Silver Efex Pro 2 is an outstanding black and white conversion program.
It's one of the components in the Google NIK suite which is available as a free download from Google - download here. Before being acquired by Google, NIK was a well known suite of outstanding photo editing products.
Google acquired NIK software a few years back and early in 2016 they made the suite available as a free download. It integrates seamlessly with all of the major digital editing packages - Photoshop, Lightroom, PaintShop Pro and AfterShot Pro and works on both Mac and Windows.
Like a lot of folks who have a keen interest in photography, I became a fan of black and white in a real, hands on, wet darkroom. My prints were never the best but that didn't matter because watching a print come to life in the developer was a fabulous experience.
It truly was a case of the journey being better than the final destination!
With digital cameras and post processing software taking over, the old wet darkroom has more or less faded away. Black and white conversions with the popular editing packages is good and the very creative types who really know the software make some amazing conversions, however for many of us our results, while acceptable were a bit pedestrian.
And then along came Silver Efex Pro 2 from NIK software and it changed everything about black and white conversions.
Silver Efex Pro 2 can be launched from Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, PaintShop Pro, Lightroom and AfterShot Pro 3 - it can even be run in stand-alone mode but it's probably not the best way to run the program.
This is the Silver Efex Pro 2 screen after launching the plugin ...
As you can see, there are a few panels of interest ...
The Left Panel
The left side of the Silver Efex Pro 2 interface is dominated by 38 Presets. The program defaults to the top (Neutral) Preset which is a good starting point. If it's not to your liking then scroll through the other Presets (all 38 of them) until you find one that you really like.
You may not find exactly what you want or it may be a good place to start.
All 38 Presets can be viewed or they can be viewed in categories (Modern, Classic, Vintage, Recently Used and Favorites). If there are a couple of Presets you always use they can be added to the Favorites tab. Other than the Neutral Preset, my favourites are the High Structures (two of them) and the High Contrast ones.
To add them simply click on the little star next to the Preset name, check the Favorites tab and voila - there it is.
At the bottom of the panel there are three more tabs - Custom, Imported and History.
The Custom tab is where you save a set of adjustments in Silver Efex Pro 2 that your really, really like. To save as your own custom preset simply click on the Custom tab and give it a name. Your awesome set of adjustments will now be available in the Custom tab.
The Imported tab is where you'll find the Presets (both free and purchased) that you've downloaded.
The History tab is of particular interest because it shows every adjustment you've made and you can go back in time by selecting a different adjustment.
Each entry in the History tells the name of the adjustment and the strength of the adjustment.
At the very bottom of the panel are two additional options - Help and Settings.
The Help Tab is just that. It accesses the Silver Efex Pro Help files which really are a guided tour of the program.
The Settings allows you to change the interface settings.
The Right Panel
The right panel contains all of the Silver Efex Pro 2 global adjustments, including ...
There are five Brightness sliders in Silver Efex Pro 2. The top one adjusts the overall brightness of the image.
The next three sliders adjust the brightness in the Highlights, the Midtones and the Shadows.
Dynamic Brightness is really unique. This slider automatically adapts the effect to different areas of the image. It enables more advanced brightness changes by ensuring the image maintains a good range of details and intelligently applying different brightness values to different areas of the image.
Moving the slider to the left will darken the image overall, while keeping highlight detail. Moving the slider to the right will brighten the image overall, while keeping shadow detail.
To return any adjustment to its default position just double click on the slider.
The top slider adjusts the overall contrast of the image.
Amplify Whites provides unique control over the highlights in the image. Moving the slider to the right causes the bright tones to become brighter. The adjustment is adaptive in that each area is brightened according to the needs of the area.
Amplify Blacks works similarly to Amplify whites. As the slider is moved to the right the dark tones become darker.
Soft Contrast is another unique slider. Moving it to the right produces a moody look with soft contrast and moving it the left reduces contrast while maintaining edges.
Structure controls the amount of detail in the image and moving the top slider to the right will emphasize details and moving it to the left with soften the details.
The next three sliders, Highlights, Mid Tones and Shadows, adjust the amount of detail in the highlights, mid tones and shadows.
The Fine Structure slider is very similar to the top slider slider and displays even finer details in the image.
At the bottom of the structure dialogue are two additional sliders, Tonality Protection. These sliders will recover shadow and highlight detail that may have been lost through contrast or tonality adjustments.
Move the Shadow slider to the right to lighten only the shadows and bring back detail in the shadow areas the image and move the Highlight ship slider to the right to darken only the highlights and bring back detail highlight area.
