Non-Destructive Editing in the Nik Collection

by Feb 27, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Non-Destructive Editing in the Nik Collection

When DxO launched the Nik Collection 3, they included one of the most widely requested features, non-destructive editing. In this article, I’ll be explaining how this works in the Nik Collection and some of the limitations. But to start, let’s explain non-destructive editing and why it’s so important when editing your photos.

What is Non-Destructive Editing

Non-destructive photo editing has always been important to editing professionals. Imagine working as a professional editor and spending several hours adjusting a photo for a client. You carefully select and then delete unwanted people from an image following the client’s instructions. You then add missing elements, apply some finishing adjustments, before sending a proof to the client for approval. You followed the client brief exactly and your work is flawless.

That afternoon the client calls to say great work, but can you add some of the people you removed back into the frame. They changed their mind about how the image should look having seen the proof.

This is a nightmare scenario if you didn’t use non-destructive editing techniques. If you worked destructively, each of your changes becomes part of the image in a way that’s irreversible. When you want to add something you deleted, you need to copy it from the original image. But if you had used non-destructive editing, you could probably turn off the layer that’s hiding them (layers are an important tool in non-destructive editing). Each change you make is reversible independently of the other changes. With destructive editing, it’s not.

The other important point is that when changes are non-destructive, they persist between editing sessions. You could open the image again in a year’s time, on another computer and you could still reverse your change with ease.

Non-destructive Editing in the Nik Collection

Now that we are clear about what non-destructive editing is, let’s look at how it’s achieved in the Nik Collection.

Historically when you applied changes to an image in the Nik Collection, the adjustments were applied directly to the image. If you later decided you wanted to change perhaps one of the Nik filters, you needed to start again. This could waste a lot of time, particularly if there were a lot of Control Points involved.

One way Photoshop users could overcome this is with Smart Objects. By converting a Photoshop Layer to a Smart Object it’s possible to use the Nik Collection as a Smart Filter. Then when you apply your changes in the Nik Collection, details of the filters and Control Points used are stored in the Smart Object. It’s then possible to reopen the Nik Smart Filter to change the adjustments and even the Control Points. And providing the image was saved as a Photoshop PSD file, this editing capability is preserved.

But whilst Photoshop users of the Nik Collection had a way to achieve non-destructive editing, Lightroom users weren’t quite so lucky. This is the problem addressed by the Nik Collection 3 but it can help more than just Lightroom users.

Nik Collection 3 Non-Destructive Editing

DxO managed to solve the non-destructive problem by ingeniously using a feature of the TIFF file format. Like Photoshop PSD files, TIFF files can support saving layers. It’s this ability to save layers that the Nik Collection 3 uses to save the filter and control point information between editing sessions. This means that when you open an image for editing in the TIFF format, the Nik Collection tool you are using recognises this.

Here’s the message you will see unless you’ve taken the option to turn it off.

Nik Collection message about non-destructive editing when using a TIFF file

Click the OK button to close the message and you will see a new option to the bottom right of the interface. This is a tick box which you can click to toggle the non-destructive editing on and off.

Save and edit later option in the Nik Collection when editing a TIFF

When the option is selected and you click the Save button, any changes you applied are saved in the TIFF. This includes the filters you used in say Nik Color Efex Pro and any Control Points you added. Next time you open the TIFF file for editing, everything is just as it was when you saved your changes, and you can continue your editing.

Limitations of Nik Non-Destructive Editing

As great as this solution is, there are a few limitations to be aware of. Here are some of the most important:

  • Nik Perspective Efex doesn’t currently support non-destructive editing, but the rest of the Nik Collection does.
  • You must use a TIFF file for editing. It won’t work with a JPEG file.
  • The TIFF file must be opened directly into the Nik application for editing. If you are using the Nik Collection Standalone for editing an image this works. It also works if you are using the Nik Collection in Capture One, Lightroom, and PhotoLab as they all support exporting a TIFF file to the Nik Collection for editing. Where it doesn’t work is if you are editing a TIFF file in Photoshop or Affinity Photo and then use the Nik Collection as a Plugin.
  • You can only currently save the adjustments from one Nik Collection Plugin to the TIFF file. For example, if you saved your changes made in Colour Efex Pro and then later saved changes made in Viveza to the same TIFF file, only the changes from Viveza are retained.

Despite these limitations, the Nik Collection 3 non-destructive workflow is a great feature to be aware of.

Summary

In this tutorial we’ve covered how non-destructive editing works and why it’s so important. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a professional photo editor, non-destructive editing will save you time and frustration.

The Nik Collection has always been a great photo editor but unless you are a Photoshop user there was no way to apply a non-destructive editing workflow. Now with the Nik Collection 3, there is a solution. If you are using the Nik Collection with the likes of Lightroom, Capture One or PhotoLab this feature could be of significant benefit.

If you have an older version of the Nik Collection you can download a free trial of the Nik Collection 3 from the DxO website (affiliate link) to try the non-destructive editing.

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