See Derrick Story Webinar: A Fresh Look with Familiar Subjects in Black and White a bit of B&W, a bit of Nik Silver Efex Pro.
See Derrick Story Webinar: A Fresh Look with Familiar Subjects in Black and White a bit of B&W, a bit of Nik Silver Efex Pro.
Via Nik’s monthly newsletter I just came across Martin Bailey’s Podcast 297 : Silver Efex Pro 2 Walkthrough & New Features. Martin’s a Brit who has become Japanese and is based in Tokyo, and in the video I think he hits most of the right points about the software and delivered in a sensible tone (I think I detect a bit of a Scouse accent). I’d heard of him before but never really dug around his site or appreciated quite how much is there.
The Silver Efex video is well worth listening to, and he’s got a 15% off link if your credit card starts tingling.
People seemed to like the previous set of Silver Efex Pro re-enactment images, so with a bit more experience of the software, I thought I’d post another set of pictures with similar treatments.
This time they’re from a couple of events in October. The first ones come from a weekend when “my” regiment garrisoned the Tower of London. Even if for me the Tower is a building I used to pass every day on my walk to the office, it’s still quite a privilege to spend a couple of days photographing there, and for the re-enactors it’s about as sexy a gig as you can get. What made it especially poignant for these guys was that the regiment, the Tower Hamlets Trayned Bandes, is closely modelled on its 17th century predecessor which was raised in that part of London and guarded the Tower during the war. And it’s not every day you get to take weapons and gunpowder into a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Queen keeps her bling, is it?
The pictures were corrected in Lightroom 3 but finished in Silver Efex Pro 2. They were not sent directly to SFX though. While that would be the most obvious route, it would mean that SFX would return to Lightroom a flattened TIF file with all the toning, borders and local adjustments baked in. Instead I prefer to initially send pictures to Photoshop CS5 as smart objects, and then invoke SFX. This means SFX’s adjustments are applied as smart filters, so they remain editable and I can always go back to these files and fine tune the treatment. And this fine tuning is something I often do. The other difference from before is that I no longer seem to be using the Selective Colour slider in SFX to restore the colour but instead do it in Photoshop with a copy of the image layer with its Blending Mode set to Color. It’s a close choice, but I prefer the accuracy I can get by creating a mask with tools like Select > Selective Color, Quick Selection Magic Wand, or even just the Brush, Quick Mask and blur to hide my handiwork. You can see with this example how detailed some of the masks can become.
The other event was one Sunday at Knebworth House, an hour or so’s drive away, and was during the recording of an episode of a major ITV police drama series. We’ve been asked not to mention the programme name or the storyline, but a few hundred re-enactors had been hired as eye-candy and I was able to hang around and take pictures. Fascinating though it was to watch the filming (how many people does it take?), what I enjoyed most was the smoke they used to keep a consistent look throughout a long day and to provide atmosphere. In an ideal world, shouldn’t every photographer have 150 metres of smoke-pumping tubing?
*You’re talking roughly £160 for the Nik Silver Efex Pro software, and it does “only” do b&w. But it is a very well-designed program, powerful and easy to use. While I was also using Photoshop CS5 here, you can use it purely with Lightroom or just Photoshop Elements.
I’ve been experimenting a little with Silver Efex Pro 2 recently (in connection with the second edition of my Advanced Black and White book) and thought I’d post a series of re-enactment images, mostly taken over the last few months, that I took through SFX2 after initially processing them in Lightroom.
As you see, I added various tones and there’s a lot of use of control points, particularly with the selective colour option which I found very easy to limit to just faces. I also added fancy borders and was struck by how helpful the Vary Border button proved to be. I usually mistrust auto or lucky dip buttons, but here you do choose the basic border style but can then add a little bit of variation into the effect.
On the other hand, the problem with Silver Efex Pro 2 mangling keywords remains (UPDATE October 2011′s update v2.002 resolves this problem). And note, it’s not Lightroom’s fault (“I don’t agree with Nik” as we Brits might say) since it can be reproduced without any Adobe software on the computer. That this remained unfixed was very annoying, but otherwise Silver Efex Pro is clearly growing on me.
I’ve never been one who photographs in colour and occasionally dabbles with black and white. It’s very much the other way round, and I often look at pictures I’ve left in colour and think they’re rather monochrome anyway. But I’ve never seen doing a lot of b&w work as a reason why I would want to buy Nik’s Silver Efex Pro (SEP) or any of the other dedicated black and white plug-ins that it has now overshadowed. It’s not that I felt SEP1 deficient in any way – quite the contrary. SEP1 was a very polished piece of software, produced good results quickly (even if I doubted the film simulations), and I could certainly see why people liked it so much. I simply felt its price was steep, and I’ve not feel any real need for it.
