Ask any group of photographers to name the most important plug-in, and you’re sure to start an argument. That’s because plug-ins have become an essential element of nearly every photographer’s creative process. They’re so diverse in their application—and so effective in their performance—that everyone has at least one favorite. And now that Apple has opened Aperture’s architecture to make use of its own plug-in version, newer and better products are serving an even wider audience.
Plug-ins extend the power of the host software by providing additional options and tools, by automating routine tasks or by expanding the functionality in other ways.
Plug-ins deliver consistent results and open many creative doors. In many digital labs, they have become indispensable.
Photoshop and Aperture plug-ins aren’t interchangeable, but many products have versions for both platforms. Overall, they fall into four categories—although there are a few that are so unique they defy categorization. The majority of plug-ins perform direct image-editing functions, like noise reduction or image scaling. Others add scripts or otherwise automate workflow and put routine tasks on autopilot. Export plug-ins simplify transmitting images directly to FTP sites or sharing websites without exiting the primary application. The final group could be called “transformers” because they do radical things—like the way Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro can turn a color image into a monochrome that looks like it was shot with a $25 plastic Holga camera.
Alien Skin Exposure 2
For those who want to give their digital images the authentic appearance of a specific film type, Alien Skin offers Exposure 2. Based on the detailed analysis of actual film stock, Exposure 2 allows you to digitally simulate everything from push-processed TRI-X to Kodachrome to GAF 500. This exciting plug-in re-creates the film coloration and contrast and, incredibly, it actually reproduces the size, shape and color of the film grain. It’s easy to use, thanks to a large editing window and intuitive user interface. In the version 2 upgrade, Alien Skin has added 300 presets for film simulation and special effects and doubled the number of settings. Exposure performs other editing functions, as well. The list includes a powerful color-to-black-and-white conversion filter that mimics analog film, a toning filter set (blue, gold, sepia, selenium and sulphide), warming/cooling color filters and more. Estimated Street Price: $249.
Auto FX DreamSuite
Auto FX—the company that built its brand on unique plug-ins that produce effects with names like Dimension X, Metal Mixer, Chisel and Liquid Metal—has updated DreamSuite Series One and Series Two. The DreamSuite plug-ins now allow you to combine different effects using layers and masks that are preconfigured and included in the set. SmartLayer is a layering system that allows you to combine masking, photos, effects and color-correction layers together in one document.
Auto FX also has enhanced an unlimited undo/redo function that lets you go back as far as necessary, as well as added hundreds of new presets that enable you to produce creative results instantly. The improved DreamSuite plug-ins are now faster (50% to 300%, depending on platform and effect) and offer Photoshop-compatible plug-ins and stand-alone versions for Windows and Mac. Estimated Street Price: $199 (Series One); $149 (Series Two, which adds 14 filters).