It’s all very well giving advice about how to achieve certain effects using this software or that software, but it always strikes me that no-one ever talks about WHY you should use a particular effect with a particular subject. Books and magazines are very tied up with the mechanics of photography but rarely stray into the stuff that really matters – what we’re trying to capture or evoke, and how to do it. So I thought it might be interesting to dissect a few pictures, explain the thinking behind the effects I’ve used and try to make this connection between what we feel about a picture, and the tools we can use to bring this out.

Of course, it’s a very personal thing. The pictures I take and the feelings and ideas I try to bring out will be different to yours. But you may get some ideas along the way, or see how certain tools capture a certain kind of atmosphere, and be encouraged to go off and try some new stuff for yourself.


So I thought I’d start this off with a photograph I took in Budapest. The parliament buildings by the river are a well-known landmark, and while I did find just the right time of day and angle to capture them in the late afternoon sun, I still thought this picture was a pretty straightforward record shot. What I really wanted to do was try and capture some of the fairytale drama of this city and this scene.

I used Color Efex Pro for this because of its large range of powerful photo effects and its ability to stack them to produce an infinite variety of combinations. It might be interesting to try this in MacPhun Luminar, too.

So here’s my finished shot, with annotations to explain what I did and why:


Google Color Efex Pro Duplex filter

1: Color Efex Pro Duplex filter: This is at the heart of this particular shot. In the past I’ve not found much of a use for this filter, but it does a great job here. Essentially, it’s a soft-focus effect, but with the ability to add a colour tint and adjust its saturation. So I chose it here to give a dreamy atmosphere and a strong amber tint to the light.

2: Graduated filter: I wanted to darken the top of the sky and the base of the picture to concentrate the composition on the buildings in the centre of the picture – it’s a technique I use quite a lot because it gives the base of a picture a little depth and solidity to. A regular vignette was no good because this would have darkened the sides too. I used a blue grad for both the top and the bottom – the bottom one was simply rotated through 180 degrees.

3: Brilliance/Warmth: This is a general-purpose filter for making photos cooler or warmer in tone and for adjusting the saturation. It seems to give a nicer look than regular white balance adjustments. I used it here just to do some final overall tweaks to the colour.


So here’s the finished picture. It might be too intense and dramatic for some, but it captures a mood and a ‘look’ I really like. You can click on the picture above to see a larger version.