NIK filters are back in business

I have used the Nik filters software package to enhance some images since it was a $150 package. It is in fact, the only image processing plugin that I use in addition to my regular workflow software, Capture One Pro 11 and Adobe Photoshop.

The package was acquired by Google in 2012 who made it  free but then subsequently abandoned any further development in 2017. The ultimate effect of this was that as Photoshop and Lightroom were updated, incompatibilities started to creep in, leading to software crashes and general instability, much to the concern of regular users.

I had all but given up hope of continuing to use the Nik filters collection suite when suddenly, imaging software company DxO announced they had acquired Nik and had produced a major update. This resulted in full compatibility with Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple OS operating system.

Nik is no longer free, with DxO charging just $69 for this very powerful product – (was on offer for $50 until July 1). Actually great value considering you get a total of seven creative plugins – most of which I use at different times.

Analog Efex Pro

Create a range of effects emulating both creative wet darkroom techniques and/or the look produced by  various camera and film combinations. The least used of the plugins in my personal situation.

Color Efex Pro

This is the filter I use most. It includes options for color corrections, retouching,  extracting fine detail and contrast corrections. In my opinion this filter, along with Viveza and Sharpener is worth the price alone.

Setting the Control point so that just the hummingbird is selected.

In this image I have added two filter effects to the original image. First I have selected color extractor followed by a Pro-contrast adjustment. As this is a regular combination for me I have also saved this setting as a ‘Recipe’ that I can quickly add to other images. As I still want to ensure the bird stands out from the background I have set a control point for each filter and adjusted the circle to just encompass the bird leaving the background pixels unaffected.

Please note that the image sliders are not working in the latest version of WordPress. We are working on a fix for this.

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

CAUTION – This filter is extremely powerful and it’s very easy to overdue it’s use creating an artificial look to your image. The effect should be subtle!

Silver Efex Pro

Now, the only method I use to convert images to black-and-white. A huge range of controls available including presets emulating the effects of traditional camera filters for mono photography, tonal and contrast corrections, and dynamic range adjustments. In fact just about everything I could previously achieve in a traditional wet process darkroom but with a great deal more control.

Adjustments using Silver Efex Pro

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

For this conversion I first chose the High Contrast preset that added some refinements of my own by increasing the brightness slightly and reducing the contrast.

Viveza

Need to selectively adjust color or tone in just a part of your images? Achieve enhancements exactly where you need them which blend beautifully with the rest of the image without creating complicated masks. Achieved using Upoint technology (see below) which is also available to apply selective adjustments to other filters within the suite.

Image being adjusted using Viveza

I used two control points, one to lighten the spider and one to brighten the white background. The whole process took less that one minute without having to mask a single thing.

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

HDR Efex Pro

Create a range of HDR (High Dynamic Range) effects, adjusting tonality, opening shadows and enhancing saturation. I usually run through the presets to find the one that most closely resembles the effect I am seeking  and then make adjustments to fine tune the image.

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

I opened the image in HDR Efex and quickly scanned through the pre-sets before choosing Graduated 1 HDR Efex can also be used to combine several images taken at different exposures into an HDR iage

Sharpener Pro

Whilst Photoshop and Capture One have some fine sharpening tools in my opinion this filter is far superior. First, you have the ability to pre-select sharpening based on the final use of the image – inkjet printer, screen, continuous tone printer etc. Further, you can easily apply selective sharpening to different parts of the image.

The sharpener dialogue box

Dfine

The best noise reduction package I have found. Dfine has built-in profiles, customized to different cameras and ISO settings, which applies the reduction only to noise elements of the file so that details are not lost. Although modern cameras are themselves, extremely good at reducing noise at high ISO settings I find myself often using Dfine on older images shot with older, less adept cameras.

Here Dfine is automatically selecting the right profile for the camera/ISO combination used

The workflow

My usual workflow when using the Nik suite is the following – note that of course not every stage of this flow is used on every image, it depends entirely on the image at hand and the desired final effect.

  1. Apply noise reduction – never user Dfine after final sharpening of an image as you may soften the sharpening effect you are aiming for
  2. Control specific areas of the image that need contrast or brightness adjustments using Viveza
  3. Apply tonal and detail enhancements in Color Efex Pro (Note this is actually the starting point for many of my images)
  4. Convert to black and white if desired using Silver Efex Pro
  5. Sharpen the image for the desired output using Sharpener Pro – I only use this step when an image is being prepared for final output and sharpening is applied according to the use of the image. Always size your image before applying sharpening as different degrees of sharpen are required for different output sizes, even of the same image.

