The Importance of Google Acquiring Nik Software (Cloud-rendering, workflow-efficiency, more)

Below is a show we did with the Google Photos team a few hours after the announcement…

The Importance of Google Acquiring Nik Software (Cloud-rendering, workflow-efficiency, more)

This is an exciting move from Google, and another indication that Google takes photography very seriously. Most of the silicon-valley-bubble-press probably does not know much about Nik Software, and doesn’t realize that this is a company built by and for professional photographers. Even though their software is designed for “pros”, I’m confident in saying that 90% of their customers are amateurs who are using these same tools to make them look like pros! Nik makes amazing tools, and I am really looking forward to seeing them bleed into my daily life of using Google+.

Now, the significance of this acquisition should not be overlooked. This is not like, say, the United States acquiring Puerto Rico (think FB and Instagram – where Facebook is a social-network of people acquiring a smaller social-network of people) but instead, this is like the United States buying Lockheed Martin.

It is interesting from a “Google Engine” standpoint, in that it is clear that a future direction will be server-side image manipulation.

The #1 question I have been getting is “Will Google kill off Nik’s client-side products?” I asked this in the video interview above and the Google Photos team said that “It’s business as usual” – good news!

I know some people say that “Moore’s Law is dead” – but I don’t think so if you look at it in a different way. Maybe I’ll make a Trey’s Corollary to Moore’s Law in that the effective computing power for any human will continue to double every two years. That is, your computer itself does not have to keep getting faster if you are actually using hundreds of computers around the web to do your computation instead. For example, when we record our weekly show, Trey’s Variety Hour, on YouTube Live and Google+, we are no doubt using dozens of other CPUs located around the world.

And this trend will continue with photo editing. Many rigorous tasks can be completed on the server side, and this will become even more common as we use more and more mobile devices. I already have many photos that are automatically uploaded to the Google cloud, and there are countless tasks that the servers can do on my behalf such as sharpening, noise reduction, fixing blown-out skies, enhancing shadows, and all the other little algorithms that can be used to make photos look “better.”

The Secret Crystal LakeThis remote lake was so icy cold.  You would think it's about 33 degrees or something, right?  It felt like absolute zero.  I dropped a little piece of my tripod in here and my hand almost froze off trying to retrieve it.In the distance you can see where the glacier comes into contact with the glassy lake; it gives a sense of the epic scale here.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.
(Above, one of my photos from Patagonia where I used Nik Software during the post-processing)

Obviously, I’m a big fan of post-processing. I think that the way you process an image allows you to put your personality on top of the image itself. Besides just being “fun”, it is a wonderful way for people to explore their own sense of self-expression online.

Pretty much all serious photographers know about Nik Software. They make many many different products! For example, there is a very fun “Color Efex Pro” that is like Instagram on designer-steroids. They also make “Silver Efex Pro” where they analyzed the Black & White processing techniques of the Old Masters and put them all into this easy-to-use product. And one of their recent releases is a very competent HDR processing package called “HDR Efex Pro.” How each of these products will show up within the Google infrastructure is a mystery, but I bet those guys will figure out something cool.

I think I will insert a “feature request” into the middle of this little analysis, if I can be so bold. After all, I’m not a journalist or anything… I’m just an artist that likes to use technology to make beautiful things. Anyway, since the velocity of images is going in one direction (more images every year), it is clear that soon I’ll be auto-uploading hundreds or thousands of images per day. I’m already snapping a ton with my Android phone, and Google Glass is going to take that to a whole new level. When I’m with my kids, I’ll have my Glass auto-shooting every 5 seconds! So, then the problem becomes curation and post-processing. I’d love it if this mass of images was auto-selected to go to a “Daily Highlights” folder based on composition, lighting, smiles, and this sort of thing. And perhaps a random set of filters can be used to post-process them in addition to keeping the original version. Over time, the Google Cloud would get to know which filters I like in different stations, and it will get smarter and smarter the more I use it.

