Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2: This Monochrome Conversion Software Just Got Better

Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 is a major upgrade to an already great product and introduces many new features that offer you even more control over an image’s detail, contrast, and tonality, making it easy to transform color files into stunning black-and-white photographs. Silver Efex Pro 2 now includes controls for Dynamic Brightness, Amplify Blacks, Amplify Whites, Soft Contrast, Fine Structure, Image Borders, Selective Colorization, as well as a History Browser and many speed and quality improvements. All of Silver Efex Pro 2’s new features also play nice with Nik’s U Point technology, giving you selective control over an image instead of globally applying an effect, although that option is available, too.


Courtesy of Nik Software

Within Silver Efex Pro 2 you can stylize your converted images by choosingclassic darkroom-inspired tints and toners from “Finishing Adjustments,” including the obvious sepia and split-toning effects, along with the not-so-obvious selenium or copper—my favorites—as well as cyanotype, ambrotype, and others. You can also create user-defined tints and toners to produce your own unique look and even adjust the digital equivalent of silver and paper hues. When accessed from within Lightroom or Aperture, Silver Efex Pro 2 lets you load multiple images, saving time and increasing productivity when enhancing a series of images. When more than one image is opened, “Previous” and “Next” buttons appear that allow you to easily copy and paste settings between images to maintain consistency, something that wedding and portrait photographers will appreciate.

Left: The left-hand side of Silver Efex Pro 2’s interface includes lots of new visual presets (more than the previous version) that are now categorized by photographic style and provide great single-click starting points, which can be edited and then shared with others. You can even create and save your own personal presets. Right: The right-hand side of Silver Efex Pro 2’s interface is more powerful than the previous version, allowing you to stylize your images with classic wet darkroom-inspired tints and toners, choosing from “Finishing Adjustments,” such as the obvious sepia and split toning, along with the not-so-obvious selenium, cyanotype, and ambrotype. You can even adjust the silver and paper hues with an easy-to-reference color spectrum.
All Photos © Joe Farace

More Than Monochrome Conversion
The interface for Silver Efex Pro 2 is both familiar and different. Experienced users will revel in the new additions but newbies won’t get lost obtaining the maximum advantage from the software. New users may be tempted to just apply the presets and while that’s a great way to get started, it’s tweaking the settings by using the sliders and controls on the right side of the screen that enable you to achieve the kinds of results that you really want. There appears to be nearly twice as many presets as before; so many that they are collected into thematic groups and provide single-click starting points that can be edited and shared with others.

For some reason working with Silver Efex Pro 2 put me in an unusually nostalgic mood and I remember shooting this photograph of my old and beloved 1953 Packard Clipper with a Leica R9 and DIGITAL-MODUL-R back (sigh). What a combination! I used Silver Efex Pro 2’s Full Dynamic (Harsh) preset with some modest slider tweaking and wrapped it up with some Selenium Toning—sepia is overdone, don’t ya think?—to add the final nostalgic touch.

Peter Lekish is a Shutterbug reader who e-mailed asking if I had ever written anything about using Nik Silver Efex Pro to process digital infrared images, so one of the first things I did with this new version was give it a try with some recent IR images shot in the snow while testing Tamron’s 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II lens. As you can see from the “before” photograph, the Raw file exhibits the heavy magenta tint characteristic of Raw infrared files, but when moving it into Silver Efex Pro 2 all of the presets show it as a black-and-white photograph. At that point it was just a matter of choosing a preset I liked, pushing some sliders around, and I couldn’t resist adding a rough-edged frame. It’s that easy, Peter.

This digital infrared image was made at Barr Lake State Park and that white stuff on the ground is not grass rendered white by the process—it’s snow! OK, so it’s hard to see any white in the original Raw file that was shot with an EOS Digital Rebel XTi converted to IR-only capture. The exposure was 1⁄1000 sec at f/8 at ISO 400 with the lens set at the 23mm focal length.

Here is the finished infrared image after processing in Silver Efex Pro 2. Just opening the file inside the software changed it to black and white and then I selected the Fine Art Process preset, then beat up on the Brightness, Contrast, and Structure sliders to get something I liked. I used Selenium Toning because I can remember using real selenium toner back in the old, wet darkroom days and to top it off used the Image Border command to give the photo the “filed negative carrier” look that all we artsy types employed back in the day.

