Nik Software offers a complete suite of tools for every step of your workflow. Everything from noise reduction to output sharpening with endless creative possibilities in between. I decided to write this review for 2 reasons. One, like everyone else, I am trying to balance the pursuit of my passion with the demands of everyday life. Buying the NIK toolset was like buying time. They offer very effective and efficient tools to easily enhance your images. The second reason I decided to write this review is that I can say, without a doubt, my photographs improved after purchasing the NIK Complete Collection. Not only did my photographs improve, my vision expanded because of the creative possibilities that became available to me.
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Kevin, over at Nik software, was kind enough to provide the readers of LightAsMagic.com a 15% discount coupon code. If you decide to purchase their toolset use the coupon code LIGHTASMAGIC and receive a 15% discount on all Nik products.
As opposed to getting down to the nitty gritty of all the various sliders, brushes, etc. , I thought I would give you an overview of how I use the tools in my complete workflow. Here is a quick outline of my workflow.
I start with a single image out of Aperture, or an HDR image generated by Photomatix. I then open it up in Photoshop, where I begin to do all my edits using the Nik plugins. Here is the order I usually apply them.
Dfine 2.0 (noise reduction)
Viveza 2 (selective light/contrast adjustments)
Color Efex Pro 3.0 (unleash my creativity)
Silver Efex Pro (unleash my creativity in black and white)
Viveza 2 (finishing touches with selective light/contrast adjustments)
Sharpener Pro 3.0 (Super easy sharpening for your desired output)
A couple things worth noting…
- The filters are not a standalone tool-set, they are plugins hosted by either Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, or Photoshop elements. Check their website for compatibility.
- All filters can be applied globally, or you can selectively brush on the effect.
- Many of the filters have the ability to selectively apply/remove the effect via control points.
- Filters can be combined in an infinite number of combinations (probably a bit of an exaggeration, I would have to crunch the numbers) .
- To see these filters in action, check out the videos they star in.
- Click on any of the images below to see a full screen version.
- In some of the examples, I got pretty extreme with the effect so you could easily see what it was doing. You don’t have to get as radical as I did, you can apply them in a very subtle way as well.
Dfine 2.0: Dfine 2.0 is Nik’s noise reduction utility. I usually run it early on in my workflow. It offers you the ability to apply either a ’2 click’ automatic profile, or you can manually measure areas of your image and create your own profile. In this image you can see the little boxes where I was manually telling Dfine 2.0 to measure noise in my image.
Viveza 2: Viveza 2 provides a very efficient way to selectively make adjustments to brightness, contrast, structure, saturation, and the color channels. I use it early on to fine tune trouble areas of my image. In this screenshot, I added a quick control point, used a slider to define the area of the effect, then used the brightness slider to bring out the details in the foreground rocks. A couple quick clicks and my image was ready for the next step in my creative workflow.
Color Efex Pro 3.0: Color Efex Pro 3.0 is where the magic really start to happen. It offers a complete suite of filters you can use to realize all your creative ideas. Here are a few examples of my favorite filters.
For a complete list of filters included in the Color Efex Pro 3.0 suite, visit their website here.
Graduated Neutral Density – This is a winner in my book. When you are traveling light, you don’t always have the room to carry a filter set with you. Don’t worry, you can configure this ND filter however you like. You can control the orientation, the edge density, the stops, etc….oh yeah, you can selectively brush on the effect. This filter has saved me more than once when I am out on a mountain bike ride or trail run.
Tonal Contrast – Another ‘goto’ filter for me. The Tontal Contrast filter allows you to control mico-contrasts within the highlight, midtone, and shadow regions of you image. It is a great tool for textures and bringing out the character in old buildings. I have to constantly remind myself not to go crazy with it….but I love it, and it’s my picture, why can’t I boost all the sliders to 100%? It looks so cool.
Tonal Contrast is also a great tool for giving a little extra pop to your landscapes. Here I bumped up the midtone and shadow contrast along with the saturation.
Pro Contrast – The Pro Contrast filter is a quick all in one way of correcting a color cast and improving your images’s contrast.
Brilliance Warmth – This is a great way of giving your photos a subtle kick in the pants. You can boost the vibrancy as well as change the temperature of your image with two simple sliders. I really gave this image a nudge so you could see the full effect.
Soft Focus – The Soft Focus filter is a great tool for portraits. It will quickly smooth skin tones and give your subjects that soft glowing quality.
Color Stylizer – The Color Stylizer is cool on its own, but you can combine it with any of the other filters to create some very compelling images.
Old Photo – Feather your hair, pop the collar on your shirt, and retake that senior photo.
Bleach Bypass – I believe the folks at NIK intend the Bleach Bypass filter as a portrait effect, but I use it quite a bit on my urbanscapes. You can see it in action in a couple of my processing videos. You can find them here.
Silver Efex Pro: Silver Efex Pro is the ultimate tool for the Black and White photographer. By itself, it offers you all the tools you need to realize you creative vision. Out of the box it provides a bunch of presets you can use to quickly start to bringing your vision to life. You can then fine tune it using contrast and structure controls, films types, grain size and quantity, tonal stylings, vignette , edge burning, etc. Silver Efex Pro offers both the efficiency of quality presets and the tools to fine tune every aspect of your processing.
In this image, I used the High Contrast Yellow Filter and selected a silver toning.
As I mentioned earlier, Silver Efex pro is a complete B&W conversion tool. In this image I selected a neutral preset, boosted the contrast a bit, and added a slight S curve. I then added a control point to TheDuke’s eye and brightened up a bit to recover some detail in it. Finally, I applied a vingette to the image to the image to draw the viewers eye to a very annoyed (and patient) dog.
One of my favorite Silver Efex Pro presets in the High Structure preset. It is seems to be a blend of B&W conversion with a touch of Tonal Contrast added. Here I applied the preset and then used a control point to brighten the foreground a bit. All of that in one tool.
Sharpener Pro 3.0: Sharpener Pro 3.0 is the last step of the workflow. Here you can select your desired output (Display, InkJet, Continuos Tone, etc…) and click apply. There are several other parameters you can control if you want to fine tune it, but I have been pretty happy with the defaults.
- If you have photoshop, the Ultimate Collection is worth the extra money. It allows you to do all your edits within Photoshop without having to bounce back and forth between Photoshop and Aperture or Lightroom depending on what you are using.
- If you could only get one suite, and you were interested in color photography, I would get the Color Efex Pro 3.0 suite. It has a very capable Black and White conversion tool plus all the other cool filters.
- If you could only get one suite, and you are strictly a Black and White photographer, get Silver Efex Pro. It is awesome!
- Beware, buying a single suite will eventually lead to buying the remaining tools. That being said, get the Complete/Ultimate package to begin with.
Use the coupon code LIGHTASMAGIC to receive 15% off of any Nik product.