If you're traveling a lot with heavy photo gear, you know a roller bag can be really helpful. But then sometimes, when you have to do a lot of stairs or deal with uneven terrain, a backpack would come in handier. The folks over at Think Tank must have thought the same thing and they came up with a hybrid bag: the Think Tank AIrport TakeOff. This bag's main use is as a roller bag, but thanks to the concealed and padded carrying straps, it converts into a backpack. Now, I wouldn't go on a full-day hike with it, but for short stretches it's a really great feature to have. I have been using the original version of this bag for over five years (and like all other stuff made by Think Tank, it's virtually indestructible) but now they have a new Version 2 out. My good friend Matt Brandon from The Digital Trekker, who I do the Varanasi and Kolkata Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass with, has just done a very extensive review on it, in which he also compares it to two other roller bags by Think Tank. So if you're in the market for a new bag to get your gear safely and effortlessly to your next photography destination, make sure to check out the AIrport Takeoff V2. There's a couple of really cool new features in this second version, not to mention the fact that it's 15 percent lighter than it's predecessor. That means you can pack an extra lens, or in my case probably an extra flash :-)
The short story
Google have announced that it will no longer support the Nik Collection. In true David versus Goliath style, German photographer Sascha Rheker started an online petition on change.org. If you're a Nik Collection user, it's well worth one minute of your time to vote.
The long story
Even if you're only a halfway regular reader of this blog, you know I was and still am a big fan of the Nik Collection. In fact, a few of you reading this might use the Nik Collection because I recommended it to you.
In September 2012 - I cannot believe that's almost five years ago - Google acquired Nik. Not so much for the Nik Collection, but rather because Google had set their eyes on Snapseed, Nik's mobile app. By the way, if you're looking for an excellent mobile editor on your phone or tablet (iOS and Android), Snapseed is a killer app (iOS link here, Android link here). It's basically the mobile version of the Nik Collection and it's entirely free.
One of the few, if not the only problem with the Nik Collection when it was still owned, developed and maintained by Nik Software GmbH was that it was pricey: around $200 for a single plugin, $300 for the Lightroom-only bundle and a whopping $500 for the Lightroom and Photoshop enabled version of the bundle. So one of the first things Google did was limit the number of versions to only one: the Lightroom and Photoshop bundle and drop its price to $149. They must have sold a virtual truckload. But if you buy software, even if it's discounted, and if you start to build your workflow around it, it's only fair to expect the company you buy the software from to keep updating it.
And this is where things started to go progressively bad: when Google made the software totally free last year, this move was also interpreted by some as the beginning of the end.
And indeed, one year later, Google have discreetly put up a banner on their website saying the Nik Collection will no longer be supported. Now, we kind of had come to expect that there wouldn't be any new features, but now, the message clearly states that there won't be any OS compatibility updates either. You can still download it for free, and use it for as long as your particular OS and hardware will support it, but basically Google is saying not to bother them nor to expect solutions if problems arise.
On both my systems, the Collection is still working (I did have to manually copy over the Nik Collection folder from my Photoshop CC2015 Plugins folder to my CC2017 Plugins folder) but there are already reports of people where the Collection has stopped working.
What can you do?
I'm very much afraid that there is little we can do about this. The chances of Google turning this Open Source are very slim, because they still use an important part of the technology in Snapseed. The chances of them selling the patented tech to say Adobe, are slim, too... Personally, I don't need any new features - in fact I think that 8 year old Silver Efex Pro 2 is still miles ahead of any of the competing plug-ins - but I wouldn't mind paying for the software if at least compatibility updates would be guaranteed. Right now, there's little motivation to start or continue to use a piece of software if you know that any day you're using it might be the last. In fact, over the past years I noticed I have started using the Nik Collection (or any other plug-in for that matter) less and less, and try to do as much as possible in Lightroom. For my Black & White work, for example, I have created a set of Black & White Lightroom presets that I do 95 percent of my B&W work with, but for those cases where these presets fall short, I know that generally Silver Efex would have my back. And I hate to see that alternative go to waste.
Sign the petition!
German Photographer Sascha Rheker started an online petition on change.org. At the time I'm writing this, he has already reached over 10.000 virtual signatures, including mine. Now, personally, I'm rather sceptical about the petition's potential impact: 10.000 people probably don't even cause a blimp on the Google management's radar (unless they're wearing Google Glasses, maybe) but on the other hand, it's about the only thing any of us can do anyway (the only other solution being keeping a dedicated computer around for the Nik Collection and never updating it anymore). And there's still that story about David and Goliath, remember?
