Using the Nik Collection
As someone whose been using the Nik Collection for a very long time, I tend not to think very much about which plugins you need. I just sort of know. But then I was recently talking to someone and they reminded me about how confusing the Nik Collection can first appear. That’s why I decided to write this article about how to use the Nik Collection.
If you want to know more about using the Nik Collection, I've created a page of Nik Collection tutorials to help.
The Nik Collection of Unrelated Plugins
When you first start using the Nik Collection in Photoshop or Lightroom, you’re immediately faced with a confusing decision and a few questions:
Which of the eight plugins should you use first?
Is there a preferred sequence?
And what on earth do all these Nik plugins do?
Here’s the full list of the plugins as they appear in the Nik Collection 2018:
- Analog Efex Pro 2
- Color Efex Pro 4
- Dfine 2
- HDR Efex Pro
- Sharpener Pro 3: RAW Presharpener
- Sharpener Pro 3: Output Sharpener
- Silver Efex Pro 2
- Viveza 2
Whilst there isn’t a specific sequence for using the Nik Collection plugins, there are a few recommendations to consider. But before we can get onto those, you need to understand what each of the Nik Collection plugins does.
Categorising the Nik Collection Plugins
Let’s start by defining a few categories that can help us to make sense of the Nik Collection:
- Preparation – includes tasks you should complete before applying adjustments to a photo.
- Adjustment – adjusting a photo to enhance it, correct it or apply special effects.
- Finishing – adjustments you apply specifically to prepare a photo for publishing.
As you can see, these are stages in a photo editing workflow.
The other important point to understand when using the Nik Collection is that they only work with JPEG and TIFF files. This means that if you’re working with RAW files, you will need to convert these to an image using a RAW converter. Only then can you start to work on the image with the Nik Collection.
What the Nik Plugins are Used For
Let’s consider the best category for each of the plugins in the Nik Collection, as well as understand what they do.
- Dfine 2 – Removal of image noise from photos. Typically, you apply this early in the processing before other adjustments have exaggerated the noise, making it more difficult to remove. It is possible you might apply further noise reduction, but selectively, as part of the Image Finishing stage.
- Sharpener Pro 3: RAW Presharpener – This is one part of the Sharpener Pro plugin. It’s intended for sharpening images shot as RAW files, to counter the softening effect of the capture process.
- Analog Efex Pro 2 – Applies special effects to a photo which are reminiscent of film photography. But these don’t replicate a specific film types but rather the imperfections associated with film cameras. For example, fading, scratches, light leaks etc that you might see when looking at old photos.
- Color Efex Pro 4 – This plugin contains a wide selection of filters covering a range of activities. Some will help you enhance or correct photos (and allow you to maintain a realistic photo). Others add special effects to photos, for example simulating a polaroid film effect.
- HDR Efex Pro – This plugin has two functions. The first is to combine multiple photos with different exposures into a single HDR image; there is an argument you could consider this Image Preparation. The other function is to apply tone mapping to HDR images.
- Silver Efex Pro 2 – Converts photos to monochrome. It includes adjustments that allow you to maximise the appeal of the converted image. Also, you can apply special effects that are typical of black and white film like film grain.
- Viveza 2 – Adjusting the tones in a photo (how light or dark an area appears) as well as the colours.
- Sharpener Pro 3: Output Sharpener – This is the other part of the Sharpener Pro plugin. It’s applied to images as a final step to prepare them for output either to a screen or in print.
Creating a Workflow
When it comes to deciding the order to use the Nik Collection plugins, the following diagram should help you.
Notice the illustration shows the three categories we discussed about earlier. Image Preparation, Image Adjustment and Image Finishing. You will also notice the Image Adjustment stage is in two. On one side you have Image Adjustment for colour images whilst on the other we have black and white image processing.
If you look at each stage, you can see the suggested Nik Collection plugins to use in that stage. You’ll also see a number to the left of each. This indicates a possible order in which you would use the plugin. For example, for Image Preparation you would use Dfine noise reduction before applying Sharpener Pro RAW Presharpener. That’s because it’s more difficult to remove noise cleanly once you sharpen the image.
In some of the stages you will see the numbers aren’t in sequence, for example “1/2) Viveza adjustment”. This indicates you can apply any Viveza adjustments either first or second. If you look at the “Image Adjustment Colour” section, you will see both Viveza and Color Efex Pro have this number. It’s indicating you can use either in any order you like.
Using this graphic, you should be able to navigate your way to a good workflow for processing both colour and black and white photos using the Nik Collection.
Special Effects Exceptions
There are a couple of exceptions not covered by the diagram that we need to deal with. These are Nik Analog Efex and Nik HDR Efex.
In the case of these plugins, you would use them in the Image Adjustment stage of editing. Typically, you would apply one of these plugins before continuing to the Image Finishing stage. Nik HDR Efex may be an exception though.
There are times when it’s hard to achieve the look you want, only using the tools in HDR Efex. The first example is if your HDR image is going to be a colour photo. Don’t be afraid to take it into Viveza and/or Color Efex to refine the colours and apply further adjustments. The other is to use HDR Efex to pre-process a photo before converting it to black and white. This can help create a very effective black and white conversion and something I covered in this Youtube video.
The best advice I can give is not to worry too much about the order you apply the Nik Collection plugins to your photos. The order you use the plugins can be important but it’s not critical. If you follow the workflow suggested in this tutorial you will be on safe ground when it comes to using the Nik Collection tools.