Silver Efex Pro 2 adds Selective Colorization by using Nik’s way-cool U Point technology to select objects and add color elements back into an image. I personally feel this easy-to-accomplish technique is already a cliché but if your clients like it and it’s a salable style in your market, Silver Efex Pro 2 makes applying this technique even easier. You can add other color tricks by applying the monochrome conversion as a separate (top) layer and then use the Opacity slider in Photoshop’s Layers palette to allow some of the bottom (color) layer to show through, producing a handcolored look. Play with the Opacity slider until you get a look that you like, save it as a layered .PSD file, then Flatten (Layer>Flatten Image) the image and save it again as a TIFF or JPEG file, depending on your usage.

This original image was shot in color using a Canon EOS D60—not 60D—and was tweaked in Silver Efex Pro 2 by first applying the Full Dynamic (Smooth) preset then working with the Brightness, Contrast, and Structure sliders to achieve a result I liked. But I wasn’t finished. Next I used the Finishing Adjustments by adding the first of three available Copper Toning effects before using the Burn Edges (Soft) 1 control.

You have the option of applying the finished effect directly to the image file or as a layer. I usually use the latter because I never know how I’ll eventually use the file, which is then saved as a PSD. In this case, I lowered the opacity of the top (Silver Efex Pro 2 monochrome) layer to produce what I think looks like a handcolored effect for the kind of Mark Twain look I was trying to achieve.

The software works fast, too. Nik worked with NVIDIA Corporation and incorporated GPU-based image rendering in Silver Efex Pro 2 to work with systems equipped with dedicated GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) processors found on many of today’s display adapters to turn what was already a fast and smooth process into something that’s even faster and smoother. What didn’t I like about Silver Efex Pro 2? Nothing.

The suggested retail price of Silver Efex Pro 2 is $199.95 with upgrades from the first version costing $99.95. Customers who purchased Silver Efex Pro or a Nik Complete Collection bundle after December 6, 2010 are eligible for a free upgrade. Silver Efex Pro 2 is more than just monochrome conversion. It lets you restructure your color images combining the best aspects of Nik Software’s awesome Viveza and HDR Efex Pro products into a monochrome powerhouse that is a must-have power tool for anyone who wants to create monochrome photographs.

Left: The original image was from a studio session that Mary had with Monika, the delightfully retro-looking model. The color image was captured with a Canon EOS 60D and an EF 85mm f/1.8 lens with an exposure of 1⁄125 sec at f/11 and ISO 100. Right: The retro effect was enhanced in Silver Efex Pro 2 by starting with the default monochrome conversion, reducing film grain to zero, and applying an orange digital filter. The image was then Copper Toned and had an Image Border effect applied from the 15 that are available. Even those borders can be tweaked by size and spread using another slider that allows you to change the border style from Clean to Rough with lots of points in between.

What’s New In 2?
• New History Browser provides an easy comparison of previous edits.
• New Dynamic Brightness control enables adaptive brightening adjustments for different areas within the image.
• New Amplify Blacks and Amplify Whites adaptively increase the presence of highlights and shadows throughout an image.
• New Soft Contrast applies contrast intelligently, based on image details, creating less harsh contrast.
• New Fine Structure brings out small details and textures and produces more visible image detail without creating that dreaded, over-sharpened look.
• New Image Borders use organic elements to produce borders with classic darkroom-style edges with a modern look that offers infinite variables.

The interface for Silver Efex Pro 2 is both familiar and different. New users may be tempted to just apply the presets but that’s missing out on the true customization you can achieve by tweaking the settings using the sliders and controls on the right side of the screen.

System Requirements
• Mac OS 10.5.8 through 10.6 or later
• Intel processor
• 2GB of RAM (4GB or more recommended)
• Adobe Photoshop CS3 through CS5; Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 through 9; Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.6 through 3.0 or later; Apple Aperture 2.1.4 through 3.0 or later• 32-bit and 64-bit compatible

• Windows XP, Vista, and 7
• AMD or Intel processor
• 2GB of RAM (4GB or more recommended)
• Adobe Photoshop CS3 through CS5; Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 through 9; Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.6 through 3.0 or later
• 32-bit and 64-bit compatible

This is my favorite tree to test lens flare. It’s located near the entrance to the Morgan Smith nature area. In color this image is dramatic but converting to monochrome kicks the drama up a notch. I started with the High Structure (Harsh) preset and tweaked it just slightly with Silver Efex Pro 2’s sliders. There is also a Smooth option, as there is with many of the other presets, but the Harsh option seemed to fit the subject with its spindly branches better. But that’s the joy of using the software; there are lots of options to fit the subject.

Author’s note: All of the illustrations and screenshots in the story were created within Adobe Photoshop, using Silver Efex Pro 2 as a plug-in.

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