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Viveza 2 - using a single control point to lighten foregroundReview of Nik Viveza V2

New version of Nik's Photoshop plugin to correct/enhance images

Nik Software has updated the Viveza plugin to version 2 and Keith Cooper has been having a look at what it does.

You can use it to adjust images in subtle ways that are sometimes just much more difficult (and time consuming) to do on their own in Photoshop.

I'm looking at the software working as a Photoshop plugin on a Mac here, but it works just fine under Windows.

It also works with Elements, Apple's Aperture and Lightroom.

Updates - downloads

Feb '11 - V2.004 minor fixes
Aug '10
- 64bit compatibility added -

Adjusting images

This review concentrates on the overall functionality of the plugin. For more examples, I'd suggest having a look at our original Viveza review as well.

There are a number of techniques involving masked adjustment layers, that can be used for modifying images.

I've heard it said that learning efficient masking techniques is a key skill in advanced Photoshop use, unfortunately not everyone has the time or inclination to go for such an approach.

Viveza Version 2Viveza is designed to allow subtle selections to be made for application of adjustments to tone and colour.

Viveza 2 - What do you get?

The plugin feels very similar, and if you've used V1 then V2 will be no problem.

When you install it, the software installer looks for any appropriate software on your computer and will install to the correct location for your plugins.

I did actually read the notes and documentation to check I'd noticed all the changes, since although I use Viveza occasionally on images, I'm sure that like with many filters I tend to use only a subset of the functionality.

According to Nik, the key changes are:

We've also reviews of Nik Silver Efex Pro and Nik Sharpener Pro here, which offer similar selection mechanisms as in Viveza (Nik call it 'U-point'). If you're not clear about some of the selection options, then I'd suggest having a look at those reviews, since both have lots more examples.

Using Viveza

I'll show a few images where I might look at using a tool like Viveza, rather than 'doing it by hand' in Photoshop.

cable wrapping headFirst up, a photograph taken in a factory a few days ago (actually one of six I supplied).

The device is a rotating head to hold a large roll of cable tape.

It's a new design and the company wanted some photos to show it in their brochures and for a trade show (for those who wondered, this is the sort of location based photography I actually do for quite a bit of my work)

The person behind it is entirely for scale, since the key feature of the device is that it is many times larger than anything their competitors can make.

As in a lot of factory work, the lighting is mixed and you often don't have the luxury of setting up backgrounds or lighting.

The image needed a bit of tidying up first - move your mouse over to see some very quick erasing, via the cloning tool.

The combination of natural light and mercury vapour lights have not caused any problems in processing the original RAW camera file from a Canon 1Ds Mk3.

I'm just going to change the emphasis of the picture a bit. Viveza is actually quite useful for removing slight colour casts, but this isn't a detailed product shot - it's just to show how big the thing is...

We normally supply images with just processing from RAW camera files, but I wanted to see what a quick run through Viveza could do for an image that was pretty much fine as supplied.

The plugin starts up, and in this instance shows a side by side view - before and after.

viveza plugin screen layout

The plugin can remember last used settings if desired, so I could have gone for the single split image view.

split screen mode

The window is resizeable and you can hide the controls pressing the 'Tab' key.

If not zoomed right in, the small 'Loupe' display shows a magnified 100% view.

magnified view

Viveza 2 offers the option of applying adjustments to the whole image, rather than just via control points.

Global settings are best applied at the start of the editing process, before refining the effects with control points.

If you've used the original, you might wonder what the difference is between this and a control point expanded to 100% of the image?

The global settings are applied to all the image, whilst a control point affects parts of the image, which depend on the image content (colour) at the control point itself.

'Structure' is a useful setting that enhances local contrast - move your mouse over the image below to see the effect.

altering structure - localised contrast enhancement

Very useful, but very easy to over do if you are not careful.

Not the same as altering the contrast, which also affects colours.

