A few weeks ago, Google announced the Nik Collection of plug-ins—which Google has owned since buying Nik Software in 2012—was now free. This sent a few shock waves through the photo industry, and in the last few weeks, I’ve had a bunch people asking if we’d follow (meaning us at ON1, since I work there full time), Google/Nik by making ON1 plug-ins free too. How would we compete? What was the plan?
At first I thought, well, I’m not sure this is something to talk about publicly. It has a lot to do with business decisions, and future technologies, so it’d be easy to just keep quiet. Also, to me personally, I thought this was the final nail in the Nik coffin. I really didn’t want to say that publicly (I guess I just did), because I know many people have spent good money on those apps.
But then I started realizing that people care about the apps they use for their photography. And I think a lot of you have a genuine interest to see what the future holds. ON1 isn’t some giant software conglomerate. We’re made up of photographers, and people that really want to help you edit photos. And I think that shows through, and most of you reading this actually care. So that’s were this post was born. And it’s got some pretty cool history in it, because the Google/Nik story is how I started using ON1 apps in the first place years ago.
Google/Nik Is Actually How I Started Using ON1
The Nik story is pretty interesting for me personally, because the history has quite a bit to do with some big changes in my life believe it or not. Google/Nik is how I ended up using ON1 in the first place. Years ago, when I was teaching folks how to use Photoshop®, I was a happy Nik user. But software education was a bit different five to seven years ago. Whenever I showed people a plug-in, they’d get mad because it meant spending more money. Plug-ins weren’t cheap back then: Most packages cost over $300 and some $500-$600. Not to mention, a lot of people felt it was cheating. Kinda like, “if you’re going to get a cool effect, you should get it the hard way by knowing the 10 Photoshop filters, 13 layer blend modes, the Channel Mixer, Calculations dialog, and masking that make that happen.”
Fast forward a few years. Once people realized that a lot of those plug-ins were the secret sauce to most of the photos that inspired them, they embraced them. Prices came down, and more people jumped on board the plug-in train.
Then, four years ago, Google acquired Nik. This was right around the time where Nik’s Snapseed was one of the most popular iPhone apps out there. Knowing that Google had a history of killing all desktop software they came in contact with, most of us thought that meant the Nik products were slowly going to die. But we were assured by some people on the inside, that Nik was alive and kicking.
As time went on it became pretty clear Google didn’t seem to care about the desktop photo-editing plug-ins for photographers. At this time, of course, Google was WAY in to the Google+ platform and mobile technology. Any photo editing they did happened online with the auto-magic stuff in their uploader for Google+. Professional and semi-pro/enthusiastic photographers editing on the desktop weren’t really Google’s target audience. My sister, for example, was their audience. She doesn’t want to lift a finger on any of her cell phone photos of her kids at dance class, but still wants them to look good. So the apps didn’t seem to have a home, and we never saw or heard much from them after the acquisition.
At this point I was pretty disappointed. I liked my desktop apps, but it became clear to me that they were no longer a priority under the Google umbrella. They’d see minor updates to keep them current on the latest OS, but no big feature updates were released. Lightroom and Photoshop had rendered their Noise and Sharpening plug-ins pretty much useless. I wasn’t much in to HDR or Black and White. So really, the only app that I needed was the app that made me fall in love with Nik in the first place – Color Efex Pro 4. That’s where I felt I got the “style” in my photos after editing in Lightroom.
But by this point, Color Efex had already been out for a couple of years (it came out in 2011), and it became clear we were never going to see a major update again. That’s when I started looking elsewhere for an effects app that could get me the “style” I look for in my photos, and actually grow and get updated as technology improved.
I tried ON1 more seriously and eventually fell in love with the ON1 Effects app. So in a weird crazy way, Google/Nik basically giving up on the pro, semi-pro and enthusiast photography market is actually how I ended up using ON1 apps in the first place. I refused to invest any more time and energy in software I felt wouldn’t improve technically or expand my creative stylization, and most likely eventually die.
More Than Effects
As I dove more and more into the ON1 apps, I noticed there was a lot more to them. First, there were actual brushing and masking tools in all the apps. Which made it easy to apply effects in places I wanted, while hiding them from the parts I didn’t want them in.
If you’re not a big Photoshop user (I personally am), ON1 has layers that’ll get a lot of the photography tasks done without jumping to Photoshop. There’s a ton of presets, it works as an Apple Photos extension, and has the standard for upsizing photos for big prints.
And finally, a big change for me is what’s happened over the last couple of years with the introduction of ON1 Browse. These days I tend to use ON1 as a standalone browser for my photos that I don’t want to formally “catalog”. Sometimes I have a group of photos that I simply want to look at. Maybe they’re on an old drive, or maybe I only have a few minutes after a photo shoot. It’s super fast, requires no importing or cataloging, and simply let’s me look at a folder of photos on my computer at lightning speed. Then, when I’m ready to edit, I can take those photos in to Lightroom, Photoshop, or (if you’re an ON1 only user) ON1 Enhance/Effects/Portrait.
This is How I Have a Job!
I know some of you are thinking “Well Matt, you work for ON1 and of course you’re going to say good things” Abso-freaking-lutely! But hopefully most of you reading here know that I’m pretty down to earth and shoot you straight – this is really a response to the questions I’ve seen out there. We can’t hide from it. It makes sense. So I figured why not hit it head on? The reality is, if ON1 were just an effects company, we would be in serious trouble right now.
But we’re not. We saw moves like this coming a while back and it’s kinda what led me to have a job there right now. Effects were becoming (and probably are now) commoditized. They’re free on the phone, and now most of them are free on the desktop too.
A while back, ON1 realized if they’re going to remain competitive they need more. They started the monthly loyalty rewards years ago. If you’re a customer, every month you get free stuff. There’s a huge training library on the public website. And they hired me on to round out the educational aspect of the company so that the apps didn’t just sit on your computer, but so you actually had some one to show you how to use all of them in your workflow with Lightroom and Photoshop.
I don’t write code. I’m not a salesperson. I’m an educator who shoots a lot, teaches a lot, spends a ton of time chatting with photographers, and is out there talking to people about what they want in their photo editing apps.
The future is bright for ON1…like really bright. There’s some VERY exciting stuff coming later this year that’s a direct response to what customers (and a lot of other people) have been saying they want. It’s got the entire team more excited than ever. And I can honestly tell you it’s got me chomping at the bit because I want to use this stuff right now.
So, make sure you stay tuned over the next few weeks.
– Matt K