The Google+ platform is already a great haven for photographers of all skill levels. To me, this adds to their tradition of creating a beautiful fusion of technology and people. The technology is fun, efficient, and powerful, and the social side allows artistic humans to create the social and cultural “glue” of the internet itself.

(Below are some photos that have seen the delights of Nik Software)

The Long Road to New Zealand This is one of countless beautiful roads that crisscross New Zealand.  I'm afraid I've forgotten exactly where I was when I took this photo!   I know that is very lame, but I bet people around here can help me pinpoint the area.As far as the camera settings, this is the kind of shot you can get with something called "compression," a method where you use a zoom lens and zoom in quite far.  It takes images in the distance and makes them larger than life.- Trey RatcliffRead more here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Romantic Evening in the AlpsThe best time of day.  (To me.)When you are in a new place and there are too many things to see and do.  There are too many places to eat and explore.  There are too many streets and alleys to visit and photograph.  This is a good thing.  It is a nice feeling of being overwhelmed by it all.  So, in these times, there are no bad decisions.  Just go whichever way the night takes you... get lost and find pretty little things.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this entry at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Mountains Forever During the Yosemite PhotoWalk, the sky was beyond belief for the first few nights.  The second half of the trip had fairly mundane skies.  So, I was happy I went out there and got a lot of shots in the beginning!I’m often optimistic about the “future” of the trip, assuming that the sunsets will always get better and better.  This rarely is the case, so I don’t know why I’m consistently optimistic about the prospects.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

The Rocks Near and FarA few nights ago I went for a walk along the water’s edge here in Queenstown. About one out of ten nights (or, as far as I have measured), there is a clear night with a bright pink light that shoots up from behind those mountains. It’s really quite a sight.I went down to the edge of the lake and buried my tripod legs in the frigid, icy-clear water. Even though the color of the light was so nice, in the end it was not as interesting as the light itself.- Trey RatcliffRead the entire post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

  • I agree that it’s a significant acquisition. It’ll probably mean great things for Google+ both on the web and the mobile apps. I’m apprehensive about what this means for Nik’s pro products however. Google doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to acquiring software companies… they often let the existing products languish and sometimes they kill them outright. I hope to be proven wrong, but I fear this is the beginning of the end for products like Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro.

  • I’m not just apprehensive about it. This acquisition sends shivers down my spine. Then again, working for Lockheed Martin also used to chill me to the bone.

  • I agree that is can be great for the photography industry. I just hope Google really does do good things with it and not let the products die like so many others they acquire.

  • Can’t wait to see these added into G+. It is going to make it easy for photographers that don’t want to learn a new tool to make their pictures better.

  • treyratcliff

    I think so too

  • treyratcliff

    Yep – they seem to be good stewards of the stuff-that-works!

  • treyratcliff

    I really hope those hang around too! 🙂

  • t_linn

    +1. I have to admit that I have no desire to “fiddle” with processing images online. Nik’s plug-in line is indispensable in my workflow. If Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro became casualties of this acquisition it would really be hard to take. Having said that, I know that Vic Gundotra enjoys photography so there is reason to be optimistic that this won’t happen. It’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s got in Nik.

  • paulbellinger

    Thanks for putting this into perspective Trey!

  • helloandy

    I’m just happy to see you cross posting photos on other services as well. Since Google plus intruded on my daily life I’ve been increasingly annoyed with the “evil” of Google and is nowadays rather trying to move out from as many Google products as I can.

  • Agreed. The bigger point I saw the tech press making was that Snapseed is a competitor to Instagram. Completely misguided. Here’s what I wrote:

  • Geez I sure hope Nik doesn’t disappear behind the scenes to form some sort of auto- adjustment backend like you envision Trey. Talk about boring! If you envision people posting hundreds or thousands of photos each day as you say, and everyone has the pretty auto-adjust done to each image – where is the uniqueness? Where is the originality. Where is the creativity? Where is the excitement?

    Not every photo of every cat or “what’s for supper photo” is going to need to have the auto-google-nik adjustments made like you hope for. And I sure hope people don’t go posting thousands of photos a day – talk about an overload. With that many photos flying around – who is honestly going to pay any real attention?

