Nik (Google) Color Efex Pro 4 has a number of contrast enhancing filter effects which work in subtly different ways. The Tonal Contrasts filter boosts contrast within specific tonal ranges, while the Detail Extractor can be used to produce HDR style effects. And at first glance, so does the Dark Contrasts filter, though the net result is a darker looking image…

I’ve tried this out on lots of different pictures, and I’ve decided the best way to characterise this filter is to think of it as an ‘adaptive darkening’ filter. It applies a darkening effect to the highlights and the shadows (not so much the midtones), but in a localised way, so that you still get strong outlines and a good overall tonal range – and you also get an HDR style ‘glow’ effect, which is typical of software tools that use gradual masking effects for localised adjustments.

Reading that back, it does sound rather abstract and technical paragraph, so perhaps the best way to illustrate the effect of the Dark Contrasts filter is to try it out on some examples.

Nik Color Efex Pro Dark Contrasts filter

I’ll start with this one. I took it on a blustery, stormy day, and I’d like to accentuate that feeling with a denser, more dramatic treatment. This also happens to be the ideal type of picture for the Dark Contrasts filter because it contains quite a lot of medium-sized detail which will really benefit form this filter and also help disguise the ‘glow’ effect you get as a by-product.

01 Choose a preset

Nik Color Efex Pro Dark Contrasts filter

The Dark Contrasts filter has just three default presets, and the ‘Saturated and Detailed’ preset looks the best for this shot. I’ve also used Color Efex Pro’s side-by-side before and after view (use the button on the top toolbar, circled) so that the original image is displayed alongside.

02 Don’t hold back

Nik Color Efex Pro Dark Contrasts filter

I’ve found that strong settings often work best with this filter – otherwise, you can end up with a kind of watered-down HDR effect that doesn’t look very realistic. Here, I’ve pushed the Dark Detail Extractor, Contrast and Saturation sliders right up to maximum, and increased the Brightness until the image looks just about right. This has left the sky looking a little overprocessed, but there is a solution…