Early on in processing my Africa photos, I stumbled upon the Nik Software suite of plug-ins for Photoshop and Aperture. I had heard good things about Silver Efex Pro for converting color photos to black and white, but I was also in need of a output sharpening solution. So I decided to give their whole set of plugins a test drive. I immediately saw how powerful they were and bought the Complete Collection which includes Viveza (dodging and burning on steroids), Color Efex Pro (tons of useful color processing filters), Silver Efex Pro (black and white tools), Define (noise reduction), and Sharpener Pro (creative and output sharpening).
I have used at least one of these plugins on almost every single photo I have processed from my recent trip to Tanzania. The thing I love most about these plugins, is that they work as Smart Filters in Photoshop so I can work completely non-destructively. This has been a huge workflow victory because I generally create two versions of each photo…a screen version for display on the web and then a print version which is tweaked to look good printed with pigment inks on my favorite paper, Museo Silver Rag. I can easily go back to any stage of my editing process and change settings so that the image looks good for the output medium.
The feature that makes these plugins so powerful in the U point technology which lets you chose areas of the photo that you want to be affected by the plugin. It creates very accurate masks of whatever you’ve clicked on which greatly reduces the need to create complex layer masks to isolate certain areas of a photo. I just wish there was a way to export the masks that it creates so that I could use them with other Photoshop tasks.
I also use Capture NX 2 from Nik Software to initially process most of my RAW photos. Although Capture NX 2 is powerful, it does lack the nice intuitive user interface that the plugins have. In fact, Capture NX is so clunky, I sometimes find it hard to believe that it came out of the same company as the plugins. The reason I use it instead of Adobe Camera Raw or Aperture is that it is specially designed to process Nikon NEF RAW files and gives me access to some of the in-camera processing features on the Nikon cameras. In side by side comparisons, it also yields the sharpest RAW conversion between ACR and Aperture…although Aperture is a close second. Strangely, ACR is in distant last place in my quality tests of RAW conversion.
Anyway, I just thought I’d share my experience with the Nik Software plugins. If you’re curious, download the trial, but be prepared to fall in love and thus have to spend money :)