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Gadget Bag: Plug-Ins For Nature Photographers

These specialized software plug-ins give you a lot of power in easy-to-use packages
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This Article Features Photo Zoom

gadget bag
onOne Genuine Fractals 6

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.

gadget bag 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.

gadget bag
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).

This Article Features Photo Zoom

gadget bag
Nik Color Efex
Pro 3.0

More than any other brand, you’ll find Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 filters installed on PCs and Macs in digital photography labs across the country. Available in versions for Photoshop, Aperture and Capture NX 2, Color Efex Pro features U Point technology, which provides powerful, selective control and offers 52 traditional and stylizing filters (a total of 250 effects) that perform precision retouching, color correction and creative enhancements. Unique among photographic filter software, Color Efex Pro 3.0 includes the Selective Tool, which allows you to subjectively brush any filter effect into your image. Layers and masks automatically are created so you can experiment with ease. Color Efex Pro 3.0 is Smart Filter-compatible (Photoshop only), which allows you to adjust images even after effects have been applied. Estimated Street Price: $299 (complete version); smaller versions with fewer filters are available at lower prices.

Before the dawn of digital imaging, most photographers got their start shooting black-and-white film and then later moved to color. As the old saying goes, once they became proficient shooting color, they graduated back to black-and-white. Matching film emulsions, developers, paper and other variables was high art. Today, many serious amateurs and professionals alike have discovered that they can create monochrome masterpieces from their color images by using the right plug-in. Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro gives all of that creative control back to the photographer. It includes an extensive collection of film types and emulates each right down to the grain structure, color sensitivity and tone curve. And it offers 20 different preset conversions that can be selected by clicking a thumbnail. You also can create and save your own custom style. Silver Efex Pro uses powerful U Point technology for a high degree of control over detail and tonality. Silver Efex Pro comes in Aperture and Photoshop flavors and is Smart Filter-compatible with Photoshop. Estimated Street Price: $199.

gadget bag
PictureCode Noise Ninja

Available as a plug-in for Aperture and Photoshop, Noise Ninja by PictureCode cleans up images taken in low-light and fast-action situations by removing the noise and grain caused by shooting at a high ISO. Noise Ninja works by suppressing noise without sacrificing detail, and generally results in two stops of image quality improvement. It’s also a useful tool for minimizing noise when making enlargements from low-ISO images. You can let Noise Ninja work automatically, even with batch processing for multiple images, or use manual noise analysis with camera-specific profiles and a Noise Brush for adjusting only parts of an image. Estimated Street Price: begins at $34.

onOne Software’s Genuine Fractals 6 Professional Edition provides huge, poster-sized prints, even from small images. Available as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Aperture, the software uses sophisticated algorithms to expand the dimensions of an image up to 1,000 percent without losing details or sharpness. The process is simple, with batch processing of images, texture presets and one-click cropping and resizing to more than 60 preset document sizes. Version 6 includes a new Tiling feature for dividing one image into smaller prints that can be pieced back together into a large print for people who have smaller-format printers. There’s also a Gallery Wrap mode for automatically stretching borders to fill the edges when printing to a gallery wrap. Estimated Street Price: $299.

gadget bag
Tiffen Dfx

A comprehensive postprocessing package that offers a seemingly endless assortment of options is Tiffen’s Dfx v2. It contains 110 individual filters and more than 1,000 filter and special-effects presets. Available for either Photoshop or Aperture, Dfx v2 allows you to invoke digital simulations of Tiffen’s optical filters, so you can be assured of consistent, predictable results. New in version 2, filters now can be added as layers, allowing you to add multiple filters to your image, and seven different types of masks can be used to isolate where a filter will be applied. Tiffen also has added several new filters, including Water Droplets (circular, rainbow-colored optical effects like those created by water droplets in the atmosphere), Ice Halos (simulates halos produced by small, airborne ice crystals) and Rainbow (as you might guess, produces an arc of spectral colors—but without the traditional pot of gold at either end). Estimated Street Price: $99.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

gadget bag Vertus Fluid
Mask 3

Click on a thumbnail in Aperture, then open a Google-powered map in Übermind’s Maperture. Navigate to the spot where the image was captured and click again. There—you’ve just geotagged the image by adding the latitude and longitude coordinates to the EXIF metadata. Once geotagged you can display your images on a map by using Aperture’s “Show on map” feature. You also can upload your geotagged images to Google’s photo-sharing service using Übermind’s Aperture to Picasa Web Albums export plug-in. Images that have been tagged by using Maperture will be displayed with a badge in the image viewer. Those that have been geotagged by other means will show a slightly different badge. All in all, it’s a great way to organize a set of images that were all captured during a visit to a national park, for example. For Aperture only. Free download.

Arguably one of the most difficult and time-consuming image-editing tasks—especially for newcomers—is extracting the subject and knocking out the background. Enter Vertus Fluid Mask 3. It’s as close to an “automatic cutout” engine as you’ll ever see. Using a variety of Brush tools to define the subject, you simply paint the edge, and the software will determine what to include and exclude from the selection. Vertus has perfected powerful edge-detection and edge-blending technology that can quickly and easily isolate seemingly impossible subjects—like wisps of smoke, floating feathers or even hair. Seeing is believing, and to that end, Vertus offers a free trial version (download from their website). Estimated Street Price: $149 (full version, Photoshop only).

Other Plug-Ins Of Interest To Nature Photographers
There are too many plug-ins to cover in a single article. In this Gadget Bag, our goal is to show you some popular and useful options for nature photographers. Here are other plug-ins you may want to look into.

Alien Skin’s Bokeh
for Photoshop allows you to decide focus after you’ve taken the shot by selectively blurring areas of the image, which draws the eye and heightens mood. Estimated Street Price: $199.

Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 for Aperture and Photoshop provides the ultimate in sharpening, with options for image size, viewing distance, paper printing and printers. Estimated Street Price: $199.

Nik Software’s Viveza with innovative U Point technology selectively modifies color, exposure, tonality and other factors for fast enhancement with great results. Estimated Street Price: $249.

onOne’s Essentials 2 for Apple iPhoto and Photoshop Elements has a collection of tools for blurring (iPhoto), resizing, correcting color and removing backgrounds (Photoshop), among others. Estimated Street Price: $69.

Alien Skin Software
(888) 921-SKIN

Auto FX Software
(800) 839-2008

Nik Software
(888) 284-4085

onOne Software
(888) 968-1468

PictureCode (Noise Ninja)

(800) 645-2522

(206) 633-1167

(877) 55-VERTUS