I have been slow to adopt third party software. My thinking has always been (stubbornly in many cases) that I should be able to do it on my own in Photoshop. And I still don’t doubt that is true. I should be able to. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I will be able to. And perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t mean that I will be able to do so with the ease that some of these new programs afford us. I have had a copy of one version or other of Photoshop on my computer since I started shooting digital images (before that, I experimented with the various “Photoshop Lite” products that often shipped with printers and cameras, or with a couple of the “competing” programs out there. I soon enough learned, though, that there really were no “competing” programs with Adobe Photoshop. In all probability, that is still true, although, Photoshop Elements gets increasingly more robust, and programs like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture have become pretty good photo editing software in their own right. But each time I begin to use one of them, I eventually find myself looking for one of the functions I rely on in Photoshop.
There is still no competing software with Photoshop
In keeping with that (perhaps elitist) attitude, I have pretty steadfastly avoided any of the third party plugin software that has become ubiquitous in the digital photo world. My feeling has been that they really didn’t offer anything more than a GUI (graphical user interface) for functionality that was/is already resident in Photoshop. For the most part, I think that remains true. Plugins are truly that—plugins to be used with a “host” software.
But that has, in my view, all changed now, with the Nik software tools. Nik’s U-point technology has radically changed the way we can work with Photoshop. Before I get to that I want to acknowledge that I may have been wrong. There. That wasn’t so hard . Seriously, here is where I have been missing the proverbial boat. Yes, most of the things done by the plugin software can be done in PS already. But it takes a significant amount of time, skill and patience; and the makers of much of the third party plugins have figured out how to do it much more quickly, easily, efficiently and accurately!
For a long time, I have been a follower and admirer of the late Bruce Fraser and his “heir apparent” (they were actually long-time, friends, colleagues and collaborators) Jeff Schewe. I read (really read) several versions of their books, Real World Image Sharpening and Real World Camera Raw, and used their recipes for PS Actions for sharpening. So it was only stubbornness that has kept me for all these years from obtaining a copy of Pixel Genius Photokit Sharpener (Fraser and Schewe were part of the original Pixel Genius company). Now I have learned that I can fit most of my sharpening needs by running the plugin, which takes a few seconds, and in most cases, doesn’t even require any tweaking.
Likewise, I remained “from Missouri,” when friends and mentors told me about the Nik software plugins. I finally downloaded Nik Viveza and purchased “Nik Software Captured,” (the only current book, to my knowledge, available on the Nik Suite of software) after “playing” with the free download for a couple hours.
Nik’s U-Point Technology has radically changed the way we can work with Photoshop
Nik’s suite of photo software is different from other plugins, in that it offers a unique new technology that while it could probably be duplicated in Photoshop by someone who is far, far more proficient in both Photoshop and software engineering than me, it is not a “resident” feature of Photoshop. This special technology, U-point, is at its most basic, a very sophisticated, yet easy to use, selection and masking tool. I have spent hours, often frustrating, making complex selections, masks and layer masks of skies, trees, waterfalls, and objects in Photoshop; often with less than optimal results. One U-point “control point” and a couple of slider moves more often than not replaces those hours of painstaking selection these days for me.
The suite includes a set of plugin filters for color work (Color Efex), one for black and white (Silver Efex), a noise reduction program (Dfine), a sharpening program, and Viveza. They can be bought separately, or as a suite. If you are going to buy 2 or more of them, the suite probably is a no-brainer. In my case, I have not yet been persuaded that the other offerings from Nik are worth my time and $ (did I say I am stubborn?), so I only have Viveza so far.
