Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Nik Software Suite of Tools Is Now Free -- Is this the beginning of the end?

At one time, Nik software was one of the premier photo editing packages on the market.   Lately
development on the Nik suite has slowed up.   The writing was on the wall -- Google was investing in the mobile and web apps and not the Nik suite.
I bought a copy three or four years ago for a couple hundred dollars and have used it with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop ever since.   Then, a couple years ago Google bought the company to get the mobile app Snapseed.

Today, Google announced that the Nik suite of software is now free to all.  You can download in here.

Here is a list of all the tools in the suite:

  • Analog Efex Pro - converts photos to the look of classic cameras, films, and lenses.
  • Color Efex Pro -  a comprehensive set of filters for color correction, retouching, and creative effects.
  • Silver Efex Pro - black-and-white conversion with darkroom-inspired controls.
  • Viveza - selectively adjust the color and tonality of your images without complicated masks or selections.
  • HDR Efex Pro - powerful HDR conversion tools
  • Sharpener Pro - professional sharpening tools
  • Define - noise reduction software that takes into account the camera, ISO and exposure

All these tools work with Lightroom, Photoshop, and Photoshop Elements as external editors or filters.   They are available for Windows and Macs.

Nik Color Efex Pro continues to be the tool I go to when I want to selectively apply edits.   The u-point technology in the Nik software makes it easy to select areas of a photo based on luminosity and color without the need to create complex masks.   Silver Efex Pro is my favorite B&W conversion tool.  HDR Efex Pro is the HDR software I use.    I have found the noise reduction in Lightroom to be as good as Deine and don't use that tool as much as I used to.

Should you download the Nik suite of software?   Well, it's certainly worth the purchase price.   I'm not sure it's worth the time it will take to learn the tools.  In my opinion, Google making the tools free is the final step before killing them off.  It has already been some time since the last software update.

What's the alternative?   I also have the On1 software suite that does many of the same things as Nik. I have not learned more than the basics of the On1 tools because I kept going back to the Nik tools I know.  Now I'm going to spend more time with On1 and move off the Nik tools.

On1 is investing in their development and will continue to improve the tools.  They are running a Spring Special right now and you can get the suite of On1 tools for $79.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Avoiding Mergers

Last week I wrote about how slight changes in the camera position and focal length of the lens can have an unexpected impact on a photo.   Today I want to give an example of changing the camera position to avoid something called mergers.

While on our recent trip to Iceland with great friends and photographers we stopped at a small stream just off the road.   The water was smooth and partially covered with a skim of ice.   Add a very interesting cliff face in the distance and you have many opportunities for interesting compositions.
Some of our group shooting the reflections
To get the mountain and cliffs in the reflections you must position your camera low, just a few feet off the ground and surface of the water.  

55mm and lower position

The stream had some thin ice on the surface, which added some interest to the surface reflections.  I picked out a position where the shape of the skim ice and the near bank mirrored the shape of the mountain in the distance.  You can see this in the photo above.

I made several different shots at different focal lengths, camera heights and positions.  I also changed the camera from landscape to portrait orientation.  When out in the field it's important to move around and try different angles, heights, focal lengths, etc.  It's frustrating to get home and realize I missed the best photo because I didn't move around and look for different compositions. When I got home I had 28 different photos from this location to choose from. In the end, I choose the photo below as my favorite.

50mm and higher position
There is only a slight difference between the two photos and it's in the space between the ice and the reflection of the mountain in the water.  Both photos show the ice mirroring the reflection of the mountain, but the second photo above has a little more separation between these two elements.  If I had positioned the camera even lower the ice and mountain reflection would have merged or overlapped.  When compositing a shot it is important to pay attention to mergers between important elements and avoid them when possible.  Here's a short article on mergers with a better example.

This example and the one from last week illustrate how little changes can improve a photo.   I hope you get some value from these examples.  I'm still working through my photos from Iceland and will post more as I make more progress.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Different Perspective

Well, we're back from a week in Iceland and a week in Florida.  What a contrast!   Iceland was wild, cold, and empty.  Florida was crazy, warm, and crowded.   I'm probably in the minority here, but of the two I pick Iceland hands down.  I'll be posting photos from both trips as I work through the thousands of photos from these two weeks.

As I was working through some Iceland photos, I came across two that show the effect of camera angle and focal length and how a little change in each can make a significant change in a photo.

Both photos were taken at the same place at about the same time.   I only changed the camera position and the focal length of the lens.

Camera Position Lower, Focal Length = 24mm

To me, the first photo gives the viewer a sense of vastness.  The pool of water surrounded by ice and snow is the dominant element.  You can see the water flowing away and the mountains in the distance but you have to look for them.   It's hard to get past that dark pool.

Camera Position Higher, Focal Length = 35mm

For the second photo, I raised the height of the camera on the tripod just a bit.   This allows the viewer to better see the water flowing away from the pool towards the mountains in the distance.  I changed the focal length just a little from 24mm to 35mm.   The longer focal length in the second photo made the mountains appear to be closer.  A shorter  focal length (wider view) will make distant objects  appear to be further away.  The longer the focal length (greater zoom) the closer they will appear.  They are still not the dominant element but I can easily see them.

My friend and our guide in Iceland John "Snake" Barrett took this to an extreme.

A Really Different Perspective
Photo by Chuck Barnes
This is the same location as my two photos.    I can't wait to see what his perspective looks like.

I hope this illustration is useful.  Check back for more photos and tips.