Finally, Beautiful Black & White Images from Digital

At this year’s Spring Photoshop World, I sat in on a very different instructional block hosted by my buddy Vincent Versace.  This was a special, one-time only class that required the signing of a non-disclosure agreement.  You see, Vincent does a great amount of work with the folks over at Nik Software in the development of several of their products and he convinced them to include this one class group into a new beta program.  That program has evolved over the past few months into the currently released Nik Silver Efex Pro.

The great part of being in on a beta testing program is getting the chance to watch the program grow and evolve over time while adding input to the designers to help get the bugs out as well as shape the future of the program.  The early versions of Silver Efex were pretty clunky with many of the features being less than reliable.  Since that time, it has evolved into the greatest application I have ever seen to render black & white images from digital files.  I’m not talking about converting colors into shades of grey.  No, there are dozens of ways to do that.  I’m talking about making images that have the look of actual black & white film.   This was accomplished by actually profiling b&w films from different manufacturers.  That’s right, all of your favorites are in there; Pan-X, Tri-X, APX, Neopan, Delta, and even P3200 (18 types in all).  Combine the film types with color filters that really act like a filter would with b&w film, and a new control called Structure and you have the makings of some phenomenal b&w images.  Not only that but Nik has incorporated their control point tools to adjust shadows, highlights, and contrast on a local level as well as controls to protect your blacks and whites from clipping.  For all of you Zone System freaks out there (you know who you are) there is even a zoned step wedge that, when moused over, displays the areas of your image that fall into that particular zone.

If all those choices start to get overwhelming, just jump over to the Styles preset panel and choose something to your liking.  You can start with the preset styles and then make changes to suit your images.  If you come up with a combination that you really like, you can save it as your own preset that can be applied to future images.  If you don’t like the built-in styles, try downloading some of the 33 custom styles available on the Nik site.

So here’s the bottom line, if you have been longing to make beautiful black & white images but just haven’t been satisfied with the old Photoshop conversion methods, head on over to Nik and check out Silver Efex Pro with their 15-day trial offer (click here).  But here’s the deal, you had better start saving your spare change because at the end of the 15 days, you will want to plunk down the $199 for the licensed version.  It’s just that good!  And here’s something I just discovered, Silver Efex Pro is available at Amazon.  Their price is $185 for a downloadable version.  They list the CD version as being available sometime in August.  By the way, if you have been paying attention to the blog over the past few months then you have seen some of the images that I have made using Silver Efex Pro.

Make sure you scroll down to see my video tour of Silver Efex Pro


  1. This seems very interesting, I shall have a look at this software in the nar future, thanks a lot!

  2. I saw a headline about the release, but didn’t pay much attention to it. after reading what you’ve written, I’ll give the demo go.

    I’m blaming you if I spend that $199!


  3. I’ll bet you’ll be thanking me, not blaming me 🙂

  4. I am blaming = ) but seriously – are they better then the ones in color efex pro and OnOne Pro tools?

  5. Mike,
    I don’t have the OnOne Pro tools but it is much better than the Color Efex Pro version. Of course since Nik makes both, it would be expected. You really should download the plug-in and give it a test run. I am going to post a companion video in a little bit that quickly tours some of the features that make the plug-in so great…stand-by for upload.

  6. Nice video, Jeff. Really liked your opinions on the software and especially the “whys” of what you liked about different aspects of it.

  7. I wonder how much this does differently than Alien Skin’s Exposure which also has a lot of b&w conversion options. I’ll have to get a demo of this and see.

  8. Just wanted to say, what a fantastic article regarding Nik Silver Efex Pro. I downloaded it straight away and the difference is absolutely amazing. You have cost me an awful lot of money in the past with your articles on the other Nik software which I use all the time. This new plug in is just amazing. Once the free trial expires, I will purchase it. Thats the only way I think, and make myself believe that, I can justify the cost. One other thing, why do you get your hands on this before Mr Kelby and are you going to do a guest blog on Photoshop Insider? Keep the inspiration going, your blog each day sets the tone for me and gives me the direxction I need. Cheers.

  9. Thanks for all the kind comments Jason. To answer your questions, Scott isn’t really into the plug-ins as much as I am. I just don’t think he has the time to try them all but then again, he has friends like me that do it for him. As for the guest blog, all I can say is, stay tuned…

  10. I downloaded the Silver Efex Pro trial version. I am a B&W enthusiast. There are things I like about this piece of software. However, I am not sure, as yet, whether this commands a $200 price. I selected some images that I had previously converted to B&W and worked on them in Silver Efex. Some appeared to have benefited from the conversion. Others were “different” but not necessarily better. I will continue with my 15 day trial version and work on images that I have previously converted to B&W. I will let you now what happens. Right now, I feel that, if you know Photoshop, you can work with the tools therein and get what you need. If Silver Efex was $75 it would be a no-brainer. At $200, you have to stop an think.

    I would appreciate your observations. E-mail me at



  11. Wow. This is definitely worth the $200 price. I feel like I’m back in the darkroom in 1978 but with TOTAL control. This tool is an epiphany for me. I love digital but am hooked more than ever now…

  12. Jeff,
    I bought the software around the time that you got it. NAPP had a $50 discount and I like Nik software and had been waiting for it to come out. I love this software! It is amazing that I can finally get my B&W in digital that I was never able to get in digital. The man who taught me photography was a Whitehouse photographer back in Kennedy’s day and he always taught me that I must first understand B&W before I can really understand color. Well now I can get those gorgeous B&W’s that I could only get with film. If you buy this software you will love it for its simplicity of use but infinite results.

  13. This is great. A big big thank you from me.

  14. Bill M says:

    Dude, loved your review of the Silver Efex Pro software, I downloaded the trial version and was impressed (I’m and old Tri-X analog guy). What I’d like to ask is what do you think is the best, desktop printer to get these B&W images on paper? I’m not looking to spend a fortune, but I’d like to print images that look like the B&Ws I used to get from the trays. Thanks.

    Bill M.

    • Bill,
      I can tell you what I use, which is the Epson 2880 along with Epson Exhibition Fiber paper. This combo produces some of the best black and white prints I have ever seen. Yes, they are even better than most traditional silver-based papers. The printer runs about $650 and you can read my review of it here. I’m sure there are other printer/paper combinations that also produce good results but I can only speak about my personal experiences. I hope that helps.


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