Thursday, February 28, 2008

Viva Viveza!


This morning Nik Software launched an amazing new plug-in for Adobe Photoshop called "Viveza." I use the word amazing because Viveza gives ordinary photographers like me absolute mastery over making color and light adjustments.

That's pretty fancy, but what does it mean in practical terms? Well... it means that ANY object or area of an image that I want to make brighter (or darker), more "contrasty", or more saturated, etc, I can do INSTANTLY. I'm not kidding. All I have to do is click on the object or area I want to enhance, and move simple sliders back and forth until the image looks the way I want it to. Cool!

Let's say I take a pretty cool shot of a lamp at Seaworld, but the sky is flat and the colors are just not popping for me. With Viveza, I literally just point at the sky, and move a Brightness slider down and boost the Blue slider. Colors need brightening? No problemo: if it's lighting, I just move the Brightness slider. If they need to be pumped up, just move the Saturation slider. In about 10 seconds, I'm done!

Viveza uses Nik's award-winning U Point technology which is also found in the Capture NX software from Nikon, but packages the U Point powered "Color Control Points" within an easy-to-use Photoshop plug-in. It essentially replaces a number of complex tools that Photoshop users and photographers have struggled with for years such as making selections, using adjustment layers, fiddling with Hue/Saturation, and the like.

When Photoshop Gurus like Scott Kelby call it "freakin' incredible" and Ben Long says it could be "one of the most important software announcements of the year", ya know you're on to something!

If you already own Nik's Color Efex Pro 3.0, you might be wondering: "How is Color Efex Pro different from Viveza?"

It's simple: With Viveza, you're adjusting color, light, tonality and the like using U Point powered Control Points. With CEP3 (as it's affectionately known), you're using Control Points to selectively apply a photographic filter effect. Basically, I'm saying that you need both - hey, gotta put food on the table, right? After you've optimized your image for exposure and color, turn to CEP3 to further enhance and stylize your image with filters. Simple!

We're obviously hoping that anyone who owns Photoshop and works with photos gravitates to Viveza as an ideal first step in their editing workflow: Open an image, crop it, use noise reduction like Nik's Dfine 2.0, use Viveza to enhance light or color selectively, and then maybe apply additional filters from Color Efex Pro 3.0 or continue to work as normal in Photoshop.

Trust me when I say that Viveza will save hours of editing time, and will pay for itself handsomely. I had the opportunity last weekend to demonstrate the Color Control Points in Capture NX to nearly 30 Photoshop users. TO A PERSON, they thought it was fast, easy-to-understand, and something they could see themselves using. And believe me, it was not just my great demo! ;-)

Click on over to the Viveza pages at www.niksoftware.com/viveza to read more, check out some video lessons, and download a 15-day Trial version. I guarantee you'll soon have the best looking snapshots on the block!


Another kick-ass image improved with Dfine 2.0 and Viveza!

:: full disclosure: I work for Nik Software ::

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Wisdom of the Crowd

This weekend I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a Focus Group in Los Angeles, hosted by Nikon. During the four sessions held over 2 days, we were discussing image editing habits of consumers.

Each participant had been given a detailed pre-questionnaire, and the moderator spent some time probing the group to validate the participant's earlier answers. We then demonstrated several different software programs, editing the same image but in uniquely different ways.

It was very interesting to hear "real world" feedback on how people were organizing their images and the typical types of image editing they do. Most were quite interested in color and exposure correction. Universally they confessed that Photoshop is difficult and that selecting areas of their image to work on was particularly hard.

Enter Capture NX and U Point technology! U Point technology powers a core feature in NX called "Control Points." When placed directly on colors or objects in an image (such as sky, skin, grass, etc.), a Control Point will reveal easy-to-use sliders that photographers can use to quickly adjust brightness, contrast or color in a fraction of the time needed by other tools.

Now, it's safe to say that - working at Nik Software - I have officially "drunk the kool-aid" on U Point. But it was a whole other thing to hear people who'd never seen it before mention things like "time-saver", "it looks extremely easy to use" and "I love not having to make selections."