The Control Points in Silver Efex Pro 2 is where a lot of the magic happens. They are especially useful for those who do not like struggling with complicated selection in their digital editing program.
You click on the control point button to add a Control Point. The mouse will indicate that a Control Point has been activated and all you need do is place it on your image. After placing the Control Point you can adjust the images brightness, contrast and detail using the sliders. Each control point contains all of the general adjustments and they can be applied to a very small and very specific area.
On my example I have seven Control Points and the checkmark to the left of each one indicates that it's active. To the right of the Control Points is a box that when selected will show the area of the image being modified by that Control Point.
At the bar on the dialogue are four buttons – Group Control Points, Un-Group Control Points, Duplicate a Control Point and Delete a Control Point.
If you're used to working with selections in your favourite digital editing software then the control points may seem somewhat strange at first. Once you get used to them you will love working with them!
Anatomy of a Silver Efex Pro 2 Control Point
This is a Control Point and here's what the different sliders adjust.
Little yellowish orangy circle - this is the control point and the area directly under it is what will be modified.
To the right of the Control Point is the size slider - moving it to the right makes the circle of influence larger and to the left makes the circle of influence smaller.
In all cases, moving the slider to the right increases the effect of the adjustment and moving to the left decreases the effect of the adjustment.
There is far more to using Control Points than what's noted here and it's the subject of a tutorial all on its own.
Back in the film days of photography it was standard practice to place a coloured filter over the lens of the camera when shooting in black and white. The colour filters created some outstanding effects.
Using these filters caused objects with the same colour as the filter to become lighter and colours across from the colour of the filter on the colour wheel becomes darker.
The colour filter dialogue in Silver Efex Pro 2 duplicates that affect with even more power!
From left to right you can add no filter, a red filter, an orange filter, a yellow filter, a green filter, or a blue filter. You can also select the hue slider, move it around and watch what happens. The bottom slider, strength, allows you to increase or decrease the effect of the filter.
With Silver Efex Pro 2, not only can you duplicate the effect of mounting a coloured filter on the front of your lens, you can actually duplicate the effect of a specific type of black and white film.
The drop-down box includes black and white films by Kodak, Ilford, Fuji, and Agfa. The ISO ratings range from Kodak Panatomic ISO 32 X all the way up to Ilford Delta 3200 ISO used in low light and action situations.
The low ISO films provide a relatively smooth, grain free image while the higher ISO films are grainy and very contrasty.
When a film type is chosen, the effect of that film can be seen in the curves and levels dialogue further down the page. It's interesting to compare the curve of a slow speed film with the curve of a high-speed film because their curves are so different.
Characteristic Curve for Two Film Types
In addition to choosing your film type, you can also make adjustments to the grain of the film, the softness of the grain and you can adjust the sensitivity of the film to the different colours in the colour spectrum with the six Sensitivity sliders.
With the colour sensitivity sliders moving any one of them to the left will darken that colour and moving any one of them to the right will lighten that colour.
As if the preceding adjustments where it good enough, now you've got four more finishing adjustment you can do - Toning, Vignette, Burn Edges and Image Borders.
Toning - if you want to add a tone to your image you simply drop down the toning dialogue and select the one you wish to use – there are 24 presets available.
When one of the Toning Presets is selected it can be further modified with the next six sliders. There are so many combinations and you can really create your own toning effect.
The bottom four adjustments on the Finishing Adjustments are ...
Vignette - there are seven different vignette settings and each of them can be further modified, including - the size, roundness and custom placing the center of the vignette.
Burnt Edges - one of the Presets can be applied or you can design your own. This is a very useful adjustment if you need to burn in one of the edges.
Burn Edges - somewhat similar to Vignetting with the difference being that you can burn one, two, three or four edges, change the size, the strength and the transition.
Image Borders - there are 14 border Presets and their size, spread and edge characteristics can be modified.
Loupe and Histogram
When the Loupe is turned on the area directly under the cursor is displayed in the bottom right corner.
When Histogram is selected the full image Histogram is visible and it changes as the image is modified.
At the bottom of both the Loupe and the Histogram are the zone makers. When the mouse hovers over one of the zones then all areas of the image in that zone will be marked with diagonal lines.
If one of the zones is clicked then all areas of the image in that zone will be highlighted.
As an area is adjusted it may enter one of the adjacent zones and the change will be visible.
Top Bar - Left End
From the left ...
Single Image View
Top Bar - Right End
From the left ...
There you go - a tour of the Silver Efex Pro 2 screen.
Now download your free copy of Google NIK and give this awesome conversion program a run - you'll love it!
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