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Nik Software experiments

Continuing to explore the possibilities with Nik Software’s Photoshop plugins as I revisit the film scans from my trips to China back in 1999 and 2001.    My current workflow with the images is as follows; Adobe Lightroom,

- cropping if required - adjust exposure if required - set black and white points to avoid or at least minimize clipping - modest level of noise reduction to overcome grain (remember these are film scans not digital captures) - modest level of sharpening with masking deployed to limit the sharpening effect to the most detailed parts of the image. - dust spot removal if required

then take the image from Lightroom into Photoshop CS5,

- convert for smart filters then open in Nik Software plugin

- Color Efex Pro or - Silver Efex Pro

Save the resulting image as an uncompressed layered TIFF file and return to Lightroom for image export to the web.

Ploughed field, Guangxi Provence, China
Ploughed field, Guangxi Provence, China

Above,  a ploughed field in Guangxi Provence in south eastern China,  1999.    In the Li River area,  the landscape is dominated by wonderful limestone karsts.  A farmer rests for a moment as his buffalo grazes.  This version is the most realistic interpretation of the scene with detail in the foreground and some detail in the the distant elements partially obscured or softened by mist.

There are so many possible variations using the plugins and I’ve now saved a couple of favourites as “recipes” or presets.    Here are some of the possibilities;

Ploughed field, Guangxi Provence, China, detail extractor effect
Ploughed field, Guangxi Provence, China, detail extractor effect

In Color Efex Pro the use of “detail extractor” has added fine contrast and texture particularly to the karsts where the effect is concentrated due to the use of control points.

glamour glow effect
glamour glow effect

Again in Color Efex Pro,  this time using “glamor glow”.  Note the warming of the tones and the overall softening effect.   This effect is most often associated with “glamour” photography,  intimate portraiture, wedding photography etc,  but I think it lends itself nicely to landscape as well.  It offers a (dare I say it?) more painterly effect.

detail extractor and glamour glow effects
detail extractor and glamour glow effects

It is possible to combine the filters and localize the effects through the use of control points to finesse the result.

selenium toned monochrome
selenium toned monochrome

Into Silver Efex Pro and similar controls are available over contrast, detail etc,  but also there are some nice toning presets available.  Above is a subtle selenium toned version with an equally subtle vignette.  Whilst below is a light sepia toned effect.

sepia toned monochrome
sepia toned monochrome

With the monochrome images I’m producing at the moment,  I’m using the selenium toning most,  particularly on the landscape pictures,  largely as a matter of consistency.  I’m also using a simple white border on the monochrome images,  again this is just a personal preference.    If there is one criticism I have of the Nik plugins it relates to their offering of border effects.   The border effects look great and there is enormous flexibility,  however they work within the image frame meaning that the border effect is achieved by cropping into the image.    As a result,  I add the border effect to the monochrome images in Photoshop.   Given that the effect is the same on all the images,  I have saved the process as an action and can activate it with a single keystroke.

There is one last point that I’ll make regards the processing.   On taking the image into Photoshop,  I convert it to a smart object.  This offers great flexibility as,  if I wish to revisit the image later,  I can reopen the image in the plugin and access all the settings,  including localized adjustments,  that are specific to that image.     ~KD