Of course, it's also nice to get to know work colleagues over a great meal. In this case, we ate at a cool, beach-side Thai restaurant in Malibu called Cholada. As we pulled up it looked like any number of little taco shops along the coast, but instead served up some serious quality Thai. Bustling. Non-pretentious building set close to the highway. Dirt parking lot. Poster homage to "Save Topanga Canyon" stapled to the wooden post. To my delight, Shoko Yoshida, one of the Nikon marketers, took lead in ordering. The Papaya salad was yummy.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Etsuko Morihara, who was consulting with Nikon. In her previous job, she helped design the interior of the famous Nissan Skyline car. Wow!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Patriotism

Last week and just one day after Mitt Romney "suspended" his campaign for the '08 presidency, my 3rd grade son Ethan took part in a school program dubbed "Patriotism in the USA."

It was a wonderful 45 minute presentation of songs, skits and spoken word performances. How stirring to see kids from ALL walks of life singing about what it is to be an American and muse on both the price of freedom and it's continuing costs.

The kids knew nothing of the presidential politicking going on around them, but instead embraced their patriotic performance with a zest and zeal that made every parent in the room proud (and more than a few teary-eyed).

What would it be like if the American citizenry paused for a few moments to reflect on Patriotism and the best candidate to take the country forward? Mitt's move was a brilliant one from the standpoints of selflessly uniting the Republican party, positioning himself for a run in 2012 and - as my father pointed out - giving John McCain some much-needed wiggle room to appeal to conservatives.

Still... this Romney supporter feels real twinges of regret, frustration and a little despair when thinking about the next 4 years of Democratic leadership now destined for America. I just don't see McCain having the "IT" needed to capture the hearts, minds and hopeful nature of the American voting public. Make way for Barack Hussein Obama.

Monday, February 04, 2008

My Take on the Final Four

I know, I know: It's a little early to be talking about the Men's NCAA Final Four basketball tourney, but I've got another "Final Four" on my mind today: The final four presidential candidates. Heading into Super Tuesday, the Democrats will be choosing between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. On the Republican side, John McCain and Mitt Romney are duking it out for the party nomination.

My take on the presidential race is this: I want someone who is A COMPETENT LEADER. That's it. Shouldn't be hard.

Look, I don't have to run down the litany of challenges our country and our society faces, but it's clear the "times they are a'changing" and that change requires strong, competent leadership with a good sense of what's important and how to get the job done. Let's examine the field:

Democrats - Looking at the Democrats, I see "yet another Clinton" and a Jr. Senator:
  • If you vote for Hillary, you get Bill - you're fooling yourself if you don't understand that. Some may think that's all right: "two for the price of one," but not this voter. I think he did some decent work while in the White House, but that ship has sailed. His contribution to the moral downfall of the Presidency can not be forgiven - kids used to say "when I grow up I want to be President." I don't hear that anymore.
  • A vote for Obama is a vote for someone who is quite literally just getting their feet wet. Although he talks a better, more inclusive game than does Hillary, he's just too "junior" for the job and you're fooling yourself if you don't understand that.
Republicans - An aging Washington insider or a proven businessman:
  • On the Republican side, I'll go on record: I don't trust McCain. He's been on the "inside" so long he doesn't know what the "outside" looks like. So much of the legislation with his name on it is just flat-out bad for the country (e.g. McCain/Feingold, his sponsorship of the immigration amnesty bill, etc.) AND very intertwined with a Democratic viewpoint. And did you know that John McCain was offered the vice-presidential slot in the ticket by John Kerry and actually considered accepting running with Kerry against Bush-Cheney in 2004? Would Kerry have ever made that offer to Romney?*
  • Frankly, I think Mitt Romney's the man for the Republican nomination and the man most likely able to win the White House in November. His ethical character and principles are unquestionable. His business and economic leadership is proven and sound - being a Governor gives one a lot more experience relevant to running a country than any Senator would pick up. I think on Foreign Policy Romney will easily be more effective than the other candidates if for no other reason than he doesn't have the Clinton/McCain baggage and comes in with practical experience in negotiations.
Look - these are troubled and troubling times with loads of uncertainty on the horizon. Regardless of whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, the best thing we can do is put a COMPETENT LEADER in the White House and let him do his job.

That man is Mitt Romney.
PS to Mike Huckabee: Quit pandering for a cabinet post and do what's right for the party and the Nation. Drop out and throw support over to Mr. Romney.

(*Props to Kevin Carmony for the final four collage above and some inspiring reading. Read his fine blog with a lot more analysis on why McCain is not worth your vote
here).