Experimenting With Free Effects

People can get pretty worked up about how much processing is appropriate in digital photography. There are purists who aim for getting the image exactly right in the camera and making as few changes as possible on the computer. There are people who view processing as another phase of the work, and people who embrace every new program and effect that comes along without thinking critically about about whether or not it improves their photographs.

Purists have a point when they claim that we can get too sloppy with our shooting when we know that almost anything can be fixed in a photo processing program. But a bad photo is a bad photo, and no amount of processing will change that.

It seems to me there’s no need to go overboard in either direction. I’m not a fan of the all too common overdone HDR look or other heavy handed processing, but I really have benefited from image processing programs. When I want a fairly realistic look, I try to use applications like levels, luminance, and sharpening in Lightroom or Photoshop with a light touch to enhance my photo and bring the image closer to what was in my mind’s eye.

It’s also fun to play around with processing effects that take an image farther away from its beginnings in the camera.  Sometimes experimenting with effects loosens up my creative vision. Here is an example of using effects like textures to introduce a different feeling into a photograph:

For this photo I used OnOne’s Perfect Effects 4, a free program you can download on the OnOne website (no, I’m not getting anything for this; I just think a free program that works well is good to share).  I added a texture called “Warm Concrete Subtle” to a photograph of the shadow of a leaf that was skeletonized by insects.

The program is really easy to use. Each time you want to make a change you click “Add” and a new layer is created. Then you scroll through the effects for one you like, click on it, and there it is. If you don’t like it, just click “delete.”  You can apply a variety of effects  – and reverse them –  without damaging your photo (the program automatically creates a copy to work on). So why not experiment?

Here’s the original. You’ll notice I cropped it a lot to focus on the shadow and texture:

The photo was taken with an older model Samsung phone and sent to my email. Then I and downloaded it and imported to Lightroom. In Lightroom I right clicked on the image to “Edit in Perfect Effects 4.” It’s a fairly quick approach, with just minutes between taking a picture and having a final image.

You can just click on the Perfect Effects Program and open up your photo there – even faster! But I like to keep my photos organized in Lightroom so I take the extra steps to put them there first.

In the next photo I used a strong vignette called “Dark Glow Vignette” and a “True Film” effect called “Colorchrome” that tweaks the colors and contrast to give photos a look reminiscent of slide film.

Each effect or adjustment can be used at any strength from 1% to 100% – you just move a slider back until you like the look. I often apply adjustments at less than 100%.

Here’s the original. The difference is not huge in this case, but I think it’s significant.

There are HDR, vintage, “movie” and monochrome effects like black and white, sepia, red or green filters, etc. There are adjustments that smooth skin in portraits, make city pictures  sharper, or give desert pictures more of that warm desert glow.

You can put borders around your images, too. In the photo below I used a round black border at a low opacity (I just moved the slider back to about 15%)  so it’s like a shadow or a bevel. I also used two vintage effects.

Here’s the original:


Here’s a photograph of fern fiddleheads  that I used several effects on – I used one, called “Angel Glow”, two times, to heighten the effect. Then I also used the “Skin Smoother” to increase the smoothness even more, and two other effects that alter the colors.

Here’s the original. I do like the colors in the original, but it’s interesting to see how different an image can look when the color is completely different.

Here’s a photo processed with a vintage effect called “Mayor” and a contrast adjustment:

The original:

“Tattered Paper Gray” texture,  “Magic City”,  “Brandon”, and a thin black border give this shot of snowy New York rooftops a different atmosphere from the original:

Here’s the original:

For the photo below I used a vintage effect called “Robin”, a texture called “Cool Concrete”, a glow effect called “Orton Hears a Who” and  “Sloppy Border 4”. Here’s the original:

In the photo below I used four effects and a border – two different “Glow” effects, a vignette and a vintage effect. The resulting image was too dark overall so I chose to brush in highlights at 60% to parts of the tree and building. Many of the adjustments can be used selectively, on just a portion of the image. And it took less than 10 seconds to pick an adjustment and brush size and then pull the brush over the image. If it’s not quite right, click on edit and “undo”  and try again.

Here’s the original photo:

Here’s a case where strong effects were used to emphasize an image.  An HDR effect, a “Turbo Boost” contrast adjustment, a vignette, and other effects give this photo of a Northwest Coast indigenous sculpture a graphic look.

Here’s the original:

The header photo was also processed with Perfect Effects 4. And in case you didn’t know, there are many free effects to be found on the web. Just google “free photo effects” or “free textures” and you’ll see what I mean.  What I like about this program though, is that it works with Photoshop and Lightroom, and it includes basic adjustments, such as contrast or sharpening, along with effects – all in one place and all easy to apply.

These effects are clearly a matter of taste – I understand if some of the results I’ve shown aren’t for you – but maybe you’ll be encouraged to experiment with image processing, and I think that can’t hurt.  You might discover new ways to look at or think about your work. And many effects lend themselves to things like cards or books or T shirts or…well, ’tis the season!

