How to Post-Process Your Street Photography into Black & White in Lightroom 5 and Silver Efex Pro 2

My good friend and talented photographer Gary Tyson from F8 Photography in Hong Kong has recently put together a very helpful video on how to convert Fujifilm X-T1 RAW files into black & white with Lightroom 5.4 and Silver Efex Pro 2.

If you are unfamiliar with post-processing your street photography into black & white, the instructions is a great starting point for any camera. You can also download my black & white Neopan 1600 for Lightroom here. You can download all my Lightroom presets for free here.

Also if you want to take your street photography to the next level, don’t miss out on my Hong Kong Intermediate/Advanced Street Photography Workshop with Gary on August 22-24th, 2014.

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If you want to conquer your fears and meet new peers, join me in Stockholm, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, NYC, Istanbul & More!

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  • Ali Shadpour

    I was fixing everything then going to Nik, thanks for posting this!

  • Ilkka

    Not very useful. Use two separate programs and two presets with no information on why and how these have been defined or set up. Basically make your file very flat in Lightroom and then apply a high contrast TMax film preset in Silverefex.
    Sort of like a ten minute video teaching you how to make correctly exposed photographs. And then it says set your ISO to 400 and the exposure mode in your camera to P and then press the shutter button halfway to lock the exposure and then slowly press it down to make the exposure.
    Works nicely most of the time.

  • tobi

    I agree with IIKKA. Especially the “superflat” step would have needed additional explanation to make this post more useful.

    • valzi

      I explained it in a post above, if you’re still interested in seeing how it works.

  • Giovanni

    Agree, too. Like, driving a Ferrari around the same block to go but a pint of milk. Does not explain much, just repeating three times the same basic action like we were all dumb. Also, sloppy work on those highlights. I do not use Silver Efex, but I’m sure it deserves more thorough use…
    Would have liked to see how SilverEfex does things differently than the Lightroom develop mode.
    Sorry, Eric, a bit of editorial tightness on your side would help. Quantity is no substitute for quality.
    You advertise your presets (and thank you of course for putting them out for free), but those are Lightroom babies so what have they got to do with a post that advertises SilverEfex and the magic solution?
    Still, happy Easter to you and all of your readers

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  • valzi

    This post revolutionized my process (at least until I find a problem with it.)

    While I can agree a little bit with those complaining about the vague uselessness of the above post, I can also admit to having learned something very important from this video that they’re not paying attention to:

    If you pause the video when the superflat preset has been applied, you can see exactly what Gary Tyson did to flatten his image. Just copy what he did and adjust it to your preferences, then save the preset. If you primarily work from Silver Efex 2, you now have the only thing you need to do in Lightroom before converting your image to black and white. That superflat preset is rather like developing the film properly prior to printing it with an enlarger. It’s worked nicely for me so far, and I’m grateful for the knowledge. Much better than attempting to make a somewhat good-looking neutral image in Lightroom as I had been doing before sending it to Silver Efex 2.

    Really, this is a huge timesaver and is very useful. Try to find what you can instead of _only_ pointing out what you don’t like (which might also be useful – I’m not saying it isn’t.)

    • Giovanni

      You are right Valzi, there’s always a nugget of good info to be adapted to your needs. I for one am not a SE user and missed that angle. Still, I assume SE to be a fairly sophisticated tool (the Ferrari) and the way it has been shown is so basic that it demonstrates little love for the craft it is supposed to enable.
      Plus I agree with MV above when he doubts it is smart to throw a RAW baby under the bus so fast, the point of RAW is precisely that you can extracts lots of good stuff from the file. But then again, perhaps it would be a duplication of what SE can do, and if you get into SE as your primary developer then LR remains confined to a glorified asset management tool, sort of a filing cabinet for your work.
      But in that case, why tweaking the SE output a tad more once reimported in LR?
      Truth is, we have fantastically sophisticated tools available, and truly using them to their max is a full time job in its own right… plus, they are on purpose built to allow several worklow approaches, to each their own….

      • valzi

        Yes, you described it fairly well, except that this does push most images to their potential, as far as I can tell.

        I agree about RAW. It’s unfortunate that SE cannot correct lens distortion and is not a RAW converter, or I’d simply throw away Lightroom altogether. SE makes much better images, for me, than I have ever been able to make in Lightroom and much more easily (without presets.)

        For Gary’s process, I made my own preset which simply applies my standard processing style in a way that strongly resembles my developed film. Working without a personal preset lessens your consistency and increases your time spent (by a LOT.) After applying the preset, I usually have to alter a few minor things (mostly color conversions and structure sliders), but the consistency remains and little time is lost. This prevents me from “polishing a turd” and allows me to spend more time shooting instead.

