Last week Google announced that it would be making it's Nik Collection of plugins completely free to download, that's $150 off of their previous price.
By the end of the day of the release, the feeds of most of the photography forums and groups I follow were filled with example images from photographers trying out their new toys.
This announcement is extremely exciting news if you're a photographer. Before being acquired by Google a few years ago, Nik offered the bundle of plugins for $500, and the plugins are utilized regularly by many of the worlds top digital photographers and educators. And while there's good reason to doubt the future of the software regarding updates, at least for the time being these are top quality tools being offered up for free.
There is a distinction I would like to focus on however, that I think a lot of people in their excitement to get their hands on this new set of plugins will overlook. No matter the quality of these tools, they are still only tools.
Too many photographers, especially beginners, the only thing they feel is standing between them and the photographers they look up to is that next plugin bundle, and if that doesn't do it, then the bundle after that. The thing is, the tools we use in our craft are only as good as the person wielding them. Someone who was putting out great images without the Nik Collection, by downloading and utilizing it might speed up their processes and improve their workflow, but their images aren't going to be any better. Chances are, someone who was already making great images knows this, and may ignore this offer altogether.
If on the other hand you were dissatisfied with your images before you got your hands on the Nik plugins, you too might speed up your workflow, but if your source image was lacking, you're only speeding up your arrival to another disappointing photograph.
There is nothing in this, or any other plugin bundle on the market that will help you tell a story, nothing that will allow, through the application of a preset to connect with your viewer. We can do so much with our software and computers in the current age of photography that many photographers who are struggling uphill to make it to the next level forget that what truly makes a great photograph has nothing to do with our computers, software, or plugins. If you don't have the makings of an image that connects with people and tells a story in the moment after you press the shutter, there's nothing you can do about it, no matter what software or plugins you have at your disposal.
Take a look at the great photographers of the world, and the images they've created. How many of the images that speak to the core of your being relied on Nik, Topaz, or Macphun plugins to achieve their visual and emotional impact. My guess is that even if any of the above plugins were used in the processing, they didn't make the image what it is, only enhanced it.
Now this isn't to say that plugins and software don't have their place. These tools can have a drastic effect on our workflow. I downloaded the Nik collection and plan to play around with it when I get a chance, and there are a select few other plugins I do use regularly in my processing. The thing that bears remembering is that these tools can only enhance what is already present in the image, not create a moment where there was none. I should say that I consider digital compositing and photo manipulation a separate form of art, complementary to photography, but beyond the scope of this article.
If we truly want to make better images, photographs that move people and affect change, we need to get past the belief that what's missing from our photography is another tool for us to work with, no matter how skillfully we use it. We need to realize that the things that matter for our development as photographers are the internal skills we posses. Skills like reading and understanding light, motion, and time, having an eye for composition and spacial relationships between objects, an awareness for shape and form. Most importantly, I think the skill that has the ability to make or break us in our quest as photographers is our understanding of what makes a compelling story. If we can find a way to present stories visually in a compelling way, we will have no need for expensive – or free – plugins, except to enhance the moment that we've already captured, and streamline our process.
Because really, if your image tells a story on it's own, no one cares about it's sharpness, dynamic range, quality of black and white conversion quality, colour toning, or analog film effect, or noise reduction.
Sorry Google, thanks, but I've already got what I need.
What are your thoughts on plugins and software, am I way off the mark? Have you ever been disappointed with a set of plugins you purchased? Do they make you a better photographer? Maybe there's a set of plugins that you rely on for your best images, that you couldn't create otherwise. I'd love to continue the discussion in the comments section and hear your thoughts on the subject!
If you're interested in the Nik Collection and haven't picked it up yet, it can be found HERE.
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