An Overview of Google’s Nik Collection Filters for Post-Processing

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By now, if you have not downloaded Google’s Nik Collection, at the very least you have heard that this once $500 software, was made free for download in March 2016. The Nik Collection, as it has been known for over a decade, is a set of photographic filter plug-ins, and image enhancement tools, that delivers another look and feel to your photo.

The Nik Collection is comprised of Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Dfine, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, Silver Efex Pro and Viveza. As you see, the suite is quite extensive, thus this overview will just touch on its potential uses, and hopefully encourage you to further explore the collection more in-depth.

The layout in each set is very similar, which translates to ease of use once you get the hang of it. Preset filters are listed down the left side panel of the dashboard. If you click any of them, the chosen filter is immediately applied to your preview, and you then have sub-options for that filter listed on the right panel, which gives you further control over its application.

GlacierPrintScreen_NikCollection

An awesome feature that the Nik Collection utilizes is called Control Points, which is available in each plug-in. A control point, as the name implies, is a way to control the application of a filter to selected areas of your choice. Take note of this, as it will be referenced and elaborated on below, as the various plug-ins are discussed.

Analog Efex Pro

If you love the images produced by older cameras, or want to add a vintage look to your photo, Analog Efex Pro may be the set that appeals to you. It strives to pay homage to techniques used by photographers many years ago, and will help transport your image back in time.

AnalogEfexProCastle_BeforeAfter

Original Image (left)
Analog Efex Pro: Wet Plate preset applied (right)

In the sample image above, the finish is one of the “Wet Plate” preset options available in Analog Efex Pro 2, inspired by an alternative processing technique of yesteryear. Along with Wet Plate, some of the preset filters in the left panel include Classic Camera, Vintage Camera, Toy Camera and the popular Double-Exposure – all of which require little effort to give your image a unique style.

AnalogDoubleExposureHeadstone_BeforeAfter

Original Image edit (left)
Analog Efex Pro: Double-Exposure preset applied (right)

With a few clicks, the application of this technique attempts to mimic processing techniques established in the darkroom, or in-camera double exposures. Each filter can further be fine-tuned to your desire, using the sliders and curve-adjustments included in the right panel; you can even add Dirt and Scratches to create a sense of age and give your digital photo a film-like feel.

Color Efex Pro

Color Efex Pro is a collection of visual presets that allows you to enhance, or get more creative with your photo. There are 55 filters in this set, but with the ability to stack filters, the possibilities are endless. Customized combinations can also be saved as a preset, so you can easily apply the same processing to other images with a single click.

ColorEfexProLH_BeforeSkylightFilter

Original Image

Color Efex Pro: Skylight Preset Filter applied

Color Efex Pro 4: Skylight preset applied

In the Lighthouse example shown above, the Skylight preset filter was used, which simulates a glass warming filter. It removes some of the blue color casts, and intelligently warms the colors in the photo for a more pleasing effect. You can use your right sub-options to make this as intense as you want, but in some cases less is more.

ColorEfexProHut_BeforeAfterTonalContrast

Original Image (left)
Color Efex Pro 4: Tonal Contrast preset applied (right)

In the photo above, the Tonal Contrast preset was applied. This preset adjusts contrast and light levels on a small scale, as well as brings out some texture in the image. The sliders enable you to affect how dynamic the final result turns out.

Original Image Color Efex Pro: Wgite Neutralizer Preset Filter applied

Original Image (left)
Color Efex Pro 4: White Neutralizer preset applied (right)

Sometimes you need your whites to pop, for example the snow in the photo above. The White Neutralizer filter removes color casts from light objects and can be used to create bright, crisp whites without affecting the other colors of the photo. It is very useful for brides’ dresses and large expanses of white, such as snow or walls.

A very cool feature of Color Efex Pro is the ability to layer multiple filters on an image.

RockBeach_ColorEfex

Original Image (left)
Color Efex Pro 4: Tonal Contrast (middle)
Color Efex Pro 4: Sunlight filter (right)

In the example shown, the Tonal Contrast preset was applied to the original image, then layered with the Sunlight filter. Layering equates to endless possibilities for your final edit.

