Google That Sh*t: Working with Nik Collection in Photoshop with Dustin Lucas
As a photographer and editor, it is always good to try out new plugin software to integrate into your workflow. I have been using the Nik software for what seems like forever. Silver Efex Pro has been my go-to effects plugin. After Google bought the software, I was worried it would become ancient history for Photoshop users.
The entire Nik Collection goes for $149. It’s a no-brainer. Google that shit and buy it right now. This includes Analog Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Dfine 2, HDR Efex Pro 2, Sharpener Pro 3: Raw Presharpener and Output Sharpener, Silver Efex Pro 4 and Viveza 2. You get all the programs Nik offers as well as full capabilities in Aperture, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
Let’s skip Lightroom and move right into Photoshop.
Open an image in Photoshop. From the menu bar, choose Filter > Nik Collection to reveal all the plugins to choose from. They are listed in alphabetical order. Let’s discuss them in groups based on their functionality. Analog Efex Pro 2, HDR Efex Pro 2 and Viveza 2 are all about creative effects. Color and Silver Efex Pro 4 give you a huge advantage for your daily workflow and your creative edge. Last but not least, Dfine 2, Sharpener Pro 3: Raw Presharpener and Output Sharpener provide attention to detail.
Analog Efex Pro 2 is exactly what it sounds like—and more. After opening this plugin, we are thrown right into the effects capabilities of this software. Classic Camera is the default preset applied, and we can cycle through the other options. Let’s take a step back and get a feel for the program before we get overwhelmed. To give you a little background in the structure of this software, it is made up of individual tools listed here. Customization is really useful here because there are a lot of effects that are not useful to a professional photographer.
Start with the camera section and select the arrow on the right to begin with a preset. We can remove and add tools to suit the image. For this image, the subjects are close to the edge and may become problematic when working with many of the older analog effects. Meaning the edges are usually soft and vignettes take effect. On the left panel, start with Classic Camera (looks like waist-level camera) and select Classic Camera 3.
On the right panel, you will notice specific tools have been added. Drop these tools down to tweak your image. To add tools to this panel, click back on Classic Camera at the top on the left-hand panel and select Camera Kit at the bottom. From here, you can hover over a tool and click the “+” symbol. Once you develop a solid tool collection, create a preset for later use. On the left-hand adjustment panel, select “+” in the Custom section. Once you are satisfied, click “Ok” and, depending on your settings, a new layer is added for you to further mask the effect.
Local adjustments are called Control Points in the Nik Collection. A newer program utilizing this feature is Viveza 2. This allows users to be selective with adjustments similar to Lightroom. Click on Add Control Point to begin, or hold Shift + Command and strike “A.” Navigate your cursor to an area in the image you wish to specifically edit and click. From here, you can adjust the size of the area being affected by sliding the bar with the black dot. Basic adjustments start out with Brightness, Contrast, Saturation and Structure. Expand them by striking “E.” Adjust the entire image by adding Levels and Curves. I can see this being useful for burning down background and creating a control point to drive attention to the subject.
High dynamic range editing was a huge trend a few years ago when Adobe added a new functionality for its users. It was a chance to bridge that gap between the limited range of recording stops of lights with a camera and what humans can see. I have always been fascinated looking at a scene, photographing it and trying to edit based on what I remember or thought I saw. HDR Efex Pro 2 has given users a great balance of presets and customization for this type of effect.
HDR Efex Pro 2 gives you 28 presets to begin with, and from there, you can adjust with the standard tools in the right-hand panel. Tone Compression, Tonality and Color are the fundamental tools for adjusting the HDR effect. Dial in settings with sliders, much like in Adobe Camera Raw, with the ease of clicking and dragging. Control Points are utilized by Nik to act as a masking option within the plugin. Since we can’t choose to create a new layer once finished with HDR Efex Pro 2, users are forced to use the control points to mask out the subject or they can create a new image layer. I suggest creating a new layer first in Photoshop by holding Shift + Option + Command and striking “E.” This combines all your current layers into a new layer at the top of your panel. Now, open HDR Efex Pro 2. I use the next two plugins, Color and Silver Efex Pro 4, for creative toning.
