Silver Efex Pro is a name most photographers who have been around for a while are familiar with. Particularly those who have dabbled with black and white photography.

You see, it’s been considered the go-to software for black & white photography for more than a decade now. Photographers of all levels have it as an integral part of their post-processing workflow.

But what exactly is it? Do you really need it? If so, how do you use it to create stunning black and white images?

That, and more, is exactly what you’ll learn in this Silver Efex Pro 3 review:

What is Silver Efex Pro 3?

Silver Efex Pro is by many considered the holy grail of post-processing software for black & white photographers.

It’s part of the popular Nik Collection 5 (click here to download a free 30-day trial with full access or read our Nik Collection review here) and along with Color Efex Pro 5, it’s seen as the most important plugin of the collection.

The concept (convert and edit black and white photography) is quite simple but there’s more to it than what first meets the eye. However, in this case, advanced doesn’t mean difficult.

What I mean by this is that you have the option to use a preset, manually adjust a series of effects, or a combination of both. It’s the latter that’s most popular amongst intermediate photographers as it allows them to optimize each setting for the specific photo.   

Silver Efex Pro 3 Interface and User Experience

Those that have used either Color Efex Pro 5 or Viveza 3 will find the Silver Efex Pro 3 interface quite familiar.

The layout is built up of six sections:

  1. The Menu Bar
  2. The Upper Toolbar
  3. The Image Display Area
  4. The Left Panel
  5. The Right Panel
  6. The Lower Toolbar

I won’t go into the details and contents of each tab here (take a look at the user manual if you want that) but there are some things that are good to know.

The left panel is where you find a list of all the presets. What I like about this tab is that the presets are presented as image preview thumbnails. In other words, they give you a preview of what your image will look like with that preset applied. This makes it easy to find one that you like.

To activate a preset all you need to do is click on its thumbnail. Your image will automatically update and so will the value of the sliders that are found in the right panel. If needed, you can make further adjustments to the sliders. The adjustments are live, which means the image in the display area is updated immediately.

Nik Silver Efex Pro 3 Interface
The layout of Nik Silver Efex Pro 3

Using Presets in Silver Efex Pro 3

Presets play a big role in Silver Efex Pro. Perhaps more than they do in any other photo editor. In fact, a lot of photographers find the results to be satisfying just after using a preset.

As of writing this, there are 64 presets to choose between. These are all unique and vary from neutral (i.e., no adjustments besides the monochrome conversion) to high contrast, grainy, and sepia. In other words, there are presets for everyone.

Just because there’s a preset for everyone doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to use them all. After using Silver Efex Pro for a little, you’ll quickly find your go-to presets. Click on the star icon next to the preset thumbnail to save them as favorites. By doing so, you don’t have to scroll through the entire list each time you want to use them.

Using Presets in Silver Efex Pro 3
Using Presets in Silver Efex Pro 3

Note: I was planning on writing about “The Best Presets in Silver Efex Pro” but, quite honestly, it’s impossible to curate that list. Every photograph is different and every photographer has different preferences. There isn’t “one preset to rule them all”.

How to Create Presets in Silver Efex Pro 3

As I just mentioned above, every photographer has their own preferences. Even though each photo is unique, we tend to apply a similar look to our work. That’s when making your own preset becomes useful.

Creating presets in Silver Efex Pro is quite straightforward and all you have to do is follow these steps:

  1. Apply adjustments using the sliders in the right panel. There’s no need to use every adjustment; only apply those that make the image look good.
  2. Click the “Save Preset” button at the bottom of the panel
  3. Enter the desired name in the dialogue box. Make sure to give it a name that describes the look it gives or the effects it has.
  4. Check “Save with Control Points” if you want the control points to be included.
  5. Click “Save

Your new preset can now be found in the Custom section in the left panel. The name can be changed by clicking on the text and writing in the new one. You can also click the star icon to save it as a favorite (which can be handy when you have many filters)

Keep in mind that you should still refine the adjustments after applying a preset. Make the changes necessary to make each image look as good as possible.

How to Import Presets in Silver Efex Pro

Purchasing presets for Lightroom is quite common and there is an abundance of providers (both photographers and companies) out there. This isn’t quite the case for plugins in the Nik Collection. A quick google search shows that there’s not much on the market.

That being said, importing presets is still an option. It’s just as easy as creating them:

  1. Locate the “Imported” section in the left panel
  2. Click on the double arrow icon and select “Import Preset” in the pop-up menu
  3. Navigate to the preset file in the new window that opens, select it and click “Open

The imported preset(s) will now be visible in the Imported section. Again, you can change the name and save a preset as a favorite.

Create Selective Adjustments Using Control Points

Many of you are familiar with Layers and Masks from Adobe Photoshop and other advanced post-processing tools. This isn’t a function found in any of the Nik Collection plugins.

Instead, they use something called Control Points. These are similar to masks and can be used to apply adjustments to only specific areas within the image.

Those that are familiar with Control Points from Color Efex Pro will find that the options and function is slightly different in Silver Efex Pro. It’s still used to apply adjustments locally but you’re not able to remove them from places.

Control Points in Silver Efex Pro 3
Control Points in Silver Efex Pro 3

Control Points can be found inside the Selective Adjustments tab in the right panel. To create one you need to first click on the icon, and then on the area within the photo where you want it.

A new list of sliders can now be found beneath the Selective Adjustments tab in the right panel (segmented into the Color Selectivity and Selective Tones categories) Any change you make to these sliders will only be visible inside the Control Point.

Don’t forget that you can move and resize a Control Point after it’s created. Just click on its icon (the little grey circle on the photo) and move it where you want. It’s also possible to create multiple Control Points (and duplicate the ones you already have)

Conclusion

Now to the million-dollar question: Who is Silver Efex Pro for?

The short answer: Silver Efex Pro 3 is for photographers who wish to create beautiful monochrome photography.

The long answer: I truly believe that the majority of photographers who are interested in black and white photography will find Silver Efex Pro to be a great addition to their toolset. It’s been trusted by photographers for well over a decade and I don’t see this change any time soon.

Lightroom, Photoshop, and other photo editors all have tools to convert and process monochrome images but they tend to either lack functionalities or be too complicated to use.

Silver Efex Pro is not particularly difficult to use. But it is advanced enough to give you full control of the process (and even the possibility of selectively applying the adjustments) You don’t need much experience to get the most out of it.

The main downside is that you can’t get Silver Efex Pro without purchasing the entire Nik Collection. Even though all eight plugins are worth having, you might not find them useful if you’re here just for monochrome photography.

On the fence about whether to get Silver Efex Pro or not? Then I strongly suggest downloading the free 30-day trial to see if it fits your needs.


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Nik Silver Efex Pro Review