Nik Software must have discovered some unknown digital alchemy when it developed Silver Efex Pro. Suddenly, here was a digital imaging tool that really could replicate the look, feel and even the ‘soul’ of silver-based black and white.
And one of the favourite tools of traditional black and white photographers was the ‘contrast’ filter. These mostly came in yellow, orange, red or green varieties. The idea of using a coloured filter might seem odd when shooting in black and white, but they worked by making some colours appear darker – and some lighter – when recorded as shades of grey.
Landscape photographers often used yellow filters as a matter of routine. The yellow colour allows the light from foliage and vegetation to pass through (it’s mostly yellow, even though it looks green), but at the same time it blocks a lot of the light from a blue sky. The result is that foliage takes on a lighter tone in landscape shots, while blue skies are darker.
For a stronger effect, you can use a red filter. This turns blue skies almost black and produce dramatic, high-contrast pictures. And this is the effect I want to reproduce using the Color Filter tools in Silver Efex Pro.
You can do what looks like the same thing in Photoshop and Elements using the Channel Mixer or Black and White tools. But these, to me, are not as effective – with these, it’s difficult to get strong contrast effects without also getting ugly noise artefacts and edge effects.
So here’s my start shot. An everyday colour shot taken amongst the stones at Avebury in the UK, in the middle of the day. It’s pleasant enough, but there’s not much contrast, definition, drama or anything else to commend it.
01 A Neutral start point
I’m going to start with the default ‘Neutral’ preset in Silver Efex Pro. There’s no existing preset which gives quite the look I’m after, and it won’t take long to create it from scratch. This initial conversion doesn’t hold much promise, but don’t be fooled by appearances…
02 Add the Color Filter
You can add a colour filter very quickly in the Color Filter panel just by clicking on the colour you want – remember, yellow for a pleasing landscape effect, red for something more dramatic.
Actually, in Silver Efex Pro, the effects are very similar. The yellow filter is quite strong enough for the effect I want here when its strength is increased.
You do this by clicking the ‘Details’ button below. This reveals two further sliders: the Hue slider offers a more precise colour choice than the buttons above, while the Strength slider increases the effect of the filter.
I’ve increased the strength to 100 here to make the sky darker and the grass lighter. It’s not quite as powerful as I want it yet, but the filter has done its work and I can do the rest with the tonal controls in the Global Adjustments panel.