        The tweaking of SE output in Lightroom is unnecessary. The same settings can be applied in SE. Gary must have just wanted to change his image a little more at that point, when he first started doing this.

        Gary pointed out that different workflows work for different people. He introduced the video by explaining this was just the way he personally works.

      • valzi

        Also, read my new post above summarizing the video and explaining its advantages if you want to see exactly what I mean.

    • Ilkka

      Ok. But if somebody makes a 10 minute video to teach how to use LR and SE2 to post process images, I should not need to stop the movie and squint at the small screen and try to figure out what his settings are. That is not teaching, that is learning on your own. And there are better ways to learn than this.
      At the end of the day, this is an advertisement to take their workshop. This does not encourage me at all to do so.

      • valzi

        He clearly states at the beginning of the video that he’s explaining his personal process. Yes, I wish he had gone into more detail and felt a bit shorted because of that. However, he did explain what he was doing in a way that anyone who already understands how the programs work or anyone who understands how film photography works. He said he flattens his images in Lightroom and then uses a push process preset to process them after that. That’s very simple and easy to follow, though it’s certainly lacking in depth.

        • Guest

          See my new post above summarizing the video and explaining its advantages.

      • valzi

        Take a look at my new post above summarizing the video and explaining its advantages.

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  • MV

    LR works with all that RAW data your expensive camera had been capturing – Silver Efex doesn’t (which is why Gary flattens the image). For changing the exposure on specific parts of the image, this is massively important… though I do prefer SE’s ‘zones’ system for control, rather than Adobe’s cack-handed approached with rulers and brushes.

    The point stands though that if you value image quality, it makes sense to keep your flow in LR for as long as possible and just use SE for the final polish.

    PS I found Gary’s results too bunched up and contrasty, but that’s just taste.

    • Giovanni

      Hi MV, sound like you are endorsing a careful mixing of the two tools…
      Perhaps handle the majority of your images in LR only (good enough) and then leaving SE to do precision handling of your best shots?
      I have tried to keep things simple and find LR does a more than decent job by itself, but sounds like I’m missing something here…

    • valzi

      From a technical viewpoint, I completely agree with you, MV. From a practical viewpoint (what process actually creates the best images, in my own personal experience), I prefer the method I described above (which is clearer explanation of Gary’s process.) I would like to improve upon that method by making Silver Efex a RAW converter and adding lens correction to it. That’s really all it needs to retain the advantages of Lightroom’s RAW handling.

  • valzi

    The takeaway:
    Here’s a fast summary of the above video as it applies to you, plus a few details left out of it.

    1. Adjust exposure, white balance, and camera calibration in Lightroom, if necessary.
    2. Flatten your image in Lightroom. (Use a preset you made to flatten your image because this speeds up your process.) Gary’s settings: -73 contrast, -25 highlights, 37, shadows, and 13 blacks. This works well on my Fuji X100 and his Fuji X-T1 photos, but you’ll need to adjust these numbers based on your camera. Flattening the image is a way to bring most of the relevant RAW data into your editing plugin (in this case, Silver Efex.) It’s just a teensy bit like using RAW instead of a .tif file)
    3. Load your personal custom preset in Silver Efex.To make this preset, process your image as you normally would, without making image-specific tweaks. Now, you should save a preset. (He happens to use push process 3 and then makes the same adjustment
    every time, which means he should just save a preset that includes that
    adjustment.)
    4. Adjust your image in whatever ways you need to for that individual image. Personally, I usually need to tweak the color conversion sliders and sometimes the structure sliders.

    This process works as nicely with Color Efex, for example, as it does with Silver Efex.

    Main advantages:
    1. Consistency.
    2. Fast processing
    3. Encourages you to spend less time processing and more time shooting.

    Main disadvantages
    1. You’re not working solely with RAW data, which means that some extremes are lost in Silver Efex. Sometimes those extremes might be the best possible place for your image to end up in. This should be very rare, but if it happens, you can skip or alter this workflow.
    2. It discourages tweaking your images as carefully and discourages spending time trying different processing possibilities. This is only a disadvantage if your process isn’t ready/good enough to be consistent yet. I plan to tweak my Silver Efex preset until I’m working on a series, at which time I will have to solidify it. Then for the next series, I can change it again if I need to.

  • Dave!

    You could always just shoot black and white film.

    I really don’t like digital black and white images, one of the few advantages (outside convenience) in using digital as a medium is the ability to manipulate colour almost infinitely. So I don’t see the point in converting to black and white and losing that freedom when the black and white conversions look so poor in relation to film.

    The artificial grain and highlights in digital black and white conversions always look bad. Plus everything looks too contrasty. So much detail is missing, that you can only go for that one extreme look. You loose so much in the highlights.

    I don’t think street photography has the same time constraints as other types of photography, so why bother with digital if you want a black and white look in the first place?

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