Silver Efex 2 is a plugin filter from Niksoft, the filter converts an image to black and white with a lot of control given to the user. This is not a one click filter but a neat piece to a black and white workflow.
Editing Friday is normally a one post affair but today I am splitting it into two parts; In the First Part (this post) I am going to give an overview of the filter, detailing the settings and how they can affect your image. In the second part I am going to share my workflow and how I create an image in Silver Efex 2.
When you open Niksoft Silver Efex 2 you will see that the work space is divided into three columns. The left column includes yours and niksoft’s presets, the middle column is your image and the right column is filled with adjustment menus.
There are 37 presets already loaded in Silver Efex and each one has a different feel and look. Over exposure, High Contrast, Low key are just some of your options available. Once you have finished processing your image you can save the adjustments as a preset to enable you to apply the same method to another image. You can minimize the preset window using the top left icon on the menu.
The middle area is your workspace and where your image is. To zoom into the image to see details press the space bar. Using the light bulb icon at the top allows you to change the background colour to make work easier. If my image is dark then I usually use a mid-grey and if it is a bright image I use black. Black is my preferred background colour.
Global adjustments change the tone of the entire image with each adjustment having sliders to refine the global adjustments.
Brightness you won’t be surprised controls how bright the image is, moving the slider to the right raises the brightness of the pixels at the same rate and moving the slider the left darkens them. You then have the option to refine the setting by choosing to brighten or darken the shadows, midtones and highlights. In being able to separately do this means you have an added layer of control. Generally I adjust the brightness of an image to where it looks globally ok and then lower of higher the different tones to make it better and to protect details in these tones.
Dynamic Brightness is an interesting slider, it brightens the image but the effect is not global. Dynamic brightness is very similar to using the Vibrance tool to raise the saturation in photoshop. The brightness slider raises all the pixels brightness at the same time and at the same rate, the dynamic brightness slider also raises the brightness of pixels but pixels with different values are raised at different rates, usually with the shadow pixels which are darker at a higher rate than the highlight pixels. This helps to prevent the blowing out of highlights and midtones while at the same time raising the brightness of the image.
By increasing contrast you are making the difference in tone between pixels wider creating stronger blacks and whites, whereas lowering contrast makes the difference narrower. By increasing contrast you can create stronger definition of tones. The contrast slider allows you to do this by moving the slider to the right and raising the contrast or moving the slider to the left and lowering the contrast.
For more advanced control you can use amplify Blacks and Whites. This allows you to control the contrast by saying how much the contrast needs to be weighted to the darker tones or the lighter tones. In an image that is quite dark to rise the amplify whites will shift the contrast adjustments more towards the highlights.
Soft contrast allows you to soften or harden the contrast adjustments you have made. It does this by not changing which pixels have become dark and light but by lowering or raising the contrast for the other pixels. This allows you to create a strong contrasted image with added depth or a softer contrasted image with strong blacks.
Structure is sometimes called the a texture or definition slider and it is similar to clarity in Adobe Camera Raw but more like Micro contrast in Photomatix. Structure allows you to make adjustments to the contrast in a more detailed way creating the illusion of detail and sharpness
As with the other global adjustment tools you can make added adjustments to the shadows, midtones and highlights enabling you to add edit these tones separately and adding or reducing contrast in these tones.
Fine structure is a bit like dynamic brightness allowing you to make adjustments to the contrast but with different areas of contrast being adjusted at different rates.
Structure is great for portraits and landscapes, in portraits you can lower the structure to create a glow to the image and make it feel more defuse, with a landscape by raising the structure you can emphasise texture in the landscape.
Tonality protection allows you to control the clipping of highlights and shadows, allowing you to preserve shadow and highlight detail and not to get blown out whites and deep blacks.
Selective Adjustments/Control points
Control points allow you to make selective adjustments to the image with all of the global adjustment options. By clicking a control point on a pixel and setting how much of an area you want affected, your adjustments will be made in relation to that pixel and then adjusted for all the other pixels in the radius. This can be a good way to control the tones of the sky or preserve detail in a subject’s eye. To duplicate a control point Alt + click on an existing one or use duplicate from the menu. You can also link control points together to allow a larger are to be adjusted. To see what is being effected in the image by a control point you can check the mask box.
