Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bring photos to life with Google's free Nik Collection

Nik Collection

Google’s professional-grade photography tools are now free to download.

The Nik Collection is a pack of pro-grade photography plugins for Photoshop and Lightroom (and, on the Mac, Aperture). It’s published by Google, and although it was originally sold for $500, the full suite is available for free for both Windows and the Mac: download it at google.com/nikcollection.

On these pages, we’ll show you how to get the most out of the Nik tools. We’ll be using Adobe Photoshop CC 2015, but the tools can also be used with earlier versions, and with Photoshop Elements, so even if you’re not using the latest release you can follow along – the tools themselves are exactly the same, regardless of the host application.

Installing the collection

The Nik tools can’t be used as standalone apps. They’re designed to be accessed from within a host application. When you launch the installer, your system will be automatically scanned for a compatible host application, which for Windows users means Photoshop CS4 or later, Photoshop Elements 9 to 13, or Photoshop Lightroom 3 or later. The collection will then be integrated into whichever host it finds. Note that the HDR Efex Pro 2 tool (see over) isn’t compatible with Photoshop Elements – you’ll need either Lightroom or the full-blown Photoshop to use it. If you don’t have a suitable image-editing application, you can download a 30-day trial of Photoshop from http://adobe.ly/28OaQoV, so you can try out the Nik tools and decide whether it’s worth investing in a host application.

Working with Nik tools

The Nik Collection is non-destructive when working in Photoshop: any adjustments you make are applied as a separate layer within the document. This means you can push things as far as you like without the risk of over- processing your originals: if you later decide you want to dial down the Nik effects, you can simply adjust the layer opacity, or apply a mask.

Many of the Nik tools offer one-click adjustments, but you can take these further by manually tweaking. Analog Efex Pro is a prime example: to apply the basic adjustment you simply pick a camera type and effect, but you can then go on to tailor the result by turning on and off features such as frames, dust and scratches. You can often achieve impressive results – or interesting ones, at least – with just a little playing.

The complete Nik Collection

Analog Efex Pro thumbnail

Analog Efex Pro simulates the appearance of classic camera and processing equipment. Generate film-type grain, dust and scratches to give your images a retro vibe, and apply vintage colour and contrast styles at the click of a button.

Color Efex Pro thumbnail

Color Efex Pro provides an extensive set of colour filters and correction tools. Use it to remove unwanted colour casts or distracting lighting conditions – or get creative with control points to produce dazzling synthetic lighting effects.

Color Efex Pro screenshot

Dfine thumbnail

Dfine is a smart noise-reduction tool that can smooth out speckles and JPEG artefacting without compromising on detail. Use Nik’s signature control points for fine corrections, or apply selective cleaning to specified colour ranges for instant results.

Dfine screenshot

HDR Efex Pro thumbnail

HDR Efex Pro uses intelligent tone compression to generate high dynamic range images from a single photo. A library of settings lets you experiment with different looks and apply simulated lens effects – to either the whole image or only selected areas.

HDR Efex Pro screenshot

Sharpener Pro thumbnail

Sharpener Pro, as the name indicates, enhances the sharpness of your photos for a crisper appearance. A special high-ISO mode helps to achieve clean results even with noisy source images – and again, you can select specific colour ranges to sharpen.

Sharpener Pro screenshot

Silver Efex Pro thumbnail

Silver Efex Pro converts your images into striking, iconic black-and-white. Apply sepia tones and decorative borders, and get hands-on with colour filters, contrast adjustments and grain to turn a snapshot into a statement.

Silver Efex Pro screenshot

Viveza thumbnail

Viveza helps you correct and enhance the tonal detail and colour in your images, with localised adjustments to create the perfect balance and composition. It’s amazing that you’re getting all this power for free.

Viveza screenshot

By Nik Rawlinson

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