Dfine

Dfine is Nik’s answer to noise reduction. Image noise characteristics deviate with exposure length, ISO settings and even temperature based on your camera. Dfine selects areas of your image and generates a “noise profile”. This allows the quick reduction of noise in your photos while retaining the edges, and in one click applies the calculated noise reduction to the image.

Dfine Dashboard

In the image above, the little squares denote what the software determined were areas requiring noise measurement. The loupe view (circled in red), shows the applied noise reduction on the right side – this view is at 100%.

On the right panel, the “Reduce” sub-option gives you two main methods to take away noise – either via the contrast or color. Both these adjustments affect the image differently, so play around with them and see which one works for your image.

Subway_DfineProEdit

Original Image (left)
Dfine 2: Auto Noise Reduction applied (right)

Also included are some useful global adjustments for further refinement, such as the removal of JPEG compression artefacts and debanding.

Control Points in Dfine allows you to selectively apply noise reduction, which gives you the power to increase or decrease the noise reduction intensity in different areas of your image. So, even though Define auto-calculates the noise reduction needed, you can still maintain control over your noise processing.

HDR Efex Pro

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Imaging is a processing technique that has had mixed responses over the years. It was a trendy technique a few years ago, but has since matured into being used as a tool that extracts all the details of a scene available to the naked eye. HDR can be either overdone, or used subtlety, by exploring the differences between the darkest shadows and the brightest parts of the photo.

HDR Efex Pro is Nik’s contribution to this type of processing; where several images captured at different exposures, are translated into a single image that reflects a more dynamic range than your camera output is capable of creating (although camera advancement is starting to address this).

HDR_original

Original Images for HDR edit

 

HDR_HDREfexPro

Images combined using HDR Efex Pro 2

In the example above, three exposures are combined to bring back the lost highlights and shadows with tonality adjustments. This image can be pushed to look more realistic or even in the opposite direction.

Above its predecessors (such as Photomatix), HDR Efex Pro 2 has promised a simpler process and increased control and fine-tuning over the final image, along with an improved tone-mapping engine that claims to render color better. All tools are subjective, but no harm in trying this HDR tool out, even if just to verify some of Nik’s claims that they have improved Ghosting and Chromatic Aberration reductions.

Silver Efex Pro

Silver Efex Pro focuses on black and white processing. There are many programs quite capable of creating great black and white images, but various built-in tools like Dynamic Brightness, Soft Contrast, Amplify Whites, Amplify Blacks, and the advanced Grain Engine creates excellent diversity.

SilverEfexTree_BeforeAfter

Original Image (left)
Silver Efex Pro 2: Dark Sepia preset applied (right)

Silver Efex Pro comes with quite a variety of presets, and of course you can also create your own. The easiest way to do this is use an existing preset, customize it by making your adjustments, then save it so you can apply it to other images later on. Saving a preset is especially useful if you are doing an image set, and want the photos to have the same look and finish.

SilverEfexBridge_BeforeAfter

Original Image (left)
Silver Efex Pro 2: High Structure preset applied (right)

The structure in this software adds depth to the photo by adding some sharpening. If you are into black and white photography, this is definitely a set you want to play around with.

Viveza

Viveza is an easy way to apply enhancements selectively without creating masks. Yes, you can still do global or image-wide adjustments, but it is very useful to be able to later refine only selected areas. Imagine the possibilities of applying structure, color, exposure changes, or doing shadow recovery to only areas you choose, knowing that the software is going to blend in your changes seamlessly.

You can use Control Points on any part of the image you want to change. As with the other software in the Nik Collection, the top control (on your control point) allows you to change the radius/size of your adjustment area.

VivezaControlPointBlue

The Control Point shown in this image is on the blue sky. Based on the look you want, the radius of this area can be increased or decreased in size.

If you check the box next to the Control Point on the right (sub-options), all the affected areas will be shown in white, so you can decide if you want to adjust your work area.

VivezaDashboardHighlight

In this example, the Control Point affects the blue in both the sky and sea, so any adjustments will apply to everything blue in the selected radius (highlighted in white on the image).

