Processing Black And White Images With Silver Efex Pro In Photoshop

August 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

Having A Baby I regularly get asked how I achieve the look in my photography.

I start with incredibly flexible, albeit low contrast, monochrome RAW files from my Leica Monochrom. London is saturated with brick, tarmac and concrete, so my post processing will frequently separate foreground objects from the scene. The reason is the structure slider in Silver Efex Pro. Pushing structure in faces and fluid objects works well, but not so for concrete. Example below.

HiLoStructure

And this brings me to Photoshop. I work in layers and whilst I believe Lightroom will allow me to find the same end result, it’s not easy to ‘stand back’ and appraise the current image of stacked layers and tweak their individual opacities until I’m happy with the composite image.

What now follows, is a layer by layer build up of this image. All processing is achieved in Silver Efex Pro 2, because I’m lazy, and Photoshop CS6. So this is essentially the low contrast image from my camera. In the Adobe Camera Raw dialogue I’ve dialled down the highlights a little and brightened the blacks.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.27You can click on these images to see a larger version.

I’ll place myself to shoot with the best light I can, but it’s infrequent a ‘moment’ occurs that I can get into position for, if there’s a better position at all. This being the case, I will often have to process subjects specifically to boost their light.

First, for this shot, I’m concerned about getting the sidewalk and building correct. I like to make London’s concrete look cleaner than it usually is. See below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.33

I chose a lowish structure filter from the Modern section and increased the soft contrast, boosted contrast whites and decreased structure. You can still see the bubblegum, but the scene is lighter, less cracks and stains.

The guy is not doing well with this filter and this is often the case where filters are great for one portion of the scene, but not elsewhere.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.37

Again, from SEP2’s Modern section – the first high structure filter I think – I increased the soft contrast a little. I’ve applied a mask to the man. He’s brighter and with a nice texture in his clothes.

I duplicated this layer, adding a mask, for the window panes. I bang up the contrast and structure on any reflective surface. There’s nothing worse than dull lifeless surfaces that should shine and reflect the world. High contrast!

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.40

Tell me those windows don’t look better?!

Still not happy about his face and arms, so I’m going for even more structure and slight increase in exposure.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.45

Same filter, higher structure, boosted fine structure and overall brightness a little and a layer mask for his face and arms. This layer is not 100% opacity though. The effect should be subtle and Photoshop allows me to view the compound image and adjust opacities for each and every layer concurrently.

I know some would stop here, but I prefer my photography high contrast and, on a wall, it has greater impact. This means additional contrast layers.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.48

The guy’s exposure is pretty low compared to the scene, so the first contrast layer is masked for everywhere but him. I use a low contrast Modern filter usually, boosting the whites and softening the shadows. negative structure. Then set the layer’s blend mode to hard light.

He does need contrast and I’d like to focus the viewer on him, so I’ll employ another contrast layer on the entire scene. Using SEP2’s Vintage Pinhole filter, grain off, brightness down and increased soft contrast to change the light in the centre of the scene. Layer blend mode to hard light again.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.51

This is the effect I was after. Slightly de-emphasising the edges, even whiter walls and a controlled level of contrast on the guy.

Never trusting monitors, I always perform a Image>Adjustments>Levels (Auto) check. It slightly brightened the scene, which I’m happy with. I also sharpen the image in preparation for print.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.54

Flatten the image and duplicate the image twice. The first additional layer, perform a High Pass filter of 4.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20%.

To the second addition layer, perform a High Pass filter of 2.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20% again.

And flatten the image. I keep the PSD for print runs, but create a smaller jpeg for the internet.

How this image ended up is not to everyone’s taste, but the take home is that I could process what I wanted and subsequently tweak the opacity of individual effect layers.

Sorry about the whacky histogram; my cat walked over the keyboard and I need to set that back.

Good luck processing!

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