A pet peeve of mine is how software (and, for that matter, cameras, stereos, etc.), often ship today with skeletal documentation, often in pdf form. I understand the pdf part. Publishing is expensive and I am all for saving another tree. I also understand that creating decent documentation is a time-consuming and potentially expensive process. But its still a peeve. For $100 plus in software, it seems like it would be nice to have a “how to” book ship with the software, instead of having to spend another $25-100 (depending on the program and the book) on a third-party “text.” There is pdf information about the basics on the Nik website. They also have a nice “learning center” with a number of videos that do a good job demonstrating it on specific images. But I would like to see a basic explanation of the theory and use of the software. I went to Amazon and searched for books on Nik Viveza. There is apparently only one book currently available: “Nik Software Captured,” by Tony Corbell and Joshua Haftel (Josh is a Nik employee). But if you are planning on using (or are already using) Nik Software, I recommend buying it. There is another book in the works, “Plug In with Nik: A Photographer’s Guide to Creating Dynamic Images with Nik Software” by John Batdorff, scheduled to ship in November or December. I have it pre-ordered at Amazon and will try to do a review on receipt and reading.
The image at the beginning of the blog is a shot of a pretty little waterfall on the North end of the beach at the Miner’s Castle area of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Here is the “before” image:
I think the “after” image looks clearly better. In the “before” image the water (and for that matter, the image as a whole) has a color cast. While often difficult to see on a computer monitor (especially a non-calibrated monitor or a laptop monitor), blues definitely come out in a print—sometimes to the point of ruining what looked on-screen like it might make a pretty nice print. This often requires us to go back into Photoshop and (in my case at least) engage in trial and error. For my purposes, putting the image up on screen or on my website did not justify the painstaking work that would be involved to sharpen this image and get it color-ready for printing, until there was a reason to print it. So often, my workflow involved a “quick and dirty” provisioning of the photo to make it “web” ready. Getting those blues out of the water involves a multi-step process in Photoshop. In Viveza, it only involved setting a few “control points” in the right places and working with the sliders (thank you to my mentor, James Moore, for some help on how to quickly, accurately and effectively remove the blue cast and for the most part, the magenta cast—Jim is a pro, a teacher, and an expert in digital development and fine art printing and offers one-on-one web-based instruction—I highly recommend Jim).
In my image of Oxbow Bend, taken in May of 2012, the original capture shown here demonstrates a high contrast look (reminiscent of Fuji Velvia, for those of us old enough to remember what that is), in which there are deep shadows. My friend, mentor and very talented fine-art photographer and printer, Kerry Liebowitz, recently showed me a blending technique, from the raw image using Photoshop and Photomatix HDR software and his “version” is noticeably better. But what struck me was that at the same time he was demonstrating this approach, I downloaded the Viveza software and was able to get the kind of results shown below, with a very short learning curve and to make the adjustments very quickly.
The Viveza version of this image is what persuaded me to actually purchase the software (NIK lets you download fully functional trial versions of all of its software). Blending technique are a time-consuming and possibly trial and error process. There are others, too, like Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Blending actions. But this is so quick and effective, that it is hard not to see the value in it.
Being pretty excited about its possibilities, I next started going through some of my older images, to see what a difference I might see using the Viveza software. This image of Tahquamenon Falls, made in the Michigan “U.P.”in 2004, is a prime example of a major improvement with only a few minutes’ work.
As you can see from the comparison, the “before” image has retained the a color cast partly from the brown minerals in the water and partly from the complex reflections from the foliage and sky. It is not really natural and the the crisp, inviting image I would like to see.
Some quick work with control points in Viveza, and some changes in saturation and contrast gives the “after” result. I not only like it better, but think it is more like what my “mind’s-eye” remembers seeing from behind the lens. Overall, I think is is a more pleasing image.
Viveza is so quick and effective, that it is hard not to see the value in it
Obviously, I have decided it is a “worthy” addition to my digital development workflow, and so I have now gone from saying “bah humbug” to heartily recommending that folks give Viveza a try. I know it will be a permanent part of my repertoire for the foreseeable future.
Filed under: EQUIPMENT REVIEWS, PHOTOGRAPHY | Tagged: Adobe, Andy Richards, Elliot Falls, Grand Teton National Park, HDR, James Moore, Kerry Liebowitz, Lake Superior, LightCentric Photography, Michigan, Miner's Castle, Miners Beach, Nik Software Viveza, Oxbow Bend, Photokit Sharpener, Photomatix, Photoshop, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Pixel Genius, waterfall, Wyoming | 10 Comments »