Black and White photography is very successful in the industry, but it is much more complex than you imagine. In this article, we’ll learn how to create the perfect silver halide print that you’d proud to hang on your wall. As the go-to pluging for making black and white images Silver Efex Pro isn’t the only option. Indeed, we’ll explore Analog Efex Pro and highlight some of its unique features. 

This topic was also covered in a recent webinar, which has been embedded here.

Understanding Silver Halide

The use of silver in making photos and prints is as old as photography itself. At a very basic level, both the photographic negative and the print are made through a photochemical process involving the conversion of chemicals to silver. As photography evolved, the use of silver in prints became less necessary. But even to this day, you can have a photo print made using the silver halide process. Unlike a modern inkjet or laser printer, a silver halide print still involves the darkroom and chemicals — even if you’re printing from a digital photo!

When making black and white images for print, especially for silver halide prints, it’s important to understand where your silver will show up the most. Essentially it shows up in the grey tones; white is simply white, and black will be extremely rich and deep. Technically the darker the tones, the more silver there is. But there arrives a point where too much silver becomes less silver-looking, if that makes sense. 

Preparing a Photoshop File for Analog Efex Pro

Start with a Smart Object when you use Photoshop for Nik Collection. Applying a Nik filter to a Smart Object makes the filter a Smart Filter. This means you can go back and edit it at any time. I find this flexibility extremely important for my workflow. 

If you’ve opened a RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw, then once you’re finished tweaking it, hold down the Shift key and the Open Image button becomes Open Object. 

If you’re not starting with a RAW file, you can still convert any layer to a Smart Object by right-clicking on it and choosing Convert to Smart Object. 

As far as adjusting exposure on your image to ensure it’s optimized for B&W conversion, as with any image you’re planning to filter, the most important thing to do is ensure that you aren’t clipping your shadows or highlights. I recommend adjusting for as neutral an image as possible, focusing on the regions you know you’ll want to highlight. For example, if your photo has lots of shadow detail, make sure that it’s all visible in the image you send to the filter.

Consider lifting the shadows a bit in Camera RAW to ensure that you can see everything you want. You can always make it darker in the filter, but if you send a photo with minimal detail to Analog Efex Pro, you’ll have a harder time recovering it. Finally, pay close attention to your histogram. You want to be sure you’re not clipping any shadows or highlights. Watch the edges of the histogram and enable the clipping indicators so you know exactly what you’re getting. 

Create a Clean B&W Preset

Analog Efex Pro has lots of cool B&W presets. But since creating B&W images isn’t its primary purpose, it actually doesn’t have a “clean” B&W preset. So let’s create one.

Click the camera preset list at the top left of the filter, and choose Build a camera. This will open a list on the left of all available filters.

Add or delete as necessary the following adjustments. To do so, hover over each adjustment, and click the (+) to add it to the stack, or (–) to delete it. In the screenshot below, you’ll see four (in red) that we have added, and one (in yellow) that we have deleted.

  1. Basic Adjustments
  2. Lens vignette
  3. Film Type
  4. Levels & Curves
  5. (removed) Dust & Scratches

Now go to each filter on the right, and set the effect to the default / neutral / zero setting.

Now, if it is not the case, double-click a slider to reset the sliders to zero in Basic Adjustments.

Lens Vignette should also bet set to zero (you’ll have to manually drag that, as the default settings is –40%). The shape and size don’t matter now.

Film Type is a little more complicated. There is no defined neutral setting, but I’ve found that choosing the very first preset under the B&W neutral drop-down, then putting the Neutral / Faded slider all the way to the left ensures a totally neutral B&W conversion. Be sure to set Grain per pixel to the max at 500 (not the minimum — that will add the most visible grain. At 500, no grain is added).

Levels & Curves also needs to be set to its default settings. If there are any points already added to the curve, double-clicking them will remove them.

Finally it’s time to save this preset! Click the (+) button next to the Custom list on the left column, and name it something like “Neutral B&W”. Now whenever you want to make a B&W image starting from scratch, you have a preset to quickly take you to that starting point.

Next Up… Crafting Your Creative B&W Look!

In part 2 of this post, we’ll explore some of the creative tools for making compelling and unique B&W images using Analog Efex Pro!

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