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WHY I’M NO LONGER USING NIK COLLECTION

21ST JAN '2116 MIN READ

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I like to feel I’m getting good value from the software I use, whether it’s on a stand-alone or subscription basis. I was never a fan of subscriptions, but I’ve seen the light and realise that Adobe provide excellent value as they continue to develop new features without charging for updates or increasing the subscription fee…for now. When I find any software that makes my workflow better and helps me to create a great final result, I like to share this with other photographers. For years, I’ve been using Nik software (before Google bought it and offered it for free) and found several of their filters – especially the pro contrast – very useful, so I promoted it in my workshops and magazine articles.

After DxO bought it from Google in 2017, they launched the Nik Collection in June 2018. I had to buy it again to continue to use it, as DxO wouldn’t honour previous licences. As a user, I’m not concerned with who owns the software as long as it does the job, but just because the ownership changes I’m expected to buy it again? It’s beginning to feel like I’m being taken advantage of as a consumer.

If you’ve been using the 2018 Nik Collection, in June 2019 you would have had a pop-up alert telling you to upgrade your software…at a cost! Even if you don’t want to upgrade you can’t stop the alert from appearing every time you launch the software. But was it worth paying for the upgrade? After taking it for a test run, not much is new that isn’t present in other software; the graphic interface has been given a facelift, but the same wrinkles are still present inside. The filters still add noise to the image, which you then have to remove using Define2… but there’s something that’s much better for removing noise which I’ll come to later.

For Christmas, I treated myself to a 2020 5K 27 inch iMac which comes with the new Big Sur OS. I bought a slimline iMac back in 2012 and it’s performed very well, but I thought the new processor and 5K display would be a huge boost to my everyday work. The display is incredible. I never realised my images were that sharp! I did a clean install of the various software programs that I use and to my surprise Nik wasn’t supported on the new OS. When I contacted DxO they said it will not be supported and that I should use an old OS.

Well, that’s really practical; essentially DxO are forcing me to pay for an upgrade in order to continue to use their software that I’ve had less than 2 years use out of and paid twice for already! In my opinion, that’s little more than extortion. There wasn’t any gesture of goodwill on their part and it wouldn’t have taken much to keep this customer happy. Instead, I will now make a point of telling photographers not to use the Nik Collection, as it seems like DxO are just doing a money grab without really making any major advances in their software. If you’re a new user to Nik, no doubt you will find the filters a benefit, but if you’re already a user, I can’t help but to think DxO have no respect for their customer base by continually making them pay for upgrades that really are not beneficial. And that’s why I won’t be using any DxO software again.

Well, that’s really practical; essentially DxO are forcing me to pay for an upgrade in order to continue to use their software that I’ve had less than 2 years use out of and paid twice for already! In my opinion, that’s little more than extortion. There wasn’t any gesture of goodwill on their part and it wouldn’t have taken much to keep this customer happy. Instead, I will now make a point of telling photographers not to use the Nik Collection, as it seems like DxO are just doing a money grab without really making any major advances in their software. If you’re a new user to Nik, no doubt you will find the filters a benefit, but if you’re already a user, I can’t help but to think DxO have no respect for their customer base by continually making them pay for upgrades that really are not beneficial. And that’s why I won’t be using any DxO software again. Rant over!

In complete contrast, Skylum, the developers of Luminar, are a very progressive company that are in tune with their customers. As an affiliate, I’ve dealt with the folks at Skylum over the past year and found they really care about producing the best software package to help photographers get the most from their images. They are quickly on their way to becoming one of the market leaders in photo-editing software. In the words of Skylum’s chief evangelist, Rich Harrington, ‘Luminar is amazingly simple and simply amazing.’ With the recent introduction of Luminar AI, Skylum are proving to be an innovator of new software rather than resting on their laurels.

As I go back through my collection of images, I now look with fresh eyes at the advancement of software and improvement in my own processing techniques. I often get asked in my workshops what is the best processing software to use. To be frank, there isn’t one program that will do everything exceptional well, so I use a variety of different programs. By using just one program, you are limiting your capability and creativity. It would be like an artist only using one colour or one medium.

I’m going to rework an image of Wharariki Beach at Sunset in New Zealand that I made back in 2016 using Luminar 4, Photoshop and Lightroom. Each one of these programs excels in different ways, so I chose this image to show several techniques that you might be able to apply to your own.

