As some of you know, about a year ago I was hooked by the (then) Nik Software tools. Nik has been bought out by Google and is now called the NIK Collection under Google+. Their website is now here.
Little did I know before I was sucked into their excellent SilverEfex Pro product for Black and White processing and Viveza for all-around processing how much my processing workflow was going to change!
Briefly, Nik components work as plugins for Lightroom and Photoshop. As a Photoshop user, my layered workflow easily accomodated the Nik plugins and now most of my development work lies in Nik layers. Formerly, one purchased components (Dfine, Viveza, ColorEfex, SilverEfex, etc.) separately but now Google has a extremely reasonable $149 price for everything. As always, there is a 15-day free trial for you to determine if these products are indeed “up to snuff” within your environment. One extremely important draw that Nik has, in my opinion, is the wealth of online videos of show-and-tell sessions with seasoned and accomplished photographer guests.
Anyway, one of the smallest tools in the toolsuite is a program called Dfine. While it may not get the spotlight (because it is eclipsed by its more flashy cousins Viveza, ColorEfex, and SilverEfex) it is actually a very important part of a photographer’s workflow especially when that workflow involves High-ISO imagery. DFine 2
exists simply to reduce color and contrast noise artifacts in photos. What makes it simply amazing is how excellent a job it does even in automatic mode.
I make it a point to shoot with the camera’s noise reduction turned on for both long and short exposures. This is helpful in eliminating the effects of overheated sensor wells on the image. I also make sure to not allow my camera bodies to do any form of in-camera sharpening so that I can control this aspect within Photoshop or using Nik’s Sharpener Pro product. It also ensures that noise is not irretrievably added to existing imaged edges without my knowledge.
Low light photography involves one or both of these “corrections” to achieve useful images: Either the ISO value is raised to a higher number to force the electronics in the camera to attempt to sense light where it can’t at normal ISO levels, or long exposures (in the order of seconds or even minutes) are used to aggregate as much light as possible over time on the sensor wells. Either of these can drastically increase the amount of “noise” in the image. Noise appears as dottiness (mostly in lighter areas) or little abnormal flecks of color (normally in darker areas of the image). This noise can render your image ugly by making it lack a smooth, clean appearance (understanding, of course, that sometimes one may deliberately choose this look because it adds a “gritty” feel to a photo).
A common way to remove noise is to do selective blurring on color layers to attempt to even out the tonality and hide the sharp noisy spots scattered throughout the image. Needless to say, this is a time-consuming and difficult skill to learn. Too much blur and the image will not have a crisp feel to it and thus the whole photo can end up being a failure. Here is where DFine literally comes into the picture. It has been imbued with extremely intelligent algorithms and a wonderful interface that allows the photographer to remove noise in a very painless fashion.
Here is a quick example of a photo I snapped recently at the National Air and Space Museum. This was shot at ISO 3200 on my Nikon D-7000 in the rather dimly lit room housing the Wright Flyer. Even so the shot was a 1/45 second at f/4.8 and the histogram showed that it is probably about a half-stop off of ideal. We North Carolinians are proud of the First Flight in 1903 which made our State the physical birthplace of flight so failure to possess a decent image of this iconic seminal airplane was not an option! Anyway, following normal processing with Nik’s Sharpener Pro and stacking some ColorEfex filters, DFine made the resulting image much cleaner. The final image is on my iPernity site
for your perusal. Below, you can see the split screen comparison of a 300% enlargement of a section of the image in DFine. On the left is the unprocessed image and on the right is the effect of Dfine’s noise reduction. Quite amazing, wouldn’t you agree?
The purpose of this article is not to teach you how to use DFine. For this, let me point you to the basic training video from Nik
and how to use color ranges here
. If it looks interesting to you, let me recommmend that you find some of your noisiest images and run the trial. I am sure that you will find that this is a great tool. Of course, if you have downloaded the trial, let me urge you to try out SilverEfex, Viveza, and ColorEfex. Once you have tried the U-point technology, you will love it!
Finally, let me say that DFine is useful even in normal images and that I have found it helpful in most of my landscape images (especially those shot with my Nikon D-7000). It is an extremely useful tool in the photographer’s processing toolbox.