Using Control Points in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

Using Control Points in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

 One of the best features of Nik HDR Efex Pro  2 is that they have Adjustable control points. Control points allow you to change the effect and exposure balance on selected areas of the image.  Most HDR programs in tone mapping allow you to make adjustment globally but don’t let you work on Local areas. Nik HDR Efex pro does. 

So let’s take a look at how Control Points work. 

When I first saw Control Points in Nik HDR Efex pro when it was introduced, I actually was a little confused by them. I thought they just worked like a circular selection tool in Photoshop with a feathered edge. No, they are far more sophisticated than that and the fact they show that circle is probably what makes it confusing. 

So before we use them let’s take a look at how they work and then it will make more sense. First the point itself. It is going to look at the tone of what lies directly underneath it, so in our sample image, if the point was over a cloud or the white sky, will make a difference on how the effect affect different ones. It won’t only affect that tone but the bias will be to those or similar tones first. 

Then you have the area circle, this affects how big of an area the adjustment works on. But again, this will NOT be a hard edge or even feathered edges since that would sitill give you a strange circular pattern on your image. So instead, the effect continues to be adjusted outside of that area to the tones that the center point is over. They just are affected to a smaller and smaller degree as it moves away from the center point. There may be a pixel totally on the other side of the image and not in the circular pattern that may be affected. But just in a much smaller proportion to what is contained within that circle area. This keeps the image very natural looking and not these big haloed circular areas put all over the image. 

Putting control points to use

I thought I would use an image we used last week in the post about problems and how to fix them. If you remember from that post, we wanted to get our building the right tone of white. So taking that image into HDR Efex Pro, I was easily able to get that building to look correct; however certain other areas of the image were affected globally and now looked bad. So let’s use control points to bring those areas back under control. 

Here is the image and the problem areas pointed out.

Click to Enlarge  

We’ll start with the large area of sky that is now blown out and has no detail. I am going to place a point there by clicking the “Add Control Point” button and place it over an area of open sky and I adjusted the circle out to cover a good portion of the area I wanted to affect. I lowered the exposure by .5EV and also reduced the white level by about 21% 














If we go over to the adjustments panel and to the control point section, we can turn on the mask area (Pointed out by the arrow) to see really what areas and tones are being affected by this adjustment. This is where you really can see better how things are affect and how while the areas that have the largest amount of the effect applied to are within the confines of that circle. It really is not applied in a circular fashion. We can also see in the adjustment panel that this control point affects 31% of our total image area.

 Now I can go ahead and place more control points throughout the image and adjust each one of the separately to really bring out that areas so that it looks best. 

With all of my control points in place and the mask on we can see the areas of the image that are affected by our control points. 

One thing to take note of, see inside the garage where I am showing the active control point. I placed the control point on a midtone of the red Life preserver. 

In the next image I show how the control point changes the affected area by moving the control point to dark area of the wall. 











And here is our final image with all the control points in place showing how those point are now corrected without changing the global look of the image or how the building exterior looks. 































































Control points are available on various other Nik offerings like Sliver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro and Sharpener Pro 3.0. Just their operation may vary depending on the program. But it sure is nice having that control.

To Try or Buy HDR Efex Pro 2 as part of the Nik Collection by Google click the link below

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  1. Nick Wheeler January 5, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Control points actually do select a circle – with a feathered edge. Nik needs to get a lot more sophisticated about providing selection tools in all it’s applications, but especially in HDR tone mapping. It also needs to provide the end user with the ability to change the apps global frequency assumptions and apply them locally.

    • Peter January 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Nick, It’s actually a much more sophisticated algorithm than you may think and it doesn’t just select the circle and apply it there even thought it will weight it in that area it extends far beyond. It is also based on the tone of what is directly under the center point. So it is much more sophisticated than if you did a feathered circular selection in Photoshop and applied an adjustment. Thanks for your comment

  2. Sam January 5, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    I liked the before better than the after in this case. The red objects in the interior beg for attention anyway. I would have toned down the interior- especially the red objects. This is why I dont use HDR much in my landscape photography. I usually adjust different tones in Raw before opening in Photoshop. HDR programs have all given me color distortion.

  3. Al January 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    I have to agree with Sam on the part about the interior. I think the interior should stay toned down a bit more (or at least more contrast added) but that sky definitely looks way better in the after, recovering those details and adding some drama to it!
    In reply to Nick Wheeler, the select is definitely better than just a feathered edge. I’ve learned to drag the control point around once I change settings and you can see how it tries to match by the color/luminosity – a great fine tuning to the selection set.

    • Peter January 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

      I think you need to look at what I was trying to do in the piece, which is show how control points work and the effects they can have.
      The image itself is a throw away image that I searched for because there was so much wrong with it to begin with. I really don’t like the image at all no matter how I mapped it but it had enough flaws that I could use Mutiple control point in an image to show their power. Of course everyone tastes are different in tone mapping and that’s why it’s an artistic endever.

      Thanks everyone for your comments, it’s good to hear everyone’s views!


  4. Gerald Rowles January 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    The control point technology is nothing short of magical in my estimation. I shoot everything in Nikon Raw, and since the control point technology has been available in CaptureNX I rarely use all those time-consuming masking steps in Photoshop. I don’t use HDR a lot in my landscape captures because of wind movement. But there are times when HDR and control points merge to create images that would have been a processing nightmare without them:
    The highlights and shadows in this image were so severe that even HDR couldn’t resolve them without control points.

    • Peter January 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

      I agree Gerald, They really can work well and be a time saver instead of the need for layers and masks for a simple adjustment.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment

  5. BigAl January 6, 2012 at 4:57 am #

    Nick, I think you got it really wrong when you suggest that control point select a circle with a feathered edge. The control point effectively creates a layer mask for the action you’re performing using Nik filters. The tonality of the pixel underneath the control point determines which tones are unmasked and which are masked. Look at the example masks above – do they look like circular masks?? The circular region is more a “circle of influence”: by dragging the circle larger or smaller you can apply the mask to a greater or lesser extent within the image. I use Nik filters as part of my workflow for every image, and the control points are a critical, brilliant (!), part of that.

  6. Anvilcloud January 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I’m a Photoshop guy because that’s the way that I began, but I use HDR Efex and am impressed with how well the control points works. Now, I think I understand them even better. Thanks.

  7. Tracy Vosloo May 13, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I’m a ‘new’ photographer that is totally blown away by HDR. I’m considering HDR software and this tutorial has made up my mind! I’ve tried several ‘easy’ HDR edits and, although I am a novice, they all leave me frustrated. Great advice, THANK YOU!

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    […] with some programs such as Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, they allow for the use of “Control Points”  (click for control point tut) Not only do they select a specific area but they also pick specific […]

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