    Just like shooting with a camera, sometimes things are best left to manual mode…
    Here’s hoping Google lets Nik Software be Nik Software and continue to make great stand alone products that the Pro and Amateur photog can use to enhance their own images to stand out as an individual – and not let it become swallowed up in the Google ecosystem and lost forever.

    I am also not in favor of cloud computing for everything. I often find myself shooting in remote areas with no cell service. How would a cloud photo processing app help me then? Google – please don’t screw up Nik!!!

    I am very skeptical and a bit sad about this acquisition without hearing about the future plans from Google and Nik directly.

  • Darth Vader’s hand is in this. I have a bad feeling about this.

  • Trey Ratcliff

    Thanks for the link Mike 🙂

  • Trey Ratcliff


  • Trey Ratcliff

    Sure thing Paul 🙂

  • Alex Murphy

    Most “cloud apps” are increasingly being able to be run offline. Think of Google’s Apps suite – Gmail and Drive can both be accessed offline now. You’ll still be able to use them, just without the super servers boosting your power.

  • Trey Ratcliff

    These are all valid points @mattsuess:disqus … I also love client-side editing… but I think that processing tools-and-locations will continue to change in the future. I think SOME people will auto-post-process (which is kind of what Instagram does… choosing one of 10 pre-canned filters), but people like you and me will tweak it all out to the nth degree.

  • goodinuf

    If Nik is will not work with CS7 or Lightroom 5 there may not be a reason to upgrade my Adobe software.

  • @google-c1ec23de8292d904dc213eba8bf1d17d:disqus I could see your ideas of cloud auto-correction being a huge benefit to many wedding or event photogs.

  • I’m not really sure what to think about this news.. Google usually doesn’t do Desktop software, Sparrow was killed off immediately.

    I can see snapseed fitting in with G+, but what about the professional sotware? Unless Google wants to get a foothold in the professional photography business. Anyway, I hope Nik Software will continue to exist as a company.

  • Knowles2

    They kept Sketchup around for a long time before selling it off to another company.

  • Casper van Zyl

    Thought you would have been in Cologne Germany this week for the biggest Photographic show all new gismos hitting the market

  • Robert Scott

    Photographers uploading hundreds or thousands of photos per day sounds like a really bad idea. There’s no way that they will all be good quality so it’s going to further lower image standards and make finding good images harder for discerning viewers. It’s already hard enough to find the good stuff among the junk that predominates.

  • Jeremy Bresley

    I think Google has seen the popularity of Picasa which already has basic image editing/touchup/cleanup features, and is looking for a way to easily get a Picasa Pro package without having to spend development time on doing it in house. Look at some of their previous acquisitions like Keyhole, where Google bought a company and made previously commercial software freely available. Wikipedia has a large list of Google’s acquisitions, and there’s probably more than a few on there that even Googlers haven’t heard of before.

  • Great article Trey, another one of yours that has inspired a lot of discussion! I’d be lying if I knew what this really meant or if I had an opinion on it. I too love Nik Software products but felt Color Efex 4 was a bit of a let down (aside from the multiple filter merging mechanism). I just always find myself going back to Color Efex 3, where I feel the filters still seem to have more impact. So if Google improve upon Color Efex 4, then it will be a success (easily pleased hey!). I have all the Nik programs but the only other ones I use are Silver Efex and Viveza, especially of which Viveza I could not do without. I know a lot of people say Photoshop can do anything Viveza does, but I still find that Viveza is much more subtle and yet effective at making local changes. Again, how all this will change under Google I have no idea, but here’s hoping they have bought it for the right reasons – to assist amateur and professional photographers alike in their photographic arsenal, and not aim it at the mobile/cell (which ever is appropriate for your continent) phone market. Just my thoughts anyway….

  • Beautiful photos, Trey!!! Have a great Tuesday!!

