Often when a photo comes straight from the camera, it looks flat and not just up to our expectations or what our experience was when we took it. Instead of leaving the photo sitting on your hard drive, you can make most images pop using Lightroom or Photoshop, but with help from the Google’s Nik Plugins, you can take control of the editing process to another level and get the most out of each photo – and the Nik Collection delivers, no doubt about it.
Although you can use the Nik plug-ins from either LR or Aperture, you achieve the best workflow from Photoshop. In Photoshop, each use of a Nik plugin or filter results in a new layer, making the processing non-destructive and enables you to use the layers opacity sliders or masks to fine tune the effect.
To let you in on what each plugin do, I will go through the plug-ins in the workflow order suggested on the Nik Collection website.
Starting Sharp with RAW Presharpener (Sharpener Pro 3)
Amongst the Nik plugins, you’ll find a tool called RAW Presharpener. The idea of sharpening multiple times during the image editing process is to control image details at different stages towards the final photo. Many DSLR cameras have anti-aliasing filters to prevent moiré. Anti-aliasing filters often introduce an undesired blur to a photo. The RAW Presharpener helps to remove this issue.
If you have a sharper starting point, then different masks that you may apply at a later stage of image editing, will be just a little more precise. In this sense, there are really good reasons to use the RAW Presharpener tool before going further with editing your photo. Just remember to make it subtle, we don’t want any halos showing up.
If you have shot your photo with a low depth of field to create an artistic effect, where you only want a specific part of the image in focus, RAW Presharpener should only be applied selectively to the areas you want in focus. Otherwise, you will ruin this effect.
As with any other of the plugins in the Nik Collection you can apply a filter or a tool selectively by using (+) control points to include areas you want to affect and (-) control points to mask out any areas you don’t want to change.
A good starting point is to set the adaptive sharpness slider to around 30% and push the slider below right towards Sharpen Edge (and not Sharpen Areas). If you have a lot of noise in the RAW image, select High ISO to keep RAW Presharpener from sharpening the noise.
Remember the result of pre-sharpening should be subtle, later you can deal with creative sharpening and output sharpening.
Getting rid of Noise with Dfine 2
Dealing with noise is easy. The tool for noise reduction is called Dfine. In Nik’s Photoshop panel, you will find different tools to handle specific noise issues (like a brush to handle hot pixels), but, in general, you just need to use the Dfine tool itself. It does most of the work for you by analyzing your photo and finding where the noise is and how much noise the are in the particular tones and colors. It only applies the amount of noise reduction that is required to deal with it.
As soon as has finished analyzing and writes “Automatic profile applied” you are done in most cases. So just hit the OK button to apply it to your photo.
Controlling Color and Light with Viveza 2
This is where things get really interesting. Viveza 2 is your magic wand when it comes to local adjustments. As you can see below, I have changed the color of the boat to be a little more orange. All I did in Viveza 2 was to apply two control points on the boat and group them together, then at the right side panel I chose the color-picker and selected the color I wanted the boat to have. I find that a little more orange look to the boat better fits with how I saw it at the time of capture. Furthermore the orange/yellow better complements the blue tones of the water.
To avoid that the selection affects the area outside the boat, like the water and the sky, just place three extra neutral control points outside the boat, but near it.
A super easy process, which in most cases are far easier than creating precise masks in Lightroom or Photoshop. In Viveza 2 it is worth noting the structure slider. It does a great job of enhancing local sharpness and detail of anything you want extra crisp, so it pops up and grasps the viewer’s attention.
Get the Right Look with Color Efex Pro 4
Most users will probably fall in love with Color Efex Pro 4. It is the fastest way to change the look of a photo, just like presets does in Lightroom. Again you can use control points to limit the filter to being just local adjustments.
With the example photo used, I have applied a Polarization filter, to get the sky just a little more blue, but without affecting the rest. As I applied the Detail Extractor filter, I just placed a few (-) control points at the clouds, because I didn’t want the extra details in them. Next I applied a Brilliance/Warmth filter to give the photo a little more golden-light-feeling to it. Finally, I used a Darken/Lighten Center filter which is like adding a vignette, except you can decide where to place the center point, so you get much more control on how the vignette affects the photo.
When you apply a bunch of filters like just shown, you can save them as a recipe for later use. I have made a Nik Collection Presets & Recipes package with 49 very useful recipes for Color Efex Pro 4, Silver Efex Pro 2 and HDR Efex Pro 2, which gives you a broader variety than the default filters do.
Go Black & White with Silver Efex Pro 2
If you want to make your photo monochrome or black and white, now is the time to do it in the process. Of course, you might not even have the need to apply a filter using Color Efex Pro 4, or making adjustments using Viveza 2. Then you can of course just open Silver Efex Pro 2 and get started on finding the right the black and white look. Silver Efex Pro 2 is inspired by traditional darkroom controls like film types and paper toning. You will also find a color filter, which determines. Of course, you have the control points, which allows you to make local adjustments to brightness, contrast, structure, amplify either whites or blacks, fine structure, and selective colorization.
Use Output Sharpener for Finishing Touches (Sharpener Pro 3)
Why can’t I just use Lightroom to sharpen my photos on export or use the overall sharpening within Lightroom or Photoshop? Well, you can, of course, no problem. But, it is the attention to detail that will help your photo stand out from the crowd.
As I mentioned earlier, if you have a photo with a narrow depth of field, and you sharpener the entire photo, you work against what you were trying to achieve, by making everything sharper. Furthermore, the output format, whether it be for web, inkjet printer or a photo lab also has an effect on how sharp you photo will be when printed. But, what about the intended viewing distance? That too plays a role if you want to print in large sizes. Nik Sharpener Pro 3’s Output sharpening tool allows you to control all this to make last finishing touch to your work of art.
Below you can see the original photo and the after, with all the effects applied, which makes the photo much more attractive.
So far I haven’t covered Analog Efex Pro 2 or HDR Efex Pro 2. Analog Efex Pro 2 lets you play with different film types to achieve a specific film-like look to your photos. You can use Analog Efex Pro 2 at any point after Dfine 2.
If you want to work with automatic HDR, you should use HDR Efex Pro 2 right after using Dfine 2 on your source files.
Final Thoughts on Using the Google Nik Collection
Getting used to working with the Nik Collection plugin tools are quite easy, although it might feel like a bit strange using so many plugin tools instead of using Photoshop’s or Lightroom’s built-in features. You don’t have to use all the tools each time to get good results; I rarely do it like this. If I need local adjustments that need to be precise, I open up Viveza 2. If I want to make a photo black and white, I will use Silver Efex Pro over Lightroom’s features. I wanted to give you a view of the entire process so that you can utilize the benefits in each step of you image editing process.
Already a Nik user, please share your experience on using the Nik Collection below?