Using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for dull colour images

A Black and white tool for colour contrast enhancement.

Colour images on cloudy days rarely have the punch that I’d like (for architectural photos for example).

Whilst there are a lot of filters you can apply (see my Nik Color Efex 4 and Tiffen Dfx filter 3 reviews), they easily fall into the ‘too many options’ problem, where you are spoilt for choice. Unless you use them a lot, it’s difficult to visualise a path through to the image you want.

It so happens that I often use Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 to produce my black and white prints. With care, you can avoid sharpening halos and all the egregious excesses of some ‘HDR style’ photos.

But what of colour?

Here’s a typical colour image from a dull day – converted from a RAW file to give a full range of tones, with no clipping of highlights or shadows.

It was a wet morning on the North Cornish coast…

North Cornish coast

First up, I’ll run the Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin to get a black and white version. I’ve lightly boosted contrast and local contrast (structure), whilst a yellow filter has darkened the blue parts of the sky.

black and white conversion

Next I’ll change the blending mode of the new  (converted) B&W layer to luminance (note that you can turn down the effect with the opacity of this layer.

luminance adjustment layer added

I’m very much aware of potential edge artefacts (such as halos) so I run over obvious areas in a mask applied to the Silver Efex Pro B&W layer.

Note that I’ve set the mask channel to visible here, so that where I’m painting the layer out, it temporarily shows as red.

masking out excess edge ehancement

Then I’ve added a vibrance adjustment layer to give a bit more colour to the image.

A few minor tweaks (colour balance, levels) and I have an image that looks much more how I felt it did, without too much of the obvious HDR look.

added vibrance adjustment

I’ve deliberately ‘overcooked’ some of the adjustments here to show the effect, but using a plugin such as Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 to enhance colour images is a useful tool – particularly since you can easily alter the mask, to apply the effects to particular areas of an image.

There are many ways of achieving similar effects just using Photoshop, but I thought I’d share this particular idea.

PS I’d much rather work in better light, but I do a lot of my photography in the UK ;-)