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I would like to explore further in the world of black and white photography, and I would like advice on if it is worthwhile to invest in post-processing programs such as PS Lightroom or Silver Efex Pro 2 for my pics.

What are the key differences between these programs (and other options) for black and white? What are their strengths and weaknesses in these areas?

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5  
What have you used for post-processing so far? –  Mart Oruaas Apr 25 '11 at 11:19
    
I really like that followup question as it's important to understand how you are used to editing, to help decide what might be a good step for you now. –  Kendall Helmstetter Gelner Apr 26 '11 at 2:04
    
Hi Mart Oruaas, i already have a copy of PS Elements 9 ..but the options for B&W controls seems quite limited .. ie i just cant achieve the "depth" of a picture that i wana achieve ... –  Rick Ong Apr 26 '11 at 2:26

3 Answers 3

Addressing "Key Differences"

Lightroom is a digital asset manager/raw image processor primarily and one of its features is to be able to turn color images into black & white. But not just by desaturating; rather, Lightroom allows you to exercise quite a bit of control over what tones are emphasized. However, my feeling about using Lightroom for this is that while I may get what I want, it's not much like black & white photography where you used various (necessarily limited by technology) tools to achieve a specific effect. Instead of saying "I want to get incredibly dramatic skies, so I'll slap on a red or yellow filter, you just zing the targeted adjustments around for a while until you like what you see.

Silver Efex is (again, in my opinion) more closely modeling the way a photographer using film and filters would have conceived an image. There are still lots of sliders that work in the familiar digital photography model, but the concept is, "hey, here's a scene and it won't look quite right without some filtration and contrast adjustment" so you solve the problem from that angle.

Both NIK and Adobe allow you to download a free trial copy, so if you try these tools out and don't like them, no harm done. They'll just expire. If you love them, buy them. You may find you love both of them for different reasons. Good luck.

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I think the key advantage is like that of buying "preset packs". Lightroom and other general purpose photography software can do anything. That's very powerful, but it turns out there are certain specific subsets of "anything" which generally produce nice black and white conversion results.

These subsets either emulate some classic black and white film, or produce another generally-appealing look. If you're editing curves by yourself without much guidance on how that should work, it's easy to go way off the rails (see my last example in that link).

So, there's an advantage in having someone who knows what they're doing pre-select some subset of "anything possible", and to design an interface focused around sensible changes within those constraints. It's basically that expertise which you are buying with your extra dollars.

Dedicated black-and-white conversion software (either stand-alone or plugins for other packages) offers several things, then:

  • One click selection of some of these pre-packaged "looks"
  • Some flexibility for adjusting parameters within those confines
  • Possibly, tools particularly designed with black and white conversion in mind — for example, tools for working with the zone system are often featured (as they are in Silver Efex, or the now-defunct LightZone).
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Lightroom doesn't really have a lot of tools especially meant for B&W work, if you already have an image editor it may not do much more than what you can do now.

Silver EFX has a lot of powerful tools targeted at just B&W conversion, along with a lot of presets to give you a good starting place for an image, and a chance to think over different effects that might be possible. I also really like the "u-control" technology they have, basically the chance to influence a range of tones without affecting too much other nearby dissimilar tones, it makes targeted changes to areas of an image easier than with masking.

One reason to get Lightroom (or Aperture) is that the Lightroom/Aperture plugins are cheaper than the version that has full photoshop support.

One other tip: Sign up for any SilverEFX webinar, and you'll get a discount code you can use to buy the software.

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Lightroom, while perhaps not up to the level of Silver EFX, has tons of features helpful for B&W over a regular image editor such as greyscale mix, fill light, blacks, split-toning, curves, local adjustments, etc. –  Eruditass Apr 25 '11 at 22:25
    
That is true of most image editors though, which is why I included the note that LR may not give you much more "if you already have an image editor". In SilverEFX, all of the adjustments are targeted at a B&W specific result, and as such the SilverEFX gives a better range of control... also local adjustments in any of the Nik tools are quite a bit more advanced than just the local adjustments Lightroom supports. –  Kendall Helmstetter Gelner Apr 26 '11 at 2:03
    
Hi Kendall Helmsteeter, thanks for your comment, appreciate the "special discount" advice... –  Rick Ong Apr 26 '11 at 2:29
    
I was just stating that in my experience, the other editors I used did not have those features, though your experience is obviously contrary. As for SilverEFX, from what I have seen, you can do most of it in lightroom (control points, color filters, etc = local adjustments), but it's just much harder. Do you have any specific examples/videos of what Silver EFX can do that is impossible in LR? –  Eruditass Apr 26 '11 at 3:31
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Nothing is impossible to do in Lightroom. SilverFX just makes it WAY easier. Except possibly very small targeted adjustments to specific regions of images since the LR control points do not behave like the SilverEFX control points and I don' think can target tones in a small region in the same way SilverEFX (or any of the Nik tools) can... Watch some of the tutorial videos for SilverEFX and see for yourself. –  Kendall Helmstetter Gelner Apr 26 '11 at 3:43

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