I love Silver Efex Pro. It’s a black and white photography plug-in developed by Nik Software and now part of the DxO Nik Collection. What makes it great is that it recaptures the look and feel of traditional darkroom black and white in a way that other plug-ins don’t.
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The preset effects down the left side give you a whole range of ‘looks’ which you can apply with a single click and then modify using the tools panel on the right. I’ll show you a simple example with this statue of Sir Francis Drake on Plymouth Hoe, UK.
I originally made this image using Silver Efex Pro 2 and that’s what the screenshots show below. However, Silver Efex Pro 3, the latest version, still has the same tools even if the interface has evolved, and I used Silver Efex Pro 3 for the header shot above.
The statue is rendered as a silhouette, the sky is detailed and dramatic, and below I finish it off with a solid black border. The original image, though, is pretty lacklustre by comparison…
1. The start image
Silver Efex Pro can be used as a plug-in from within Photoshop and Elements, from Lightroom or from DxO PhotoLab. It also runs as a standalone app, and you can launch it as an external editor from Capture One and other programs. (You can click on these images to see full-size versions, by the way.) The preset effects are on the left, the tools on the right.
2. Choose a preset
I’ve gone for the ‘High contrast (harsh)’ preset here. It doesn’t have to be exactly right because we can tune the results – this is just to get close to the final ‘look’ we’re after.
3. Adjusting the brightness
The image is a bit too bright to start with, so we can switch to the Brightness section of the Global Adjustments panel on the right. Reducing the Dynamic Brightness value gives a better result here than the regular Brightness slider.
4. Darkening the sky
I want the top of the sky to be a little darker, and while Silver Efex Pro 2 doesn’t have graduated filter effects, it does have a Burn Edges panel which can achieve the same thing. Here, I’ve clicked the button for the top edge and adjusted the Strength and Size values to get the darkening effect I want.
5. Adding a border
The picture’s working much better now and I’ll finish it off with a solid black border. Silver Efex Pro’s Borders panel offers a range of types and effects, but no. 13, a plain, unadorned black, is all we need here.
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