I recently bought the Nik Collection Plug in's for Lightroom. For those of you less technically minded on the post processing side let me quickly explain what I am talking about...
Starting from the basics there are two types of modes you can shoot photographs in: JPEG and RAW. In very simple terms JPEG is a great format if you want to start sharing and/or printing your images straight out of camera. RAW is the best format if you wish to spend more term with post processing software to make modifications such as contrast, tone, and colour changes.
Personally I shoot RAW as I feel that post processing is an essential part to completing the photographic process. I use Adobe Lightroom which gives me a powerful tool to make either minor corrections in the case I made some type of mistake (straighten an horizon, correct the white balance etc), but more importantly to make modifications to the image in terms of colour correction to great a mood, emotion or feeling to the image. These modifications can be subtle or harsh depending on what you are trying to achieve, but also can help draw the viewers eye to certain aspects of the composition. This is very important in wildlife photography where you may wish to subtly highlight a viewers eye towards one or more elements in a composition.
So what are the Nik Collection Plug in's?
Well they are a series of additional tools to help in that process of modification and/or correction. They compose of several modules from denoising through to sharpening, and included modules for colour correction and black and white conversions. I am just getting to grips with these modules and I will review more extensively in the coming months.
However I wanted to write a quick blog on one aspect I have been using it for: creating usable images because your camera has limitations.
So I shoot with a Canon 7D. No surprises it's not a good low light camera. Shooting at night is a real challenge. Today I do not go above ISO 1600. But a couple of years ago, when I was still in learning mode, I was shooting high ISOs. Not clever. But I knew no better at the time. But analysing my images in Lightroom afterwards taught me valuable lessons in low light shooting and the next time I went out in the field I adapted my shooting style to work around this limitation. I have gone back to my portfolio and looked at some images from Safaris in 2013. Specifically images at night where I shot 5000 and 6400 iso. Looking back this is crazy...! Oh how little did I know!!? Despite my best attempts in Lightroom I never managed to treat these images to an acceptable level of quality to share.
Enter the Nik Collection.
I have been playing with black and white conversions and I have been very surprised with the results...
Here is an example. Look at the image below.
So as you can see this a young male lion, at night, with a spot light from the vehicle shining on him. I took this at f4.0 which was the widest aperture I could shoot at and 1/100th of a second which I felt was the slowest shutter speed I could use and still keep things sharp. The ISO was 5000. The result? Well its not great is it? It's orange, because the white balance has been affected by the spot light and on a lions coat this has given a look that is far too warm. Is this shot usable? Not really. Did I learn from it? Absolutely!
So what did I do?
Well using the Nik Collection Silver Efex Pro 2 plug in, I did a black and white conversion. The plug in gives you a number of preset options, which can then be tweaked (look at the right hand column in the image below).
As a result of using the conversion plug in I got the following file as an output:
Now to me this looks much better. Maybe "better" isn't the right phrase, different. Yes, the outcome is completely different. The black and white conversion has overcome some of the problematic lighting issues, and of course completely eliminated the white balance problem. It has also enabled me to reduce the noise from the high ISO setting. But more importantly, it has enabled me to change the mood of the image completely. From what before was clearly a side light situation, and a very poor one at that....[side note, I was not sat in the vehicle that was lighting the lion with a spot, otherwise I would have had a quiet word in the field guides ear!] I now have an image which creates some mystery about it. There are some shadows but they aren't to distracting, and the light is on the facial features showing just enough detail.
I haven't optimised my workflow as I am still learning about these new set of plug in's. But I already see a lot of potential. I can see how they can be used in certain circumstances to transform images that have potentially been lost or suffered from the limitations of the cameras performance, especially for low light shooting.
Here are a few other examples of different shots from the same sighting...
I got asked the other day "is it worth the investment"? Well I will let you decide based on these early results. I think anything that gives you a further creative option in the post processing stage is a huge advantage, and I am really excited to see the possibilities I have with these black and white conversions. I am really looking forward to further optimising my workflow and see what the results bring.