The contrast adjustment is a relatively smart one in that image content is protected, but as with most adjustment settings you won't be wanting to push it this far very often.

viveza global contrast adjustment

The range of control options can be expanded to give even more image controls.

expanded viveza control options

Note the pop-up tip and the short cut key.

The shadows adjustment is quite subtle in its effect - less drastic that the Photoshop Shadows and Highlights tool.

Move your mouse over the image below to see its effect.

viveza shadows adjustments

In many ways, the real strength of Viveza comes from the control points and how they restrict alteration of the image to just part of the image, based on the properties of the pixels at the control point.

Next up, I'll use a control point to slightly blur the background.

I've used a wide enough aperture to push the background slightly out of focus, so this effect is relatively slight.

  • Note, although not mentioned anywhere, you can go back to Global mode by clicking on the image away from a control point

Placing the point on the wall selects a colour to base the adjustments on (you can also see a a patch of the colour and an eye dropper to select a different one if you wanted, for this control point.

The circle shows the approximate area of influence of the point, and can be resized.

Move you mouse over the image to see the softening effect of turning down the structure. I've found that this works well and often looks better than selectively applying gaussian blur to an area.

adding viveza control point

You can actually display the area of influence of the point.

Note how it expands beyond the circle above.

area of influence for control point

I've added a second point to soften the other side of the background.

second control point

Next I added a control point to emphasise the actual taping head.

You can see I've increased brightness, contrast and structure.

Selection of item

Move your mouse over the image below to see the way I've altered the image to make the item a bit more prominent.

enhancing the view of the product

As an aside, you can use control points to selectively alter colours - in this instance altering the bright red logo to green (not done for the image I supplied the client ;-)

If you look carefully, you can see that there are actually two points next to each other.

There is no control over the range of colours selected for alteration, so you may need to stack up control points.

Fortunately you can group and ungroup collections of points, and apply adjustments to all together.

grouping control points

You can also apply a global levels/curve adjustment to the image, although my personal preference would be to do this with a separate (and maskable) curves adjustment layer (I only use Photoshop for my editing work).

I've pushed up the overall brightness slightly using the curve.

final adjusted imageI can see how if you just wanted to use one tool to 'fix' an image, this might be of use, but personally, the advantages of knowing how to use masked adjustment layers make this a key Photoshop skill I try and pass on when teaching.

If you move your mouse over the image to the right you can see the alterations I settled for.

It's worth pointing out that I've slightly exaggerated some of the adjustments shown here, so as to be clearer in this article.

You're seeing compressed web versions of screen grabs, via a (probably) non colour managed browser, so do be careful before making any critical image quality evaluations.

One important feature of the way the plugin can be used is the 'Selective' tool, whereby the adjustments are applied to a new (copied) layer in the image. You can then paint-in or paint-out the results of the filter.

For more examples of this, see the review of Nik Sharpener Pro, where I'll use this feature with almost every print I'm working on.

I've also included a couple of images below, showing more of how I might use Viveza in producing a colour landscape image I'm going to print.

A lot of people ask me why their prints don't match the screen.

To my mind this is getting things the wrong way round. It's missing the point that the final result is the print, and there are always differences.

As such, my image files for printing may look just a bit too saturated and contrasty in some areas - however, when printed, it comes out as I want it.

I'm not going into details of soft proofing and the like here, but I do find that Viveza is a great way to compensate for some of the differences between screen and print. For more info you could start with the article "Why are my prints too dark".

The first example is a late afternoon shot (from last Autumn) where the main difficulty is the extreme range of brightnesses from near the sun to the ivy on the tree.

Had I a tripod, I might have bracketed shots to capture the detail in the sky and in the shadows.

As it was, I was driving on my way to give a lecture in Cambridge, and just saw the view to one side of the road, and stopped.

before and after - viveza 2

I've opened the plugin, and have before and after images above and below.

I've used half a dozen control points to alter the image (a 21MP 16 bit file from a Canon 1Ds Mk3).