On occasions when I want to produce an HDR image I will use HDR Efex Pro immediately after using Dfine (if noise reduction is necessary.)

Upoint Technology

Upoint technology uses selection points to select and modify a specific part of your image. As you click on a specific point the ‘masking effect’ will automatically select similar colours within the selected area (see the sliders on the tarantula image) The first slider controls the size of the circle of influence, with lower sliders creating the desired effects

Using Nik with Capture One 11

Although the Nik collection is designed to integrate with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom you may know that I have recently moved from Lightroom to Capture One Pro 11 as my primary Raw conversion and databasing program – see https://peterllewellyn.com/new-workflow/

It is in fact extremely easy to ’round trip’ an image from Capture One into the Nik filters and save back to a new version in Capture One. Simple select File/Edit with (or right click the thumbnail and select Edit with) and a pop-up window asks what program you wish to use for your editing. Select the desired Nik filter and afterwards save your image which will automatically be added to the Capture One catalog.

Nik filters in Capture One 11
Capture One 11 Edit with dialog box

The downside of this method is that you have to re-open the image and save it multiple times if using more than one filter

If I intend to use more than one of the Nik filters it is much more convenient to open the image in Photoshop then use the multiple filters in sequence before saving a single time.

Download a fully functioning 30 day trial at https://nikcollection.dxo.com and try this amazing product for yourself.

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New Workflow with Capture One

As many of you that have followed my admittedly intermittent blog postings will know, I was extremely disappointed when Apple dropped development of their professional imaging program back in 2014, forcing a move to Adobe Lightroom. At the time there really was, in my humble opinion, no viable alternative. Te next blow was Adobe’ decision to move their products to a subscription based model, which I was somewhat opposed to having always owned my own software.

Now, Lightroom is a great program with a host of features but I never really liked three aspects:

  1. The RAW conversions from my Nikon cameras were never quite up my expectations
  2. I just did not like the interface, having to constantly switch modules depending on what I was wanting to do
  3. I had to keep all my images in one huge library as, to switch libraries, meant quitting and restarting

Over the past few years I have tried various options to try and help solve some of these issues, including 

  • Using Nikon’s own Capture NX2 software for RAW conversions – nice results mostly but way too slow when handling large volumes of images
  • Investigating various databasing options but none really fit with my workflow, mainly because I didn’t want to add yet another layer to my workflow
  • Trying just about every independent RAW converter on the market to see if there was one that met my requirements

 There was one program that I kept coming back to each time a new iteration was announced, PhaseOne’s Capture One Pro.

Capture One Pro 8 – Great RAW conversions, but the catalog was soooo slow to open.
Capture One Pro 9 – Great RAW conversions, catalog marginally quicker but still not fast enough.
Capture one Pro 10 – Even better RAW conversions , and the catalog was now much quicker. I came within a whicker of taking the plunge and making the purchase, even building a complete catalog for my wildlife and nature images but the darned thing kept crashing. It just wasn’t stable enough.

Capture One 11 (Yes the Pro designation has gone from the name but what a Pro program this has turned out to be.) The best RAW conversions with the minimum of post processing work, rapid catalog opening with quick image searches and so many new features including the ability to add layer adjustments for just about every adjustment type available. Painting a layer adjustment mask, and refining the edges has become incredibly straightforward with the added advantage that all masks (you can add up to xx) can additionally have the opacity adjusted, a boon for fine control of each masks effect 

In fact, Capture One 11 is worth the price (and yes, you can either buy it $x and own the software or opt for a monthly fee of $x) just for the amazing power of the layers.

Working in Capture One now provides me with a workflow that fits perfectly with the way I like to deal with my images.

  1. Download from the card into Photomechanic. Sort, delete outtakes, caption and keyword. (More on the way I do this in a future blog). After all images are ready they are moved onto the main images hard drive and at the same time renumbered to reflect my numbering system. Images are automatically backed up daily onto second and third mirrored drives.
  2. Images are imported into Capture One 11 ensuring that the check box for Exclude Duplicates is on and that files are left in their current location – i.e. the Main Images Hard Drive

    Import dialogue
  3. As images are already sorted and captioned I immediately start working on each image preparing it for it’s intended use – i.e. For publication, upload to my representing agencies prepared for the website etc – (more on outputting the images for final use later)
  4. All the preparation and outputting of images in Capture One 11 takes place within  a single screen – just like Apple Aperture! No switching into different modules to perform each task

Although I state a single screen this is not strictly speaking true as I do have a dual screen setup and have saved a workspace in Capture One where I have all the thumbnails on one screen and the enlarged image where adjustments are made on the second.

