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Buyer’s Guide 2009: Software Plug-Ins

Plug-ins are one of the best tools photographers have in the digital darkroom. They extend the power of our primary photo application—some by adding new functionality and others by making complicated adjustments much faster and more intuitive. There’s a plug-in for just about every essential task, from color correction and noise reduction to creative effects and finishing touches.

Until recently, plug-ins were designed for use with Photoshop and a handful of other applications that comply with the Photoshop plug-in standard. One of the big developments in plug-ins this year is that Apple opened Aperture’s architecture to use them, too. It’s important to note, however, that Aperture plug-ins and Photoshop-compatible plug-ins aren’t interchangeable. Aperture users are limited to those plug-ins that have been specifically coded for Aperture. The good news is that many popular plug-ins are available in both formats.

There are too many terrific plug-ins to include all of them here, so we’ve featured a few of our favorites. Be sure to check out these software makers’ websites for othaer plug-ins offerings.

Nik Viveza

selective correction and enhancements without the need for detailed masks or complicated selections. Viveza does this with Nik Software’s U-Point technology, which uses Color Control Points to isolate changes to select areas of a photograph. Simply choose a new Control Point and adjust for brightness, contrast, saturation and more using the easy-to-negotiate sliders. By increasing or decreasing the size of the coverage area, you control how much of the image is affected by the change.

The plug-in’s U-Point technology uses color and tonal data to isolate the area that will be affected by the This innovative plug-in provides photographers with the means to make adjustment. So whether it’s the blue sky or a yellow rain slicker, the U-Point technology isolates the change to a specific area in a way that removes the tedium of using a mouse or a stylus to make a detailed selection. Photoshop and Aperture compatible. List Price: $249.

Vertus Fluid Mask 3

Masks and selections are an important part of precision photo editing. Changes in color, contrast and color saturation often are meant to impact only a small area of a photograph. Whether you intend to replace the background behind a model or change the color of a product in a still life, Vertus Fluid Mask 3 makes the process of creating such masks as easy as a brushstroke.

A selection of brush tools allows the software to use its sophisticated edge-detection and edge-blending technology to create ultrafine selections even with the most challenging subject matter—hair. By simply painting along the edge of the subject, you’re instructing the software as to what you want to include and exclude from the selection.

Featuring a full screen display, the plug-in allows you to take complete advantage of your entire desktop. The interface window where the image appears features what looks like a paint-by-numbers overlay. This helps to inform you which areas are linked to each other by color and tone, making the use of brush tools that much more convenient and accurate. List Price: $239.

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