Silver Efex Pro 2

How did it look at the start?

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An interesting conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
An interesting conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

After I posted this black and white image taken from near the summit of Great Gable in the English Lake District a number of you wanted to know what the starting image looked like. Well here is it.

 

Starting image prior to processing in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Starting image prior to processing in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

Looks great eh and you can immediately see how I turned it into the finished version above (only joking). If you can’t and want to know how I achieved the conversion, take yourself over to my Lenscraft website and register as a member – don’t worry it’s free. This entire conversion will be detailed in Summer 14 newsletter which I will be publishing shortly. Members receive an email notification when the newsletters published. You can also be sure that I won’t spam you as I HATE spam email.

Photography with an open mind

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Ogden near Milnrow. Conversion with Nik Color Efex using the Infrared and Grain filters. Captured with a Sony RX10
Ogden near Milnrow. Conversion with Nik Color Efex using the Infrared and Grain filters. Captured with a Sony RX10

Yesterday was time for a walk in that it wasn’t raining hard; at least not when I headed out. As is usually the case I picked up a camera to take with me but this time it was a hard decision. Was it worth actually bothering?

You see the walk I was intending to do was around 10 miles and didn’t involve any mountains or spectacular scenery. In fact it was really a walk to keep up fitness levels. The area is quite nice if you like the stark, bleak moorland of the North of England but at the moment it looks pretty horrible with all the rain.

I walk in this particular area quite regularly and over the years have tried to take landscape images. It is, without doubt one of the most challenging locations I have come across. I have tried it in all weather conditions (snow isn’t bad), at all times of year and all times of day and night but I seldom come away with any photographs that I like.

This time I picked up the RX10 and after some decision making I decided to take it. In the end I stopped a total of 4 times to take a handful of pictures, but each time I captured something I quite like. I have never managed anything so productive in the past so why the sudden turnaround in my fortunes?

It’s certainly not down to equipment, although I really like using the RX10. No, I think it’s more to do with how I approached the photography or rather walk. I was out to do a walk rather than looking for images and because f this I had no expectations about what I would see or what type of image I was looking to create. I simply walked and if something caught my eye, I stopped and asked myself what it was. When I was clear in my own mind what was attracting me I took the photograph. You can see two of the processed images in this blog.

Drain in Holingworth Lake near Milnrow. Conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro. Capture with a Sony RX10.
Drain in Holingworth Lake near Milnrow. Conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro. Capture with a Sony RX10.

I think I need to take this approach more often rather than visit somewhere and become disappointed by what I find.

Broken Link in Silver Efex Book

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New York in the Evening. Captured on a Panasonic LX5.
New York in the Evening. Captured on a Panasonic LX5.

I was recently contacted by someone who had purchased my Nik Silver Efex book but was having problems. I mention in the book that Nik provide a number of useful presets on their site which are free to download. These include a good Landscape preset and a faux infrared preset which is quite dramatic. There were also links to download a number of additional presets for the Color Efex software. When trying to access the link I provided this person was being redirected to a new Google/Nik site.

The bad news is that Google, despite all the improvements they have made to the Nik software, has removed the presets. I spent quite some time trawling their site and archives and can’t find the presets anywhere. Whether or not this is temporary  I don’t know.

The good news is that I have been able to locate the presets using the “Wayback Machine” website. Here is the link for anyone wanting to access these.

http://web.archive.org/web/20130203200623/http://www.niksoftware.com/addons/index.php/presets/index?lc=en

In case you are wondering, the image above didn’t use any presets. It was shot with a Panasonic LX5 from the top of the Empire State Building in New York shortly, after sunset on a rather dull day. But more on the LX5 in another post soon.

Friday Image Step by Step

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Step by Step Friday Image
Step by Step Friday Image

I had a request over the weekend to provide further details about how I did the Silver Efex conversion for the Friday 003 image. So here is a high level breakdown of the work.

Step 1 – Start with the end in mind

This involved looking at the image and understanding how I wanted it to look when finished. I won’t go into too much detail here as you can see the finished conversion so you know what I had in mind. I will point out though that I sometimes make notes and rough drawings to help develop an idea before I jump in with the processing.

Step 2 – Create the base image

This involves making adjustments in Lightroom or whatever RAW converter you have to produce the best quality starting image. Quite often this involves contrast and colour adjustments that will help the ultimate conversion to B&W. For example by making all the colours stronger I can separate them better when I convert the image to black and white. You can see the starting image below.

Friday 003 - Step 1

Step 3 – Clean up

Here I removed the red boat on the right side as it was distracting. I then applied Nik Dfine to remove any noise in the image followed by Nik RAW sharpener. This produced the starting image for the conversion which you can see below.