Other Nik-Collection related content
Now, for many of you, the Nik Collection isn't dead yet and it's still working as good as it did yesterday, So if you want to learn more about it (and if you happen to speak Dutch), last year, I created a 4 hour video course covering all of the Nik Collection plug-ins for my subscription-based Dutch training website www.photofactsacademy.nl. I also have a (Dutch) training video on Snapseed.
Below are a couple of shorter English tutorials and blog-posts that are Nik-related. I heartily recommend this one, where I show you how you can use Silver Efex Pro to enhance even your colour images. Hmm, might want to sign that petition after all, might you not?
As you may know, I love Lightroom and I've written a number of books on it, both in Dutch and in English. One of the things I love most is the way presets can speed up your workflow in the Develop module. As I also love Black & White, I started to create Lightroom presets. At first, they were only intended for my personal use but as people seemed to like them, I have turned them into three preset packs.
For the first, 'Piet Van den Eynde's Black & White Develop Presets', I have just created a 90 second trailer that shows you a number of before and afters, all edited with just one click on one of the presets in that pack.
My Black & White preset pack is sold through my publisher Craft & Vision and is priced at only $20 (+ VAT in Europe). In addition to the 100+ presets, there's also a PDF manual and an accompanying video tutorial covering everything from installation to how to make the most out of them. You can also get the presets as part of my Lightroom presets bundle and save 25%.
I am honored to be featured in the 20th issue of the official Fujifilm X Magazine in an article about travel photography. I not only talk about classical travel photography, but also urbex photography, which I consider to be traveling back in time! You can download this and the previous editions of the magazine here for free.
The cover image was shot mixing flash and available light during my 5 day GFX Challenge shoot in India, the video of which you can see below. If you're interested to know more about flash photography, check out my latest book Light It Up! Techniques for Dramatic Off-Camera Lighting (in English) or Flash! Flitsfotografie op locatie (in Dutch).
Making your light look natural
There are two ways you can use flash: in an inconspicuous way or in a way that clearly says “this was lit”. To me, as with just about anything else in photography, there is no right or wrong. It’s a matter of personal taste, preference and also a matter of what you want your photo to say. While I’ve done my fair share of images that clearly looked “lit” (and I still love doing this kind of work), I sometimes also try to use my flashes in a more subtle way. The great Gregory Heisler, whose fantastic book 50 Portraits shows you some great examples of flash photography, calls this “motivating the practical”: you have to motivate your light, make it look authentic, believable. The use of colour gels will also help a lot to make your (fake) flash light look real.
I was traveling through Swedish Lapland when this nice scene caught my eye. I liked the patina on the wall and the old bike with the reindeer skin on it. The only problem was again that the available light was too nice, too soft. It did not bring out the patina the way I wanted it to. So I added an orange filter to my flash and put it parallel to the wall, outside of the frame on a tripod (I use my tripods more as light stands than I do as camera stands), aiming slightly down. The result is a picture that looks like it was made with the setting sun. The orange filter helps to motivate that.
Combining both approaches
In this picture below I took of model Cato, I combine both approaches. To the left of the boiler room we were photographing in was a window. I placed a bare strobe outside, and aimed it through the window as to simulate sunlight falling in.
The opening in the wall motivates the light. However, I also put a flash way back in the room to add some rim light to the boiler tanks to prevent that part of the picture from going totally black. There’s nothing really there to motivate that there would be a light over there, other than my artistic choice to put one there.
Want to improve your flash skills?
The image I discussed above is also the cover of my just-released eBook: Light it Up! Techniques for Dramatic Lighting. This eBook teaches you everything you need to know. Everything explained in plain English with lots of behind the scene shots or lighting diagrams. For those who already have some flash experience under their belt, there are also more advanced chapters on gear and light setups. The book also contains plenty of buyer's advice (did you know that some brand flashes cost up to three times as much as third party alternatives, while not offering more power or features - sometimes even less).
Finally, it comes with two cool bonuses: a set of three fifteen minute videos and a sample set of Lightroom presets.
Light It Up! (including bonuses) retails for $30 + applicable taxes but until May 29, you can save 25 percent. No discount code needed. Get it here.
P.S. If you speak Dutch, this book is also available in Dutch (both as a print book and an eBook). I also have a Dutch video course on off camera flash over at my Dutch online photo training website www.photofactsacademy.nl.