Nonetheless, I was looking forward to seeing Silver Efex Pro 2 and these seem to be the new features:
As before, it’s a very easy program to use – installing as a Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture plug-in. You then launch SEP2 from the host program (though you can drag a TIF or JPEG onto the program icon or desktop shortcut) and it is converted to black and white with a default treatment.
On the left are the presets, both built-in and any user-created, and I liked how they are shown as thumbnails or “visual presets”. It uses a lot of space, but that isn’t a problem with a dedicated app like SEP2, and it is much better than listing presets in text-only form or than Lightroom’s combination of list and rollover image. You can have too much of a good thing though – after a day or two I realised that the preset panel was leading me to work by clicking one preset after another, before doing anything else to the image. It was a very grave case of “presetitis”, at least as severe as anything Lightroom could inflict! I wasn’t just exploring alternative treatments but felt I was working by trial and error. I felt so much happier once I had hidden the presets from view!
I’d also apply that argument to the film recipes, of course. I’ll restrict my rant to asking what’s the creative value of someone who never used a particular film stock being led to believe in a recipe that doesn’t include variations such as development methods, enlarger and paper types?
One thing I didn’t notice at first was how the edge burning could be varied on each side. It was a bit like having 4 ND grad filters around the image and was a nice touch.
The selective colour adjustment allows you to preserve the colour in parts of the image. I used to enjoy painting on b&w prints and have occasionally done it in Photoshop, if not for a while, and I’m sure this feature will be popular. It seemed to work best for me when applying SEP2 to a Photoshop smart object – I could keep make multiple trips to SEP2 and the colour and the U-points remained editable. However, if I started from a regular layer or from Lightroom, the file would be saved as a simple TIF file, and any coloured patches would be lost if I re-opened that file in SEP2. The same happened if I added a tone and then re-edited. So smart objects would definitely be the way to go.
I did hit a big problem though – on Windows 7, SEP2 converts correctly-formatted keyword data to a garbled mess. I wasn’t the first to find it, but I’m glad to say it’s now fixed.
What’s happening is that SEP2 isn’t just preserving whatever metadata is already in the file – which is all one actually needs. Instead it rewrites it and then concatenates the keywords in an almost random fashion. At first I thought it only occurred with files sent from Lightroom, which might allow Nik to hide behind “it’s Adobe’s fault”, but I am told it had all worked properly in SEP1, and I could repeat the problem by adding keywords in other programs like Microsoft’s Expression Media 2. It’s not caused by anything radical such as hierarchical keywords (I don’t have a hierarchy), but seems to more of a generalised problem writing out IPTC-Core metadata and particularly the dc-subject field. I’m not sure if it gets any other metadata wrong – what it does to my keywords is bad enough!
So when the file comes back to Adobe Lightroom you have to correct its keywords. But what makes this bug so pernicious is how all the garbled permutations are added to Lightroom’s keyword lists. If you don’t want junk like “Barns Bracken Building” showing up as auto-suggestions, you have to go through purging your keywords of all the permutations SEP2 has created. Get the idea I’m unhappy?
Nik Support do acknowledge the bug and say they are working on it, though I’ve not enough experience of them to say if they will release an update. I presume so. Until it is fixed, would that stop me buying the program? Probably not. The bug is horrid and had already polluted my keywords pretty widely before I realised what was happening, so it took a while to sort everything out. But I would be more worried had I encountered lots of minor bugs and general instability rather than one major boo-boo like this. (Update Aug 14th – 4 months later and it’s still not fixed)
Have I changed my mind about Silver Efex? Again, no. It remains a very pleasant app to use, just one that costs more than I’m likely to pay for something I don’t really need (though that didn’t stop me ordering a Lee Big Stopper recently). No, overall, I liked Silver Efex Pro 2 and I would perhaps consider getting it – at least as part of the Nik suite. But I don’t do colour, do I?
Other reviews (by those who use SEP2) :
I plan to try out Silver Efex Pro 2 shortly and we’ll see if it changes my old view of it (good software but overpriced), but for now see Bret Edge’s short tutorial showing how he used Silver Efex Pro 2 for a black and white picture:
The great thing about Silver Efex Pro 2 (and all the Nik plug-ins, for that matter) is that it affords tremendous creative control to those of us who aren’t and never will be Adobe Certified Experts. I like anything that allows me to spend more time outside making images and less time chained to my desk.
That’s OK, but you really don’t have to be an ACE to do great black and white quickly with Lightroom or Photoshop…..