  • Glenn Guy

    Gidday Trey. Beautiful images and very insightful comments. I agree that so much of our daily lives will be cloud based in the not too distant future. Its very exciting. While I’m always a little scared when the big boys take over the smaller, independent operations I’d have to say that this is a very interesting move by Google. And, unlike some other companies, I still see Google as a big boy, rather than a bad boy. I pray it stays that way.

  • packetdancer

    What terrifies me is that Google might look at this as technology rather than product, and just stuff it into a consumer-oriented tool like how Picnik rolled into Picasa, take Snapseed as an Instagram competitor… and then just let the rest drop by the wayside, basically saying “well, all those Lightroom and Aperture plugins aren’t really to our interest.”

    I can well see this happening, as Google has bought a number of different companies for technology and then dropped the actual products before. (Most recently and notably, Sparrow.)

  • Good points, Trey. I sincerely hope you’re right that Google does something cool and lets the crew at Nik continue to develop their talent and ultimately, their software. Having said that, I still get a little sad whenever huge corporations gobble up a niche company with products I’ve invested in and rely on in my business. On the other hand, I’m already so deep in bed with the good folks at giants like Canon, Apple and Adobe, that it’ll probably be alright. The acquisition will hopefully also enthuse other software devs in the pro photo segment to work harder – so they too can be acquired and get filthy rich! 🙂

  • Tim Rogan

    Are you forgetting that sensors are getting larger (larger file sizes) and most ISPs are setting caps on their data allowed each month? Plus speed is an issue. If I was required to use the internet to do my image manipulation I would find a new job. I say this is good for NIK company owners and we’ll see at best for NIK users and employees.

  • Great article and great images as always. I agree with most that we are all headed to the cloud. Hopefully those of us that do want to (excessively!) tweak and don’t want the canned options won’t be left behind.

  • Sammy01

    Talk about a bunch of double-speak. But how many of us wouldn’t engage in that if there was $1B at stake? The cloud and thin client suck for image editing. You are constantly relying on many external parties, you are renting your usage, it is high bandwidth for the cloud to update the image after every adjustment.

  • boggy4062

    I have only one question. WHO is going to look at a volume of pictures that one can generate with devices like G+ glasses? With all do respect, but wouldn’t be this a waste of someone life to spend looking at every 5 seconds of someone else’s life? Don’t know about you,but I may not think that my life is as important or interesting as life of George W. Bush, but still… would I waste it on viewing at his world, instead of living my own life? Nope… Storage is only a technical issue that may/will be resolved. Only time is of essence.

  • toughluck

    That, plus there is no pixel-perfect viewing from cloud. The pictures will always be sent to you compressed until you save your work. It will be like working with a drape (or fog, as far as clouds go) over the monitor.
    Oh, forget color correction, because it won’t work as you expect. While with your own machine you have some degree of control over color, good luck with applying profiles over the web — expect stripping color profile data, expect miscalibration, expect lack of compatibility with anything other than sRGB, expect lack of any reasonable dynamic range.
    Finally, let’s say you upload your 50 MB RAW file to google at 10 Mbit/s, it will take 40 seconds. Then apply corrections. Let’s say it takes picasa half a minute to calculate them, while it would take you a full minute. Then download the resulting 80 GB TIFF, which will take you 64 seconds. There, you just saved a few seconds from your workload… NOT. You lose over a minute per picture this way. And it’s really not a stretch to imagine. And that’s not including the previews that will be sent to you for reviewing the results of every change. And there’s the disadvantage that google now has your picture and will probably use it to profile ads to you better.
    Faster connections? Let’s say 100 Mbit/s? Okay, you save time, but you need a pretty beefed up machine to work at these speeds (CPU power and especially memory) — if you have a machine that’s able to use the potential of this network fully, I suppose it’s powerful enough to process your images at speeds that will be available for you from google.
    You can get an 8-core machine with OpenCL pretty cheaply these days (if you look beyond Intel). Even when buying Intel, you can still get an 8-core machine that will pay for itself if you use it for work. Do you think google will ever dedicate 8 CPU threads and a whole GPU for you exclusively?
    There are some legitimate uses for cloud. I’m thinking of really expensive software that needs to be licensed and which comes in useful for everyone, but you could never afford a license for your personal use. Or for CPU-intensive data crunching on small sets of data. But cloud is not useful for anything interactive that you want some control over.

