I have had a lot of interest in the mini-review that I posted on Nik Silver EFEX Pro 3.0 that I posted a while back. The vast majority of readers have asked if I have ever used it to produce work for public consumption vs. crappy test images posted in the review. More so readers wanted some practical advise on getting decent prints on paper.
To answer part one - yes I have used it to produce non-crappy, well at least in my opinion, prints. Earlier this summer I produced two gigantic prints using Silver EFEX Pro printed on Museo Silver Rag. The prints are fantastic and look about as good as black and white gets using any medium. I plan on donating them to the community fund raiser - people love local photography, but that is a topic for another day. The images used for the prints are the one at the top of the post and this one:
Both images are small versions of the actual settings used for the prints and therefore are not really optimized for display. They have a lot of things in common and that brings us to part two of the question - getting decent prints on paper.
The most gigantic hurdle for a lot of photographers that "grew up" digital is getting decent prints. The sequence goes something like this - that looks good, print, "hey WTF this looks like crap on paper, how come it is so different", then they go nuts on color management (usually not a huge issue in this day and age and usually not the root of the issue), still looks like crap, boost contrast, boost saturation, boost everything - hey it's "better" but still sucks, just in a different way - all the detail is gone - no subtle tones, etc, etc.
Here is the facts - looking at images on the screen is like looking at slides on a light box - you have like 1000:1 contrast ratio between blacks and whites. On paper you are lucky to get like 100:1 in fantastic light with a perfect print. This is the root of the issue and something good black and white print folks have understood since the beginning of time. How to translate the real world that has a contrast ratio of like 1,000,000:1 onto paper with a contrast ratio orders of magnitude lower. The answer is not to lower the contrast of the scene and just put that onto paper as is - it will look hmmmm - FLAT. Lowering the contrast of the scene gets the image on film or sensor without blown out highlights or blocked up shadows but that is just the beginning. The answer is not boost the overall contrast so Â that the print has no detail in the shadows and highlights. The answer is local contrast.
On to some practical advise - remember my rant about the lame dodge/burn tool? Again this is fundamental for good prints. Good prints have boat loads of local contrast in zones 3 to 7 or in digital speak about a quarter way into the histogram to about three quarters the way into the histogram. Maybe a little more either way. with tiny bits and pieces of stuff sprinkled in all over the place representing the bottom quarter and top quarter of the histogram. Histograms are all well and good but they tell you nothing about WHERE the tonal values are in relation to each other. I can show you two different images with the same exact histogram where one looks flat and the other looks fantastic. Just because your histogram looks "right" doesn't mean your print will look right or be good.
In the mini-review of Silver EFEX I raved about the little zone tool at the bottom left of all the tools. Here is why - after making decent prints for 20 years I still use this thing (or things like it) to make sure my eyes are not tricking me because I am looking at the image on the screen at 1000:1 contrast ratio. The two images posted have a couple things in common from an analytical perspective. The big thing is that they both have 80%+ of the tones between zone 3 and zone 7 on the little tool. Â The next thing is they both have way way less than 1% in zone 1 - this is as black as you can get - DMAX in old chemical speak. Oh and they both have absolutely NO zone 10 or paper white, not one pixel. This may or may not be appropriate for your image. For these it is. The other zones (mostly 8 and 2) are sprinkled about the very lightest and darkest areas in tiny little amounts adding to the local contrast. There are no large areas that are zone 8 or 9. The bright areas have the illusion of being fantastically bright because they are next to areas that are like zone 4 and 5. Trust me the magic all happens in zone 6 and 7.
If I pushed the highlight values one more zone the clouds would look like they were made out of concrete instead of water vapor. It's not the absolute value it's the tonal value that happens to be next to each other that give the impression of contrast and bright/darkness.
Hope this helps at all.