08 June, 2015

Lightroom to Silver Efex Pro 2 (and back)

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Sydney, New South Wales [click to enlarge]

I've been thinking of posting about the features of Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. But before getting to anything about actually using Silver Efex, I need to talk about getting there — and back.

If an image is destined for black and white and for processing in Silver Efex (and not all are), I use care in deciding on the adjustments that I'll do in Lightroom so that as much adjustment as possible is done in the one place — Silver Efex.

Lightroom is a non-destructive environment, until you leave Lightroom. When you move an image to another environment, whatever's been done in Lightroom is "baked in," albeit as an uncompressed, 16bit TIFF. Any further adjustments will be in addition to the "baked in" adjustments — adjustments on top of adjustments.

I keep seeing comments from photographers who are pleased that their raw conversion programs automatically apply defaults that carry them toward finished images. I think that's problematic to begin with, but particularly for those who do further editing in other program such as the Nik collection, the Topaz suite or even Photoshop.

So, for example, if I've pushed an image a bit to the right on the histogram in-camera, I don't want the raw conversion program normalising it just before I move it to Silver Efex. 

I've divided the discussion below into what I do in Lightroom by way of preparation, what I do in Silver Efex, and what final tasks I leave for Lightroom once the image is returned.

In Lightroom before editing in Silver Efex

In general, if I'm headed to Silver Efex, then the less processing of the image that I do in Lightroom, the better. There are, however, a few things that I need to do, or I find easier to do in Lightroom:

  • Cropping. But remember, if you're going to use a Silver Efex border later on, that process might grab a little bit of your image. (I don't do borders in Silver Efex, so that's not a problem for me.)
  • Lens corrections. Applying lens profiles to remove distortion and lens vignetting, and using the leveling and perspective control tools. In moving to a colour enviroment I would also do chromatic aberration removal.
  • White balance. In moving to black and white it's usually not an issue, but if I was moving to a colour enviroment I would adjust the WB in Lightroom.
  • White and Black Points. If the image cries out for greater range, I'll set the white and black points in Lightroom. It can sometimes be accomplished by using a Silver Efex "Preset" or film emulation (I don't use either) or with the tone curve and the "Tonality Protection" sliders. I find the Lightroom tools easier.
  • Input sharpening. Lightroom has the input sharpening tools that Silver Efex doesn't. (Structure in Silver Efex is a different thing—closer to Lightroom's clarity. Fine structure in Silver Efex is closer, but I find that Lightroom's sharpening has better halo suppression and it's masking tool usually hits the nail on the head. And, input sharpening needs to done in conjunction with any noise reduction.)
  • Noise reduction. As mentioned, this needs to be done in conjunction with input sharpening.
  • Dust/spot removal. Lightroom has great tools that Silver Efex lacks. Some dust or spots that don't show in colour can appear more prominent in black and white. 
  • Graduated filters. If the image is really going to need one, then I think about it in Lightroom.
Within Silver Efex
  • Conversion to black and white. If you move to black and white in Lightroom you lose the ability to adjust the colour channels in Silver Efex or to reintroduce some colour with a Silver Efex control point. Lightroom and Silver Efex each have their own algorithms for the conversion to black and white. I don't think there's a winner. I convert in the program that I'm going to use for the fine tuning.
  • Exposure, Contrast and Structure tools.
  • Colour channel adjustments.
  • Control Points for targeted adjustments. (These are where Silver Efex shines.)
  • Grain effect.
  • Borders (for those who like them).
  • Toning (but only if I'm doing a border in Silver Efex).
  • Post-crop Vignetting (but only if doing a border in Silver Efex).
I mentioned above that any initial adjustments that I had made in Lightroom were "baked-in" on moving to Silver Efex. Well, that happens again on moving back to Lightroom.

Back in Lightroom again
  • Toning (but not if I have a border from Silver Efex). When I print, I occasionally want to adjust (or remove) a tone once I've had a look at an initial print. I don't want to have to go back into Silver Efex.
  • Split toning. Same reason as above, but also because the split toning in Lightroom is such a great tool.
  • Grain. You probably noticed that "Grain Effect" is in the category above. Grain on grain is not a good idea. But, sometimes, I want to introduce a bit of grain to increase the acutance, rather than for a more apparent "grain effect." I do that in Lightroom at the end. (So, Lightroom later for acutance, Silver Efex earlier for the grain effect.)
  • Vignetting if there's no border. A baked-in vignette makes any later cropping problematic.

The genius of Lightroom is its non-destructive environment. If within Lightroom, for example, you crop twice, change the exposure five times, the contrast five times and adjust the sharpening twice, when Lightroom prints your image or exports it to a pixel-based medium, Lightroom crops once and adjusts the exposure, contrast and sharpening once each — and in the optimal order.

Lightroom is like the SPCP (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pixels). But every trip outside (to Photoshop or Silver Efex, for example) is like a placement in a foster home. While there's potential for great benefits, we have to remember that the move itself can be disruptive.

If images are only destined to be highly-compressed JPEGs at lower resolutions, the cumulative effects of multiple pixel-mangeling exercises probably won't be noticeable. But if you're printing in large format you don't want to let any quality slip away unnecessarily.

Working entirely within Photoshop is a solution to the two trip (out and return) problem. In Photoshop, you can apply the Silver Efex tools within the program along with all your other adjustments. By taking the care mentioned above, however, I believe I'm able to keep any damage below discernible levels.

No pixels were harmed in the making of this blog post.

1 comment:

Katty said...

I also use Silver Efex for b/w editing. The Silver Efex Pro 2 have not many presets, they can be displayed all at once in the film presets on the left and scroll the screen one by one. You can flip presets quickly and easily, immediately on the screen showing the results of its work. I found interesting review http://besthdrprogram.com/efexpro/ about Efex pro stuff