Enhance photos with Google Nik Collection
was originally priced at US$500 (about £380, AU$650), but its suite of seven powerful tools is now available to download and use completely free. The seven filters can be used as Photoshop plugins, but each one also works as a standalone image editor.
The filters won't appear in your Program list after you've run the installer, and you won't find any desktop shortcuts. Instead, you need to track them down using Windows Explorer. Provided you've used the default location during setup, you'll find them in C:\\Program Files\Google\Nik Collection.
Before you begin editing your photos using Google Nik Collection, back them up somewhere on your hard drive. The filters don't have the usual menus you'd expect in Windows programs, and once you click the 'Save' button the original file will be overwritten. Once it's finished saving, the program will close itself – don't worry, it hasn't crashed.
Analog Efex Pro
Like all apps in Google Nik Collection, Analog Efex Pro lets you open several photos at once for batch processing. It includes a list of preset retro camera effects, which look superb by themselves and can be adjusted using a set of sliders on the right.
You have an impressive degree of control, with siders for brightness, color, saturation, dirt and scratches, lens vignette and film type. If you're particularly pleased with your own creation, you can use the 'Custom' button the left to save it as a preset.
Color Efex Pro
As its name implies, Color Efex Pro is packed with options for manipulating the colors in your photos. There are dozens of presets, all sorted into categories for different subjects (including landscapes, architecture and portraits). As with Analog Efex Pro, each of these presets can be edited using a set of sliders. Best of all, you can combine multiple filters to create a 'recipe', then save it for future use - a feature you'll find in several Google Nik Collection tools.
Some of the programs in Google Nik Collection - including noise reduction tool Dfine - don't have a File menu. Instead, you need to use File Explorer to drag your chosen photos over its EXE file.
Dfine is ideal for grainy photos taken in low light conditions. The three views at the top let you choose between a single image view, a split image showing the filtered version on one side and unfiltered on the other, and a side-by-side preview showing the full filtered and unfiltered images beside one another. Dfine will apply a noise reduction filter automatically, which you can then adjust using the contrast and color noise sliders on the right.
HDR Efex Pro
HDR Efex Pro has two uses – it can combine three photos taken using different exposure settings to create a true HDR photo, or it can fine-tune the highlights, midtones and shadows in a single picture to simulate the same effect. Just like Color Efex, it provides a set of presets categorized by subject so you can choose the best option to enhance your snaps. The 'Surreal' options are very striking (particularly for photos of people), so experiment and see what you like best.
This is another Google Nik Collection filter without a File menu, so drag and drop your images over the EXE file to begin editing them. It's a highly customizable sharpening tool that offers three options: output sharpening (optimized for print and screens), creative sharpening (for experimental effects) and selective sharpening (for sharpening certain areas). The loupe window at the bottom right provides a zoomed-in preview as you pan across the main image, giving you a closer look at the effects of your handiwork.
Silver Efex Pro
Creating great monochrome photos is an artform, requiring careful manipulation of contrast and brightness to bring out the best in your subject. Silver Efex Pro not only lets you tweak these settings, it can also simulate the look of various branded films, apply grain, and replicate the effect of manual dodging and burning. With so many options to choose from, this part of Google Nik Collection is a full digital darkroom for greyscale processing.
The final tool in Google Nik Collection is Viveza, which lets you control color and exposure settings in your whole photo or just selected areas. Drop a photo onto its EXE file, then click 'Add a control point' to select a certain color. Move the brightness, contrast, saturation and structure sliders and you'll see areas of that hue change independently of the rest of the image. The effects can be subtle or incredibly striking - it's entirely up to you.
It's amazing that these seven powerful image editors are yours to use completely free - no strings attached. Download them today, start experimenting and bring your photo collection to life.