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“Playing with NIK”

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

My photographic imagery is 98% “traditional. I don’t generally experiment with special techniques. I try to portray what I “saw” in the field.  I don’t mean to say that this is the same thing as “reality.” Most of my landscape work is really intended to be art. I am not aware of any rule that says that photographic “seeing” in these conditions must match reality. Instead, I aim for what I saw in the field, or sometimes what I saw as a possibility in the field.

When I use the word “photorealistic” I mean what our eyes (and mind) might see, shown in a “traditional” photographic presentation

Nonetheless, I still believe 98% of the images I create are “photorealistic.” In other words, they are designed to look and appear as traditional photographic images.

High dynamic range (HDR) software is (or was, for a time) “all the rage” for some photographers. In my own view, it was more often than not, grossly overused and often produced garish results that the creator called “painterly.” My own very occasional use of HDR software (I prefer Photomatix) has been mostly for sophisticated blending of individual digital captures, with a goal of creating a “photorealistic” result. I blogged about this on 2 other occasions, first introducing the topic in my March, 2009 blog, “High Dynamic Range Photography,” and later “Managing Dynamic Range Digitally (a comparison of HDR conversion methods and software)” in September of 2010.

When I use the word “photorealistic” in this context, I don’t necessarily mean what was physically, electronically or chemically possible, but rather, what our eyes and minds might see, shown in a “traditional” photographic presentation.

I do appreciate that what many of us do, as photographers, is art. And art doesn’t have any pre-determined borders, in my view; even in a “traditional” photographic context. As such, I am not against trying new things in an effort to present an image in its best light.

Last month Google created an opportunity for owners of Nik products to “upgrade” to the entire suite. I took advantage. As I find time and opportunity, I have begun to explore some of the “preset” formulas in this set of plug-ins to Photoshop (and Light Room). The bread and butter parts of the suite for me have been Dfine noise-reduction software, Nik sharpener, and Viveza.

Fisherman's Wharf; San Francisco Copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Fisherman’s Wharf; San Francisco
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Color Efex Pro is also part of the suite. Color Efex Pro is essentially a set of preset filters. As such, I have used it only sparingly and only for a very small handful of the many filters available. The graduated neutral density filter is by far my favorite, and the one that gets the most use. It just does a better job in a very short time period than any blending I can do on my own (including the estimable counterpart in Adobe Camera Raw). But with the Nik U-point control points and a great deal of adjustability in how all of these filters are applied, it is a pretty diverse set of filters. I have generally eschewed the filter called “details enhancer.” This is partly because I have seen it overdone so much and it reminds me of the garish HDR images referred to above, and partly because I think the “structure” adjustment in Viveza 2 and in Nik Sharpener is so much better, and so much more subtle.

Art doesn’t have any borders, even in a traditional photographic context

But recently, I was working on the image here and decided I would take a test run though some of the Color Efex filters. Suddenly, I found an image that I thought the details enhancer filter was well suited for. You can see the difference in the before and after images here. The traditional photorealistic presentation, is, in my view, unremarkable. It just doesn’t seem to have any punch to it, either artistically or visually. But the moderate use of one of the preset details enhancer filters transforms this image into what appears to me to be like a nice oil painting.

Over time, I am certain to experiment more and more with some of the “artistic” options in the Nik software. I probably won’t often say this, but thank you Google for making this suite of software so attainable recently.

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2 Responses

  1. Interesting, Andy. It appears that the effect of the filter you applied is overwhelmingly evident on the reflection in the water.

    I’ve eschewed the NIk suite for years, primarily because I though it (and its individual components) were grossly overpriced, even though I’d heard nothing but good things about the underlying capabilities. When the entire suite was offered recently, with discount, for less than $120, I jumped on it.

    I haven’t used it all that much, yet; I spent a little bit of time a few weeks ago playing around with each of the different plug-ins, just to get a sense of what they can do. But I have sprinkled in some subtle use of Viveza here and there as I very slowly move through the images I obtained from my trip to the Smokies last month and have found it a good complement to the saturation and luminosity masks that I’ve been using as part of my processing workflow for years. I’m also looking forward to using Silver Efex as the starting point for b/w conversions.

    • Kerry: Yeah. At first, I thought it was overpriced too. One of the things that made me succumb to it was Jim Moore’s strong endorsement of it. He showed me how to use it to correct the color of water (e.g., in waterfalls and fog) and it was so effective (and most importantly, easy) that I ended up buying just Viveza. I have the Pixel Genius Photokit Sharpener (again, at Jim’s recommendation – and I have been a Bruce Fraser/Jeff Schewe fan from the get-go), and the ColorEfex seemed like a set of filters I would have no use for (there was a “lite” version, but it did not have the only one I was interested in – the GND filter). I really grew to like the U-point technology and the degree you could selectively apply the effects. U-Point is at the core of the entire suite and the more I use it, the better I appreciate it. Now that I own the entire Suite, I find myself gravitating toward the Nik Sharpener software, because of the ability to selective sharpen without time-consuming masking.

      I downloaded the Viveza 2 trial version right about the time you were showing me your techique using Photomatix with my Oxbow Bend image. When I realized I could achieve essentially same result with a lot less work, it sold me.

      Never been much of a B&W guy, but if I do any playing, it will no doubt be in SilverEfex. Thanks, as always, for reading and your always useful input!

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