Burning in the edges of your pictures is a great way to enhance the composition because it improves the picture’s overall contrast and helps you concentrate attention on the picture’s focal point.
The point is that converting your pictures to black and white is just the start, and ‘digital’ techniques like channel mixing are useful but not enough on your own. What you really need for black and white is good old-fashioned dodging and burning. And that’s where Silver Efex Pro 2 is so effective.
I’ll start with this colour picture taken in Venice and see if I can turn it into a much more evocative black and white shot.
01 Browse Silver Efex Pro 2’s presets
This is often the best starting point because it’s hard to predict the best treatment for a picture until you can actually see the alternatives. The main window shows the default conversion, but I like the look of the ‘Yellowed 2’ preset on the left.
02 Finishing Adjustments
Now that’s selected, I want to make a few changes to the picture, though, and all the adjustments I need are in the Finishing Adjustments panel on the right.
03 Remove the frame
I don’t really want the ragged frame that’s part of the preset, but that’s easy to fix. There’s an Image Borders section in the Finishing Adjustments panel, and I need to open the pop-up ‘Type’ menu and choose ‘Off’, right at the top of the menu.
04 Burn Edges tool
Now for some burning-in. For this I need the Burn Edges section, and this is how it works.
1) First select the edge you want to burn by clicking one of these four gadgets. I’m burning the top edge.
2) The Strength slider speaks for itself – the higher the value, the greater the darkening, or ‘burning’ effect.
3) The Size slider controls how far into the image the burning effect goes. It will only ever go as far as the middle of the picture, even if you push it right up to 100%.
4) The Transition slider controls how smoothly the burning effect is blended in. A low value gives quite a sharp transition, while a high value makes the darkening effect very gradual.
Getting all values just right takes a few moments, but with practice you can quickly zero in on the ideal settings for a given picture. Here, I’ve made the sky quite dark so that the effect is clearly visible.
05 Burning the bottom edge
I find burning the bottom edge too gives the picture better balance. Shading the foreground makes the lighting appear more interesting and helps ‘frame’ the main subject. This doesn’t require such a strong adjustment because it’s a little darker already.
06 Amplify Whites
I think I might have gone a bit too far with the darkening effect, and that the picture looks just a little dull. Silver Efex Pro 2 has just the tool I need, though. In the Global Adjustments panel at the top, there’s a Contrast section, and within this an Amplify Whites slider. This brightens up the lighter tones in the picture without affecting the rest, and a small adjustment here brings the highlights back to life.
07 The finished picture
I think the old-fashioned sepia effect works quite well here, and though I’ve laid on the edge darkening pretty heavily, it does make the composition more striking.