Macphun makes one of the most fun and yet most useful sets of image editing applications I have used. I have come to rely on Macphun’s Noiseless, Tonality, Focus, Snapheal and Intensify since the San Diego-based software company sent licences to try them out a while ago. And now all six applications have been updated and unified under a new banner, Creative Kit 2016.
The now well-established Macphun applications continue to prove themselves indispensable for cleaning up less-than-perfect images, and fantastic for adding spice to worthy photographs that just need that little bit extra. And if I have the need to go wild and crazy with a photographic illustration rather than a straightforward photograph then Macphun’s apps have the chops to do that too.
I’ve barely scratched the surface with what they all can do, and each time I use them for a minor edit I find myself wishing for some really meaty projects that call on every image editing trick in the book. Macphun’s software engineers clearly know every trick in the biggest programming book of them all, judging from all the controls available in Creative Kit 2016.
A Brilliant Pedigree
Hardly surprising given Macphun’s pedigree as a company. Its predecessor as it were, Nik Software, makers of Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Viveza, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro and Dfine, was bought by Google which then re-released the set of six under its own brand as Google Nik Collection.
Viveza was my favorite of the lot. It helped me rescue good photos shot under awful conditions then push them beyond good enough into great. Nik’s U Point technology allowed me to zoom deep into photographs and perfect them beyond anything ever possible in the analog world.
That deep control has carried over into the Macphun applications’ DNA albeit in a slightly different, perhaps more conventional, form now that U Point belongs to Google.
Brushes have taken the place of U-points, more appropriate perhaps with the steady infiltration of Wacom and other brand art tablets into creative studios, the home and even corporate offices. Art tablets saved me from the worst effects of carpal tunnel syndrome or whatever the current term is for long hours of repetitive tasks on the computer. I found tablets and pens are just as effective as virtual paintbrushes as they are mouse replacements.
Now let’s look at the six separate but related items of software that go to make up Macphun Creative Kit 2016, in alphabetical order though not necessarily in their order of use. Each has its specific purposes, whether using them in standalone form, as plug-ins for Aperture, Elements, Lightroom or Photoshop, or as extensions to Photos in the latest version of Mac OS X, El Capitan.
You may have watched a documentary where cities look like toy towns populated by tiny, doll-like people. The trick, often referred to as tilt-shift, emulates effects achieved with large format sheet film cameras and is achieved through plug-ins for movie editing software.
Focus contains five tools to produce lens effects in photographs of people (portraits), nature, architecture, close-ups aka macro and classic tilt-shift. Each tool includes sliders for blur, motion and focus. The custom function allows you to tailor your own effects with the addition of masking via paintbrush or eraser, blur, radial and linear motion, and focus.
Plenty of subtlety is possible from simple vignettes through to throwing backgrounds behind figures or buildings out of focus via paintbrush masks.
FX Photo Studio can be thought of as Photoshop’s filter gallery on steroids, with a huge array of graphic effects presets that are particularly suited to photo-illustrations or graphic design.
Start off with a preset then customize it to taste, add a mask for subtlety, crop or make further photo editing-style adjustments such as color temperature, saturation, hue, exposure, brightness, contras and so on.
FX Photo Studio contains so many effects presets that play can be a useful approach. Click the dice button for a random effect then see how far you can push it. If you don’t like what turns up, click the dice to try something else. It is lots of fun and can get you out of a too-realistic creative rut.
For me, Intensify is the real workhorse of Creative Kit 2016 and increasingly my default go-to for, as it is says on the Macphun product page, “unprecedented drama & detail”.
I find myself using Intensify more and more as climate change continues to kick in here, with long swathes of grey days, cloud-blanketed skies and far too little of the razor-sharp sunlight that was such a feature of Sydney life for so long.
Now it is no longer enough to simply present things as they are, richly-colored and bathed in beautiful light and shade. If I have no choice but to shoot in the worst of light and weather, which happens much of the time, then Intensify is essential with controls that go way beyond what I have ever achieved with Photoshop or any other conventional image editing application.
Intensify contains loads of presets divided into subject and treatment types or you can dive straight into a large set of adjustment controls and come up with your own unique looks that can be saved as presets if you wish.
Add further subtlety via layers, adding adjustment on top of adjustment or apply them through the paint, erase and gradient tools. Intensify has bestowed a life on so many of my images that looked drab and boring as shot.
Digital noise is no longer a near insurmountable problem in images shot under available light and especially available darkness at high ISOs. I often need to shoot stills at events where the lighting is appalling and the main subjects are in darkness or dim red light against dark backgrounds.
Before I began using Noiseless I would grit my teeth and accept that chunky digital noise would always be a fact of life. Now, it doesn’t have to be so and Noiseless gives me near-perfect results from even formerly hopeless photographs.
