10 Essential Plug-Ins For Pro Results

Plug-ins provide fast, fun and effective ways to get stellar results from your image enhancements. Designed with simplicity in mind, the best plug-ins are by no means any less effective than Photoshop. Unlike the limitless possibilities of Photoshop, they’re designed from the ground up as singular solutions for specific problems, and performing image edits is often as simple as one-two-three. Compared with the time and effort of learning and executing the same tasks in Photoshop, you’re looking at less complicated enhancements in less time, with excellent results. There are a variety of amazing plug-in solutions available for Photoshop. Here we explore 10 plug-ins with the most to offer photographers and their workflows.


By using selective focus in an image, photographers are able to bring the viewer’s eye to the area of the photo to which they want to attract the most attention. With a camera, this is achieved by using different apertures to affect depth of field. Alien Skin Software’s Bokeh digitally adds selective focus to an image, allowing you to customize focus throughout an image, not just in the area that’s parallel to the image sensor or film plane. Bokeh also allows you to add and subtract effects later, which is something that you can’t do with a shallow depth of field taken in the real world. Another feature of Bokeh is that you can change the namesake “bokeh” of the image, or the unique characteristics of the out-of-focus areas, to fun shapes like stars, hearts and circles. Bokeh also will mimic the unique out-of-focus properties of many popular lens types. List Price: $199.

Dfx v2.0

Designed to digitally simulate and build on the classic looks of Tiffen’s esteemed collection of optical filters, plus a host of other effects, the Dfx v2.0 software edition offer upwards of 2,000 photo filter and special effects presets, and the ability to create unlimited custom variations. There are just too many effects offered to explore in a short write-up, but a few highlights include the ND-Grad mode for introducing graduated brightness transitions in an image without affecting color, a Depth of Field filter for isolating and blurring parts of an image, and B&W Looks with more than three dozen various black-and-white effects. There’s even an 812 Warming Filter for replicating the nostalgic appeal of vintage prints or warming skin tones. You can preview effects and change them while you work, and layering and masking support allows photographers to add effects to as much or as little of an image as needed. Dfx v2.0 is available as a stand-alone app and as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop or Apple Aperture. List Price: $149 (stand-alone); $299 (plug-in).

Exposure 2

With simulation of popular film types from Kodak, Polaroid, Fujifilm and more, Exposure 2 from Alien Skin Software offers more than 300 presets for digitally reproducing the appearance of your favorite film stock styles. Exposure 2 applies the size, shape and color of film grains to shadows, midtones and highlights separately, automatically adjusting grain size to the image size at the same time for optimal results. You can adjust grain, saturation, softness, sharpness and other features for customizing looks, and effects can be applied nondestructively through Smart Filter compatibility in Photoshop. Exposure 2 also offers a variety of other film-style processing effects, including Infrared, Push Processing, Cross Processing and toning in a dozen different types, like blue, sepia, selenium and others. List Price: $249.

Fluid Mask 3

Digital masking during the editing process provides a way to isolate and extract certain areas of an image. It’s an effective way of performing selective adjustments without changing the rest of the image. Fluid Mask 3 from Vertus makes very fast selections of an image through a variety of edge-detection techniques, including analysis of patches, contrast and textures. Fluid Mask 3 has been designed to work well even with commonly difficult areas like hair and tree branches, and you can use sliders for fine-tuning edges. Intelligent Blending will use the width and character of an edge to automatically determine the shape and add feathering unique to its characteristics. New in Fluid Mask 3, you also can make selections based on Color Workspace and Color Sampler tools. List Price: $149.

Genuine Fractals 6 Professional Edition

Genuine Fractals 6 Professional Edition from onOne Software is the go-to plug-in for resizing images to poster sizes and beyond. Fractal-based interpolations provide upresing of image files to sizes as large as you wish, with results at more than 10 times their original sizes before there’s a noticeable loss in quality. Genuine Fractals offers control over texture, sharpening, film grain and more, and there are more than 60 document size presets for selecting the optimum dimensions of your resized images as you work. The Gallery Wrap feature creates extended margins for printing directly to canvas-stretch-type frames. A Tiling feature allows you to make large prints from small printers by dividing enlargements into puzzle-piece images that can be reconfigured into a large print, and there’s a built-in batch-processing engine for applying settings to more than one image. Genuine Fractals 6 Professional Edition is also compatible with Lightroom and Aperture. List Price: $299 (Professional Edition); $159 (Standard Edition).

PhotoTune 3

PhotoTune 3 from onOne Software offers fast image optimization with simple-to-understand and easy-to-execute enhancement. Image editing can be performed in only a couple of steps, thanks to the PhotoTune Wizard, which walks users through the optimization process. In the Pro interface, there are more advanced controls for photographers who would like a more hands-on approach, with tonal, sharpening and color tools. New in this version of PhotoTune, Dynamic Range Correction provides a single click for HDR enhancement of tones in order to salvage blown-out highlights while maintaining detail in shadows. Black-and-white conversion has been added, and an improved SkinTune mode automatically color-corrects skin color in one click, plus Smart Object compatibility provides a nondestructive workflow with Photoshop for changing enhancements if you need to later. PhotoTune3 also offers integration with Lightroom and Aperture. List Price: $159.

