NIK filters – A test drive – James Allan

iThis article as intended as an introduction to this interesting group of photoshop filters.  Ashley Hoff and Chris Schultz have often referred to “Silver Efex” as a powerful tool for digital monochrome conversion.  But that is not all that it has to offer.  Nik filters also includes powerful sharpening tools, HDR photomerging and noise reduction, as well as simulation of images taken with classic and vintage cameras.

nik-logo

History:

In 1995 Nik Software (originally Nik Multimedia) was founded by Nils Kokemohr in Hamburg.  The company focused on digital photography and graphic design developing Nils Efex! and Nils Type Efex!.  These were essentially a combination of Photoshop actions and textures.

In 1999 Michael J Slater joined as CEO of the company and grew the small software firm into a software research and development company.  The subsequent Nik Collection is a set of image enhancement tools and photographic filter plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements,  Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture.  The collection was originally priced at $500, but Google dropped the price to $150 after it acquired the company.  On March 24, 2016, Google announced that they would make the Nik Collection free. Around May 30, 2017, Google announced that they have no plans to update the Nik Collection or add new features over time.  (Source Wikipedia)

Getting Started:

I downloaded and installed the Nik collection into my copy of Photoshop a few years back.  You can access the current version and Download here.  Photoshop is designed to accommodate third party filters.  Follow the directions and you should find the NIK filters will magically appear on the photoshop filter menu.

Test Drive:

So here is my unaltered jpeg of point Lowly lighthouse.

Point Lowly-BackgroundVivezia

Vivezia offers the curves tool along with a range of colour, contrast, saturation and structure sliders.  All of these features are available in photoshop.    Here I have done a global enhancement as I would do in photoshop.

Point Lowly-Vivezia 2

What is not available in photoshop is the NIK control point structure.  By clicking on the image you can add a control point.  If you add more than one control point, they interact with each other.  For instance placing one point on the sky I can darken the whole sky.  However by also placing another point on the cloud I can darken the sky without darkening the clouds.  You can also adjust the size of the field, so that I could darken the whole sky, or just one corner of it.  Effectively the control points allow you quite quickly to make colour selections – like the “colour range” selection tool in photoshop.   Independently you can adjust these different selections to give a dramatic result.  However I must warn that it is better to be restrained for the best results.

Untitled-1

Point Lowly-Vivezia 5

It is also possible to selectively add colours to the image, like a selective tint.

Point Lowly-Vivezia 6a

Analog Efex and Colour Efex

This group of filters simulates the effect of a wide range of classic and vintage cameras, and Colour Efex mimics lens filters. Once you open the program you are given a wide range of thumbnails to select from.  Choose the effect that interests you.  It is possible to adjust the effect with a range of sliders.  With a bit of fiddling around this is what I came up with.

The colour cast, vigneting, frames and even light leaks onto the film are all evokative of an era of photography that has gone.  There is a lot of different styles to play around with.  I had a lot of fun.

Silver Efex Pro 2

This group resembles Analog efex, except with black and white images.  There are a huge variety of image styles to play with, giving you control over many of the features with the various sliders.

Point Lowly-Silver Efex Pro2

In fact the sliders offer a great degree of control.  For instance, the monochrome conversion can be done with different coloured filters.  Ansel Adams frequently used a red filter to make his blue skies darker and more dramatic.  On the other hand a blue filter will lighten a blue sky.  There are control points and contrast / structure / brightness sliders.  In fact all of the flexibility available in Vivezia.

Define

The preset silver efex filter above is quite grainy.  Perhaps it was grain in the jpeg image that I started with.  Whichever way you look at it, there is too much noise.  However Define is an excellent noise reduction filter that will improve the image immensely.  Our judge, Keith Seidel is quite quick to pick up on noise in an image.  He has said that some of the best noise reduction is not within Photoshop, but is available in the various plugin filters.  This is certainly one of those.

Point Lowly-Silver Efex Pro2 + Define

HDR Efex Pro-2

Don’t get me wrong I am not merging images or working on RAW files to resolve wide dynamic range.  However if you want to do this, HDR Efex does it very well.   Once an HDR image has been created the tones must be compressed in some way to resolve it into a viewable image.  One method for doing this is called tone mapping.

I am using the tone mapping feature (alone) to enhance the contrast of my jpeg file.  You can choose to tone map just about any image.  As you can see it does tend to create some halos around objects and borders.  Also it does increase the noise in the image.

Point Lowly-HDR Efex Pro 2

Like Analog Efex and Silver Efex, this program gives you a wide range of preset options offered in a paintbox of different thumbnails.  Here is a different option for the tone mapping of my image.  You can also play with the sliders to further refine the result.

Point Lowly-HDR Efex

Sharpener Pro

Like Vivezi, Sharpener pro gives you sharpening with the selectivity of NIK control points.  It is possible to select just the subject and sharpen only this, while leaving the background unaffected.   The diameter of sharpening is controlled by asking for either Sharpeness, Structure or Local contrast.  Sharpness has the smallest diameter, while local contrast the largest.  There is a slider for each.

Sharpener Pro

Summary

I find Nik Filters a useful addition to photoshop.  Some of the features are very very useful, like Silver Efex Pro, Vivezia, Sharpener and Define.   HDR is a good HDR program and worth having.  The Analog Efex and Colour Efex I find  a useful range of filters, but not filters I use frequently.  It is a pity that Google have decided not to support this filter pack and so there may come a day when we will say goodbye to this collection.  Until that day, do yourself a favour and download a copy.

 

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