There’s an interesting comparison of doing black and white in Capture One 6, Silver Efex 1, and Lightroom 3 by Mike at The Intuitive Lens. It’s a two parter with Capture One vs Silver Efex and then both vs Lightroom. I’m not sure it proves much, if anything, other than one if one tries to do so one can produce similar results in different products! Leaving settings at default is a little odd, and there’s no real attempt to use the b&w conversion process to separate neighbouring colours into distinct tones – eg those in the left woman’s blouse or between the brown briefcase in the foreground and the middle person’s red sweater. Why didn’t he use Lightroom’s targeted adjustment tool, for example? I’d argue that it alone produces better b&w images because you’re keeping your eyes on the image. But it is an interesting exercise.
My view tends to be that there are no jacks of all trades and skilled hands can squeeze the same “objective quality” out of each app. So my emphasis is less on pixel-peeping and more on the process of getting to the best expression of the picture.
That’s why I put a lot of emphasis on the benefits of using the targeted adjustment tool – the little nipple in the top left corner of LR’s B&W panel or in Photoshop’s B&W adjustment layer – as I find that it your keeps your eyes completely on the picture and its changing appearance. By comparison, dragging sliders is inherently a very mechanical process, while presets usually trade on the blind faith that their authors have accurately calibrated the spectral response of film X (and factored in lens filters and developer agitation…).
Ben Long reviews Silver Efex Pro and correctly points out one of its best features
The Black and White adjustment in Photoshop is very good because it allows you to make changes to specific color values in your image. The problem is that if you tell it to darken the blue tones in an image, every blue tone will be altered. Silver Efex scores over Photoshop?s built-in Black and White [JB: or Lightroom or Aperture] because it can alter tone and contrast of specific areas, based on color, but constrain the alteration using an automatically created mask.
You could achieve the same effects in Photoshop using multiple Black and White adjustment layers, each configured differently and constrained using hand-built masks.
That’s what I do, and I don’t find it too troublesome.
At the moment Silver Efex Pro’s probably the best b&w conversion and grain utility around, though its film & grain recipes don’t take account of differences resulting from choice of developer or your agitation method (you can create your own recipes if you’re really anal). It also costs $199 – even as someone who does a lot of b&w, that seems a bit much. And if I wanted to emulate film, I’ve still got my old film camera (as well as a brand new toy).
Doing a lot of black and white, I thought I’d give Nik’s Silver Efex Pro Aperture plug-in a quick trial. I’ll be mischievous and say that like other so-called Aperture plug-ins, it’s better described as a strap-on – it’s an external editor that’s launched from Aperture and which sends it a rendered tiff file. But the “integration” is smooth enough – you select some images in Aperture, choose the menu command Images>Edit With, and they’re opened in the Silver Efex Pro’s modal window.
Presets are down the left, a set of adjustment panels are down the right, and you can set up a Before/After comparison – all rather Lightroom-style. Adjustments mimic the effect of coloured lens filters, the colour sensitivity of well-known b&w film stocks, and control the level of grain. You also have dodging and burning via Nik’s U-point, and various toning or split-toning effects. Overall, Silver Efex worked well enough, and I particularly liked how you can vary not just the grain size but also its softness (I always liked high acutance developers like Rodinal for the gritty look).
I do have doubts about how some credulous users are bound to imitate the supposed typical T-Max or HP5 tonality rather than focussing on making the image look its best – what I call presetitis in Lightroomspeak. As far as I can see, while there’s a split Before/After view, there’s no equivalent of how Lightroom lets you send the image’s current state over into the Before area at any point – something I find really handy for gauging progress. I’m also not too keen on the idea that your adjustments don’t apply to all the selected images and that you’d either have to repeat your adjustments on each picture, or save them as a preset and then go through applying the preset to each image in turn.
It’s also $200…. I’m not sure if that’s for a cross-platform licence or one that includes the Photoshop plug-in too. I suspect not. $200?
Trial over, my view’s not changed. I do a lot of black and white and felt it was very nicely designed, has a good and pretty convincing set of features, but is significantly overpriced.
If you know how to do b&w in Photoshop CS3, I don’t think Silver Efex Pro adds much unless you routinely add exactly the same filters AND clarity / wide area sharpening AND grain AND can’t figure out actions, layers etc. I don’t think the end results are better in an absolute sense – just nice having a bunch of b&w-oriented controls bundled into one place.
If you don’t know how to do such things in Photoshop, then it is a shrink wrapped solution that will have you going round proclaiming “you can’t do that in Photoshop, you need a dedicated solution”….
I felt the grain was particularly attractive, though with all these b&w apps I always wonder about how accurate the film recipes actually are – is that HP5 in ID11 or Perceptol or how about Rodinal? Maybe these recipes are spot on, and maybe there is some creative sense to mimicking film. I’m just not a believer.
On balance, I just didn’t think it was good enough value for my money, but it is good.