The Google Nik Collection Review - Google’s Nik Collection: The Best Free Photo Editing Solution

 

Control Points in Color Efex Pro Photo by Patricia Meisels

 

Nik Efex, which was $500, then $150, after being acquired by Google, has been free for a few months now; although the majority of photo enthusiasts I’ve queried are unaware of it’s potential or it’s new price ($0). The Google Nik Collection (click to download) components can either be used as standalone programs or as I use it, installed as a filter for Photoshop or Lightroom. This is not some add-on in the same vein as popular mobile editing applications like Google’s well regarded Snapseed, it is the most indispensable addition (outside of Photoshop and Lightroom) to any photographer’s digital workflow. The video below shows how Google’s Nik can transform almost any photo into something memorable or at least seamlessly corrects flaws that you thought were unfixable.

 

 

Nik is a must for iPhone or Android photographers, as the color spectrum of the camera phone, as well as the phone’s ability to deal with highlights and shadows are limited. Apps like ProCam, Camera+ and VSCO do allow you to white balance before you shoot and adjust shadows and highlights after (ProCam also shoots raw), but they still pale in comparison to what Nik can do for you.  Without using any of Photoshop’s advanced blending or masking techniques you can increase the impact of a personal portrait,

  

Children from Hopi Village of Shungopavi Photo by Poli Ndoi

 

or that of  nature.

 

Nik’s rise to its present stature was shepherded by renowned photographer, Josh Haftel, who was product manager at Nik for twelve years and then at Google for two.  Josh is now putting his talents to work at Adobe creating possibilities for Lightroom Mobile like shooting and editing raw photos and gradient editing that are transforming this app, as Josh points out in his most recent Lightroom Mobile video.  The reason Josh is so devoted to mobile photography is that for better or worse, most photos now are taken with a phone, “so that is the photo you will most likely be editing.” ( Lightroom Mobile has now been updated to work with the iPhone 7’s dual cameras as well as Android phones). 

Villa View of Saint Paul photo courtesy of Patricia Meisels

The first step for many is to move into Viveza and then possibly Color Efex Pro. As a standalone you can change lighting and add detail globally in Viveza as they explain in the video below. 

 

 

The same controls that globally effect the entire photo i.e., brightness, contrast, structure, shadow adjustments, color values etc., are available in control points which can be sized to effect any portion of the photo you wish. These additions or changes blend flawlessly into the final product.  Or you can subtract from the global adjustments you have made to the entire picture, if you want to keep part of you photo as is.  The more control points you use the “smarter” they get, allowing you to influence areas and or tones and colors without disturbing the neighboring portions of your photo. 

Control points in Viveza Efex Pro photo by Patricia Meisels

 

For a more detailed explanation on how to use control points in Viveza watch the video below.

 

 

The most magical, surprising and useful tool for me in the Nik toolbox is Color Efex Pro. I use it on color photos to recover lost details from overexposure or lack of focus. Color Efex Pro is especially useful where the lighting is often barely adequate or a performer is bathed in red or orange spotlights.  The photos below were created from my scanned negatives.  No longer having access to a darkroom I was overjoyed at the modifications Nik made.

Color Efex before and after photo of The World Sax Quartet

 

Highlight the drama with 5 contrast controls or a myriad of other features.  You can even apply these techniques to enhance Black and White Photos. 

Using Color Efex to improve a black and white image photo of Freddie Hubbard

 With Nik you can stack different effects, each with their own control points, to create your final work as I did with the iPhone photos Splash writer Patricia Meisels shot in the South of France.

 

 

  

The video below is an overview of the Color Efex Pro interface.  To watch the entire series of Color Efex Pro videos for free click here.

 

 

As wonderful as The Nik Suite is, the true potential of the program can only be unlocked when using it in conjunction with Adobe Photoshop CC,which we will examine in part 2 of this article. I will include advanced techniques that allow you to paint in the Nik filters in Photoshop and use smart filters to roundtrip from Photoshop to Nik, refining your choices again and again like a digital painting.  Should you want to create a still to advertise your video, Nik effects can do that from Photoshop’s video timeline.

Included in Nik Part 2 will be an examination of other filters in the Nik Collection starting with Silver Efex Pro, which can create stunning black and white photos converted from color or modified from black and white originals.

All photos by Bob Hershon unless designated otherwise 

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