old adage says that beginning photographers start out shooting black and white,
graduate to color, and then return to black and white when they become good
photographers. Student film shooters begin with black and white because it's
easier to process and print than color material, but they soon learn that it's
not any easier to get top-quality results.
Digital changes everything, of course, and color dominates in the digital
world. Nonetheless the quest for outstanding black and white images prevails
for some. Because monochrome technology has been de-emphasized it can be challenging
to get superlative black and white images from a typical JPEG image file. Fortunately,
Color Efex Pro 2.0 from nik multimedia puts a full range of output image controls
into the hands of the serious black and white shooter. That eliminates the excuses
and places the burden of creativity upon the photographer, where it belongs.
Strictly speaking, it's not necessary to use a Photoshop plug-in to convert
your color images to grayscale. You can instruct CS2 to disregard the color
data (e.g., change the Image Mode to Grayscale) and viola! You've got
monochrome. But unless you're one of those folks who "like what
they get" instead of working to "get what they like" you are
not going to be completely happy with the results. Unscrambling channel data
offers additional control, but it's limited and somewhat haphazard compared
to the "tweakability" of Color Efex Pro.
Color Efex Pro 2.0 includes three distinct black and white conversion filters,
each with its own characteristics. The complete edition of Version 2.0 includes
72 other filters, some of which can perform individualistic monochrome conversions
to broaden your options. Like all Color Efex Pro 2.0 filters, the three black
and white conversion filters have an intuitive and easy-to-learn interface.
Controls differ from filter to filter but in every case the user can adjust
the outcome to the nth degree--the hallmark of Color Efex Pro--and
has the choice of Basic or Advanced manipulation. The Basic Controls interface
consists of sliders that adjust Brightness, Contrast, and Spectrum, plus other
characteristics appropriate to a particular filter. The Advanced Controls interface
consists of two sliders that allow the user to separately Protect Highlights
and Protect Shadows. All of the filter GUIs (Graphical User Interface) provide
before and after previews that can be viewed in various side by side or full-frame
layouts, and at different magnifications.
True Light is nik multimedia's proprietary color handling system. They
claim that it automatically provides better color enhancements, preserves the
relationships between colors, contrast, and details in the image, and provides
more natural and film-like images. Nils Kokemohr, founder of nik multimedia,
explains it this way:
"True Light does not work on RGB channel information alone," he
told us, "but often treats different aspects of the image in different
ways. This allows better control over saturation, color casts, and tonality."
of nik multimedia's founder Nils Kokemohr.
© 2005, Josh Haftel, All Rights Reserved
The sequence is as follows. The filter receives the user settings, which are
of course input via the filter's GUI. Next, enhancement transition curves
are created. Then True Light enhances these transition curves based on image
contents and colors, so that more natural transitions occur. Finally, the image
Despite the sophisticated technology that's happening behind the scenes,
the filters are easy to use. In Photoshop, select Filters and click the "nik
Color Efex Pro 2.0: traditional filters" submenu. The first filter listed
is the B/W Conversion filter. The Basic and Advanced Controls are as described
earlier. The Spectrum slider allows you to target a particular color range and
manipulate how it is rendered. In the Advanced mode it's easy to protect
shadow and highlight detail. More on this later.
The next filter choice is the B/W Conversion: Dynamic Contrast filter. In addition
to the three basic sliders it includes a Contrast Enhancer slider, which is
used as the name implies. Adjusting the slider produces dramatic changes and
simulates an exaggerated dynamic range.
The third traditional option is the B/W Conversion: Tonal Enhancer filter. Basic
Controls includes a drop-down Contrast Method menu with three options that provide
three separate starting points for contrast enhancement. Although there is no
direct correlation, the process is somewhat similar to the process of using
contrast filters when printing.
image of girl at the ocean (no filter).
All Photos © 2005, Jon Sienkiewicz, All Rights Reserved
image using B/W Conversion filter and Protect Shadows adjustments.
image using B/W Conversion filter and default settings.
to Grayscale mode in Photoshop (no filter).
with nik's B/W Conversion: Tonal Enhancer filter at default
With all three conversion filters, experimentation is the key. It takes a
while to become accustomed to the effect produced by each slider. Once the perfect
combination has been determined it can be saved for future use, so all effects
can be easily recreated and applied to other images.
The greatest benefit of using Color Efex Pro 2.0 for black and white conversions
is the ability to preserve highlight and shadow detail. Here is an explanation
"There are three ways the `Protect Shadows' or `Protect
Highlights' controls can function. Most often, the sliders adapt to the
filter function itself. For instance, by smoothing the contrast transition curve
in the B/W Dynamic Contrast filter, the transition from `almost white'
to `white' is logarithmically smoothed. The same process is used
for the shadows.
"In other cases, an algorithm somewhat comparable to Adobe Photoshop's
`Shadow/Highlight' is used, but only in filters where the flat nature
of this effect does not disturb it, such as in the filter Old Photo (Color).
"In the third method, the filter is diminished by a certain percentage
where a strong lightening effect is applied at a bright location, respectively,
and where the opposite effect is applied at a dark image location.
"In many filters, several of the algorithms are combined for better results.
In the B/W Conversion filters, the `Protect Shadows' and `Protect
Highlights' routines ensure that the transition of the luminosity in the
highlights does not have a sharp transition, as seen in this illustration:
"The arrow indicates the smooth transition. The curvature at this place
depends on the `Protect Highlights' slider while the bottom left
curvature is defined by the Shadows slider. Slider settings of 0 percent represent
a sharp angle, while 100 percent slider settings represent a very smooth curve."
In addition to the three traditional filters, Color Efex Pro 2.0 provides other
ways to convert images to monochrome. They differ dramatically so, once again,
experimentation is essential.
Old Photo: Black And White
The Basic Controls for the Old Photo: Black and White filter provides six options
in addition to sliders that adjust Grain and Brightness. Each option establishes
a different starting point and each relates to a different photographic style.