Selections, masks or adjustment layers may be your tool of choice to get precisely defined areas, but Viveza’s localized adjustments blend in with the surrounding areas quite well, and in some cases look more natural.

Sharpener Pro

While not everything in your image needs to be razor sharp, the best way to end up with a crisp finish and distinct edges, would be to start out with a properly focused image. Post-capture sharpening increases the contrast between adjacent pixels and significant edges within an image, which attracts your eye. Sharpening is thus used to enhance a focused image, as opposed to rescue elements of photograph that was captured out of focus.

NiagaraFlower_SharpenerProBeforeAfter

Original Image (left)
Sharpener Pro 3: applied to show edges (right)

In the sample image above, the sharpening is exaggerated to show the contrast effect that the software applies.

Sharpener Pro takes away some of the guesswork and gives you control over your sharpening, which is typically the last step in image processing. Control Points gives you the ability to selectively sharpen aspects of your image and allows the changes to blend in easily.

Conclusion

A great feature of each set in the Nik Collection is that it applies the effect on a duplicate layer. This is especially helpful if you want to dial back the effect and blend it with your original image, by simply changing the opacity of the layer.

Each plug-in has great potential, so do not be fearful to explore, test your creativity with preset combinations, and experiment with Control Points. It is a user-friendly collection and while this is a plus, it can also make it easy to overdo it.

Do share your thoughts and some of your images processed with Google’s Nik Collection of filters. How have they worked for you? Which is your favorite?

Read more from our Post Production category

Nisha Ramroop

is an I.T. chick and Project Manager with a passion for photography, currently living in the beautiful Trinidad & Tobago. She鈥檚 a published writer and photographer who spends most of her free time traveling and exploring. See more of her work at Nikophotography.

  • Dre Mosley

    Pretty much a “must download” set of tools.

  • Niko Ph么to

    Indeed Dre 馃檪

  • Loisevillarreal

    “my room mate Mary Is getting paid on the internet $98/hr”…..!gd246ur

    two days ago grey McLaren. P1 I bought after earning 18,512 Dollars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k Dollars Last month..3-5 聛h聛ours 聛聛job 聛a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over hourly. 87 Dollars…Learn. More right Here !gd246u:?:?:.?.?.?.? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsExcellenceGetPay$98Hour…. .????????????????????????????????????????????????????::::::!gd246u……,….

  • Albin

    Just a note to say the Nik collection can be launched standalone or as a third-party editor from within viewers (e.g. FastStone) instead of as an 8bf plug-in to Adobe software. Some of the apps do not have a “save as” option in the interface, so that whichever image file is opened will be permanently changed – so it’s prudent to make a copy of the original file before opening in Nik. Others have it as an upper left menu item. The sharpeners, Dfine denoiser and Viveza curves don’t. Silver Efex and others do have it and can open / save as from the app

  • Niko Ph么to

    This is a good point the I forgot to include, thank you Albin 馃檪

  • Thank you Nisha! I had my eye on the Nik Collection for a while but it was more expensive than ON1 suite. This is the first time I heard that it had gone free.

  • Niko Ph么to

    You are welcome Vladimir 馃檪
    Please also check out some of the links in the article that further expands on the collection.

    Have an awesome day!

  • Swrit

    I feel fortunate to have come across this article. I pretty much ignored the collection when it was made free but this is convincing enough to make me give it a try. Thank you Nisha. 馃檪

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thank you kindly Swrit ?? I appreciate that …

  • keith gannon

    I just recently downloaded the NIK collection. I had heard good things and wanted to use it, but was completely unfamiliar with it. This article helped so much in a number of ways… Especially using Dfine and Silfer Efex. Thanks again Nisha for all your help! 馃檪

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thank you Keith. Hope you enjoy discovering more of the collection ??

  • Alan Kong

    I read sometime back when the Nik collection went free, but never got around to checking them out.
    This was a nice overview of what to expect from the different components.
    Many thanks for this!