Portrait Professional

For specific enhancements of face, skin and hair, the Portrait Professional photo-editing app includes features developed specifically for use with human appearance. The program has been “taught” through mathematical analysis of hundreds of photos to improve the beauty of the human face by fixing skin blemishes, reducing wrinkles and removing unsightly skin textures like grease, sweat or shine. You also can reshape aspects of the face. A Jaw Slider, for instance, reduces or increases the size of the jaw
, respectively adding a slender or healthy appearance. There are enhancements for eye and mouth shapes, too, and hair can be smoothed out, recolored or thickened. The Portrait Professional Studio bundle steps up the offerings with a batch mode for performing enhancements on more than one image, as well as RAW file and 16-bit TIFF support. Estimated Street Price: $69 (Portrait Professional 9); $99 (Portrait Professional Studio).

Portraiture 2

Portraiture 2 from Imagenomic is another great plug-in for circumventing the time-consuming, pixel-by-pixel image enhancements of working with portraits in Photoshop. The program uses intelligent algorithms to smooth skin and remove imperfections. You can adjust Detail Smoothing through sliders for Fine, Medium and Large sizes, and a Portrait Size Auto Detect mode establishes parameters based on the size of the portrait. The masking tool allows you to perform selective smoothing while maintaining skin texture with sliders for choosing the optimum feathering, opacity, fuzziness, hue, saturation and more. You can add sharpness, warmth, tint, brightness and contrast enhancements. The Auto-Mask feature even makes timesaving selections for you based on ranges of skin tones. There are predefined presets that make workflow as simple as a one-click process. You can record your own template for reapplying favorite settings in the future, and there’s an option for outputting the masked range of the image for further adjustment in Photoshop. Versions of Portraiture 2 are available as plug-ins for Aperture and Lightroom. List Price: $199.

Silver Efex Pro

Photoshop has extensive black-and-white conversion options, but Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software provides many more options for customizing the look of monochromatic images directly from the same conversion interface. U Point technology allows you to selectively control tonality and contrast in each part of your image without the need for masking or layers. Silver Efex Pro also includes a collection of 18 popular black-and-white film types, more than 20 one-click preset styles with variable toning and tinting options for simulating traditional toning techniques like sepia and others, and more than 30 other downloadable styles from the Silver Efex Pro site. You even can create your own and upload them for others to use. List Price: $199.

Viveza 2

Updating Nik Software’s award-winning Viveza photo-editing plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture, Viveza 2 adds global image adjustments with levels and curves, structure control for fine detail and texture enhancements, shadow recovery for lightening of shadows selectively (or across the whole image) and improved color control. The timesaving interface has been streamlined as well, with easier slider controls, more effective zoom states and multiple undo levels. Viveza 2 uses U Point Color Control Points for performing precise and selective photo editing by controlling light and color in your images. There also are interactive help and online video tutorials to guide you through the process. Viveza follows a nondestructive Photoshop workflow with Smart Object compatibility. List Price: $199.

Plug-In Software Suites

Plug-in bundle packs are a cost-effective way to make sure that all of your photographic bases are covered. Manufacturers take the best of the best from their comprehensive products and put them together into one box set, often available at a price point far below the individual plug-in purchases.

Alien Skin’s Photo Bundle combines five of their most popular plug-ins into one software suite. Blow Up 2, Bokeh, Exposure 2, Image Doctor 2 and Snap Art 2 give workflow control over print dimensions, depth-of-field, brightness, image enhancements and a variety of filter effects like brushstrokes, textures and more. List Price: $595.

The Complete Collection from Nik Software includes all of their plug-in titles, also compatible with Lightroom and Aperture. Dfine 2.0, Color Efex Pro 3.0, Silver Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro 3.0 and Viveza all use U Point technology for an innovative approach to selective image enhancement. List Price: $599 (Complete Collection Ultimate Edition); $299 (Complete Collection for Lightroom and Aperture only).

Imagenomic’s Professional Plug-In Suite combines Noiseware, Portraiture and RealGrain for extended automatic and manual control over image noise, portrait retouching and replication of film-like effects like image grain and scan resolutions. List Price: $299.

onOne Software’s Plug-In Suite 5 for Photoshop offers comprehensive image enhancement with six plug-ins in total, including new versions of PhotoTune, PhotoTools and FocalPoint. Genuine Fractals 6 offers tools for image resizing, Mask Pro 4 gives you control over removing subjects from backgrounds, and PhotoFrame 4.5 adds a selection of dynamic borders for putting a finishing touch on your images. List Price: $599.


Alien Skin Software (888) 921-SKIN www.alienskin.com
Anthropics Technology (Portrait Professional) (971) 238-0917 www.portraitprofessional.com
Imagenomic www.imagenomic.com
Nik Software (888) 284-4085 www.niksoftware.com
onOne Software (888) 968-1468 www.ononesoftware.com
Tiffen (800) 645-2522 www.tiffen.com
Vertus (877) 55-VERTUS www.vertustech.com

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