A while back I recommended Shape Collage calling it the best $40 I ever spent on software. I’m back today to make a pitch for the NIK Collection plugin for Photoshop by Google (yep… that Google). NIK software has been around for a long time as a collection of photo editing tools based on a “filter” model (think high-tech Instagram). Google acquired NIK about a year ago and has not only improved the system but also dropped the price dramatically (from $500 down to $125). I believe that the NIK Collection is a great value.
It is fair to say that NIK has completely transformed the way I use Photoshop. I have embraced the NIK system and their tools are now an integral part of my photo enhancing workflow. In the space below I will show how to use the NIK tools as a plugin inside of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11. The fact that the NIK system works in all versions of Photoshop is the best part of the whole deal. I can now achieve results using the $60 version of Photoshop Elements 11 that I would have struggled to produce in the $700 version of Photoshop CS6. More importantly I can get much better consistency image to image using the “filter” approach inside of NIK.
First a before and after shot of a photo taken at the Tall Ship Festival in Duluth. The top photo is a cropped JPEG right out of the camera. The enhanced image is just below.
The process starts by calling up the NIK Collection from the filter list inside Photoshop Elements 11. The NIK Collection includes six tools to enhance digital images. In this example I am going to use the Color Efex Pro 4 tool at the top of the list.
Color Efex Pro 4 is a comprehensive set of filters for color correction, retouching, and creative effects. The tool consists of 55 filters in a list running down the left hand side of the dialog box. The filters included are not just a random set of photographic filters. Each of the filters is designed for a specific task and can work together with all the others to provide nearly infinite creative possibilities. As a long time Photoshop CS user I will say that the NIK Collection provides me with not only better results but also a far wider range of possibilities. Furthermore I feel that I get more consistent results using the NIK’s filter approach to enhancing images.
In this example I am going to select the Pro Contrast filter.
This filter opens with a set of four visual presets in the left hand pane that can be used as starting points for the enhancing. The sliders in the right hand pane allow for adjustment of the individual elements of the filter controls. The presets on the left are just different positions of the sliders on the right. Selecting the "Auto Enhance” preset instantly provides a preview of the filter effect. Moving the sliders around allows “tweaking” of the results. In many cases a single click on one of the visual presets will get me a pleasing result.
Selecting the OK button saves the result as a new layer in Photoshop. This allows you to further "tweak” the effect of the filter using the opacity slider for the new layer before flattening. A particularly effective strategy for enhancing images is to go a little “too far” with the NIK filter and then “dial” it back using the opacity slider.
To Flatten the image click on the tiny arrow next to the options menu and select Flatten Image from the list.
Viveza 2 is a second tool in the NIK Collection that produces stunning results with very little effort. It is also found in the Filter menu inside Photoshop. Viveza 2 enables photographers to quickly enhance images using precise selective enhancements called Control Points.
Selecting the ‘Add Control Point’ button allows the user to precisely place a point on the image around which selective enhancements will be applied.
Moving the Control Point slider with the mouse enlarges and contracts the effected area. Multiple Control Points may be used in a single image and can be grouped together allowing for amazing control to different areas of an image.
Moving an individual slider back and forth applies the effect to the selected area. In this example I have increased the Brightness for the control point to a value of +75%. Individual sliders control Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Structure as well as Shadows, Warmth, and Colors.
Once again exiting the NIK Software results in the creation new layer in Photoshop that can be adjusted using the opacity slider.