Silver Efex Pro Zone System

How to apply the Zone System in Silver Efex Pro

03 Adding highlights

Silver Efex Pro Zone System

I can do the same with the highlights. If I click both the zone 9 and zone 10 buttons, I’ll see cross-hatching where the highlight areas are running out of detail too.

So far, there’s not much to see on this image. The contrast is quite low, so I’m not seeing many zone 0/1 or zone 9/10 areas. I need to do some work on this picture to give it more contrast, though, and this will be my early-warning system to make sure I don’t lose any important shadow or highlight detail.

04 Adding contrast

Silver Efex Pro Zone System

To start with, I’m pushing up the Contrast slider (circled) to give the picture a much-needed boost. You can see the dark cliffs in the distance now how more cross-hatch alerts and there’s a cross-hatched area in the sky that warns me I’m starting to lose details in the highlights.

05 Reducing the brightness

Silver Efex Pro Zone System

I’m most worried about the highlights in the sky, because I’m going to need those shortly, so I’ve reduced the Brightness value (circled). This gets rid of the clipping alert in the sky but makes the dark cliffs darker still.

06 Silver Efex Pro control points

Silver Efex Pro Zone System

It’s clear to me that I’m not going to be able to find a combination of contrast and brightness values that give the picture the punch it needs without clipping either the highlights or the shadows, so it’s time to use Ansel Adam’s other technique – dodging and burning. And for this I’m using the modern-day equivalent – Silver Efex Pro’s control points.

I started with a single control point at the far left of the cliff, increasing the brightness, contrast and structure values to lift most of the tones out of those danger zones 0 and 1 and give them some definition.

Now it’s tempting to increase the radius of a control point that doesn’t cover a large enough area, but I prefer to keep them at their default size and duplicate them, dragging the duplicates into other areas that need adjusting. This helps confine the effect to just those areas you want to fix and without having them ‘spread’ into other areas you want to leave alone. So I’ve created three duplicates and lined them up along the full length of the cliff.

And here’s a useful tip: you can select duplicated control points like this and group them together. From now on, adjusting one set of controls adjusts all the grouped control points in unison.

One thought on “How to apply the Zone System in Silver Efex Pro

  1. Thanks for the tutorial Rod.

    I’ll have to try this out.
    At the moment I primarily use the High Structure preset for my black & white photo editing in Nik Silver Efex Pro.

    Cheers, Vic.

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