Using the NIK collection of plugins for bird photography

An Eastern Great Egret catching the rays of sunshine on a cold winter morning. Photo by Keivin Param

I bought my birding gear when I thought Nikon had permanently stopped making pro-grade DX bodies. So I bought with a Canon 7D mark II body with a fair degree of ambivalence. It was that or the Nikon D7200. The bottom line is that I own a 7D mark II with all its quirks.

One of the characteristics of that generation of Canon sensors is a narrower dynamic range when compared to Sony sensors. The result of which is highlights are more easily blown and shadows tend to be noisy. This is problematic for bird photographers especially with white feathers and dark backgrounds. In this situation, one is faced with a dilemma. If one sets the correct exposure for the white feathers, the background will almost certainly significantly underexposed. Trying to recover detail from the underexposed background in post will result in a noisy background. Conversely, exposing for the background will result in overexposing the white feathers to the point where feather detailed cannot be recovered in post.

An Eastern Great Egret in flight. Photo by Kelvin Param.

Since the bird is the subject, it’s better to ensure that feather detail is captured at the expense of a noisy background. Can something be done in post processing to reduce the noise in the background without sacrificing sharpness of the bird? Before we proceed, it’s probably important to point out that noise reduction is detrimental to sharpness. And conversely increasing sharpness tends to increase noise.

There are a number of ways of achieving this outcome, with some methods being more convenient than others. There are a number 3rd party plugins for Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom that offer solutions. Bird Photography doyen, Arthur (Art) Morris, recommends Neat Image, and he’s co-authored an instructional manual with his associate, Arash Hazeghi.

A pair of purple swamphens foraging for tasty morsels. Photo by Kelvin Param

I was contemplating paying the USD 40 for the manual and USD 39.90 for the Photoshop plugin when I discovered that Google had stopped charging for the entire Nik collection of plugins.

Dfine is Nik’s denoiser and Sharpener Pro is their sharpener as the name implies. Google have a suggested workflow for using Dfine and Sharpener Pro.

Ed Gregory has an excellent set of tutorials for the Nik collection in his Youtube channel, Photos in Color.

I have been exploring Dfine and Sharpener Pro for the last couple of months and I like what I see. The acid test will be printing large photos in conjunction with a resizing plugin in On1 Resize. I’ll keep you posted on my findings through this blog. Meanwhile, download the Nik collection and test drive it. Let me know what you think. I’d really like to hear your views.

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