Silver EFX Pro

 

Black and White photography has been with us more or less as long as we’ve had photography. Generations of photographers learned the fundamentals of exposure, tone, ISO and all the other foundations of the craft on black and white. This began to change with the advent of cheap color film and then again with the advent of digital. No longer do most know the smell of developer, the thrill of watching the image appear on the print, or the agony of having a day’s work of concentration, effort and careful logging wiped out because of a careless developing error (we just loose it all in a hard drive crash). 

Fuji x100 F5.6 1/60s ISO 320

Black and White photography has been with us more or less as long as we’ve had photography. Generations of photographers learned the fundamentals of exposure, tone, ISO and all the other foundations of the craft on black and white. This began to change with the advent of cheap color film and then again with the advent of digital. No longer do most know the smell of developer, the thrill of watching the image appear on the print, or the agony of having a day’s work of concentration, effort and careful logging wiped out because of a careless developing error (we just loose it all in a hard drive crash).

 

 

Yet those who grew up with it, and those learning it today find the black and white holds a certain artistic magic not replicated in color. In the digital world we find ourselves needing to synthesize black and white images out of our color shots 

Fuji x100 F2.8 1/60 ISO 3200

Yet those who grew up with it, and those learning it today find the black and white holds a certain artistic magic not replicated in color. In the digital world we find ourselves needing to synthesize black and white images out of our color shots since no camera manufacturer has come up with a B&W only camera that would sell millions (hello Fuji, are you listening?).

 

 

The methods of going from color to black and white are many and varied. At the easiest we simply use our software to completely desaturate the color and work with that. More sophisticated methods involve manipulating different color channels, contrast, clarity and the like. The problem with those, especially to those who didn’t grow up photographically on black and white is visualizing the effect on the final image.  

Nikon D70 38mm F9 1/1/60s

The methods of going from color to black and white are many and varied. At the easiest we simply use our software to completely desaturate the color and work with that. More sophisticated methods involve manipulating different color channels, contrast, clarity and the like. The problem with those, especially to those who didn’t grow up photographically on black and white is visualizing the effect on the final image.

 

 

Even if you get your tonal manipulations down there is the character of film grain that adds a dimension to photographs. 

Fuji x100 F2.8 1/60s ISO 2000

Even if you get your tonal manipulations down there is the character of film grain that adds a dimension to photographs. I find it funny that for decades we tried to minimize or eliminate the effect of film grain on the image. Now we are trying to figure out how to put it back. I wonder in the future if we get cameras that shoot glass smooth sharp images in lousy light if we’ll be trying to get sensor noise back into our shot.

 

 

To solve all these problems the folks at NIK software (who produce Nikon’s OEM processing software) have created Silver EFX Pro, a program that is rapidly become the gold standard of black and white conversion. They really put a lot of thought into black and white and came up with a way to have near infinite options in an interface that doesn’t require technical understanding to use.

Nikon D70 18mm F11 1/200s ISO 200

To solve all these problems the folks at NIK software (who produce Nikon’s OEM processing software) have created Silver EFX Pro, a program that is rapidly become the gold standard of black and white conversion. They really put a lot of thought into black and white and came up with a way to have near infinite options in an interface that doesn’t require technical understanding to use.

 

Getting to Black and White

 

Original Color Image 

Our starting Image in Color - Fuji x100 F8 1/250s ISO 200

Its important to understand that Silver Efex Pro 2 is NOT a stand alone application. It has to be run through another image processing application. See the system requirements here.

 

After you have selected your image and activated Silver Efex Pro it brings up its working window. It defaults to a neutral black and white which is pretty similar to a straight desaturation.

After you have selected your image and activated Silver Efex Pro it brings up its working window. It defaults to a neutral black and white which is pretty similar to a straight desaturation.

 

main controls

The business end of the software is a strip of slider controls on the right hand side. This contain all the possible adjustments.

 

If you find the controls too intimidating you can start with the presets on the left hand side. There are a variety of settings grouped by theme.

If you find the controls too intimidating you can start with the presets on the left hand side. There are a variety of settings grouped by theme.

If they are not to your liking then you can dive into the main controls on the right hand side. All the presets are just combinations of those controls.

 

Another cool feature of the interface is the ability to have side by side or split views of your edits allowing you to compare before and after.

