Last weeks' post marked a departure from my normal blog topics; I wrote a lengthy & detailed post about the price of wedding photography in a bid to educate readers on the details of the costs. If I do say so myself it was well received with my site traffic going through the roof! Clearly, it was a hot-topic.
Thank you to all those who kindly left comments and huge thanks to all those who shared the post on Google+, Twitter and Facebook. It was a message that I was keen to share as I've recently, more than ever, been asked: 'Why is Wedding Photography so Expensive?'
What's on the menu this week?
This week is something slightly different again. Recently, I've been trying a whole host of new post processing techniques that I've picked up during the wedding off-season. In particular I went through a black and white phase - especially as I'd just got back from a trip to Dorset and had plenty of landscapes that just seem to suit the black and white look!
I'd been hearing for a long time that Nik Software's 'Silver Efex Pro 2' was pretty much the best plugin there was for working with Black and White images. Many of the big pro's that I follow such as Martin Bailey, Matt Kloskowski and many others all sing it's praises and swear by it. So, I thought I'd give it a try and see what it can do.
This is my review of Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2
What is Silver Efex Pro 2?
For those of you who don't know about Silver Efex pro 2 already; It's an Adobe LightRoom plugin. You first need to have LightRoom installed on your machine - from which point you can right click on an image from within the Edit module and select 'Edit In' > 'Silver Efex Pro 2'. This then opens the Silver Efex Pro application whereby you can adjust and fine-tune your images in black and white.
How much is it and where can I get it?
Silver Efex Pro 2 is available from the Nik Software Website. It's currently available for $199, which in real money works out to be about £130. You can however pick up a 15 day trial of Silver Efex Pro 2, which is great as it gives you plenty of time to try out the software to see if it's right for you (I'll let you know what I think in my conclusion below)
So, what does it do that LightRoom doesn't?
Lets get straight down to some pictures to show you:
As you can see above, Silver Efex has a series of pre-configured Black and White Filters (seen on the left pane) that you can instantly apply to your existing images. What's especially useful is that you are able to split the image either horizontally or vertically (as shown in the images above) to get a before and after view to show off the effects of the filter you've currently got applied. You can also move that red dividing bar to show more or less of the before or after side of the image. This is handy as you can quickly browse through the presets and quickly see what impact they're having on your photo. This is good for an effective workflow.
Each preset can of course be adjusted, so you are not limited to just choosing a filter; you can fine-tune each filter to your own requirements. Just like LightRoom, adjustments can be made using a series of sliders to increase and decrease the strength of an element, such as making blacks more blacks, white more white and adding 'Structure' to the image.
Here are some before and after shots (Click to Enlarge):
The 'Before' shots you see above are images I've taken through my usual black and white post-processing work flow; I take the image into LightRoom, convert to black and white and then typically adjust the image until I'm happy. As you can see with the before images (before Silver Efex Pro 2) they're okay. It's only when you see the images next to their Silver Efex counterparts that it makes you realise that they were perhaps lacking a little drama and structure.
For landscapes in particular, Silver Efex Pro 2 does seem to have the ability of pulling a bit more impact out of the image. You can see in the waves that they seem more 'edgy' and you can see that the detail has been given back to the clouds. I am quite happy with what Silver Efex has done to my landscapes.
One more thing that I was very pleased with is the selective adjustment tool. Much like with Snapseed for iPad and iPhone you can drop a control point anywhere on the image, for example the sky, and set a radius. you can then adjust the contrast, the clarity, the sharpness etc of that one area without it effecting the rest of the image. What's more it's also smart with the radius of effect - in that if you drop the control point on the sky and some of the horizon line or foreground is within that radius, it recognizes that you're trying to adjust the sky and ignores the parts you don't want to edit. It's very smart., simple and effective. This means you can add lots of drama and effect to the sky without doing the same to the rest of the image.
So, is there anything bad about Silver Efex Pro 2?
