Customizing the Preset
Once you find a preset you like, you can close the presets area by clicking the small triangle icon in the divider area, then open up the primary controls by clicking on the triangle (on the opposite side of the window). This will allow you to keep the larger preview open while you customize the look of your photograph. I also like to use the “Fit” magnification, so I can close the Navigator panel, allowing me to reveal more controls on the right side of the UI as I work (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Perfect B&W has a large array of tone and color controls, as well as options like border settings, to customize each preset to a high degree.
First, take note of which control groups are active by looking for the “on” setting next to each panel name. Here the Glow and Vignette settings have been applied, as well as settings in the Tone and Color Response panels. Let’s take a look at each of these to get a sense for how the plugin works.
The Tone panel (see Figure 4) is where you make global adjustments to things like Brightness, Contrast, and details in the Highlights and Shadows. If you’ve already processed your file in a raw editor or in another plugin, chances are you won’t need to make big changes here. For this case, I reduced the Brightness slightly to enhance the “shot under moonlight” effect. I then boosted the Shadows value to reveal some of the lost shadow details in the background and on the rocks, as well as reduce the contrast slightly, as it was already very high; this step smoothed out the details a bit more.
Figure 4 The Tone panel provides a good opportunity to tweak previously set brightness and contrast levels in the shot, when necessary.
Color Response Panel
The Color Response panel (see Figure 5) is unquestionably my favorite because it allows you to wield the most control over the look of your black and white photo, by creating simulated “color filtration” effects. You start off with something called an “Auto Mix,” which is part of what generates the look of the presets. You can either uncheck that and move the settings around individually, or click through each one of the color filter icons, seeing how it changes the look of the photo. From there, you can customize the “filter preset” you like best.
For this example, I chose to work with each control individually to get the effect I wanted. By reducing the Red and Yellow values, I reduced the brightness on the rocks and in the water’s reflections, further providing the illusion of faint overhead lights hitting a darkly lit, partially reflective subject. I then boosted the Greens slightly to add some reflective quality to the leaves in the background bushes. By giving a big boost to the Cyans and Blues, I revealed more detail in the waterfalls and bubbling creek as well. The last step was reducing the Magenta value; this toned down the rocks in the foreground a bit without over-darkening their details.
Figure 5 The Color Response controls are a great way to control the contrast in different parts of a photograph.
The Glow panel (see Figure 6) controls are part of what gives this preset the look of a “moonlit” shot. When we open the panel, we see it contains three simple controls: a Blend Mode, an Amount (or Strength) setting, and a Halo value. Combining these in different ways can further enhance our moonlight effect. Typically, only four of the Blend Modes are going to lend themselves to photographic purposes, using this particular preset: Multiply, Screen, Overlay, and Soft Light.
I stuck with Overlay (although Soft Light worked well too), and tweaked the default settings slightly, reducing the Halo amount slightly to accent the glow in the water. Remember that blend modes can have different effects on different presets because they’re combined with other settings that impact exposure and contrast.
Figure 6 The Glow panel can be useful in some scenarios for creating soft, glow-like structures in darkly lit shots.
The Vignette panel (see Figure 7) is important for this example as well, because if this shot were truly taken under moonlight, the edges would be even darker than what the preset defines. Here I took the Brightness way down, and reduced the Size significantly a well. I also made minor tweaks to Feather and Roundness (which defines the boundary and transition zone of where the vignette is applied). This gives the water an inky black quality in some places, simultaneously enhancing the glow effect we created in the prior steps.
In Figure 7, you can see that the initial impression given by the preset has been strongly enhanced. All that’s left from here is to make some small local adjustments. It’s worth nothing that the initial photo that was used for this workflow, was an HDR-processed shot. This can sometimes improve your black and white shots because a wider dynamic range is available in the photo you’re converting to black and white. You can learn more about HDR workflows from Nik in this Informit article.
Figure 7 The Vignette effect is very important for a large number of presets, especially any that mimic older photographic types, darkly lit shots, and the like.