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thanks Alan. I hope you check out the collection sometime and share your thoughts 馃檪

  • Stepphan

    Whether it’s in photoshop or lightroom for example,my opinion is to learn the basics of editing,develop a solid workflow . Incorporate the fabulous Nik collection into your workflow which will allow you express your artistic creative nature. The tools in this collection are invaluable and now they’re free,still unbelievable.Wonderful software,wonderful article. Thank you Nisha.I look forward to your next article 馃檪

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thank you Stepphan 馃檪 Appreciate your kind words …

  • Tashaesimpson

    “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet $98/hr”…..!tr400ur

    two days ago grey McLaren. P1 I bought after earning 18,512 Dollars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k Dollars Last month..3-5 聛h聛ours 聛聛job 聛a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over hourly. 87 Dollars…Learn. More right Here !tr400u:?:?:.?.?.?.? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsStationGetPay$98Hour…. .????????????????????????????????????????????????????::::::!tr400o….,

  • Michelle

    Thank you for this article. I downloaded the software when it was made free, but have been overwhelmed and struggling to determine exactly what each section did. This had helped tremendously.

  • Niko Ph么to

    Yayyy … thanks for the feedback Michelle 馃檪
    Feel free to share what something you have created when yo are ready 馃檪

  • I was excited to download this when it became free. I have stumbled along, figuring it out, but this is very helpful. Thanks.

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thanks Mary 馃檪 Don’t forget to share something you did so we can partake in your journey too 馃檪

  • Is this really good news? It probably means that Google plans to kill development of it. We may enjoy it now, but there’s likely to be no further improvement of it.

  • Niko Ph么to

    Hi Sachin, thanks for weighing in and yes there are mixed thoughts on this. Folks are elated while others view it as the beginning of the suite’s demise. Since we can only speculate for now what Google’s plans are (as my colleague Tim Gilbreath said in another Nik article), “regardless of what the future holds for the Nik collection, it is a highly useful set of tools that can benefit any photographer, of any skill level”.

    Enjoy it as it is now and let the future unveil itself …
    My thoughts … even if you know that it’s going to rain next week, does that stop you from enjoying the sunshine today? 馃檪

  • GoCat

    I have to agree with Sachin. Over the years, I have spent a nontrivial amount of money on software from Nik. Now, however, I am transitioning away. While there are no guarantees in life, I want to have a reasonable expectation that the tools I use will be supported and updated regularly. Google could easily put our fears to rest, but they remain silent. Unfortunate and disappointing.

  • GoCat

    “鈥f you know that it’s going to rain next week, does that stop you from enjoying the sunshine today?” No. But if I feel the tools I depend on to do my work are being abandoned, it’s foolish not to prepare.

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thanks for your thoughts GoCat. I guess personally I have never had such reliance on any set of tools, so yes I can understand the disappointment in Google. Time will indeed tell the future of this collection.

  • Raden Adams

    Girl, you are the real deal and right on time for me with this terrific tutorial on NIK! I want to finally learn more about how to use these great plugins and take advantage of them while they are still available and up to date. I have had them for a long time and really haven’t taken the time to learn them all but I do use a few of them quite frequently and I see photographers using them for bird , wildlife, macro, flowers and landscape photos and really getting great edits. I need to learn how to use Color Efex and Viveza much better and use them more in my workflow. Thank you and I checked out your blog and websites and had fun viewing them for awhile last night and saw that you came to Tennessee and the Mountains recently which is one of my favorite places to explore and I am located one State over, in Mississippi. I will keep a check on you. Take care.

  • Niko Ph么to

    Raden, you are most kind… I smiled reading through your entire comment. Thank you for that. I look forward to seeing you dust those tools off and giving them a go and if you need help, please feel free to get in touch 馃檪
    Many thanks for checking out my website, yes I love traveling and the Smoky Mountains have been one of my favorite stops to date (even thinking of returning later this year)
    Thanks again for your thoughts and keep well Raden 馃檪 Cheers!

  • Susan Palmer Gutterman

    I have been experimenting with the different sets. When I save my work to Lightroom I now have a new copy of the photo. Sometimes I work on the same photo in several sets and therefore end up with several versions of the same photo. Is there a way to tell which edit is from which set once I return to Lightroom?

  • Mia Wells

    How do you touch up blemishes using Nik?

  • Vince Delaney

    I just downloaded NIK collection to Lr and now can’t find it. Any help please

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