Q: What’s black & white & noir all over?

photo by Derek Pell

A: Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

When I want to convert a color image to black and white, I use Nik Silver Efex Pro—a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop.  


As an aficionado of film noir imagery, this conversion process is a frequent activity of mine. Setting the camera to shoot in monochrome is off the table (too generic, no style). The other alternative: Photoshop’s native filtering. I could use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift+Ctrl+B to bring up the Black and White panel shown below.


Pressing the OK button will convert the image. I could even choose one of several presets from the menu, such as Maximum Black or Infrared. Or adjust the individual colors via the slider bars.

Not bad, albeit rudimentary. So why do I use the plug-in from Nik?

For precise control over the conversion process; their rad  U Point technology for sophisticated and subtle selective adjustments. If you’re looking for professional results to match your vision, Silver Efex Pro 2 fairly guarantees it.

It has a slick, Lightroom-like interface which is customizable for improved workflow.

(Click on images for larger view.)


It offers a wide range of innovative presets which are instantly viewable in the Preset Browser on the left. You can scroll through thumbnail previews or make a selection  via the convenient Preset Categories.

Preset Browser

Sometimes a preset will do the trick, but more often than not it will serve as a starting point from which to begin fine-tuning. And, of course, when you’ve tweaked up a black and white screen gem you can save it as a custom preset.

As for noir effects, the application has a few presets in this category, but I prefer to start fresh with the plug-in’s default monochrome conversion.

Noir preset in before & after view

The power of Silver Efex lies in its selective adjustment capabilities. By adding Control Points to any portion of an image, you can fine-tune parameters like Brightness, Contrast, Structure via little slider bars, and view your changes in real time.

In the screen shots below you’ll see how I’ve toned down a distracting hotspot above the grille by adjusting the brightness level.

Click for larger view

For digital to film stock transformations, Silver Efex Pro 2 provides a selection of Film Types which can then be customized right down to the pixel grain size and desired level of grain softness.

Film Types

If you’re familiar with the original release of Silver Efex Pro, you’ll definitely want to upgrade to version 2. 

Here are some of the new features: Intuitive History Browser; Structure and Fine Structure (for enhanced contrast beyond edges); dynamic Soft Contrast & Dynamic Brightness;  Natural Image Borders; Amplify Blacks and Whites; and Selective Color Toning.

The shots below show two examples of Selective Color Toning.

Selective Color Toning

If you want professional black and white results—from film noir to cutting edge—this plug-in can’t be beat.

photo by Derek Pell

Chinatown, 2010