LR-RAW-file
RAW file with no adjustments
Lightroom adjustments
  1. Starting off in Lightroom where I manage my collection, I started by controlling the exposure range as there are very bright areas of the sky and the very dark sea stack. Keeping an eye on the histogram, I reduced the exposure by 1 stop, reduced the bright highlights by -50, increased the shadows +100 and increased the blacks by +30 to bring out a little detail in the rocks. Notice that I’ve checked the Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Corrections under the Lens Corrections tab, which can be done upon import to save doing this every time. This will correct any lens issues such as distortion, vignetting , etc., and sharp-edged subjects such as this sea stack is susceptible to colour fringing. There was red and cyan fringing around the sea stack, but this was removed instantly just by checking this box.
  1. Take the image into Photoshop by clicking command + E on a Mac or you can go to Photo>edit in>Photoshop. Any retouching can be done quickly using the spot healing brush, clone tool or content aware fill procedure. This is where Photoshop is so much better to use than any other program. I’m also going to show you a great tip to solve frequent problems with subjects like this when you push the contrast or structure of the image-halos. More on that later after we work on the image in Luminar 4.
Select and adjust Look in Luminar 4
  1. Go to Filter>Skylum software>Luminar 4. I normally use ‘Landscape’ in the Luminar Looks which will give a selection of different Looks or presets along the bottom of the window that pertain to most of the images that I shoot. Now I know you may have heard some photographers say that you should never use presets, that it takes away your control. In fact, you still have all the control you want, but it just speeds up the whole process. When you select any of the Looks, you will see over on the right side panel any of the features will light up from grey to white where the preset has affected the image. Then if you want, you can make any further selective adjustments. Here I chose Warm Sunset as my image is exactly that. I adjusted the slider on the Look, down from 100% to around 75%. Next, I went into AI Enhance to adjust the AI Sky Enhancer that only affects the sky. I increased it to about 60, which mainly darkened that bright blue area. Next I wanted to bring out the texture of the clouds in AI Structure by increasing the amount to 50 and the boost to 40. Whenever you increase the contrast you add saturation, so I then went into the Color panel and lowered the saturation a bit to -9. If you go into Advanced Setting, you can selectively adjust individual colours in hue, saturation, luminance and hue shift. This gives tremendous control over the image and I use it all the time.
luminar 4, advanced contrast
Adjusting Advanced Contrast in Luminar 4
  1. I finished off the image by adding some Advanced Contrast under the Pro panel. With Nik, I used to finish images using the pro contrast. I now use the Advanced Contrast in Luminar 4, where I can selectively adjust the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows with greater control.
removing halos in PS
Indicators showing halos created by adding contrast
  1. Click the apply button taking the image back into Photoshop. I mentioned that often you run the risk of creating halos around a sharply defined subject such as the sea stack when you increase contrast. Now you can see where this is apparent in the circled areas. You can easily remove these halos by using the cloning tool and changing the blending mode to ‘darken’. I sometimes lower the opacity and flow so it blends easier by going over the area several times until I reach the desired tone. Then just select an area opposite the halo and clone out the lighter tone. It will only darken the halo area and not the dark subject. If you have any artefacts in the dark edge area, then you can use the quick selection tool to select the area, then go to Select>inverse and use the clone tool to select from the dark subject with the blending mode again set to darken, then clone out the artefacts. Don’t worry about going over the edge of the subject as it won’t affect the area outside the selection.
Halos removed using blending mode & clone tool in Photoshop
  1. I mentioned a better replacement for Nik’s DeFine2, which is Topaz’s DeNoise AI. As you can see on the interface, you can choose various settings for noise reduction and even enhance sharpness. The most remarkable thing is it removes noise without obliterating the details. There is an auto setting that usually does a very good job, but sometimes you get better results in manual mode so you can apply just the right amount of noise reduction according to the subject. The Low Light setting is particularly good for night photography using high ISOs. I was so impressed after testing it that I bought it, especially as I wasn’t going to be using Nik any longer. It is by far the best noise reduction software on the market. If you would like to test it for yourself, you can download it here. Save some money by using my discount code http://topazlabs.refr.cc/tommackie
Topaz DeNoise to remove any noise especially in the shadows

7. Save the file in Photoshop, and it will go back to Lightroom. There is just one last thing that is bugging me about this image and it’s something that you must pay attention to when you have a reflective surface in any of your own images – make sure the reflections match. And, especially if you’ve retouched something out of the subject, you have to remember to remove it from the reflection. In this case, I wanted the reflection of the cloud to match the colour of the sky. All I did was use the grad tool from the bottom at the angle over the cloud reflection and reduced the exposure by about 1 stop as reflections look strange if they are lighter than the subject. Then I used the colour picker and chose a colour that came as close as possible to the colour in the cloud.

grad tool in Lightroom

So there you have it. It’s quite a transformation from the RAW file and, in my opinion, a big improvement on how I originally worked up the image. It brought out detail in the sea stack that I didn’t even think was there. All dues to Luminar 4 in getting the best from the file and if you haven’t tried it yet I highly recommend it. Here’s a link to download Luminar 4 – use my promo code ‘Tom’ to save some money. It’s reasonably priced anyway with no subscription and free upgrades. Unlike DxO’s Nik collection. Oh, did I mention I’m not using Nik any longer?

Wharariki Beach at Sunset, New Zealand

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