I “grew up”, so to speak, with black-and-white photography. I used to love working in the darkroom. I loved to see a good black-and-white print come together beautifully as it developed. As a nature photographer, too, I loved Ansel Adams and everything he wrote (his book, The Print, is still one of my favorites and still in print).
I have used a lot of different methods for converting color to black-and-white in the computer. There are big advantages to making this conversion in the computer rather than shooting black-and-white in the first place. You have much more control over how colors are translated into tones of gray, which is what black-and-white is all about. This control is why using the Photoshop grayscale or desaturate controls is a terrible way to get good black-and-white.
Lightroom and the latest versions of Photoshop do have very good conversion methods for black-and-white. I have also used Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro since it came out. I admit that I really like Nik Software’s approach to software for photographers. All of their programs do something useful for all photographers and do it efficiently and effectively. They are geared to both making it easy for beginners and offering advanced tools for advanced photographers. Silver Efex Pro was the best black-and-white conversion program I had found.
Now Nik has introduced Silver Efex Pro 2. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what they could do to make it better. But they did. As soon as I started using it, I truly fell in love with black-and-white photography all over again. The Nik folks say they have new algorithms to make black-and-white look better than ever. I have no idea what that actually means inside my computer, but I can tell you that the end results are truly outstanding.
I have to be straight with you. This is no magic program that will make any color photo into a great black-and-white shot. Not all color photos look good as black-and-white. And the corollary to that is that not all color photos look good as color images and come alive as black-and-white.
You can go to the Nik Software website to learn all about the new features in Silver Efex Pro 2, so I won’t bother you with a long list. There are some things I really found cool new features, though, including the new dynamic brightness feature that smartly affects different parts of an image differently, the new amplify blacks and amplify whites that just affect the darkest and brightest areas of the photo (and I love these), and fine structure — the structure slider has been a wonderful tool in this program and fine structure takes it to a new level.
My favorite thing about Silver Efex Pro 2 is the same as for the earlier version. It makes it so easy to quickly explore different conversions and looks for your black-and-white photos, then tweak them as needed. From my perspective, if you care about black-and-white, you owe it to your images to check out Silver Efex Pro 2. And you don’t have to take my word for it — just download the demo version and try it out.