Like other applications in Creative Kit 2016, you can start with one click on your choice from ten different presets, fine tune via noise reduction, structure, details, filter and opacity sliders and create your own personal presets if you desire.
Now there are almost no lighting conditions under which I refuse to shoot, with Noiseless in my toolkit.
As with other applications in Creative Kit 2016, there is more to Snapheal than meets the eye when it comes to cleaning up messy images and removing unwanted objects or people, for that matter, in landscapes, cityscapes and even portraits.
At the risk of overdoing use of the phrase “on steroids”, Snapheal goes beyond what can easily be done in Photoshop or other conventional image editing software.
Select areas of contention in your photograph with the paintbrush, eraser or section tools, choose from global, local or dynamic erasing modes to three degrees of precision, then hit the “Erase!” button. There is also a clone tool as well as a large set of retouching and adjustment tools familiar from the other apps in CK 2016 and other editing software.
Sometimes quick and dirty yields great results while more complex images benefit from a slow and steady, finely detailed approach, often best done with an art tablet and pen.
Tonality is responsible for getting me back to shooting for black-and-white after having given it up for more years than I care to count.
I used to be a pretty hot monochrome processor and printer after spending years in the dark or under dim amber lights but had to give it up after contracting extreme dermatitis from photochemical over-exposure.
As with the other CK 2016 applications, there are a number of ways you can use Tonality, but mine is based on classic analog processing and printing.
First I choose a film preset based on firsthand knowledge of many of the films of yesteryear, tweak the preset via the color filter, tone curve and grain adjustments, add a second layer for toning then further adjust the tone and split toning controls.
Having got close to what I originally visualized when I made the shot, I then go back into each layer and fine tune exposure, contrast, clarity and structure, lens blur, glow, vignette and other controls until the image really sings.
That is just one way of working with Tonality and there are plenty more ways than mine, including using the Zone System or choosing from one of the subject, effect or emotion-based preset collections such as Architecture, Portrait, Dramatic, Outdoor, Street, Vintage or HDR.
This article’s title asks the question “Has Creative Kit 2016 turned Photos into the Aperture replacement we’ve all been looking or?“. Admittedly a leading question and one that touches on just one contentious image editing product out of a broad field of them.
I bought an Aperture licence some years ago when taking up an editorial consulting job at a traditional, printed magazine. I continued to update Aperture despite giving up that role then eventually got back into stills photography when digital cameras, lenses and image processing software had evolved enough.
Originally, the main attraction of Aperture was its image viewing, sorting and editing features, especially the freeform workspace named Light Table. I often relied on Aperture's raw conversion and image processing functions whenever I used cameras unsupported at times by DxO OpticsPro.
So far I have not taken to Lightroom in a big way for image processing though I really ought to try out its image database functionality some more. I don’t completely rely on Camera Raw either, except when waiting for DxO to add new camera and lens profiles to OpticsPro, like now when using and reviewing the superb Panasonic Lumix GX8. DxO OpticsPro will support the GX8 sometime in December, I understand.
I have tried Photos out on a spare Mac Pro I am gradually upgrading, as a solo application and with the Creative Kit 2016 applications as extensions. Just as they do when used as plug-ins, the Creative Kit 2016 apps-as-extensions do a terrific job of manipulating images and opening up many more creative possibilities than I could have imagined just over a year ago.
Photos is a damned good rewrite of iPhoto, as Samuel Gibbs wrote in The Guardian in April this year. But it is, as he says in relation to Aperture, a step down for professional users. If your needs do not extend beyond the very good image processing functions built into Photos without extensions then you will be happy enough, and much happier again if using Creative Kit 2016 as an extension set.
By the same token CK 2016 works brilliantly as plug-ins or standalone, with the individual applications being very effective at transferring images from one to another, each complementing the other by providing their individual functions to the whole.
Creative Kit is a work in progress and continues to evolve while being very impressive indeed in this, its latest iteration. Run Aurora HDR next to it and in conjunction with it and a whole new set of possibilities is opened up to you.Macphun Creative Kit 2016: The Photos extensions we’ve all been waiting for? Or way more besides? Click To Tweet
Creative Kit 2016
Serge Ramelli about Creative Kit by Macphun
Creative Kit by Macphun
Amazing Photo Editing for Mac.
Creative Kit brings you power, speed & inspiration to make stunning photos without extra efforts. Get award-winning photo software, designed exclusively for Mac users, like yourself.
6 powerful photography apps and over 500 creative tools inside a single, easy-to-use pack. Creative Kit elevates your photo editing experience and helps achieve fantastic results faster than ever before.
- Fx Photo
Learn more about Creative Kit Here.
(cover photo credit: snap from Macphun)