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Friday, June 1, 2007

Gadget Bag: Get Plugged In!

Ten must-have Photoshop add-ons for nature photographers


Dfine 1.0 from Nik SoftwareAdobe Photoshop is the best thing that has happened to photography since the discovery of glass. And the plug-in is the best thing that has happened to Photoshop. Since Adobe opened its architecture by defining the plug-in format, more than 1,000 useful plug-ins have appeared on the market. Some extend Photoshop’s power, others make routine tasks easier, and still others provide new options and tools. No matter what level you’ve reached as a photographer, Photoshop plug-ins are an integral part of your post-processing life—or should be.

We sometimes hear photographers say that, because of their Photoshop expertise, they can create the same results that any plug-in filter can produce. Perhaps, but that’s not the point. Do you make your salad croutons from scratch? Plug-ins deliver predictable, consistent effects. They police digital noise, facilitate image scaling, eliminate (or optionally emulate) film grain and can even modify our images to match results that we’d expect from some analog counterparts—like the extremely popular Fujichrome Velvia.

Nik Color Efex Pro 2.0If you pursue nature photography, here’s a list of 10 Photoshop plug-ins we think you’ll want to know.

Nik Software (formerly nik Multimedia) offers three sets of plug-ins that would be hard to live without. The first, Color Efex Pro, is a comprehensive assortment of 75 color enhancement filters that includes traditional (Fog, Vignette, Graduated) and more exotic (Stairs, Midnight, Pop Art) filter effects. The filters are easy to use and easy to control and can be selectively applied to portions of images. There are three different B/W Conversion filters and each renders a different result. Estimated Street Price: $249.

Nik Sharpener Pro 2.0Nik Sharpener Pro allows you to produce the sharpest prints attainable, no matter what printing technology you’re using. The software takes into account viewing distance, image size, paper type and printer resolution, in addition to printer type and brand. Like Color Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro is fully compatible with 16-bit-per-channel image editing. And unlike more simplistic sharpening methods, Sharpener Pro doesn’t introduce unwanted artifacts, such as halos or moire patterns. One word of caution: The function of this type of software is to deliver optimum prints. What you see on your monitor may be slightly misleading. Estimated Street Price: $279.

The third offering from Nik Software is Dfine, a powerful noise-reduction application that can be used to reduce luminance noise, chrominance noise and even JPEG artifacts. It also can be used to adjust image contrast and to enhance colors. Camera profiles, which are sold separately, allow you to optimize performance for your specific equipment. Estimated Street Price: $79.

55mm from Digital Film ToolsAlso near the top of the plug-in list is 55mm from Digital Film Tools. These plug-ins are unique because many of the effects they produce originated as special techniques in traditional, film-based photography. Using 55mm, you can duplicate can also re-create some of the more unusual procedures, including film cross-processing manipulations. The Bleach Bypass filter, for example, simulates a lab technique that skips the bleach step in the color development process, thereby causing the image to retain silver, in addition to the color dyes. The result resembles a black-and-white image superimposed over a color image. The collection is versatile and designed to closely parallel the traditional photographic experience. Altogether there are 73 different filters. The potent assortment of special effects is easy to install, easy to use and fun. Best of all, the results can be replicated, so once you’ve found the effects you love, you can apply them to any image you choose without hassle. Estimated Street Price: $195.


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