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Silver Efex Pro 2: Fine-Tuned Black and White Photos

Article Description

This article is the second of five that focuses on plugins for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Silver Efex Pro is Nik Software’s answer to a professional Black and White photography workflow, offering a wider range of options for controlling contrast, details, and creative toning than the standard tools offered in Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. Here, Photoshop expert Dan Moughamian, author of Adobe Digital Imaging How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques for Photoshop CS5, Lightroom 3, and Camera Raw 6, shows how the customization of three different preset types can yield different Black and White looks for your photos.
High Structure (Smooth)

High Structure (Smooth)

The High Structure (Smooth) workflow is similar to the one just described except that here we focus extra attention on how crisp or soft the details are. For this shot, which was taken at macro distance to accentuate the small details on the plant, this preset can really help the details in the shot “pop.” The shot looks good after applying the preset; however, there is one area to the left of the subject that has become overly brightened, losing some of the soft background details. Figure 7 shows the preset applied, unaltered.

Figure 7 The High Structure (Smooth) preset can produce a high contrast and very crisp looking photo.

A few changes were required after applying the preset. First, I opened the Global Adjustments, and under Contrast I slightly reduced the preset values for Amplify Whites, Amplify Blacks, and Soft Contrast. Doing so helped to reclaim some of the small details throughout the shot (Figure 8) and made it easier to handle the Selective Adjustment that needed to be made, which I’ll discuss next. I also reduced the preset value for Midtones under the Structure controls, which helped to reduce some “dark halos” in the background.

Figure 8 Making modest adjustments to the Contrast settings under Global Adjustments can help reclaim subtle details.

The final tweak was to reduce the bright spot to the left of the plant using Selective Adjustments. A little background: This panel uses a technology called U-Point, which allows you to quickly select specific regions (while masking others) before applying edits. To start, click the silver CD-like icon in the Selective Adjustments panel. When the crosshair appears, drag it over the region that you want to edit, and click.

A small circle or dot will appear that is connected to several control sliders with abbreviations. This “control tree” represents the following Global Adjustments: Brightness, Contrast, Structure, Amplify Whites, Amplify Blacks, Fine Structure, and Selective Colorization (Figure 9). The dot at the top of the tree represents the center of the larger selection region, which is hidden by default.

You can click and drag the dot to place the selection region over different parts of the photo; as you do so, the selection will update on the fly. You can also drag the top-most slider on the U-Point widget to change the diameter of the selected region. Note that you can have multiple U-Point selection regions on a single document, at the same time, and even combine them if necessary in Silver Efex Pro 2.

Figure 9 The U-Point “control tree” widget is used to apply Selective Adjustments to your photograph. You can apply multiple Selective Adjustments to a single image.

To view the selection as a mask, click the Show/Hide Selection of Control Point check box in the Selective Adjustments panel. When you do, the main image preview switches to a black and white mask preview (Figure 10). As in Photoshop, black pixels are not selected and white pixels are completely selected; grey pixels show the transition area.

Figure 10 To see exactly which parts of your photo will be altered by a Selective Adjustment, view the image preview as a mask.

To make the correction, I dragged the Brightness slider to the left slightly reducing its value, and increased the Structure value by dragging it to the right. These two edits removed the blown-out area and accentuated the soft details in the background to match the other background areas (Figure 11).

Figure 11 Small Selective Adjustments can make all the difference in tweaking the final look of your photograph.

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