3 Nik Silver Efex Pro Techniques for Dramatic B&W Photos

In this tutorial, I’m going to share three techniques you can use with Nik Silver Efex Pro to achieve dramatic black and white landscape photography. Nik Silver Efex Pro is a long-standing favourite amongst landscape photographers as a means to convert their images to black and white. This is because it provides such a wide range of adjustments. But the problem with having such a choice is that it’s often difficult to understand where to start or how best to use the controls. But if you learn and apply the 3 techniques in this tutorial, they will help improve your black and white conversions.

Here’s the result of the first technique in this tutorial used to create a dramatic black and white landscape photo.

example nik silver efex pro conversion using coloured filters

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Which Nik Silver Efex Pro Technique to Use

Whilst this tutorial covers three techniques, you don’t need to use them all with every photo. You will probably find that one of the techniques works better with some photos than others. Also, trying to use all three techniques with a single photo may just be too much. It’s usually best to pick individual techniques that work well, rather than thinking you need to use all three. With a little practice, you will be able to understand which these as you start to apply adjustments.

Which Version of Nik Silver Efex Pro

One of the things that so great about these techniques, besides them being easy to use, is that they work with all versions of the Nik Collection. Although I’ll be using Nik Silver Efex Pro from the Nik Collection 3, they work with even the older free Google version of Nik. If you don’t have Nik Silver Efex Pro, you can download a 30-day free trial of the Nik Collection (including Nik Silver Efex Pro) from the DxO website.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the first technique.

Colour Filters and Colour Response Sliders

This one is such a powerful technique because it can completely change the way a colour photo responds to black and white conversion. It’s therefore a good idea to start with this technique. It’s also one that you might want to consider for every photo that you convert in Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Here you can see the colour image we will use in this tutorial, before converting to Black and White.

Starting image before conversion to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro

Colour Filters

If you’ve ever shot photography using traditional black-and-white film, you may have already used coloured filters. Typically, these are screw-in filters placed over the front of the camera lens and are colours like red, green, and yellow. Because the film is black and white, the colours didn’t show up, but they do change how the colour looked in black and white. For example, a yellow filter would darken blues whilst making yellows lighter. A blue filter on the other hand would do the opposite.

When you open an image in Nik Silver Efex Pro, you will see the adjustment controls over on the right-hand side of the interface. If you scroll down, you find a section for Colour Filters and Film Types as shown below.

Colour filters and colour response sliders in nik silver efex pro

In Nik Silver Efex Pro, the filters work in the same way as in traditional film photography. If a colour in the scene matches the colour of your filter, it becomes lighter when converted to black and white. But if there is a colour on the opposite side of the colour wheel, then it will become darker in the conversion.

Below you can see an example the colour image open in Nik Silver Efex Pro and different coloured filters applied.

How changing the filter can change the conversion

At this stage there is a difference between the conversions but it’s quite subtle. But as you apply other Nik Silver Efex Pro adjustments, the differences will become more noticeable.

Having chosen a filter, you can also adjust the strength of its effect Move the filter Strength slider left to reduce the filters effect and right to increase it. You may find that it is better to leave this on the default adjustment initially but return to it later once you’ve applied your other changes in Silver Efex Pro.

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The Colour Response Sliders

You’ll find the Colour Response sliders in the Film Types section of Nik Silver Efex Pro.

By default, the colour response sliders have 0% adjustment which is in the centre of their range. If you move the slider to the left, it darkens that colour in the conversion. If you move the slider to the right, it makes that colour appear lighter in the converted image.

Here you can see the effect of applying a yellow filter and colour response slider adjustments in Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Filter and Colour response sliders compared to default conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro

For this example, I moved the Blue and Cyan sliders to the left to darken those colours. At the same time, I moved the Yellow and Red response sliders right to make those colours lighter. This created better defined clouds and has given the foreground rocks greater definition.

Which colour response sliders and filters work best will depend on the colours in the image. But it’s always best to start by making these subtle changes before using other adjustments in Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Creating Tonal Separation to Reveal Detail

When converting an image to black and white, removing the colour often causes a reduction in contrast. At the same time, it can cause image detail to become lost. Colour helps us to distinguish between different areas of the image but once we remove the colour, the tones appear similar. Fortunately, Nik Silver Efex Pro has some tools that we can use to correct the problem.

One technique I like to use with Nik Silver Efex Pro is to combine the Soft Contrast slider with the Dynamic Brightness slider. In the following black-and-white image, I use the technique to open up some dark shadows on the mountain’s rockface. This has made the image far more appealing and interesting to look at.

Cerro Torre, Patagonia, Argentina

Your natural instincts when using the soft contrast slider may be to move it to the right to increase the contrast. But instead, if we move it to the left to reduce the contrast it can separate out the shadow and highlight tones. This can make it easier to see detail in lighter and darker areas.

Negative Soft Contrast adjustment

Whilst the image is now lacking in contrast, it’s becoming easier to see the detail in the clouds and the rocks. The image also appears a little bit too light because of the reduced contrast. We can address this by moving the Dynamic Brightness slider to the left. The Dynamic Brightness slider acts on the shadow and highlight tones in the image to darken or lighten them. At the same time, it avoids changing the brightest and darkest tones. This avoids the shadows becoming blocked up of the highlights burning out.

negative soft contrast and dynamic brightness

Having open the shadows and darken the highlights the detail in the image becomes easier to see. If you find the image is still lacking contrast you can adjust this with the Nik Silver Efex Pro Contrast slider.

Dodging and Burning with Nik Silver Efex Pro

Dodging and Burning is another traditional black-and-white darkroom technique. This involves making changes to areas of the image to lighten or darken them. This is different to the techniques we’ve looked at so far which act globally on the entire image.

When you Dodge an area of the image you lighten it and when you burn you darken it.

Dodging and burning tools in most photo editors use a brush where you can paint the effects into the image. Nik Silver Efex Pro doesn’t have a brush tool, but we can still apply dodging and burning effects using Control Points.

Control Points are a way to make selective changes to areas of an image in Nik Silver Efex Pro. You will find the Control Points in the section titled Selective Adjustments.

nik silver efex pro selective adjustment section and control points

After clicking the Control Points icon in the Selective Adjustments panel, you can click on the image to add your Control Point. You’ll then see the Control Point appear in the Control Points list.

To see the area selected by the Control Point, click the reveal mask option, which is the tick box to the right. You can see this indicated in the screenshot by the red arrow. This toggles the mask view on and off.

When you’re in the mask view, the areas highlighted in white at the areas that selected by the Control Point. You can then click and drag the Control Point to reposition it, to change the selection or you could resize it.

control point and mask in nik silver efex pro

After making your selection and turning off the Control Point mask view, you can lighten or darker the area using the brightness slider (Br). As well as adjusting the brightness you can use the Amplify Whites (AW) and Amplify Blacks (AB) sliders to adjust the tones.

Here’s an example of the image after applying selective Dodging and Burning with Nik Silver Efex Pro tools.

after dodging and burning in nik silver efex pro

Dodging and Burning can make a significant difference to the finished conversion. To really understand this, it can be helpful to watch the following video where I demonstrate all three of the techniques in this tutorial.

Nik Silver Efex Pro video

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Dramatic B&W Landscape Photos in Nik Silver Efex Pro Summary

You can use the three techniques discussed in this tutorial when converting any image in Nik Silver Efex Pro, but they are particularly powerful with landscapes. It isn’t always necessary, or advisable to use all three with every image. I do though recommend using the colour filters and response sliders as a first step with all photos.

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