Photo-Editing Program Plug-Ins to Enhance Your Photography

When I first converted to “digital” imaging, I also converted from having a lab develop my film prints to using Photoshop Elements (version 1.0) and Photoshop (version 4.0) to help me maximize my photographs and print them. Digital cameras became more sophisticated, digital SLRs were introduced, and with them came advanced versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. As I advanced my camera purchases and became more prolific than ever before with my photography, I found I had to learn new skills for my “digital darkroom”. I spent untold hours trying to learn everything Photoshop & Elements could do. You might wonder why I had both levels of programs on my computers. I found they had different tools and capabilities, each of which had their place depending on my intent with a photograph.

Then I discovered “Plug-ins”. “Plug-ins” are programs that add new features and capabilities to your photo-editing program. Whether you use Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Corel Photo Paint, Ulead PhotoImpact, or some other photo-editing program, these plug-ins are usually added to your program’s “filter” or “effect” menu. Some of these are also stand alone programs as well as being a plug-in. Some offer both in one package while others require you to choose whether you want it to be stand-alone or a plug-in.

At first, I was leery of spending my hard earned dollars for these “plug-ins”. I looked at the capabilities of the filters included in my Photoshop/Elements programs and knew I was not fully exploiting all the features that I had for no more money than the program had already cost me. I struggled to emulate the effects I was seeing other people accomplish. I began to realize that they were making these effects in less time and with greater success than I was because they had these “plug-ins”.

There are many commercial plug-ins available to use with your photo-editing program. Some cost a lot of money and may not be used often. In choosing your plug-ins you need to set criteria about your use of them and how much time each one you purchase will save you. That translates into more time you can be out shooting photographs and less time in front of the computer doing “digital darkroom” work. And I would always rather be out taking my photographs than sitting in front of a computer!

You might also ask yourself, why would I use a photo-editing program and a digital darkroom if I am taking good quality photographs to begin with. Photo-editing programs allow us to accomplish one of two goals:

1) Take a well composed, quality photograph and make it look more like what you remember seeing or feeling at the time you made the actual photograph. What a camera lens sees and what our eyes see can be markedly different. The feeling, the mood, the moment is not always recorded on the film as we see it.

2) Turn the well composed, quality photograph into what you wish the moment had reflected when you took the picture. As long as you admit you are doing “digital art”, and not trying to say the result is an untouched photograph, there is nothing wrong with the changes made in Photoshop or other photo editing programs.

Plug-ins make it easier for you to accomplish either of these two goals. I have listed three of my favorites below. Most plug-ins will offer a free demo for a limited time so you can try them out and see how they work for you. I set my criteria for purchase:

1) Saves time;
2) Makes a specific action easier;
3) Accomplishes a technique not in existing programs;
4) Accomplishes a technique I am been unable to master;

AutoFX Software
AutoFX Photo/Graphic Edges Version 6.0: This plug in is a stand alone or plug-in in one package. It offers over 10,000 artistic looks you can apply to photos to be more creative. In this package there are tools that allow you to brush on edges and effects, or, if you prefer, single click effects that will make your photographs look very professional without a lot of time and effort on your part. Auto FX offers a demo version, samples and complete product details on their website.

AutoFX Mystical Lighting: This plug-in contains 16 visual effects with over 400 presets for an infinite variety of results. Its interface provides numerous options for each effect. You can preview each adjustment before you accept and make those changes as well. It has powerful features (layers, unlimited ‘undos’, visual pre-sets, masking and dynamic effect controls) that makes exploring and applying effects fun and easy to achieve professional results.

Nik Multimedia Software
Nik Color Efex Pro version 2.0 is a plugin that offers a wide range of filters and effects that make enhancing and transforming your images easier and better. There are three collections that vary in price in order to suit your budget and needs:
1) Color Efex Pro Standard Edition
2) Color Efex Pro Select Edition
3) Color Efex Pro Complete Edition

It used to take me hours to accomplish with the existing filters in Photoshop what I do in seconds in this plug in and now with greater accuracy and ease. This is probably my most favorite plug-in package of all. With these filters, you can apply the effects selectively to certain areas of your photograph or apply the effect universally over the whole photograph. I have included a photograph of a yard of flowers in the “P-Patch” in Seattle, Washington. I converted the color photograph to Black and White in Color Efex (applied universally), and then erased selective flowers to allow the colors to be seen. This makes a striking contrast to the black and white photograph, leading the eye around the yard of flowers. This also worked well in the photograph of a young woman, again converted universally from a color photograph to black and white, then, using a brush, I erased the filter to allow the color of her lips, eyes and necklace to shine through. There are many other opportunities to apply these filters selectively or universally.

There are hundreds of plug-ins on the market. Some are free, some cost small amounts of money and some are very expensive. Before adding any plug-ins to your photo-editing program, identify your needs and try out the demo packages. Some of these cost as much or more than your photo-editing program. But the ones that accomplish your goals and give you satisfaction are worth every penny you spend on them.

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