I’ve heard mention a couple of times recently of a Photoshop plugin called Silver Efex, and how it’s a great tool for helping photographers process monochrome images. I love my black-and-white photography, so I decided to check it out. Silver Efex is part of the Google Nik Collection, aimed at photographers looking to streamline their processing workflow and time.

I’ve downloaded the free trial, which lasts for 15 days, to have a play around and see what I can get out of it. I downloaded it only a day ago, so this is a brief first impression of the collection.

 

What’s in the Nik Collection?

The collection contains seven plugins in total:

  • Analog Efex Pro: designed to give your digital photos that film look
  • Color Efex Pro: a large toolbox to help you with everything from correcting colour casts, adjusting contrast and smoothing skin tones to adding fun, colourful filters
  • Silver Efex Pro: specifically dedicated to monochrome processing
  • Viveza: adjusting colour and tone without having to wrestle with Photoshop masks
  • HDR Efex Pro: like it says on the tin – HDR processing
  • Sharpener Pro: to help you fine-tune your sharpening, which includes profiles depending on your output (screen or printer, for example)
  • Dfine: dedicated noise-reduction plugin

 

How does it work?

As with other plugins, you start with your image open in your editor (the Nik Collection is compatible with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom and the Mac-only Aperture). When you then select the plugin you wish to use, it pops open in its own window (see the screenshot below).

A screenshot of the editing screen of the Silver Efex plugin

 

Once you’ve finished your editing, click the OK button, and your effect is added to the image file as a new layer. You can’t go back and re-edit the layer in the plugin again; however, with the Color Efex, Silver Efex and Analog Efex plugins, you can save a set of adjustments as a ‘recipe’, which you can then go and apply to other photos. You can also do all the usual stuff with the layer in Photoshop, such as changing the blending mode and opacity and creating masks.

A screenshot of my workspace in Photoshop, showing the layers created by the Nik Collection plugins

 

I used this photo of my daughter to give the collection a quick test drive . The photos I’ve posted below show an example of an Analog Efex adjustment, a Silver Efex adjustment and a Color Efex adjustment. I’ve also included the original, to compare.

 

The unedited, colour photograph of my young daughter, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. She's nearly side on, looking down at the floor in front of her.
Original photo
The unedited, colour photograph of my young daughter, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. She's nearly side on, looking down at the floor in front of her.
The photo has been adjusted to give it the qualities of an older film photo
Analog Efex
The photo has been adjusted to give it the qualities of an older film photo
The photo has been adjusted to a very low saturation with a yellow overtone
Color Efex
The photo has been adjusted to a very low saturation with a yellow overtone
The photo has been adjusted to a dark, heavy monochrome with a distinct grain
Silver Efex
The photo has been adjusted to a dark, heavy monochrome with a distinct grain

 

All I did here was grab a predefined style from the Analog Efex, Silver Efex and Color Efex plugins. They are, however, massively customisable, and it’s going to take me more than a day to get my head around it all.

 

Overall first impressions

I like the Nik Collection, from what I’ve seen so far. It has everything from basic editing features to allow you to tinker with contrast, levels, colour saturation etc, through to film grains, vintage paper effects, borders and colour filters. It’s all customisable at every level and gives you the opportunity to get much more artistic and creative with your photos without having to spend countless hours learning more Photoshop. Even if an effect or filter isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, it can be a good starting point, so you don’t have to do everything from scratch.

I also need to spend a bit of time with the control points feature, which, from what I’ve seen, allows you to make adjustments to just a selected part of the image, which can be great if you don’t get on with masks in Photoshop.

It looks like it’ll have a simpler learning curve and faster workflow than Photoshop itself, which could be useful for both professional photographers and hobbyists.

I’ve got a couple of weeks to play with all the plugins (and I think I’m going to need it!). It retails at £95, but it looks like you get a lot for your money.

[Edit: since this post was written, Google has made the plugin free-of-charge; I’d really recommend downloading it.]

[Edit August 2017: Google has now announced they’re no longer supporting the Nik collection. Whilst it’ll continue to work as it is, as software such as Photoshop CC are updated, Nik may not be able to keep up. Therefore, I’m now weaning myself off the plugins again!]


Have you used the Nik Collection? What did you think? Is it useful, a life-saver? Or just not worth it? Let me know by leaving me a comment.

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