You can create as many different workspaces as you wish so, for example, I have created spaces for working onsite on my laptop, as well as my dual monitor setup for the office.

Capture One Process

My process for working on images tends to follow pretty much the same pattern although of course refinements are made depending on the requirements of each image.

  1. I correct any overall colour casts or white balance anomalies using the colour balance and white balance tools
  2. I perform overall exposure adjustments first setting input and output levels then using the Exposure, Contrast, Brightness and Saturation sliders
  3. I open up or hold back shadows and highlights using the appropriate sliders
  4. I now start adding layer masks if necessary to make defined and targeted local adjustments. Remember I can add layer masks for any of the adjustment tools other than vignetting and the black and white conversion tool. Using layers in Capture One has been a revelation, and is perhaps, the main reason that few images go into Photoshop. Layer masks are incredibly easy and accurate to paint onto the image
  5. I clean up the image using the Spot Removal tool and Clone and Heal layers depending on needs
  6. I crop the image
  7. I apply sharpening as necessary sometimes to the whole image and sometimes to selected portions using another layer mask.

And so far my image has not, and probably won’t, ever be opened in Photoshop. However, note that it is entirely possible to ’round trip’ an image into Photoshop or other imaging programs such as the Nik collection and Capture One will automatically create a new version for the adjustments applied and re-import the resulant version back into the Capture One 11 catalog when yu save it.

Outputting Images

Output recipes – here I am simultaneously preparing images for my Instagram account and My website galleries

Finally the point of all this work is to prepare images for final use. In Lightroom I had to set up a series of output presets and re-process each image multiple times if it was to be used for several uses, i.e. web site, Instagram, and publication ready.

Thanks to Capture One’s ‘Process Recipes” I can set up the various parameters for each use, save those settings as a recipe, and select multiple recipes at the output stage and Capture One will within a few seconds process the same image multiple times for each use – a great timesaver.

Other features

There are many features of Capture One that I don’t use but that would still be of great value to other photographers. The two most notable are tethered shooting, for which, I, at the moment have little use and annotations which allow a photographer to add notes directly onto an image when sending it to another person, perhaps for further retouching etc. 

What do I still use Photoshop for?

Well, actually very little!

Occasionally if I find that I have a lot of clean-up to do on an image due to excessive sensor dust I might take the image into PS as it is quicker and better at that .

If I am compositing images, using focus stacking techniques etc. then PS would be the tool for this, but, for straightforward, preparing images for publication than Capture One now does it all.

What do I miss from Lightroom?

Of course no program is perfect and there are a number of features I do miss from Lightroom. 

Perhaps the biggest is that Capture One does not accept the use of any plugins. I have used plugins available for Lightroom to automatically send images to the agencies that handle my work and Lightroom records which images have been sent and even, with Alamy, records sales statistics for each image. I now have to output my agency images to a folder and upload using an FTP program rather than directly from the database. 

To ensure I don’t send duplicates I now use the colour tags to record which images have been sent to each, not to mush of an onerous task.

DOWNLOAD A 30 DAY TRIAL OF CAPTURE ONE AND GIVE IT A TRY YOURSELF

 

 

 

Cataloging images and Aperture or Lightroom?

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS NOW REDUNDANT AS APPLE HAVE DISCONTINUED APERTURE)

I know I have been down this road before but with the continuing delays with Photomechanic’s promised image database I have once again found myself comparing Aperture and Lightroom as my primary raw conversion and databasing software. In the past I have continued to come down on the side of Apple’s Aperture, which I have been using since the product was first launched in 2005 but since spending a couple of months playing around with  Adobe’s Lightroom 5 I have finally decided to drop Aperture and convert to the Adobe product.

What has caused this change of heart after being a staunch Apple supporter for so long?

First a breakdown of the main reasons and then some details on how the decision was arrived at. There are a number of features that have really led to this decision.

  1. The latest raw conversions from Lightroom seem to offer better shadow detail and slightly more accurate  colours than the current version of Aperture
  2. lens corrections
  3. better plugins for Alamy and Photoshelter
  4. better use of NIK software
  5. healing brush works much better than equivalent in Aperture including the new visualize spots
  6. gradient tool
  7. upright tool
  8. smart Previews offers offline working on images

Looking at each of the above in turn.

