I admit that Silver Efex Pro, part of the Nik Collection, is my favourite black and white conversion plug-in, but I like to keep an open mind, and I thought it was about time I took a look at some others. I have reviewed Topaz B&W Effects in the past, but it’s been a while […]
Black and white photography
Technically, black and white photography should be ‘less’ than colour, but its popularity is, if anything increasing. Black and white suits some subjects extremely well, drawing more attention to shapes, lighting and composition than is generally possible with colour photography. Most cameras have black and white picture modes, which is very useful when you’re composing images, but you get more control over the results by converting colour images to black and white on a computer later, so it’s a bit of a dilemma which route to take.
Black and white photography is as popular as ever, though now it's seen as a means of artistic expression rather than just a way of capturing images. Its continued popularity might be hard to explain logically since it offers 'less' than colour, but that may be part of its appeal – black and white offers fewer distractions, it's less 'literal' and it's easier to control the graphic and compositional elements that go to make up a picture without them fighting or undermining each other.
You can shoot black and white JPEGs in camera or do what most black and white fans do, which is to shoot RAW files and then process them into black and white later. This offers a 'digital negative' with a much wider brightness range and more scope for manipulation without image degradation.
Programs like Lightroom and Capture One are really good at producing strong, technically excellent black and white images, or you can use 'analog film simulation' tools like Analog Efex Pro, Alien Skin Exposure X or ON1 Photo RAW to create a film-like look.
In the days of film, taking the picture was only the start of the black and white image making process and the real work was done in the darkroom. It's the same now, and the most striking black and white images are created with careful enhancement and manipulation in software.
Normally, if you want to create any kind of black and white effect with the DxO Nik Collection, you’d go straight to Silver Efex Pro. However, Color Efex Pro has some black and white effects of its own. The effects are different to Silver Efex Pro’s, so although the tools aren’t quite as sophisticated, you […]
The Zone System was invented by legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams. He hit upon the idea of splitting the full range of tones in a black and white image into eleven distinct brightness zones, which he then went on to define very carefully. I’m paraphrasing this from the Wikipedia entry: Ansel Adams’ approach was two-fold. […]
Split toning is a more advanced variation on the old technique of toning. It applies a different coloured tone to the shadows and the highlights in the picture, producing an interesting graded colour effect. It’s often used to give images a subtle, ‘fine art’ look, but it’s not always easy to get right. Split toning […]
You can use Silver Efex Pro perfectly effectively by choosing a preset and then modifying the settings as necessary using the tools panel. What you may not realise is that Silver Efex Pro simulates specific film types very closely. In fact, you can choose your film manually in the Film Types panel. And if that’s […]
Black and white doesn’t have to be completely black and white! If you preserve just a splash of colour you can create a very striking effect, and it’s a very easy technique to try out because it doesn’t need any complex selections or colour adjustments. The same broad technique can be applied in most image-editors, but […]
Silver Efex Pro comes with a large range of varied and powerful black and white presets, and one of my favourites is the Silver Efex Pro Film Noir effect. This does every bad thing we’re told to avoid with our high-quality digital images! It reduces the sharpness of the picture, adds a hefty dose of […]
Successful black and white photography sometimes gets its power from strong contrasts and graphic shapes, and sometimes it relies on subtlety and control. Silver Efex Pro, now taken over by DxO in the Nik Collection, can do both. In principle, you should be able to do all these things in Photoshop, but in practice I […]
The Structure tool is one of Silver Efex Pro‘s secret weapons. It helps to give black and white images that indefinable ‘bite’ that we’re always trying to recapture with our digital images. You can think of the Silver Efex Pro Structure control it as a kind of ‘coarse sharpening’, which acts over a slightly larger […]
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 […]