NIK’s Champion Plug-in – Silver Efex Pro 2
Since I have been giving such glowing reviews to their newest competitor into the black and white plug-in world (Topaz Black & White Effects), I really should show you why, if you totally love black and white images, this is the plug-in you want. I was reminded by a webinar sponsored by NIK and featuring Dave Devitale called “The Creative Edge in Digital Photography” (the sound quality on this video was not good), that Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2) really does give wonderful results. The interface is familiar and similar to the other great NIK plug-ins so it makes getting up to speed really fast. The presets give you excellent quick looks at the different effects and make it easy to get a pleasing result without a lot of adjusting. NIK really knows how to put together a great plug-in and this one is no different. It’s biggest drawback is the price.
St. George Street in St. Augustine was processed in black and white due to a large contrast in the original image. A simple workflow was followed and was a pretty basic use of NIK’s SEP2. Clean up your image, duplicate it and make it a Smart Object (right click on layer and select Create Smart Object since SEP2 remembers your plug-in settings and control points), got to Filter -> NIK -> Silver Efex Pro 2 and look at the presets. The 015 Full Dynamic (harsh) preset was chosen as a starting point. An Orange color filter was used and Sensitivity colors were adjusted for the image. Toning 4 was added. Back in Photoshop the standard layers were added: a Curves Adjustment Layer to adjust contrast, a Sharpen Tool layer, and a basic layer style for the framing. That’s it and you get a very nice black and white image.
This image followed a slightly different technique that Moose Peterson, the famous outdoor photographer recommended in a NIK video called “Finishing Techniques Using NIK Software.” The original image was processed in ACR and then brought into Photoshop. The background layer was duplicated and in SEP2, the Full Dynamic Smooth preset was applied for a starting point. Moose prefers this preset. Then he duplicates the black and white layer and opens up the NIK Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in – he likes the Neutral Density filter where he can adjust the tonality of the clouds. Back in Photoshop a Curves Adjustment Layer is added and its layer mask filled with black – it is then painted on with a 20% white brush to darken the foreground and add detail to the clouds. For a better explanation check out the video which is very good.
Above is the current Casa Monica Hotel (was the Cordova Hotel in 1888 when it was opened) in St. Augustine, Florida, and one of the grand old hotels of city. I have used this technique before when processing color images – a color image is opened, the layer duplicated and turned into a Smart Object, and the top layer is taken into the SEP2 plug-in to create a black and white effect. (See next image explanation for settings used in SEP2.) Once back inside Photoshop, different blend modes are tried for the black and white layer. In this case, the Screen blend mode was selected at 59% opacity. A Curves Adjustment layer was added. Finally a New Layer was created for use with the Sharpen Tool where I went over the edges of the building and some of the window details. I love the final postcard look – perfect for this type of historic building. The SEP2 settings listed for the next image are exactly the same for the hotel except the Image Border is Type 13.
This is of the backside of run down storefronts in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. I loved the slight touch of color and texture that came through in this image. The workflow was very similar to the one used on the image above – except this time the blend mode was left to Normal at 70% opacity. It gives a very different look even though the same oo5-High Structure (Harsh) preset was used in SEP2 with slightly different settings applied. Different Control Points were used to add extra contrast in localized areas and the green leaves were darkened using a Control Point. In the Film Types section the Orange Filter was used and in the drop-down, Film Type Kodak ISO 32 Panatomic X was selected as a starting point. The creamy color is achieved using Toning 14. A slight dark vignette was created and Image Border Type 2 was added. Be sure to create your own preset at this point if you find some settings you like by clicking on Add Preset and name it. In Photoshop the Sharpen Tool was used on the ironwork to bring out the detail a bit more and a final Curves Adjustment Layer was added.
The Tomorrowland Sign is an example of using two different layers for your effect. Duplicate your original layer (CTRL+J) and turn off the top layer. On the bottom layer, a Topaz Adjust Spicify preset was applied to the image. This gives the really bright and edgy look of the actual sign. Now on the top layer, go to SEP2 and convert your image emphasizing how you want to the background of the image to appear such as softening the lines. Once out of the plug-in, add a Layer Mask and carefully mask out the Tomorrowland Sign. The final step involves going to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur to make the black and white background a softer feel so it does not compete with the colorful sign for attention. I believe this is a really nice way to apply the SEP2 plug-in for a different look.
I hope this gives an idea of what can be achieved with what is considered the best black and white plug-in ever created. I have enjoyed trying some photos in this program and I would suggest that if you like black and white, it is worth a trial download to see what you think. Enjoy yourself and try out some new looks and techniques…..Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:
Black and White Photo or Not? Give It a Try on That Difficult Image
Same Image-Different Plug-in
Topaz B&W Effects vs. Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2
Same Image-Different Look!