Anyone who used to shoot with black and white film will have a favourite, and I always had a soft spot for Kodak Tri-X. I didn’t mind the grain because I liked that gritty, ‘documentary’ feel, and sometimes I push-processed during development to get a little more contrast, especially in the depths of the Northern European winter.
But that all came to an end with the swap to digital. There are a thousand and one ways to convert colour images to black and white in Photoshop, but none of them ever seemed to me to capture the ‘look’ of Tri-X. You can do all sorts of things by experimenting fake grain, curves adjustments, channel mixing and masking, but by this time it’s like pushing a rock uphill.
That’s why I’m such a big fan of Silver Efex Pro 2, part of the DxO Nik Collection. At a stroke it replicates the look of classic black and white films, and you can browse a whole range of preset effects and apply them with a single mouseclick.
But that’s not all. You can adjust all of Silver Efex Pro 2’s extensive parameters manually, and then save your adjustments as a custom preset of your own. And that’s exactly what I’m doing here to recreate the look of my beloved Tri-X.
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This is my start image. It’s a perfectly decent picture of a football match at Wembley Stadium, but while it captures the moment, it lacks any real character or drama.
01 Silver Efex Pro 2 ‘Neutral’
When you first start Silver Efex Pro 2 it applies its ‘Neutral’ preset. This does a good generic black and white conversion on its own, but there’s plenty more you can do to give your black and white pictures character.
02 Global adjustments
I’ve already applied my ‘Tri-X’ look, so now I’ll break down the adjustments I’ve made in the tools panel on the right. First, the Global Adjustments panel – I’ve moved the Amplify Whites and Amplify Blacks sliders to the right to produce a slightly different contrast effect to simply pushing up the Contrast slider. The differences are subtle, but it looks better here. I’ve also increased the ‘Soft Contrast’ value – this makes darker areas more intense and causes them to spread very subtly into the surrounding tones, which is a little like the soft halation effect you get in overexposed or overdeveloped film.