Maybe you’ll have an inspiration for a last minute gift.


  1. Being a natural nature photographer, other than cropping, I don’t do any post processing to my photos. But, I do like what you’ve done here, you haven’t gone over the top, but you’ve made your photos more interesting.

  2. Thanks Lynn, I enjoyed this post enormously. I subscribe to the view that a picture/photo should be ABOUT something not just OF something – though I acknowledge that there is a time and place for both. The artistic dimension is reflected in the creative and expressive use of the available tools and techniques.

  3. This is a great article about a very timely topic. I though that the images strongly support the ideas in the article. The use of before and after images was a really effective to demonstrate the points were made.

  4. Hello BB … I love this post . I think you have highlighted an area that can be a little touche with others. To be honest I love creativity in photography. You either like an image or not , does it really matter at times how little or how much it has been processed to achieve the final result that one sees which has engendered a personal response … not for me anyway – and yes – that is totally my own personal view.
    Of course I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate or don’t value or know how much experience the skill, talent and knowledge is presented in the photograph but it really comes down to personal taste .
    In todays world I feel it would be naive to completely believe that what we see anywhere on the internet is true to life . How one ‘sees’ is different for each and every one of us and not just with photography .
    *Love what you have shown us . Thank you :-)

    • Thanks for chiming in, Poppy. It does come down to taste. And you’re right, we all see very differently. It’s funny, but I think we can respond positively both to seeing images that are similar to what we like – that resonant, comforting enjoyment – and to images that are new and different – that “Oh!” sensation of new ideas.

  5. Happy I am to find myself here today, Lynn. Opportunities for browsing my Reader are limited these days, but I always love your work. I’m no great shakes with this kind of thing but I like an opportunity to learn (especially when it’s free :) ) Thanks a lot.

    • I know what you mean when you say you don’t get much chance to review your Reader! Try that program – or one like it – it’s WAY easier than Photoshop, but it offers a lot of possibilities. Even just to fiddle with contrast and sharpen your photos, it’s pretty good! Thanks for commenting –

  6. Wow Lyn, two incredibly different sets of photos! I admire your skill not only in what you see through the camera but also in the creative possibilities presented by each shot. Beautiful work! And thank you for the heads up on the Perfect Effects!

    • So, good – because I threw several out of the post because I didn’t think the differences were obvious enough! Let me know if you check out the program – there’s a newer version, improved of course, that you can buy, but isn’t it nice to download something free, and not even have to deal with a 30 day trial? But I confess – I’m tempted by the Creative Cloud offer – have you seen it? $9.99/mo (until 12/8) for the newest versions of everything Adobe makes (PS, LR and all the rest) that you can access from different computers, plus cloud space and portfolio presence on a website – I know there are drawbacks, but it’s tempting….

  7. I’m new to photography and I have to say that for the most part I’m partial to keeping things simple. That being said, your photo effects are a strong argument for photo processing….the examples you provided are stunning!

    • Thanks Scott – I have a lot of those. (That one was during an ice storm) I’m going to do a post of them one of these days. It was a great view! And the church bell chimed, and the boats sounded in the distance. But the street noise in the summer was terrible!

  8. Hi Lynn – great article and interesting topic. When I used to design websites I was a clipart addict but now I don’t think I have any. Now I have moved on to collecting processing software which is kind of weird because I actually rarely use it. I have always set a personal standard for myself to only do the same processing to a digital photograph that I would do in the darkroom. A personal preference but still I collect because that one mediocre photograph may come by and need a little nudge to make it great. Good demo of the software!

    • I know you have a lot of background & knowledge in this area, unlike myself! And I never worked in a darkroom. I think that makes a difference, the memory of that. And these effects aren’t for everyone! But you’re open-minded enough not to dismiss it out of hand, which I appreciate.

      • Well, it’s like an artist using a different medium – because I paint in watercolours doesn’t mean those who paint in oils should be disregarded. I enjoy seeing how others use their creativity and use different tools to achieve their goal. That’s what makes the art world so varied and interesting.

  9. These are fantastic images and I love that you showed the before and after. I’ve been playing with textures lately and having a lot of fun. I think it’s nice to change things up and exercise that creativity once in a while!

  10. Very instructive! I just read somewhere: “The good thing about fiction is that you can tell a lie in order to say the truth.” That is quite close to what I felt when I looked at your before / after images. And I am not a great fan of two much processing in digital photography. ;-) Thanks for sharing examples and thoughts!

  11. The fun of combining blogging and photography is creating images that are suitable for the story being told. Photography is first and foremost an art form. How someone tells their story is always their personal choice. It only becomes a problem when the application of digital or darkroom techniques have been denied. I’ve been using OnOne for several years, mostly to replace the more difficult and costly Photoshop techniques that I now find bloated. Thanks for posting the great examples of before and afters.

  12. Pingback: Seine? Alster! | Von Orten und Menschen

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