Nik Viveza - Mini Review

DSC_0315_Viveza.jpgI still use Adobe Photoshop, in fact I just upgraded to CS4 a little while ago but what I use it for is becoming more and more specialized and far less frequent. Maybe I will do a rundown on exactly what I use it for some other day. The reason that I use it far less than I used to is due to Nik Software, specifically Nik Viveza.

I was first introduced to Nik Software's unique way of doing things in Nikon NX and NX2. NX and NX2 come with color control points built-in, Viveza is a plug-in for Aperture and Adobe products that pretty much boils down to color control points. NX2 goes beyond that in allowing you to use control points as masks for anything else NX2 can do as well but I will stick to color control points as this is what Viveza does. I used to use Photoshop for local adjustments and I still do but 90% of what I do for my personal work can be done with Viveza. In fact it is so easy and intuitive that I rather use Viveza than other methods of making selections and masks if I can.

The Nik Software website has a far better tutorial on what control points are and how they work than I would care to put together. Instead of a walk through I will be brief and just show a practical example of one of the ways that I use Viveza as well as my opinion on the variations of packaging from Nik and my opinions on what you should buy. One word of caution that cannot be repeated enough, do not interpret this example as how Viveza can rescue a really bad photograph and make a good one. This example is how Viveza can help you get what you want from a scene quickly and easily if you know where you want to go.

The image at the top of the post is a pretty much final version of an image that I have had a number of discussions with on-line iBuddiesâ„¢ regarding "how I did it". I produced it as a black and white using Nik Silver EFEX and the people were very interested in the post processing so I figured I would do a color version with Viveza for your pleasure (or not). Here is the original image strait out of camera using Aperture's default RAW conversion.

DSC_0315original.jpg

Bleahhhk, but not an accident. I shot it this way because I know exactly what my camera does and planned to produce a black and white version using Silver EFEX. This image's entire reason to exist from my point of view was the sky and the reflections in the water. I wanted it to have a feeling that it was late in the day (it was 6/24/09 at 8pm right around the summer solstice). The only thing that I wanted to make sure of was that I could ratchet the hell out of the contrast while while retaining detail in the brightest clouds, reflections in the water, and detail in the ripples on the water without going totally white or totally black. For my taste most images with really strong clouds that have the contrast ratcheted up end up blowing out the whites in the bright areas of the clouds. The problem with that is the clouds look like they are made out of cement and loose the gaseous vapor feeling in those images, especially on paper.

Moving on, this is the version I sent into Viveza.

DSC_0315adjusted.jpg

Wow, that's a whole lot better, nice. For those interested this took about 10 seconds in Aperture in the following order:

  1. Boosted the contrast to get the overall separation I was looking for.
  2. Bumped up the brightness a tad until the whitest part of the clouds still had the detail I wanted.
  3. Now that I could see where all the colors were hiding I cooled the white balance a hair to get the sky and blue water reflections where I wanted them while retaining the golden sun on the sunlit sides clouds, boats, and water.
  4. Bumped up the definition a hair to make the tiny little boats and ripples stand out a little more.
  5. Bumped up the vibrance a bit until the sky had the exact tone that I wanted without blowing the blue channel and it going all primary color on me.
  6. Bumped up the shadows a hair, mainly to give them some breathing room for the torture I was about to subject them to in Vivza. I find that the shadow slider in Aperture in combination with the "advanced" controls does a way better job in boosting the shadows into a usable range while maintaining good color than just about any other tool i have used. Bottom line - you could use Viveza to make the shadows a little bit brighter but it does not do as good a job so do it before you send it out of Aperture.

And here is the version with local adjustments done in Viveza in about a minute with a couple of control points.

DSC_0315_Viveza.jpg

Here is a conceptual description of what I did. If you give Viveza a trial spin you will know why a conceptual description is good enough. If any of you think it would be helpful I could be convinced to post a screen-cast of the actual Viveza session from start to finish.

  1. Control point(s) in the water on the brightest reflection to boost the brightness and contrast.
  2. Control points in the grey/neutral clouds on on the horizon set to do nothing in order to subtract the water selection from the sky.
  3. Control point on the clouds at the right to boost contrast a hair.
  4. Control point(s) on the bluest of blue sky to bring down the brightness a hair.

The bottom line is Vivza and control points are actually fun to use, they encourage you to try things and variations on things that you may not do if you had to go through laborious convolutions to mask them. The fact is after you use control points in Viveza, NX2, or the other Nik Software products, just about any other way of making selections seems laborious.

Nik sells Viveza in a couple of different ways in a couple of different bundles that seem to change fairly often over the life of the product. The key differentiator is one works with Photoshop and the other will ONLY work in Aperture. If you do not own Photoshop and never ever want to use Photoshop get the version or bundle that will only work with Aperture. If you own Photoshop get the one that works with Photoshop, even if you never or rarely use it. In fact personally images from Aperture to Photoshop just to use Viveza even though I can do it either way. You may ask why - the answer is that I make the image in PS a smart object and then render the Viveza plugin on the smart object. I do this because all of the control points are saved and can be re-tweaked later without reproducing the whole shooting match from scratch. This seems trivial to do an I wonder why the Aperture plug-in mechanism does not work this way. I sure hope that it does in the future.

RB

Ps. Let me know if a screen-cast of the session would be helpful. Oh one more thing, if you do end up getting Viveza I would really appreciate it if you got it here to help offset the cost of keeping the site going.

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