Every chef has a secret sauce which gives the finishing touch to the celebrated preparation. Photographers too have their own secret formulas and settings to perfect their images. For many photographers, this secret formula is the Google Nik Collection.
Nik software company had been developing sets of filters and plugins for enhancing photographs. Nik software partnered with Nikon to develop their Capture NX image editing program. Later the company released a suite of filters through Nikon, called Nikon Color Efex Pro. These could be integrated into the Capture NX software. (I am not sure if the name ‘Nik’ has anything to do with ‘Nikon’.) Next the company released many more such sets of filters and plugins and this whole suite came to be known as Nik Collection. It was initially available for around USD 500. Later Google purchased the set and sold it initially at a heavily discounted rate and now it is available for free. Capture NX remained with Nikon. The latest update is that DxO have taken the Nik Collection from Google now. The present series of filters work well with many popular image editors.
(Image enhanced using Color Efex Pro and Sharpener Pro filters in Affinity Photo)
The software is a set of the following components –
Analog Efex Pro – This applies simulations from film-era camera, lens, and film. Initially the effects may look very attractive but with time they get too monotonous. Once in a blue moon, these can enhance those really bad images which you would love to keep but can’t convince yourself. I rarely use them.
Color Efex Pro – This is a huge set of filters. These are some of the most used filters in the set. The best ones from this set are the graduated filters, vignette filters and some specialized filters which help enhance some specific parts of the image eg- foliage filter which enhances the greens. Multiple filters can be ‘stacked’ one after the other.
Dfine – The filter features the powerful algorithms that Nikon’s Capture NX uses. The noise reduction at times leads to excessive softness. I tend to avoid these too. (Remove Noise, Add Grain) The filter does opposite to what the name says and reduces the overall information in the image.
HDR Efex Pro – Specialized program for adding a HDR like effect to otherwise mundane images. The results are very unconvincing to look at when the filters are applied at the recommended settings, but when the effect is applied within a controlled limit, the enhancement can be nice and attractive. I recommend creating proper HDRs when this is what you want to. (HDR Photography)
Sharpener Pro – This in my opinion is the best possible image sharpening plugin available in the market. The image sharpening at recommended settings looks too artificial. I recommend reducing the sharpness setting to somewhere between 50-70 instead of the default 100. Depending on the version and image editor used, the software may install two versions of this plugin – Output Sharpener and Raw Presharpener. I use output sharpener. For a quick sharpening tutorial, visit this – Razor sharp images
Silver Efex Pro – These are a set of quick Black & White conversion plugins. The results are very stark. As per the google’s site, ‘advancements in black and white controls help you achieve great results quickly. Take advantage of tools like Dynamic Brightness, Soft Contrast, Amplify Whites, Amplify Blacks, and the advanced Grain Engine.’ I had to quote their wordings here because this is what these filters do perfectly. My word of advice – just don’t go overboard with them. They are good for getting many things done at a single go while converting to black and white. For simple conversions, use your image editors default B&W conversion mode and drop in the required color filter (Red Filters (and other colors)).
Viveza – These are color controls with advanced functions to change contrast and saturation. I have tried them but did not like them much.
Download the collection from here – Google Nik Collection (opens in a new tab).
The new home – Google Nik Collection at DxO (not sure how long they will remain free)
Word of advice
These filters work on the photograph that was clicked. So, the best results can be had with the best photographs. Click raw! Use these filters on uncompressed files. Do not go overboard with these. Remember to visualize the photograph before pressing the shutter release on the camera. Use these filters and plugins to help you achieve that visualization. Don’t try to blindly alter whatever photographs you have.
It is the excellent photographs that are always remembered. Overly altered photographs using these and similar other plugins and filters have never made any masterpieces.