There are many ways to turn a colour image into a black and white one. Some are simple, some are complex, some give good results and some… don’t.
Let’s take a look at DxO’s Silver Efex Pro, a simple way to get awesome black and white photos.
What is Silver Efex Pro?
Nik Silver Efex Pro is part of a collection of photography software offered by Nik. It will run as either a standalone application, or as a plugin for PhotoShop, Lightroom and other photo editors.
Silver Efex Pro is dedicated to helping you create stunning black and white images. It can be as simple as choosing one of the many predefined presets, or you can take complete control of the process if you so desire.
Preparing An Image For Black and White
In theory, you can just take any old colour image and send it straight into Silver Efex Pro for conversion to black and white. There is a good chance you’ll be able to get a great looking image by doing this.
However, if you want truly great results, you should think about the process right from the start of image processing (right from capture time actually, but that’s a topic for a later article).
Put simply, when you’re preparing your colour photo to be turned into a black and white masterpiece, you need to think of the photo in terms of tones and luminance instead of colour and saturation that you would normally concentrate on.
For example, if you’re aiming for a black and white image where the sky is white, or light grey, you should make sure that the sky in your colour image is a light blue as opposed to a deep, saturated blue that you might prefer in a colour image.
The Easy Way: Presets
Silver Efex Pro has 58 presets as of right now. Applying one to your image is as easy as clicking on the preview of the image in the left hand side of the application window.
There are quite a variety of different look available, from neutral to high and low key looks – there is something there to cover most popular black and white styles.
You can also create and save your own presets if you find there is a certain set of settings you apply on a regular basis
Total Control with Advanced Tools
If you’re not able to find a preset that you like, you can ignore that panel completely and use the tools on the other side of the application window to have complete control over how your image looks.
It isn’t in the scope of this article to go over everything, but some of the main things you can adjust include global settings that affect the entire image:
Each of the above tools also has settings to adjust the overall image, or just the dark, mid or highlight tones.
In addition to global settings you can also easily adjust only parts of your image with what DxO calls ‘control points’, which make intelligent selections where you can easily adjust only the parts of the image that you choose.
There are also colour filters that let you change the hue of the underlying colour image which can have some pretty dramatic effects on the tones of your black and white image.
Finally, you can add filters for different film types to emulate black and white films of times gone by and add film grain, colour toning, vignettes and image borders.
With all of the above at your fingertips, there really isn’t any reason you can’t get the image to look exactly the way you want it to. The options and adjustments are endless.
Combining The Two
My usual workflow when using Silver Efex Pro is to combine the presets with the advanced tools.
After I’ve loaded an image in Silver Efex Pro I will scroll down the list of presets to see if there is anything that looks close to the overall look I’m after. It’s pretty rare that anything will fit exactly to my image, but there is usually something that is close.
After applying the preset I will head over to the advanced tools and use them to tweak things to get things dialled in just right.
Why Not Just Use Lightroom?
It is true that you can get some awesome results when you use the built in tools in Lightroom to create black and white images. Lightroom includes the ability to tweak the individual colour channels to have control over the final look of the photo.
Silver Efex Pro has a much larger range of tools to really eek out the exact look you want.
Choosing from the many black and white presets on the left hand side will often give you a great starting point for your image. Then there is a huge array of tools on the right panels to tweak the look to your heart’s content.