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Four Top Photographers Share Insight on Processing Images with Nik Software

You all know I’m a huge fan of Nik Software plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  I’ve written often about my affection for Silver Efex Pro 2 and it’s powerful but intuitive controls for converting color images to black and white, and how Viveza 2 makes it effortless to to make local and global adjustments to light and color, and don’t get me started on all the amazing filters in Color Efex Pro 4 that allow me to make creative edits without logging endless hours at my desk.  Now throw in Dfine 2 for noise reduction that doesn’t sacrifice detail, Sharpener Pro 3 for painless sharpening of images for web and print and HDR Efex Pro 2 for creating stunning images with expanded dynamic range and you’ve got an unparalleled collection of imaging software.  But you expect to hear that from me.  So instead of writing another blog post about how I use the Nik Software Complete Collection, I thought I’d ask a few of the most talented photographers on the planet to share some insight on how they use these tools in their workflow.  Read on to learn how Laurie Rubin, Mike Moats, John Batdorff and Peter Tellone take control of their images with the Nik Software Complete Collection.

Nik Software Laurie Rubin – Laurie is a well-traveled nature and wildlife photographer with an impressive portfolio of stunning imagery.  I found her “Animals of East Africa” web gallery to be especially impressive.  Laurie’s been using Nik Software plug-ins for about 8 years.  I asked Laurie why she prefers to use Nik plug-ins instead of a more traditional approach like Photoshop.  Her response? “The Nik Software products make it so easy to make adjustments without having to make layers and masks. Using Dfine 2.0 to remove noise from images that are shot at high ISO is a simple click of a button and having the ability to use Control Points within any of the Nik products allows for quick and easy selective adjustments. Whether you are trying to bring up details in shadowed areas with Viveza 2 or creating global enhancements throughout your image by adding a soft, moody effect, with Color Efex Pro 4 and the Midnight filter for example, you have total control how you want your image to look.”  Laurie’s two favorite plug-ins are Color Efex Pro 4 and Sharpener Pro 3, which she uses on wildlife images to selectively sharpen the eyes because she believes “an animal’s eyes can speak volumes in an image.”  Some of Laurie’s favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters include Tonal Contrast, Midnight, Vignette Lens, Darken/Lighten Center, Image Borders and Detail Extractor, which she enjoys because it makes it easy to bring out details in feathers on a bird or within a lion’s mane.  Laurie also likes the Glamour Glow filter – even for animals!  To see more of Laurie’s fantastic work, please visit her website at

Mike Moats – Simply stated, Mike Moats has mastered macro photography.  His website, Tiny Landscapes, showcases what I consider to be the most inspired collection of macro images you’ll ever see.  Mike learned of Nik Software’s Complete Collection nearly two years ago from a student at one of his wildly popular (and usually sold out) “Macro Photography Boot Camps”.  Mike watched as the student used a Control Point in Viveza to selectively adjust exposure and color without having to resort to complicated layers and masks.  He was intrigued and downloaded the software as soon as he got home.  Mike’s workflow usually begins with Color Efex Pro 4 to achieve “the look he wants using one or more of the filters”.  Then he fine tunes the image using Control Points in Viveza 2.  I asked Mike to name a few of his favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters and he rattled off several that he uses on a regular basis, often with four or more used on one image.  His favorite filters include Detail Extractor, which he likes because it “pulls out the details in the textures, and also enhances the colors” and the Midnight filter, which he finds “slightly softens the details and adds a nice dark moody look to an image”. He also uses the Dark Contrast or Low Key filter on images that are a bit too bright, the High Key or Skylight filter on photos that are a bit dark and the Brilliance/Warmth filter to enhance colors (I also use this one often).  Other favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters include Solarization, Polaroid Transfer and Glamour Glow.  Be sure to check out Mike’s blog at for inspiration in the form of beautiful macro images and frequent tips on how he makes these stunning images.

John Batdorff – John is a talented landscape and travel photographer, author of several books including the fantastic “Plug In with Nik“, an in-demand workshop leader and all-around great guy.  John has been using Nik Software for six years and though he still uses Lightroom and Photoshop to some degree, he finds that Nik’s plug-ins are “very intuitive and the tools are so powerful that it allows me to focus on my creative vision without the technical “how to” distractions”.  As a nationally recognized authority on black and white photography, it should come as no surprise that one of John’s favorite Nik tools is Silver Efex Pro 2.  He says, “Nothing gives you as much control over your black and white images”.  He’s also a “big fan” of HDR Efex Pro 2 because of the ease with which it allows you to create natural looking high dynamic range landscapes and Color Efex Pro 4, which he describes as the “Swiss Army Knife of plugins that can be used to deal with a flat sky or add a cool border around an image and many other important edits”.  I’ve never heard it put that way but I wholeheartedly agree!  Stay in touch with John on Facebooktwitter and Google Plus.

Peter Tellone – There aren’t a whole lot of photographers who produce truly spectacular HDR landscapes but Peter Tellone is one of them.  Peter’s images are masterfully composed and expertly processed, resulting in stunning HDR photographs based in realism.  He’s been using Nik Software’s plug-ins for about two years.  I asked Peter if he had any tips to share with photographers about using HDR Efex Pro 2 that would help them avoid “overcooking” their HDR images.  He said that the most common problem he sees is that “with all of HDR Efex Pro 2’s controls in front of them they think they have to use them all” when in fact, doing less often results in a much more natural image.  Peter typically adjusts only the overall exposure, saturation, compression and structure.  The HDR process can often add noise to an image, which Peter deals with by using Nik’s Dfine plug-in.  He likes using Dfine because it allows him to easily eliminate noise while maintaining important detail.  He also uses Nik Sharpener Pro 3 to sharpen his images for web and print.  I asked Peter why he prefers to use Nik Software’s plug-ins instead of Photoshop.  He said that he’s been using Photoshop for a very long time and “knows his way around it very well, so when he reaches for other software he needs to do it better and faster than Photoshop can.”  That’s a sentiment I echo.  Be sure to check out Peter’s excellent blog, “The HDR Image“, for great tutorials, tips and more.

There you have it, folks.  Insight from four top photographers about how they use Nik Software’s Complete Collection of Lightroom and Photoshop plug-ins to take control of and streamline their digital darkroom workflow.  For even more in-depth training and tutorials, I can’t recommend enough the great videos and webinars on the Nik website.  I owe a huge thanks to Laurie, Mike, John and Peter for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts and advice with me.  Please take a moment to check out their websites and get inspired by their photography!

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bret edge

 Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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