The 'area of influence' display, shows how one control point only affects part of the sky.

single contol point in sky

A second point nearer to the sun catches the more orange light.

Displaying both points influence together shows how they now adjust almost all the sky.

adding second viveza control point

If you move your mouse over the image below you can see the effect of a control point in the field.

The bright green (not very autumnal) colour comes from relatively recently sown winter wheat.

lightening the foreground

With several control points, the final image comes out looking a a bit contrasty in some areas, and with what looks to be a rather bright green landscape.

This is what I'd try as a test print - after some fine tuning using soft proofing.

Many inkjet printers tend to have some difficulty in separating the 'earthy/green' tones, so the clarity you can see in the image above may well be partially lost in a print.

Remember too, that the range of contrast you can see on screen (particularly if your monitor is too bright) is vastly more than any printer can reproduce.

With practice, you can get a good feel for how a particular printer/paper/ink combination will work.

A second image taken some hundred yards up the road (with a much wider 14mm lens) has some nice detail in the sky, but as before, the foreground is underexposed.

The first control point shown, lightens the foreground.

single control point to lighten foreground

Since the parts of the image to be altered are governed, by both the radius of the control point and the precise image under the control point, the effect can vary if you move it very slightly on a textured surface.

In this picture, there is brown soil between the green shoots, so nudging the point only a few pixels can alter the effect. Fortunately the loupe view shows the positioning of the control point at 100% enlargement.

Two more points for the sky covers all the image I initially want to change.

effect of three control points

Three points are quick to add, and with many images you won't need many.

As before I've slightly 'over cooked' the image below, but with many printers you can need to go this far to get the print the way you want.

However...

A warning... ;-)

Just because you can produce an effect easily for your images doesn't mean you should.

I find the popular 'HDR look' all over the place these days - it even found its way into rather a lot of the winners of a recent large UK landscape photography competition.

I was gratified to see the number of people who noted this with disapproval... mind you, personally, I've always taken a somewhat dim view of competitions in photography anyway (YMMV ;-).

The structure and contrast controls should be used sparingly - unless of course you see the world in this garish form.

In editing images, I invariably push controls a bit too far and then back up to get an image I like.

Move your mouse the image below to see the original and what I fear that some will see as a perfectly acceptable adjustment.

It's the result of a global adjustment with a single control point for the foreground.

You can use Viveza as a 'Smart Filter' which allows you to go back and alter settings, or you can add a layer mask and further refine application of the filter.

Conclusions

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I know that some reader may just smile and think 'I could easily do all that in Photoshop'... well done on your Photoshop skills - lots of people couldn't.

The plugin feels more flexible than the old version, and seems to give finer controls.

I didn't test the automation/batch aspects of the filter, however it's the sort of thing I'd be looking to apply to individual images.

The idea of a global adjustment looks useful, until I discovered that once you add a control point I could find no obvious way to go back to the global view.

Later I discovered that if you add an extra control point and then delete it with the delete button, the global adjustment sliders return.

Later still, I discovered you can go back to global mode by just clicking on the image away from a control point.

I suspect that the well written documentation assumes that you will adopt a global, then local adjustment approach and not go back and tweak things.

If you are a regular user of Viveza, then the upgrade should prove very helpful - it's the sort of thing you have to look at how much the flexibility and time savings are worth to you.

I can see how Viveza could be of real use to some areas of photography, where the ability to quickly correct and enhance images would be of direct benefit in turnaround and print sales.

You can try the software yourself. There is a time limited demo version of the software available.

There are a number of tutorials and demos of the software available on the Nik Software site.

Summary

Functionality has been expanded and refined from the original version.

Allows for a wide variety of quick adjustments to colour and tone for an image that avoid all the complex masking and layer effects needed to match many of them.

Available both stand-alone and in various upgrade bundles, so it's worth checking for offers and the like.

Update Aug '10 - 64bit compatibility added -downloads

System requirements

Macintosh
Windows

More Info

The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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