Friday 003 - Step 2

Step 4 – Nik Silver Efex Conversion

I start with the Neutral preset as I know what my finished image should look like and I also understand how to create this. Sometimes it can help to review the presets if you aren’t sure what you want to do.

First I apply a Yellow filter to help darken the sky and lighten the ground slightly. I also increase the filter strength to 100% from the default 50%. It’s then time to emphasise this effect even further using the Soft Contrast slider and a setting of -40%. You can see the result below.

Friday 003 - Step 3

This has achieved a good balance between the foreground and the sky but overall the image is too light. I use the Dynamic Brightness slider at -50% and the Amplify Black slider at +20% to address this. The result is shown below.

Friday 003 - Step 4

Next step is to make the sky more dramatic so I make a selection with a group of control points. I then increase the Structure and Amplify Black sliders to +20%. The result is shown below.

Friday 003 - Step 5

Next I add a curves adjustment to darken the lower 2/3 of the tonal curve. The resulting image is shown below.

Friday 003 - Step 6

My final step in Silver Efex is to add in some grain. I gave up with the grain sliders at one time but recently they have been improved and are now quite good. I use a grain setting of 400 which is quite fine. I used to shoot using Kodak TMax so quite like the fine grained films.

Step 5 – Dodge and Burn

In the previous version of the image I used Nik Analogue Efex to add a vignette and film boarder (admittedly it was a slide film boarder but I liked it). In this version I dodge and burn in Photoshop to produce the image at the very start of this post. I also tweaked the contrast further using another filter called Contrast Master from PhotoWiz. I made these final changes differently because I took more time over the edit, deciding I wanted to make an A3+ print of the finished image.

I hope people find this helpful. If you want to know more about Nik Silver Efex or Photoshop, I will make a quick plug for my books which you can find on Amazon. There are further details of these in the blog menu for anyone who is interested.

Which do you like best

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Frosty leaf. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
Frosty leaf. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Click the image to view larger.

I captured this image of a frosty yesterday morning on the edge of a car park. It did raise a few eyebrows from passersby. My initial intension was to convert it to a black and white image using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I made a few variations of the image using different conversions, some high key some low key and some high contrast but none ticked the box for me.

Then I remembered a new Nik programme that I had downloaded whilst trying to fix a problem with Lightroom 5.2 (still not fixed) and thought I would give it a go. The filter is called Analogue Efex and allows you to simulate all sorts of camera and film effects. Usually I am not impressed by such applications and to be honest, looking through the presets I wasn’t hopeful. I then found the custom sections where you can create your own effects and the image below was the result. I produced both the colour version and then converted this to the black and white version above with Silver Efex Pro.

Frosty leaf version 2. Click the image to view a large version.
Frosty leaf version 2. Click the image to view a large version.

I have made prints from both and the prints are excellent quality but I don’t know which I prefer. I think I am edging towards the colour version but then I switch to black and white. I was wondering what others thought – my wife dismisses anything black and white immediately so if you have similar tendencies your immediately banned from commenting.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

I almost forgot, there also seems to have been other updates installing themselves in the background. This includes a few presets for different applications but I also noticed the grain simulation is now superb. It looks completely natural and is so much better than before. I actually find myself wanting to add grain.

LX5 Dynamic Black and White RAW Problem

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Black and White conversion from an LX5 RAW file. This is the Imperial War Museum in Manchester.

If you are a regular visitor to the Lightweight Photographer site you may be aware that I like to solve people’s photographic problems if I can. One of the problems that seems to crop up with some regularity on Forums is that when shooting with the LX5 using the Dynamic Black and White setting the images come out in colour but the colours look odd. Here is an example below.

Dynamic B&W mode on the LX5 produces RAW files with an odd colour

The answer is relatively straight forward in that the user is shooting in RAW format. As RAW captures the image data but doesn’t apply any processing the images from a colour sensor will be in colour. If you want the Dynamic Black and White appearance for your image then you will need to capture your images in JPG format or at least RAW and JPG.

But why then the odd colour?

Well it helps add punch to the image when it is converted. The approach chosen by Panasonic is to bump the colour temperature up the maximum, shifting it to the warm end of the colour spectrum and reduce the tint settings for the RAW file (-95) so that the image is also shifted towards green. The internal processing of the camera then applies a digital filter and the result is a higher contrast image with greater tonal separation than a straight conversation. Here is the resulting file Dynamic B&W file.

Dynamic B&W setting on the LX5

Don’t however be lazy; lightweight yes but never lazy. Processing your colour images into Black and White will give you much greater creative control. The example at the top of the page was a conversion using Nik SilverEfex Pro 2 and took me around 3 minutes. I think that’s a good investment of my time.