Raw conversions – Over the years I have used many different Raw converters, including Aperture, Nikon Capture, Phase 1, and early versions of Lightroom. Each has it”s own strengths and weaknesses but in all honesty there is now little to choose between them. As I mention above the latest version of Lightroom has improved shadow detail in conversions, but as I now make regular usage of other add-ons, particularly NIK software, I would be happy doing conversions in any of the above

Lens corrections – Lightroom’s ability to correct for anomalies in different lenses is a powerful fature and sorely lacking in Aperture

Plugins – Photoshelter runs my on-line database and Alamy is my major photo agency. Although Aperture has plugins for upload to both services the equivalent’s in Lightroom 5 are considerable more powerful, particularly in their ability to track submissions, including finding images that are already uploaded. This makes it much easier to keep trck of which images are on which service.

NIK Software – Although 9 times out of 10 I will open an image in Photoshop before applying NIK filters on the odd occasion that I want to simply apply a quick adjustment such as detail extractor (which I now use on just about every wildlife photo) Lightroom opens the images into NIK much quicker than Aperture.

Healing brush – The new healing brush tool and it’s ability to paint over an area rather than just heal a spot is a major improvement over the equivalent in Aperture.

Gradient tool – I am not a big user of filters in my photography. In fact the only filters you will normally find in my bag are a polarizer and a neutral grad filter. However I have become a big user of the grad tool in photoshop. The ability to not only apply an exposure compensation filter but to also apply any coloured graduation you wish and to apply multiple filters makes this an incredibly useful tool. There is currently no equivalent in Aperture.

Upright tool – I am not much of an architectural photographer and do not own any PC lenses so it is very helpful to have this tool available on the odd occasion that I need to straighten a building or correct converging verticals. It makes a pretty good job but be careful not to produce an artificial looking image.

Smart Previews – honestly have not used this tool yet, but, I am about to spend 18 months working away from the office (more details to follow in next post!!) so it may be very useful not to have all my drives attached. Smart previews allow you to work on your images offline, including making all adjustments which are then applied to the original images when the drives are re-attached.

As far as being my on-line database is concerned there is little difference in the performance of complex searches between Aperture and Lightroom 5 and I would be very happy with either one.

Overall it is the combination of all of the above minor details that have added up to enough of a difference make the switch.

 

 

NIK Software – latest information

Many photographers, myself included, have included various aspects of the Nik software suite of tools in their regular workflow. I have regularly used Viveza, and Sharpener Pro. I have never bothered with other parts of the Nik offering, mainly because I felt I would use them only rarely and the cost of the full suite was therefore prohibitive.

However that has all changed. Back in September Google bought the software company and since then there has been much speculation on what the long term goals of the acquisition would prove to be. Much to my delight the full suite is now available for a staggering $149 and can be used in conjunction with Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom. Prior to this to purchase the full suite would have cost $499

The full suite contains the following plugins:

  • HDR Efex Pro 2 – Create HDR versions using a single or multiple images.
  • Color Efex Pro 4 – A comprehensive set of filters for color correction, retouching and creative effects.
  • Silver Efex Pro – The very best black and white conversion tool.
  • Viveza 2 – Selective adjustments without masks
  • Sharpener Pro 3 – better sharpening than Aperture of Photoshop.
  • Dfine 2 – Noise reduction software

Over the next couple of weeks I will post some examples of how I use the software suite.

Photo Mechanic 5

Now I am getting back into ‘photo mode’ from ‘management mode’ I am looking at the various software upgrades that have happened along the way. Anyone who has been on one of my workshops or follows the blog will know that in the main my digital workflow revolves around three main products.

  1. PHOTOMECHANIC – (www.camerabits.com) – The primary tool for sorting, captioning, and re-numbering all of my digital files. While I have been in London version 5 has arrived and I am just beginning to get to terms with the slightly changed interface. The main reason for my choice of Photomechanic are it’s speed, ease of use, batch processing ability and perhaps most of all, the convenience of code replacements to aid the rapid captioning of hundreds or even thousands of images from a shoot. So what’s new in version 5?
    • A new look – the new interface has a more modern feel to it and has many more customization options to tailor it the way you want
    • Cropping withing the program can be rotated to any angle and is compatible with Adobe products crop tools so any crop in Photomechanic will now be reflected in an Adobe product.
    • Many new IPTC/EXIF fields are now available
    • Movies can be viewed (Mac version only)
    • The Preview window can now be opened and remain open whilst still viewing the contact sheet – great for a dual monitor set up such as I use in the office.