  • sasasa


  • sasasa

    all your cloud idiocy will lead to nothing.
    the cloud is a dream.. something geeks dream about but that will never be a success in the long run.

  • sasasa

    nik is dead…. google will just use it for noob apps… the PS plugins will be dead in 2 years.. remember my words!!!

  • sasasa

    yep and how the hell can i upload hundreds of megabytes to the cloud?
    millions of people have only 2000 kbit connections.
    in the end the cloud will bring us all volume limited internet.. and we have to pay for it because we NEED it.
    fuk the cloud!!!!

  • ec lundburgh

    If we examine the 30 year evolution of client-server technology and all those who proclaimed it would NEVER work because of its ‘weak-link-network-capabilities’, it becomes apparent that there are those who can IMAGINE the potential and possibilities and then there are those who are stuck in a box with blinders on.

    As with all evolving networks, whether organic or technical, as the need increases for a supportive system for sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest, the required technology will be created.

    Makes me smile as I remember being in a brain-storming session in the mid-80s where we discussed the feasibility of every office having a computer of its own that could =>perhaps)

  • Robert Jensen

    I think that Google purchased Nik just for Snapseed, and if we’re lucky they’ll leave the rest of Nik’s software development to the team that’s done such an excellent job up till now. We’ll know which way the wind is blowing by keeping an eye on who at Nik stays and who goes. If you start seeing a mass exodus then we’re going to be the losers too.

    Unfortunately, Google has a habit of gutting or throwing away too many of the companies it buys and ending services, like their great iGoogle, the home page I’ve been using since it first came out and which will be closing up next year.

    Interesting point the author has on processing in the cloud and it might just come to be reality, but then some of us will no longer have the fun we used to have in our digital darkrooms. For me half the fun (and frustration) in photography is post processing.

  • Exactly!

  • Great to see you back rockin’ the house again Trey. Excellent and very informative show.

    Glenn Guy

  • At the end of the day, the google guys did not respond one key question. I understand perfectly the rational to cater for the 90% of the phone photography users that will use the cloud and will make their dog photographs nicer using SNAPSEED, but the NIK pro software is used by professional photographers and serious amateurs for their customers or exhibitions. They are not the dog phone photographers (no pun intented just to make the thinking visible). The strategic intents are different. Nik catered to the “PHOTOGRAPHY FIRST” clients with excellent software. Google on the other hand is about the masses and making profit from their cloud and will use server processing to obtain that. As someone said below, it will be interesting which developers jump ship, because, and hopefully I am wrong on this, the quality and the maintenance of the NIK Pro products will evaporate with time. A complaint though – Google has not communicatd with the NIK customers about their intent and certainly the three guys there do not think about “PHOTOGRAPHY FIRST from the same perspective Nik did. It shows little respect for the peole that make NIK a great company.

  • I’m sorry to say that you’re already wrong. It’s already a reality and a daily part of work/fun life for millions of people. Cloud computing is a daily reality, already implemented, already successful, already integrated. If anything, photography is late to the game. I see it time and time again, and I’ll say the same thing I always do – best keep up!

  • Everett Heller

    Is the other shoe about to drop on this acquisition? It appears as though Nik Radio went off the air at the end of September. Another point, Nik will no longer be sending reps to photography shows. It gives one some insights into a potential future…

  • Kevin

    “This NIK thing” is a personal favorite of mine for processing my images on my machine. The talking on this video is putting me to sleep because it is informationless. You guys are paid too much!

  • PhotoJunket

    Well that was basically an advert for Google!
    As much as I admire your photographic work, Trey, this was a one-sided bit of writing.

  • Roland Dobbins

    No updates for Nik Lightroom plugins since before the acquisition.

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