Color filter lets you add a digital black and white colour filter to the image, this will change the way tones of colours are perceived by the program. A red filter will make red tones lighter in the black and white conversion and blue tones darker, great for moody skies. For added control you can adjust the hue of the filter and its strength. For example you can use a green filter to brighten green tones and shift the hue to a more cyan green or yellow green to really pinpoint the colour you are wanting. You can adjust the strength of the filter to suit your image.
From the drop down menu that is Neutral by default, you can select one of 18 film presets. These have been design to emulate existing film stock by adjusting the sensitivity of tones and contrast using the curves adjustment. These presets are organized by ISO since they also add grain to the image. A lower ISO preset will have less grain. All presets are customizable. For example you like the tone of Kodak P3200 Tmax Pro but not the grain you change the grain setting.
By setting the grain to a low setting of “grain per pixel” the image will be grainier than setting it to a higher number per pixel. You can also adjust how hard or soft the grain is. To have an image with less viable grain the settings of; 500 grain per pixel and slider all the way left on softest.
Sensitivity is the same as the black and white adjustment tool in Photoshop. You can select how sensitive each color tone is. The color tone setting will be translated in the conversion to black and white as a brighter or darker tone. By not making any adjustments the image is a basic grayscale conversion.
Curves and levels allows you to set the overall contrast using a curve adjustment. You can also set a white point and black point for the image by moving the arrows at the bottom of the curve as well as shifting the midtones to the right or the left.
Finishing adjustments lets you make some final effects to your image; colour toning, vignette, burn edges and image boarders. These adjustments can add a little bit of finesse to an image, though they may also need a little bit for forethought.
Colour toning is one of the final things you may do in the darkroom, adding some colour to a black and white image. I normally tone an image just to give it a little bit of extra depth. The most common colour toning is sepia.
There are 24 options as well as the ability to create your own tone. Once you have chosen a tone you can then adjust its strength making the tone stronger and making the colours more intense. You can also adjust hue and the strength of the silver ( in this case I believe the pixels) as well as the hue and the strength of the paper ( I believe here it means the brightness). This gives flexibility to create some interesting tones. I would also think carefully about how these tones look on your image, and does your image need it. If you are going for faux cyanotype or sepia image then a nice strong tone maybe needed, but just to add a small amount of depth a weaker colourization maybe better.
Vignetting is a common practise and can be used to help bring the focus of the image to a certain point. The vignette options are standard; Amount being how bright or dark the vignette is, – setting meaning dark and + setting being bright. The next settings allow you to define the shape of the vignette to be more circular or squarer. Finally size lets you set how big of a vignette you want in your image. There is an extra option, Place Centre, here you can click on the image where you want the centre of the vignette to be.
I used to do this in the darkroom often especially when a side of the print was bright white. I would burn the edge in to show that it is the edge of the print and so it wouldn’t get lost against the mount of the frame. Burn edges is not a ND adjustment and will only darken the edge of the image. You can choose from the presets or make the adjustments manually. In making manual adjustments you must adjust each edge separately.
Strength sets how strong the burning in is, Size how large an area is burnt in and Transition adjusts when a tone will be burnt in, a bit like threshold in Photoshop adjustments.
Silver Efex 2 gives you the option of adding a boarder to your image. If this is something that you do want to do you need to think ahead, as the boarder will eat into the image (unless you are ok with that). A good idea would be, in Photoshop before going into Silver Efex, to enlarge the canvas size by 100-200 pixels. This will allow you to add a boarder without losing part of your image.
There are 14 boarder presets that can all be customized. Size once again sets how big the boarder will be, Spread how far after the edge of the boarder the transition will be and Clean/ Rough how neat or messy the edge of the boarder will be. There is also a Vary Boarder option that randomizes the look of the boarder even with a preset to give the image an individual feel, not just a look of a generic boarder.
Loupe and Histogram
For me this is one of the important information readings that I usually keep an eye on. Loupe lets you see an area at 100% so you can see how an adjustment has affected an area of the image. Whenever you make adjustments to see them at 100% gives you a better view of that has happened to an image.
The histogram lets you see what information there is in an image and you can check to see if you have clipped or even flattened tones due to your adjustments. Also underneath is zone previewer that when you hover over a zone it will shade this are of the image.
If at any point you want to go back a step or more you can click on the Show History Browser Icon, this allows you to see all of the adjustments you have made to the image from when the image was opened in the filter
The best way to learn about a filter like Silver Efex is to play around with the settings and see how they work on your images and what you like.
In part 2 I will share my workflow for Silver Efex 2.
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