Derek Doar – Modern conversion of digital files to monochrome images using Nik SilverEfex

The objective for the evening was very clear – quality conversion of digital image files into monochrome. I’ve been using a very much slimmed down version of Silver Efex  that is integral to Nikon’s CNX2 software for many years and, more recently, the Photoshop plug-in with my Canon files. When Google purchased Nik they did a ‘free complete suite if you have previously purchased one of their plug-ins’. I had the Colour Efex Pro 3 plug-in for CNX2 and therefore qualified for the complete package for Photoshop etc for free. The full Silver Efex Pro 2 package is very comprehensive and Derek’s demonstration showed me how I’ve only really dipped my toes in at the shallow end.

Derek started off with a visual demonstration of how important it can be to tweak the colour hues and saturation in an image on which you are doing a monochrome conversion. This was achieved by using clearly different coloured rectangles which, when a neutral conversion to monochrome resulted in equal tones of grey with no separation between them.

Next Derek moved on to an actual image to which he made many colour changes in order to create the tonal contrast in the image that suited his pre-visualisation of the end result.

Then it was into Silver Efex Pro 2. Full details of his workflow can be found in the online tutorials on his website. The points below are just a brief summary of hints and tips ( revised on 30/10/13 following some feedback from Derek ):

– if colours are not converting effectively to monochrome (image looking flat), then you can change selected colours using Hue and Saturation layers aimed at particular colours (viewed under a channel mixer layer) to get the tone you need to give monochrome contrast
– mask off the parts of the layer that you do not want adjusted, using the Hue and Saturation Layer Mask
– by default he increases saturation in his raw conversion first
– does his spotting at the end in order to avoid any spurious artifacts that he might get if not done perfectly to start with
– mask off the parts of the layer that you want to adjust and then channel mixer to change the colours to give monochrome contrast, view it in monochrome when doing so
– in SilverEfex, go to the custom tab on the left and then, on the right hand panel the colour filters or the colour slider first
– use dynamic brightness rather than the first brightness ( open up the brightness option to get the dynamic brightness )
– zone scale at the bottom – use it to show clipping / blocked up shadows
– control points – use them for selective adjustments of areas
– toning: silver hue – blacks, paper hue – whites
– use of the structure option – open up the structure option to get the separate highlight, midtone and shadows  structure options

Derek then demonstrated how he uses the Detail extractor ‘filter’ from the ColourEfex 4 plug-in. This  tends to lighten some areas in giving more apparent detail.

Next up it was Nik Sharpener Pro where the emphasis was on preparing the file for its output use in terms of colour space and size / pixel dimensions before using it. Then, in sharpner set the distance, type, paper, printer resolution etc to what you need. Often for prints he’ll set the viewing distance to be closer than would be required for wall hanging because of the tendency of judges to take look up close.

After the break the projector was turned off and we were able to delight in seeing some of Derek’s monochrome prints. This included details of which Fotospeed paper he had used and some more hints and tips. For example why he will often incorporate a white border on the print and print at 250 max on the output as opposed to the default 255. The reason for this being that judges were then able to see what the base white is and therefore be able accurately tell if your image has any base white on the print.

Whilst Derek is mainly a landscape photographer he also showed us some of his ‘Whitby Goth weekend’ photographs. To me, for a few reasons, these were the visual highlight. To start with they were actual photographs, not the composite images that we often see. The quality of the monochrome conversions also stood out as did the attitude in the expressions.

In all a very full evening with quality images and quality input. Thank you Derek.

Derek’s tutorials

Nik plugins ( Nik was purchased by Google some time ago, hence why it is now a download only from Google ). For what the package includes and can do it is cheap. Remember that unlicensed use of software is theft.

Fotospeed papers

Photographer and educator based in North Staffordshire near to Stoke-on-Trent. Social photography - Portraits, Weddings and Events are specialisms although I used to do a lot of still life photography with which I was very successful.