others.

Using a strong Detail Extractor setting with a Fine radius often produces a false, unnatural looking effect. You may find it better to use a large radius as this tends to produce more natural results with strong adjustments.

How the Detail Extractor Filter Works

To understand how the Detail Extractor filter works in Nik Color Efex Pro, it can help to watch the Histogram. Below you can see the image with no adjustment and then with the maximum Detail Extractor applied. Notice the effect on the Histogram for each.

Detail Extractor Filter Comparison with Histogram

When you apply the Detail Extractor filter in Nik Color Efex Pro, it enhances the midtone contrast in the image. But it does this at the expense of some shadow and highlight tones. Notice how the histogram now gathers into the central area or midtones. The filter has also lightened the darkest tones and darkened the lightest tones in the image. This reduces the image contrast even though it increased the midtone contrast.

Detail Extractor Filter Side Effects

To correct the problem, the Detail Extractor filter provides a Contrast slider. Increasing this it will darken the darkest tones unlike the lightest tones in the image. This will move the histogram out at either end whilst not affecting the midtones much.

The other thing you may notice with some images is that colours can suffer. You may need to improve their vibrancy using the saturation slider.

Do remember the Detail Extractor filter is quite an extreme detail enhancing filter. Whilst it’s excellent for making photo details pop it can have unwanted side-effects. Two that you may notice are:

  • Exaggerating and creating halos, especially around high contrast edges.
  • It can emphasise dust spots on your filter or marks on your lens. In this example, because I had rain on my lens, the filter exaggerated it.

Using Control Points with the Filter

One way to address this (other than keeping your lens and sensor spotless) is by using Control Points. You can then limit where the Detail Extractor applies to the image. It’s always a good idea to remove any detail enhancement from areas of smooth, continuous tone like the sky and water.

In our example photo, we could apply negative Control Points to the central part of the sky to remove the effect from that area. Here’s the before and after view.

Detail extractor before and after showing rock details that pop

Notice how the filter makes the rock detail in the photo pop so that it’s easier to see.

Now let’s look at our next filter, the Pro Contrast Filter.

Nik Color Efex Pro Contrast Filter

The Pro Contrast filter is another great filter for making photo details pop. You can see a close-up of the filter controls below.

The Pro Contrast Filter in Nik Color Efex Pro

There are three slider controls in the Pro Contrast filter in Nik Color Efex Pro. The one to apply to make your photo details pop is the Dynamic Contrast slider.

How the Pro Contrast Filter Works

The Dynamic Contrast slider works like the Detail Extractor we looked at earlier. It enhanced the midtones in the image, drawing the histogram into the centre. This has the effect of spreading out lighter tones which makes it easier to see detail. Similarly, when applied to shadow tones it can open shadow areas to reveal detail. But unlike the Detail Extractor filter, the Pro Contrast filter doesn’t change the darkest and lightest tonal points.

Pro Contrast Filter Side Effects

Despite this, applying the Dynamic Contrast slider can still damage image contrast. If this happens, use the Correct Contrast slider to introduce more contrast to your photo.

The other slider in this filter is the Correct Colour Cast slider. Whilst this doesn’t help to make your photos pop, it’s an extremely useful slider for correcting colours. You may find any colour cast in your photos is easier to see after applying the Pro Contrast filter.

We can use the Correct Colour Cast slider with the example image to remove the cold feel on the foreground rocks.

Using Control Points with the Filter

As with the Detail Extractor filter, you should use Control Points to remove the detail enhancement from any areas of continuous tones like the sky. Applying the Pro Contrast filter to areas like the sky in this photo causes any noise in that area to become exaggerated and often easy to see.

Here’s a split screen view showing a before and after view using the Pro Contrast filter to make the rock details pop.

Pro Contrast Filter Before and After

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Now let’s look at using the Bleach Bypass filter to make photo details pop.

Nik Color Efex Pro Bleach Bypass Filter

Bleach Bypass is a traditional fine art technique that’s made its way into the digital world. You can see an example of the filter, together with a close-up of the settings, below. Although the effect is extreme in this example you can see how much difference it makes to the rock details in the photo.

The Bleach Bypass Filter in Nik Color Efex Pro

If we are to use the Bleach Bypass filter to make the details in a photo pop, we first need to set the adjustments to 0 for all the sliders. This allows us to see what’s happening when we apply the detail enhancement.

Contrast Problems when Making Details Pop

We can use the Local Contrast slider to make the details in the photo pop. As with the other slider’s this tends to enhance the midtone contrast, allowing the detail in shadows to become clearer. But you may find this causes the image to lack contrast. If it does, use the Contrast slider to correct the problem.

Bleach Bypass Saturation Problems

Another side effect when using the Bleach Bypass filter to enhance photo details is that it removes saturation. You can fix this to some degree using the Saturation slider in the filter, but it has a limited positive adjustment.

If you find you can’t increase the saturation enough, try adding a new “Brilliance/Warmth” filter from the Filter Library in Nik Color Efex Pro. You can then use the Saturation and Perceptual Saturation sliders for that filter to fully correct the saturation levels of the image. You can see the filter below.

Brilliance Warmth adjustment in Nik Color Efex Pro

In this example, an element of Warmth the filter was used to add an element of warmth to the foreground rocks. The warming effect was removed from the sky using Control Points. You can see the before and after comparison below using the split-screen mode.

Bleach Bypass filter in Nik Color Efex Pro can be used to make photo details pop like this

Now let’s look at the final filter we can use to make the details in this photo pop.

Nik Color Efex Pro Contrast Only Filter

We can use the Contrast Only filter to apply contrast to an image without affecting the colours. But it also has a couple of other Contrast adjustment controls that are helpful including regular Contrast and Soft Contrast sliders. You can see the filter below.

Contrast Only Filter in Nik Color Efex Pro is a great way to make photo details pop

The secret to making this filter work is to use the Contrast Only slider in combination with the Soft Contrast adjustment.

Start by applying a negative Soft Contrast adjustment by moving the slider to the left. You will find this opens the shadows in the image, but it also reduces the photos contrast. You can then correct this by moving the Contrast Only slider to the right. By using these two sliders together we can enhance the rock details in the photo to make them pop.

Problems Using the Contrast Only Filter

One problem you may find when using the Contrast Only slider is that it darkens the image and can make the saturation appear muted. You can correct these problems using the Brightness and Saturation sliders. It may also help to use a combination of the Contrast and Contrast Only sliders to return contrast to the photo.

Here’s a side by side comparison showing how this can make the details in the photo pop.

Using the Contrast Only filter in Nik Color Efex Pro to make the photo pop with detail

How to Make Details Pop Video

Now watch the video to see these techniques in use.

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Summary of Making Photo Details Pop with Nik

In this tutorial we’ve looked at four different filters in Nik Color Efex Pro you can use to enhance detail. Each of these can help to make photo details pop, but you must use them with care. The effects of some are quite aggressive and they can introduce unwanted problems and side effects. It’s also important when using these filters to restrict them as much as possible to areas of detail using Control Points. Try to avoid applying them to areas like the sky and water.

The other important thing to be aware of is that each filter produces a slightly different effect. Some of the filters can produce quite unnatural results (especially at higher strengths). This probably won’t suit natural subjects but could suit manmade objects like architecture. Be sure to spend a little time experimenting to see which is best for making he details pop in a photo. The results could surprise you.

If you would like to learn more about the many different Nik Color Efex filters, you can find my Nik Color Efex Pro book on Amazon.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful. If you have, please take a moment to share it with others.

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