Another cool feature of the interface is the ability to have side by side or split views of your edits allowing you to compare before and after.

 

Getting Control

The three main controls are brightness, contrast and Structure.

Brightness and contrast work more or less the same as any program. The “Structure” command is somewhat unique. It is a variation of the “micro-contrast” concept which allows you to enhance surface detail without destroying too much dynamic range.

 

On the right is an example of Structure dragged to 100%, on the left it is a neutral setting.

On the right is an example of Structure dragged to 100%, on the left it is a neutral setting.

 

Compare that to Neutral Structure but 100% contrast.

Compare that to Neutral Structure but 100% contrast.

 

Fine Adjustments

If your looking for even more control clicking on the triangle in front of each of the controls breaks it down into sub controls to fine tune it to your taste.

If your looking for even more control clicking on the triangle in front of each of the controls breaks it down into sub controls to fine tune it to your taste.

 

Control Points

Silver EFX Pro uses the control point selection method from their Nikon Capture NX to build selection masks, this allows you to set a point and then expand the area of change for selective editing.

 

You click on the point and then increase or decrease the size of the circle to increase or decrease the area of influence for your edits. The edits themselves are done with the sliders that appear off the point. Its an interesting concept, that takes some getting used to. 

You click on the point and then increase or decrease the size of the circle to increase or decrease the area of influence for your edits. The edits themselves are done with the sliders that appear off the point. Its an interesting concept, that takes some getting used to.

 

You can even take it a step further and do selected saturation with the control point tool.

Nikon D300 150mm F5.6 ISO 800

You can even take it a step further and do selected saturation with the control point tool.

 

Color Filters

Back in the day putting color filters on your lens was an interesting way to manipulate the tonality of your final output. What filter did what was something I never learned, why would I want to use green instead of orange?

 

They have some neat little colored filters to click and simulate the effects, like this shot where we added a “blue” filter.

Silver EFX Pro makes learning that after the fact easy. They have some neat little colored filters to click and simulate the effects, like this shot where we added a “blue” filter.

 

Another learning tool is the Loupe and Histogram down at the bottom. What makes it interesting is that it has the zone system of exposure evaluation built in. Hover over an exposure zone and it will highlight the areas of the picture that match that zone.

Another learning tool is the Loupe and Histogram down at the bottom. What makes it interesting is that it has the zone system of exposure evaluation built in. Hover over an exposure zone and it will highlight the areas of the picture that match that zone.

 

Film Types

When shooting B&W we often chose specific films for specific looks. A combination of the grain structure and tonality. This has been one of the more difficult to reproduce effects in the digital world.

 

Silver EFX Pro comes with a bunch of film types pre-set and they give you a live preview as you select them.

Simulated Kodak TMAX ISO 400

Silver EFX Pro comes with a bunch of film types pre-set and they give you a live preview as you select them.

 

Grain

If the presents are not to your liking the Grain and Levels and Curves controls gives you the freedom to go where you want.

 

I am especially impressed with the grain control, it doesn’t just put a grain layer over the picture like other conversion utilities I have used, it reconstitutes the picture with the grain. This is perhaps my favorite feature of the program, to me grain is an essential part of the B&W look. It gives it a warm and character that a totally smooth image lacks.

Fuji x100 F2.8 1/45s  ISO 3200

I am especially impressed with the grain control, it doesn’t just put a grain layer over the picture like other conversion utilities I have used, it reconstitutes the picture with the grain. This is perhaps my favorite feature of the program, to me grain is an essential part of the B&W look. It gives it a warm and character that a totally smooth image lacks.

 

Toning and More

 

While not strictly black and white sepia, cyanotypes, tints and the like tend to be grouped artistically into the same category. The toning tool makes it easy to simulate a variety of effects.

While not strictly black and white sepia, cyanotypes, tints and the like tend to be grouped artistically into the same category. The toning tool makes it easy to simulate a variety of effects.

 

Finally there are a variety of edge effects and borders to round out your picture.

Fuji x100 F8 1/250s ISO 200 Processed

Finally there are a variety of edge effects and borders to round out your picture.

 

Conclusion

After you have processed your image you hit Save and it exports it back into your source image processing program. From there you can do any additional manipulations before saving it in the final form.

Silver EFX Pro is an amazing tool for B&W conversion. It can be used at a very simple level with the presets or you can drill in to achieve all the detail your vision posses.