As a lover of black and white images I finally succumbed recently and took the plunge with Silver Efex Pro which is just one part of the fantastic package within the Nik software package, but I've found to get the best from it there's a couple of steps or so needed in Lightroom to get the best from it.
Your exposure, white balance, and camera calibration need adjustment in Lightroom to offer a flat image to get the best from processing in Silver Efex.
Flattening the image is a method to bring most of the relevant RAW data into Silver Efex. It's a little like using RAW instead of a .tif file. In Lightroom the option to create a preset offers you the option for save and use for future images which helps to speed up your process in future.
My own personal LR settings are as follows:
-73 contrast -25 highlights +37 shadows +13 blacks.
This works well for a good percentage of images with my Fuji X-Pro1, but you may need to adjust these numbers based on your camera.
Once this has been done you can load your image into Silver Efex and create your perfect black & white image.
Creating your black & white image
Once your image is open in Silver Efex you can start to work your image. There's a couple of options to do this, either through the custom selection points or through the use of a preset template. I tend to start with the push process 3 template, and once selected tweak to suit the individual image. For instance I choose the Kodak 100 TMAX Pro film type and adjust the grain per pixel to suit.
A great option with Silver Efex is the ability to save custom presets allowing you to make the same adjustment each time. To make a preset, process your image as you normally would, without making image-specific tweaks and once happy with the image save as a custom preset. The next time you open Silver Efex Pro your preset will be waiting for you. This is great as it means you can kind of add or take away from your basic set up to suit as you wish, and simply apply to any open image and even tweak further from there.
Once your image is adjusted to however you feel looks right for the individual image, it can then be saved and once back in Lightroom any further tweaks to exposure or contrast can be made from there.
Presets are perfect for increasing your workflow as well as creating a more uniform body of work with each image you create having a similar feel and texture as the one before and the one after. This is important for wedding photographers for example who process hundreds of images at a time, needing both speed to process and a look that isn't too different from image to image.
That's how I'm getting to grips with Silver Efex along with Lightroom. I certainly haven't managed to master it yet, but I feel a lot more in control of the process than I was. So, how are you processing your black and white images? Do you have any suggestions or thoughts about it? I'd love to hear them.