Life after Silver Efex
So it’s official, Silver Efex Pro is dead. As many of us suspected, Google bought out Nik software to get their hands on Snapseed, a great tool to bring mobile photo editing to the masses. The comparatively specialist Photoshop plug-ins Silver Efex and Colour Efex came with the bundle and were not in Google’s long terms plans. I have been using Silver Efex for the last four years and it was still an important part of my monochrome workflow. More so now for darker images, my lighter minimalist workflow had evolved to not use Silver Efex anyway.
But still, it was disappointing to hear Google were no longer going to develop or support the product. At first I thought I’d have to look at other plug-ins to fill the hole left by Silver Efex but after a bit of thought and practice I have found that I can pretty much do what I used Silver Efex for directly in Photoshop, and with a few advantages too.
This article is not meant to be a guide as to how you can recreate all Silver Efex actions in Photoshop, but is some notes on the techniques that I use in my monochrome workflow and to show there is life after Silver Efex.
The good news is there are only five steps. Wherever possible I try to take a non-destructive approach, meaning if I come back to the file at a later time, I can change one element of the processing without affecting the others. This is a definite benefit compared to my old workflow.
I always shoot in Raw, so the first element of the process is to convert from the Raw file, adjusting exposure if needed and cropping to my desired final aspect ratio.
Step 1 – Convert to Mono
The first step in the mono process is to convert to monochrome. I do this by duplicating the Background layer into a new layer called ‘mono’. I then use # Image > Adjustments > Black and White # to convert to monochrome and may use one of the filter presets such as Red Filter.
Step 2 – General Contrast – Curves Adjustment Layer
Using # Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves # I adjust the overall contrast of the image to reflect what I have in mind for it.
Step 3 – Vignette – Selective Curves Adjustment Layer
I will often apply a vignette to darker images, to draw the viewer’s attention to the main subject. This can be done by using the elliptical selection tool to select the main area of the image. This selection is then feathered by an appropriate amount and the selection inversed. Then another layer is created using # Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves # which I call ‘vignette’. The curves can then be adjusted to reduce the brightness in the vignette area.
Step 4 – Dodge / Burn – Dodge Burn Layer
In this step a new layer is created which allows selective areas of the image to be either darkened (burned) or lightened (dodged). Using # Layer > New Layer #, a new layer is created called ‘dodge’ and the option ‘Mode: Overlay’ is chosen and the box ‘Fill with Overlay-neutral color’ is also ticked.
With this layer selected a soft brush or gradient can be used to darken or lighten areas of the image. If a colour darker than 50% grey is chosen the image will be darkened. If a colour lighter than 50% grey is selected the image will be lightened.
Step 5 – Structure – Duplicate Layer with selective sharpening
Silver Efex has the ability to add what they term ‘Structure’ to an image. This can either be done globally or selectively using control points and is effectively increasing the micro-contrast in an image to give more definition to certain areas. In Photoshop this can be mimicked by using one of the sharpening tools selectively.
I would do this by duplicating the main mono layer into a new layer called ‘structure’. This means if we are ever unhappy with this step, we can go back and start again. If I want to apply sharpening to a particular area, I would roughly select it with the Polygonal Lasso Tool and then feather the selection appropriately. With the new layer selected I would then use # Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask # and adjust the settings to get my desired effect.
And that’s really all there is to my mono workflow now. I hope you like the finished effect and can see there is definitely life after Silver Efex.
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