The Soft Contrast slider is one of the new features introduced in Silver Efex Pro 2, and its effects are quite different to the regular Contrast control. At first it can seem quite difficult to work out a use for it, but you’ll soon discover when you start digging around in the presets that it keeps on cropping up.
So here’s an example where its effects can be seen very clearly.
This is no war-torn city, just an urban redevelopment site reflected in a still river. I can’t get the association out of my mind, though, and I wanted to find a way to intensify the contrast and drama of the skeletal buildings and the stormy sky.
01 Starting in Neutral
I’ve chosen the Neutral default in Silver Efex Pro because I want to build up this effect slowly so that I can show how it’s been done. As you can see, this picture’s only partly effective as it stands. The sky is a bit bright, the reflection in the foreground is a little dark, and you can’t see much detail in the buildings.
02 Increasing the Contrast
Now if I increase the regular Contrast value, it does make the picture look more dramatic, but it makes the contrast problems worse. I need to find another way to tackle this image.
03 Soft Contrast
So I’ll reset the regular Contrast slider to zero and try Soft Contrast. If I increase this setting, the result is slightly different. The shadows take on a kind of dense, sooty appearance and they spread out slightly into the surroundings as a kind of dark glow. It’s an interesting effect which I’ll certainly want to use some time, but it’s not really working here.
04 ‘Negative’ Soft Contrast
But if I push the Soft Contrast slider the other way, something very interesting happens – the darker parts of the picture are lightened and the lighter parts are darkened – it’s like an instant HDR effect for your black and white pictures. This too produces a ‘glow’ effect (a light glow, this time), but with a complex, detailed subject like this, it’s not that obvious.
05 Now for the Contrast!
NOW I can use the regular Contrast slider, and the picture’s now much closer to the result I have in my mind. The sky is now in fact slightly darker than its reflection in the water, and I can still see details in the building.
I’m tempted to stop here, but now that the darker tones in the picture have been recovered so well by the Soft Contrast slider, the image now has the potential for some further enhancements.
06 More Structure
To start with, I’m adding some fine, localised contrast to the image with the Structure slider. This gives the objects in a picture much more definition without affecting the overall contrast. It’s very powerful, so take a moment to choose a setting that’s effective but doesn’t make the picture look too artificial.
07 Selective Adjustments
I’ve also added some control points to lighten up some of the buildings. It adds a bit of texture and interest to the centre of the picture, which is where your eyes are drawn by the composition.
08 Burn Edges
Finally, I’ve used the Burn Edges tool in the Finishing Adjustments panel to darken both the top and bottom edges of the picture. I do this a lot to give a kind of ‘framing’ effect to black and white shots and add a little contrast. The Size slider controls how far into the frame the darkening effect applies, the Strength slider controls the degree of darkening, and the Transition slider controls how smoothly the darkening effect is blended in with the rest of the image.
09 The finished picture
This is much closer to what I had in my mind’s eye when I saw and composed this picture. It’s got the strong, dramatic contrast I wanted and a perfectly symmetrical appearance around the horizon line to make the most of that reflection in the water.