    One of the main reasons behind the new release is that it will integrate into the new cataloging software that Camerabits will shortly (I hope!) release. This promised software will offer dully searchable cataloging/databasing of your complete image collection and perhaps most importantly will be multi-user and offer a remote interface allowing one to contact and administer the catalog from any internet connection. For a travelling photographer such as myself this would offer huge advantages.

  2. APPLE APERTURE – (www.apple.com) – Once the images are sorted, captioned and keyworded the RAW files are imported into Aperture which is currently my primary raw image processor, JPEG exporter, and database program. Currently at version 3.3 Apple is needing to pull it’s socks up if it wants to retain the professional and advanced amateur market place! Did you notice that Photomechanic is going to have a database soon? Well one of the main reasons I use Aperture is it’s database so if i can perform that function from within Photomechanic than I have to question what else I am using Aperture for and does it do things better than the competition? More on that shortly.
  3. ADOBE PHOTOSHOP – (www.adobe.com) The third product I use is of course Adobe Photoshop. There are just some things that cannot be done any other way, including accurate crops, preparing images for the web sites, sharpening (yes I know Aperture does that as well but frankly the latest version of Photoshop does it better), and anything that requires complex masking or major image manipulation.

On occasion I also use Nikon Capture NX2, a product that I used to hate, but which Nikon have been steadily improving.

Each different raw process produces it’s own distinct look to the same raw image and everyone has their own personal preferences. You need to take time to learn the nuances of your software and how you can best manipulate the image to produce the look you want. One of the main issues for me is how long does it take to get to where I want to go? This may lead me to adopt a different practice depending on what I am shooting and the urgency with which it is required For example a wildlife shoot usually allows me to take time to process the images whereas a sports shoot is done under high pressure and speed of getting the images to my client is everything. This is one reason I am now adapting my sports shooting to capturing both a high quality JPEG and a RAW file simultaneously so that if necessary I can transmit he JPEG immediately and follow up with a raw conversion if necessary. I generally then keep the RAW files to be put into the database as these will always offer the highest quality attainable.

Take a look at the three images below and decide which version you like best. They are all an unmodified (i.e. I have done no additional work on these images) versions interpreted by the converter for each program. All images were then re-sized to fit the blog page using Photoshop to crop the converted JPEG.

Apple Aperture conversion

 

As you can see there are some distinct difference. The Nikon Capture version offers a more neutral tone and perhaps the best skin tones. The Photoshop version is much warmer whilst the Aperture version probably offers the truest blue of the track at the Olympic velodrome. Of course these images were shot under artificial light.

This time let’s take a look at three images taken under natural light.

Apple Aperture conversion

This time I think the differences are even more apparent. The Aperture conversion shows warmer colour tones and mush more detail is apparent in the sand. The Capture version is even better, yet more sand detail is apparent with the most natural sky colour, and the Photoshop version is the weakest from every aspect. Compared to the other two it looks washed out and lacking in ‘punch’ with some considerable loss of detail. It is therefore a matter of which file will require the least additional work, and therefore the least time, to get it to look how I wish. The less time I need to spend working on a file the better as far as i am concerned.

So, the question is, where does the future of my image processing lay, and will I need to re-write the Digital Workflow E-book available from this web site?

I think the answer to a great extent will lie with how good the forthcoming database tool will be in Photomechanic. If it is all that they promise, and I had some long discussions with their development staff in the Main Press Centre at the Olympics, then yes, I think there are some major changes coming. If I can ingest my images from the memory cards, sort, caption, keyword and then database from within a single program that also has the ability to transmit selected images to both my clients and the online database (powered by Photoshelter) then I seriously need to re-think how I process my RAW files.

Should I use Photoshop? Well, as stated above the latest version of Photoshop performs some tasks that I still need. The problem is that I am not a great fan of the way Photoshop’s raw converter processes Nikon files as shown above.

Should I use Nikon Capture? I am slowly coming around to this program, although of course Nikon are a great camera manufacturer and not primarily a software company. But, I am sure that Nikon’s engineers know more about Nikon’s raw file format that anyone else.

Should I use something else entirely? There are other raw converters out there and I have tried many of them, but so far nothing has blown me away.

You will notice that I have not mentioned Adobe Lightroom anywhere above. Mainly because Lightroom performs most of the same tasks as Apple’s Aperture, and although I cover the use of both products in ‘Digital Workflow for the Working Photographer’ I currently have a personal preference for Aperture. Incidentally Lightroom uses the exact same raw converter as Photoshop so there is no difference to be had there.

Watch this space as they say and I will keep you updated as things progress, but the big wait is on Camerabits producing their database solution.

I would value opinions and comments on this post.