Nik (Google) Color Efex Pro 4 isn’t just a collection of special effects. It also has a number of powerful image-editing tools hidden amongst them, and one of these is the Levels & Curves tool. You can use this to make adjustments to your images in the same way you would in Photoshop, Elements and other image-editing programs.

But these adjustments go further than you might think. Color Efex Pro 4 also offers control points for restricting its effects to specific areas of your pictures, and version 4 can also ‘stack’ effects, which means you can create as many different localised levels and curves adjustments as you need.

The result is that you can carry out subtle and complex adjustments very quickly. This little walkthrough shows you the basics, and at the end you should have a good idea of just what the Levels & Curves effect is actually capable of.

Color Efex Pro Levels and Curves

This is a shot of a toy pirate figurine shot hastily on a bedroom windowsill, and the lighting is far from ideal – so that’s what I’m going to try to fix.

01 Create a new Levels & Curves effect

Color Efex Pro Levels and Curves

You’ll find the Levels & Curves effect half way down the filter list on the left side of the program window – it’s highlighted in yellow here. Over on the right, in the tools panel, you’ll see the curves display, which looks and works just like those in other image-editing programs. (Remember, you can click on these screenshots to see full-size versions.)

02 Add a local adjustment

Color Efex Pro Levels and Curves

Now normally in Color Efex Pro 4, you’d apply an effect globally. If you choose one of the presets, the effect is already applied, and you use the tools panel to modify the settings as required. Here, though, I’m going to do it differently.

1) Underneath the curves panel is a Control Points section with ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons directly alongside. I start by clicking the ‘+’ button to create a new control point…

2) …Then I click in the top left corner where I want to add it. I want to darken the top part of that white background to create a gradient effect. These control points are simpler than those you see in other Nik programs like Snapseed or Viveza. There are just two control handles – the top one controls the size of the adjusted area, and the lower one controls the opacity of the adjustment. The control point’s area of influence is circular, but they’re ‘self-masking’, so within that area, only tones similar to those where the control point is placed will be affected.

3) Now I can apply a curves adjustment. I’ll drag the centre of the curve downwards to produce a darkening effect, and you’ll see that darkening effect in the  top left corner of the image. Once you’ve applied an adjustment, you can still move the control point around and change its size and opacity.