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Deconstructing presets

From: Nik Creative Effects Workshop

Video: Deconstructing presets

One of the really cool things about a good black and white conversion is that it is easy to take a sky like this. Well admittedly, it's quite dynamic because of all the clouds that we see, it's actually quite flat and converting that sky into something really, really interesting. We're going to do this work using Nik's Silver Efex PRO 2. If you don't know exactly what to do to get your skies, then the best thing to do is to go to the Presets and start looking for some that make a good starting point. And then, deconstructing the image to figure out what went in to making that Preset. Once you figure that out, then you can do it on your own.

Deconstructing presets

One of the really cool things about a good black and white conversion is that it is easy to take a sky like this. Well admittedly, it's quite dynamic because of all the clouds that we see, it's actually quite flat and converting that sky into something really, really interesting. We're going to do this work using Nik's Silver Efex PRO 2. If you don't know exactly what to do to get your skies, then the best thing to do is to go to the Presets and start looking for some that make a good starting point. And then, deconstructing the image to figure out what went in to making that Preset. Once you figure that out, then you can do it on your own.

This is a pretty good example here, where we can see that the sky itself has gone almost black yet the clouds are really puffy and white and bright. So, let's take a look at what went into making this Preset and see if we can reproduce this on our own. An easy way to do this is to start by closing all of the different collections of Effects over here, on the right-hand side. Then turn them off one by one to see what makes a difference. So, let's see, there's no finishing adjustments. It looks like there is a little bit of a film-type effect in there, but it really wasn't making that big of a difference so we'll leave that off.

No Color filters apparently and the Selective Adjustments have been off as well. So, that just leaves the Global Adjustments and this is where we're going to find most of the settings that we need to give an effect like this. If these aren't currently open, in order words, if it looks like this, your Brightness, your Contrast, and your Structure slider, you're missing most of the important details about this Control panel. As you can see, by toggling each one of these open, we gain a series of extra controls over the Brightness, the Contrast, and the Structure. And this is where the real dynamic work comes in for working on skies like this.

So once again, what we want to do is deconstruct this. We'll start by looking at each slider and see what's been affected. An easy way to see if it makes a difference is just like turning off the adjustments as we did down here, is simply resetting individual slider. The Global Adjustment here is separate and unique from the sliders underneath. So, if I reset this by double tapping on it, you'll see it goes to 0. And while it makes a change in the image, it's not a huge change. So, this isn't the slider that is giving us this really dynamic skies. Highlights is already at 0, Midtone is down a little bit, let's reset that.

Small change, but nothing huge. Shadow is at 0 and Dynamic Brightness is at minus 60. That's a pretty big change so let's see what happens if we reset that. Aha, so there's the part of the puzzle. As we can see, the Dynamic Brightness slider has managed to give a pretty dynamic sky in here. Now, what's actually happening? Well, the Dynamic Brightness slider is kind of like overall brightness, except that it's very intelligent and that instead of taking the overall brightness of the whole image and bringing it down, what it does is it holds on to the brightest highlights. So, as I slide this down, notice that the bright Highlight and Texture detail in the clouds up here are being held onto, while the rest of the image gets darker. So, that's a big part of this puzzle, but it's not everything. Let's keep looking.

Under Contrast, it's up a little bit. We'll reset that. Yeah, not that big of a change. Amplify Whites is at 0, Amplify Blacks is quite high, so chances are, this is going to be effective, let's see. Yep, there's another big one. So, Amplify Blacks in combination with Dynamic Brightness has taken the darker areas of our sky and made them even darker. Let's make sure there's nothing else at play here. So, our Contrast is at 0 and Structure is all at 0. Great. So now, we know that the primary sliders for making the sky like this go really dynamic is the Dynamic Brightness and the Amplified Blacks. So, let's start from scratch.

Go to the top of our Preset and choose the Neutral one, which is effectively setting everything to 0. Now ,we can take that Dynamic Brightness. Drop that down. Take our Amplify Blacks, and drag that up. And very quickly, you end up with a pretty dynamic and interesting sky. Of course, it's easy to overdo it. And if you do too much, then you're going to start to see some texture coming in from the original image and some haloing around the bright and dark areas that probably isn't going to look very good. So, as with everything, you'll want to take it a little bit slow and figure out exactly what's going to work best for your particular shot.

And don't forget, you still have the control points in here, which will allow you to add localized control over specific areas. So, for example, let's say that I really wanted to bring this area of the cloud out a little bit stronger than it is right now. I'll open up Selective Adjustments and add a control point to the clouds here. I can adjust the Size of that and then take the Brightness up or down. Or in this case, I want to take the Contrast and bring that up a little bit. Let's make a bright spot on that cloud really, really bright. We can also take the Structure and increase the Sharpness around the edges of the clouds in here. That can be a really cool effect, but once again, overdone. It's going to make the original noise in the photo come through really really strong. That may be fine if that's the look that you're after. But if you don't want a grainy-looking image, you want to be careful with the Structure slider.

Let's add another control point to the edge of the arch here. As we can see, it's clearly gotten very dark, and it's completely in shadow. So, I'll add another control point here, make that a little bit bigger and take the Brightness out. Maybe I'll add a little bit of Contrast in there as well, take the Brightness back down a touch. And in this case, I think I will add a little bit of structure. As you can see, this metal surface has been made to look even more metallic by taking the Structure up a bit. Great. I love it. Now, we're done. Go ahead and click Save. And you're done with your dynamic sky. So once again, any time you're trying to figure out how to create an effect, start by using the Presets. Once you find one that's close to the look that you're after, deconstruct it. Go through it one slider at a time, finding exactly which sliders are having the most impact.

Once you figure that out, you can create your own effects starting from scratch.

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Nik Creative Effects Workshop

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Joseph Linaschke
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