I’ve posted some excerpts from Mastering Silver Efex Pro 2.0, my 2+ hour video companion to The Photographer’s Guide to Silver Efex Pro 2. You can find the excerpts (and more videos) over at my YouTube feed. Note that these videos are presented at lower resolution than the downloadable version of Mastering Silver Efex Pro 2.0, which is presented in 720p HD format.
We all know that a good black and white (monochrome) image can create quite an impact. Monochrome is a very powerful creative tool, because it can be used to shift the emphasis in your images from colors to textures. High-contrast color images can look strange, but high-contrast monochrome images can be stunning. But there’s another reason you should consider learning the art of black and white digital photography– it lets you expand your shooting conditions.
Even with the best digital cameras, we still face challenges when it comes to certain situations, like mixed lighting, mid-day scenery, or high-ISO work. Many times, you’ll recognize these conditions and either throw away the images or just not shoot altogether. With black and white in your bag of tricks, you don’t have to. Midday landscapes? No problem– just emphasize the textures and use color filter techniques to cut through haze. If you are shooting in a mixture of lighting conditions, like daylight, fluorescent, and incandescent, converting to black and white lets you discard the cacophony of colors and focus on your subject. If your camera produces noise at higher ISOs, it won’t matter in a black and white image– that noise might just look like film grain and be entirely believable.
If you’re going to dabble in black and white, make sure your editing software is up to the task. Simply clicking the “desaturate” command will leave your images flat and uninspiring. I recommend using dedicated black and white conversion tools that let you work with color channel data to get the best results. Lightroom, Aperture, and Capture NX2 can all produce quality black and white images. There are also dedicated 3rd-party plug-ins for monochrome that do an even better job and provide more creative options. My personal favorite is currently Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2.0, but there are other good programs out there, too. I suggest downloading a trial version before you purchase anything.
Examples of challenging scenes that work with black and white (click any thumbnail to enlarge the image).
Here’s a quick tip on improving your on-screen previews in HDR Efex Pro. Once I figured this out, my images came out a LOT better because I wasn’t over-adjusting them.
Bonus: Download my new HDR Efex Pro preset “Hyper-realistic Interiors.” This preset gives a nice clean look that is very natural and crisp when used on indoor images.
It seems like no matter what you do or where you go, you can never escape the incessant drone of “my product is better” posts out in cyberspace. Name a photo product, and you’ll find fanboys (and girls) trumpeting the merits of their particular choice in gear, software, whatever. We live in a world where product diversity and competition is fierce, but one thing is completely evident to me: when it comes to RAW processing software, you really can’t go wrong with most of the popular choices out there right now.
The one thing that has started to irk me, though, is the beating of drums from people who claim Product A is superior to Product B based on no provable fact. Case in point: Nikon’s Capture NX. In 2005, I compared all the major RAW converters from a Nikon user’s perspective as part of a multi-part segment for The Image Doctors podcast. At that time, we were able to discern clear rendering quality differences between Capture NX and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Ah, but times have changed.
Since 2005, ACR has evolved better demosaic algorithms, new features, and camera profile settings that give you results that are at least as good, in my opinion, as what you can do with Capture NX2. The same is true for Aperture, Capture One, and other RAW processors. While there is no doubt that Nikon’s engineers understand the NEF format best, the argument that CNX2 somehow produces a superior conversion to everything else has gotten pretty weak over time. When I look at NEFs I’ve converted with Capture NX2 using standard settings and compare them to ACR conversions with similar settings, I don’t see anything between the two resulting images that would indicate that one is somehow “superior” to the other. What I see are two slightly different images, but neither one is “better” or “worse” in terms of detail, artifacts, or other obvious quality issues.
So what does that mean for you, the photographer, who is trying to filter through all the chatter and pick a RAW processing tool? Remove the subjective component of “conversion quality” from the discussion and instead look at features and workflow. Continue reading Choosing a RAW converter– My Karma ran over your Dogma