For many photographers, image processing is more work than play, but even if you enjoy it, you’ll appreciate the speed, control and creativity provided by plug-ins and specialty software. These applications can expand your possibilities, such as HDR (high dynamic range) programs, or they can simplify and quicken routine tasks. Top pro applications like Adobe Photoshop CS5, Photoshop Lightroom 3 and Apple Aperture 3 have a lot of power, but plug-ins and targeted apps can help you harness that power and make your work in those programs more effective.
Plug-ins are software programs that fit inside a host program and help it do something different, better or both. They’re sometimes referred to as Photoshop plug-ins, but they usually work in Photoshop Elements and other image-processing software, including Lightroom and Aperture.
Special-purpose programs do unique or specialized things with images, such as HDR or noise reduction. This software is often of the standalone type, meaning it works independently of any other software, but some specialty software can be used as a plug-in, too.
One of the biggest changes in software this year relates to Photoshop CS5—now a 64-bit program on both Windows and Mac platforms. The 64-bit capability of CS5 is a big deal in that it helps run that program faster and more efficiently on computers using a 64-bit operating system. The downside is that many plug-ins that might have worked fine in CS4 no longer work well (or at all) in CS5. Software companies are all working hard to catch up. If you find a program isn’t working in CS5, suspect the 64-bit connection and check with the software company about an update.
One of the most common needs for image processing is to reduce the impact of noise, especially with so many cameras offering very high ISO settings. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 has new noise-reduction algorithms that work well, but still have some limitations compared to programs made specifically for noise reduction.
Topaz DeNoise 5 is an affordable, high-quality noise-reduction plug-in from Topaz Labs. It does some remarkable work in removing noise from very high ISO settings without also hurting fine detail (a problem that noise reduction always faces is that noise is very similar to fine detail). List Price: $79.
Nik Software Dfine 2.0 is still one of the most flexible noise-reduction programs on the market. A top feature is the ability to control where noise reduction is applied based on color. Often, certain colors have more noise than others, so you can target those areas without affecting other parts of the photo.List Price: $99.