Can you please tell something about yourself? How did you get into developing Photoshop plugins?
There is a bit of history to how I began developing plug-ins. Before beginning science and engineering studies at the university, I had always been an avid painter, photographer, and cellist. I spent a significant amount of time pursuing these creative aspects of my life before beginning at the university. As I later studied astrophysics and imaging science in the early 1990's at the University of Hamburg, I found myself among engineers and scientists almost entirely. As I looked for a way to be more creative, I started combining my creative side with the technical aspects of my studies.
I began developing Photoshop plug-ins as I found that this was a way for me to combine everything that I enjoyed. Well, almost everything
I later wanted to develop more creative outlets to share my ideas, and I began to develop Photoshop actions. When these actions grew in popularity, and especially when they became among the top selling graphics software in Japan at one point, I then decided to dedicate my professional life to developing software. In the late 1990's, I sat down with one of my business partners (who is now our CEO) and I discussed digital photography and what I saw as a future product direction. We talked about my ideas and I talked a lot about my photography (well mostly I talked about that) and what I think. I must have talked for over an hour about what I couldn't do in analog photography. That was what motivated the concept of developing filters that go beyond the capabilities of analog photographic filters. My partner and I soon agreed on a path for developing Photoshop plug-ins dedicated to digital photography and the concepts for nik Sharpener Pro and nik Color Efex Pro began.
You created your first plugins with Filter Factory in the mid 90s. The dialog of your nik plugins almost appears like an advanced version of the original Filter Factory dialog. Did your experience with Filter Factory have a big influence on your later plugins?
When I began developing my first filters (which were named Nils' Filters), I did use Filter Factory, which was good start for me as I didn't need to program the interface. However, I wanted to do more with overall filter functionality and I especially wanted to try to make more creative UI's and add some spice to an interface. Kai Krause had released his software, and I saw this as a beginning for moving away from the many 'system-looking' interfaces. With this direction being established, I began developing filters solely in C++ and designing the interfaces myself.
One of the plugins of nik Color Efex 2
Do you know FilterMeister, which more or less replaced the old Filter Factory plugin? What do you think of it?
I do know of FilterMeister. Its very flexible and a good tool. But I have never really used it as when it came out I had already begun developing solely in C++.
There are a lot of plugin developers from Germany: You, the famous Kai Krause, myself, several people in the old Filter Factory scene. And there are probably even more developers from the US with German ancestors. Is the old spirit of German engineers at work here?
I think that there are many good plug-in and software engineers in Europe and the U.S. The graphics and print industry in Europe, and especially in Germany, is very big and graphic design was very big in the 90's and there was a bit of a cult-like following to program and create with Photoshop. If you look at this and how Photoshop grew (especially in the 90's) then it is a bit natural for German software engineers to gravitate toward plug-ins; especially Photoshop. As for the German engineers, I have to say that I do know many very good ones.
Which of your products do you consider the most important? Or are you equally proud of all of them?
That's hard to say. But first of all, I have to mention that I do not do all of this alone. In the beginning I did do all of the work myself. But now, I am far from alone in creating them. I give credit to our product team and our team of engineers that help me do what I do and enable me to develop the ideas and concepts that help our products grow. We have a very talented team that is extremely dedicated to accomplishing things that I envision and their support is very important to me.
If I think about the question though, I think answering that is like asking any developer, artist or designer which of their work is the best. I don't really see things from the market perspective or see products in comparison to each other. Instead, I see things that I set out to accomplish the way that I envision them and I am proud of how they turned out. What I am pleased about is that as people use the products that we create and that people use them as I had hoped AND in ways that I did not think of.
The plugin market is a niche market with a lot of small companies relying mostly on electronic commerce. Did you ever think of producing standalone or mainstream software?
I think that many plug-in developers have dreams of increasing the number of people that their work reaches. That is natural and I am no different in that regard. E-commerce really has helped many developers (including me and my company) reach the market that they pursue, whether it is design, print, photography or any other niche market. As I mentioned before, developers are very much like, or they are at least not very different than artists or designers as they want to present and share their work to many people and are often proud of their creations. So I would say that reaching more people is always something that developers (myself included) would like to do. As for going mainstream, I think we all dream of this in some way.
Dfine, a noise reduction plugin from nik multimedia
How aware are users of Photoshop and other graphic applications of the possibilities to enhance their workflow with Photoshop plugins? Do many people consider it unnecessary to use plugins? How did the plugin market and plugins themselves change during the last decade of their existence? Do you see any future trends in this area?
Well, I can speak of my experiences in the mid to late 90's as it relates to plug-ins for the graphic design market on one hand and then my experience as we grew as a company when we began to focus on digital photography. And both of these are different.
In the mid to late 90's, there was a different type of movement or atmosphere for plug-ins. Kai Krause did a lot for bringing plug-ins into the minds of the graphics and design market. This really helped people see that plug-ins can help the user be even more creative and that they can support people's creativity.
As Photoshop has grown and added features and continues to grow, I think it is even more challenging to come up with ideas and show people that plug-ins add value. This was even more the case in digital photography as this industry was very early in development when we began in 1999. But, this challenge to come up with ideas is actually something that I really enjoy. As digital photography grows and we develop our products even further, I think that this challenge will be bigger. But again, that is what I love.
As for trends in this area, I see a number of small developers continuing to come into the market here and there and I think this is great for the market. When more small companies come into the market and push to get their message out, then everyone benefits. People start talking more about problems and solutions that software can provide and we begin to see how we can create more products and give users what they are looking for. I think that this is a good trend for us and for all users of software.
What are your plans for the future?
Our plans for the future are to continue making products and features that users ask for. I think that I am fortunate that I found great partners that helped me grow the company that I started 10 years ago this year, and I plan to focus even more of my time on developing new and innovative products and features that I hope users enjoy.
This interview was conducted by Harald Heim from The Plugin Site in May 2005.