Color vs. B&W
Color Efex Pro 4 is set up similarly to HDR EP2, and becomes way more useful for the everyday application. Tools are listed in the left panel and, based on your category, they are narrowed down by All, Favorites, Landscape, Nature, Wedding, Portrait, Architecture and Travel. At the bottom, you can select settings to change the filter lists. Click on All at the Top, and we can begin starring tools that sound appealing. I do this so that you can select Favorites to filter the tools for later use.
Let’s click on Detail Extractor and check out the right-hand panel. You can customize your tool with sliders and dropdown presets. Control points are here as well; I pass on this feature of Nik to mask later in Photoshop. My favorite feature, Add Filter, allows us to build a tool set. I like to add Bleach Bypass, Foliage, Tonal Contrast and White Neutralizer. These tools are adjusted for each image, and, depending on the look and feel you want, they can provide quite an enhancement to the original. Like presets, Nik allows users to create Recipes to quickly recall the tool set just created.
Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 4 has received the most attention due to its incredible darkroom-like effects that give users the nostalgic look of black-and-white prints. This plugin set the bar for digital black-and-white post-production. Silver EP2 is set up very simply. The left-hand panel has the Preset Library to allow users to select and adjust according to their taste. Select All to star your favorite presets for quick use later. The right panel lists the stationary adjustment tools, including Global & Stationary adjustments, Color Filter, Film Types and Finishing. These drop down and allow users to slide effects.
Start with 000 Neutral in the preset library to begin at a base level to get a feel for the adjustment settings. Brightness, Contrast and Structure can get very complex and give you the ability to adjust for the histogram. For example, white and black point, highlights, midtones, shadows, etc. can be adjusted for advanced toning. Then drop down to the File Types section and apply your favorite film. This is where Nik really separated itself from film preset predecessors. You can choose by ISO for your grain preference and film brand for tone. Finishing adjustments for toning like selenium, cyanotype and sepia are popular choices. Vignetting, Burn Edges and Image Borders all emulate analog effects for your black-and-white image. This can give your image a nostalgic print look.
Attention to Detail
Nik Dfine 2 is noise reduction software that should be run prior to sharpening. If you’re using Lightroom or ACR to run noise reduction when exporting Raw files into Photoshop, that is fine as long as you understand when to sharpen. After opening the plugin, you can see the automatic noise reduction setting applied. Change the method to manual and move from Measure to Reduce. We can begin to improve the effect by using different methods. Before getting too crazy with adjustments, check out my previous article from May 2015, “Silence the Noise.”
Control points simplify the settings for contrast and color noise. Changing the method to color ranges allows you to specifically color-pick areas on the image to adjust contrast and color noise. Farther down, you can fix Edge Preservation, Jpeg Artifact Reduction and Debanding. Remember, if you applied grain from a previous Nik plugin, you may begin removing it with noise reduction.
Sharpener Pro 3 has a Presharpener and an Output Sharpening feature. Before adjusting these settings, you need to have an understanding of these two forms of sharpening. Check out my November 2014 article, “Attention to Detail,” for more. Much like Dfine, after opening the image, you can really see a difference with settings automatically applied. Presharpener has an adaptability option for high-ISO images so it doesn’t sharpen the noise. There are slider adjustments for adaptive, area and edge sharpening. Control points and color range are also adjustable.
Output Sharpener is a great tool that allows users to design their image specifically for either print or online. Before opening this plugin, you want to have the cropping, resizing and noise reduction completed. Also, flatten the image and save a specific version based on the output. Open the plugin, and you will notice the automatic sharpening effect applied. Adaptive sharpening allows a softer focused image to be sharper, and can really improve the quality. It defaults at 50% and usually doesn’t need to be increased. Creative and selective sharpening can add an extra push to your image as well.
Nik has a lot to offer your standard and creative workflow. Using Photoshop, you can really speed up processing by building specific actions for the creative toning, color and black-and-white enhancements, as well as the detail work. I regularly use a specific set of plugin settings. There is no reason to hand-touch each image needing the same treatment. For more extensive editing, spend the time getting to know adjustments and how they work. Sometimes you can save a bad shot.
Nik Collection will be worth it for you, even if you only utilize Color and Silver EP 4 and the Detail plugins like Dfine 2 and Sharpener Pro 3.