There are a number of controls withing Silver Efex Pro 2 that just are not as good as LightRoom though. For example the Vignette tool is too subtle, even when it's turned up to it's highest it doesn't add enough for me. Having said that once you've saved the image and are back in LightRoom you can then use the excellent vignette tool there to get the desired effect.
Another interesting side-effect I found is that Silver Efex Pro 2 also seems to add noise to my images. The images featured here in this blog are all longer exposures ranging from 1.3 seconds - 4 seconds (that's how I've captured the motion in the waves) and you typically get a little bit of sensor noise on these longer exposures. Silver Efex Pro 2 seems to pull that noise out and amplify it somewhat. Another reason for this may be that when you take a photo into Silver Efex Pro 2 you're then working on a TIF copy of it, rather than a RAW file, like you can do in LightRoom. This means that the changes and adjustment you make are a bit more destructive. Not much, but a little.
You can of course save the image in Silver Efex and once back in LightRoom again apply some more noise reduction. But I find this process a little annoying. I tend to make my basic adjustments such as cropping, sharpening and noise reduction in Lightroom before taking it to Silver Efex, so the idea of having to then apply more sharpening and noise reduction afterwards seems a little awkward to me. Perhaps I'm doing it wrong (please do tell me if you think so!)
There are plenty of effects and tools in Silver Efex Pro 2 that I either haven't touched at all, or haven't played with enough to justify me commenting on them. But I will say that as a plugin for LightRoom it's very good for black and whites and is easily able to add instant impact and drama to your images. I've enjoyed the features I have used so far and do plan on exploring it a little more at some stage. But for now I've just focused on the features I would use it for, that being weddings and landscapes.
I have tried to edit a few portraits and pictures of people in Silver Efex and I've gone back over a few black and whites from a couple of weddings I shot last year in 2012 and I must say that I'm not convinced that's where it's strength is. Silver Efex Pro 2 seems more at home with Landscapes, Cityscapes and most of all, photos with some sort of extended exposure (as you can see with mine). Generally speaking images that do not have people in them. This is of course, only my personal opinion.
For £130 ($199) it seems a little pricey for me. I'm not adverse to investing in tools that will help improve my images, but I think I've learnt a lot about black and whites from just using Silver Efex during my 15 day trial. I've gone on to adjust my own custom black and white presets in LightRoom and I think I've come up with some that closely match what Silver Efex Pro 2 has to offer. In some respects I feel that my own black and white presets are better suited to my images:
For now I won't be investing in Silver Efex Pro 2. As much as I like it I think it's quite expensive for a plugin that only does black and white. I've become so accustomed and quite good with LightRoom that I genuinely feel I can achieve all I need to in LightRoom, which itself costs £130 too. What's more I'm also in the process of taking a look at OnOne Software's Perfect Black and White, which seems to be a direct competitor to Silver Efex Pro 2.
I would say that I am disappointed with Silver Efex, it's just that I expected a better quality application, something that more closely emulated what Adobe have put together with their Lightroom software.
If you're a Silver Efex Pro 2 user please do leave your thoughts and comments below and let me know what you think. Equally, if you're currently running OnOne's Perfect Black and White let me know what you think.
Thanks all for stopping by. Next week I'll be posting 10 images from my 2012 wedding season as a build up to the wedding season for 2013. Be sure to stop by and take a look!
UPDATE - 8th April 2013
Shortly after I released this blog (I'm not suggesting I motivated this) Google went and massively reduced the cost of the entire NIK site of plugins.
You can now purchase their entire set of plugins for $149, or, £97 in real money. Add to this you can still also use the numerous discount codes out there on the web at the moment. Why not support Martin Bailey and his work and use his 15% discount by using the following code at the checkout: MBP15. That 15% drops the package down to £82 in all! Impressive.
So go buy it now. It looks like the use of those discount codes will soon be discontinued. Seeing as the suite of applications has dramatically decreased I'd say that's fair.