Among professional photographers, black-and-white is enjoying a tremendous renaissance. While some pros are comfortable with complex color-to-black-and-white conversions, many are now finding the power to create and fine-tune the look they want with simpler stand-alone and plug-in software packages. These packages offer automated presets as well as custom settings. For the first time since the film darkroom, black-and-white is straightforward, both in simplicity and at a professional level.
Photoshop has a black-and-white conversion mode, found by selecting Image > Adjustments > Black & White. If you’re a film photographer, this method will probably feel like home, since you’ll be manipulating color channels that replicate the color filters used in film photography. For the rest of us though, it’s not the most intuitive experience, and often it leads to less than ideal results. The other drawback to this method is that you can’t emulate the grain effects from your favorite black-and-white emulsions. Yes, you can use the Noise filters to add digital noise to the image, but it’s a poor imitation of the real thing. So, it should be no surprise that there are a number of plug-ins available that help you create the black-and-white image you envision.
Nik Software Silver Efex Pro
While all of the plug-ins work with Photoshop, some are expanding their support to the latest versions of Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Perhaps the best example of this is Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro ($199). Currently available for both Photoshop and Aperture (no Lightroom plug-in yet), Silver Efex Pro offers a number of presets to achieve specific looks, such as sepia, cyanotype, ambrotype, Holga, infrared and others, which serve as great quick conversions, or as starting points for further edits, and you can save any custom settings to create your own presets. The plug-in also includes 18 film types from Agfachrome, Kodachrome, Ilford and Fujifilm. What makes the film types unique is the Nik Grain Engine, which builds your image from grains defined as if from the traditional silver-halide process. Along with the included film types, you can adjust the grain, sensitivity and tone curve to create new effects. If you’re used to working with color filters, Silver Efex Pro offers them with control over hue and strength of the effect. Control Points, like those found in other Nik products such as Viveza, make it easy to create selections for specific areas of your image. Finally, the Stylizing tools give you the ability to do toning, vignetting and edge burns to your images. The filter can be applied as a Smart Filter in Photoshop, and if you’re using it in Aperture, you can work with multiple images.