What is a plugin?
At the recent winners review night several of the folks who kindly told the stories of their pictures mentioned plugins. I’m pretty sure that there are people out there who wonder what on earth a plugin is? A while back when photo manipulation software was still supplied on floppy disks there was sometimes a need for an extended feature or function so the software makers created some method for other software companies to write a bit of software that would add to the main program. These extra software elements “plugged in” to the main application. Often these early plugins would be to handle the connection to scanning devices, printers and even to be able to read less common files. The Adobe Camera Raw module that can open and process RAW images in Photoshop is a plugin that is included with the application but allows the application to be updated easily to handle newer camera’s RAW images.
Fast forward a few years and the plugins became more about alternative ways to manipulate images, making them black and white, sharpening, softening, lightening, fixing and more. Today there are a range of plugins available for a wide selection of standard photo applications like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Aperture and others.
Do I need a plug-in?
The modern plug-in will give easier access to a range of image processing techniques often making complex improvements to pictures simpler. Some of the plugins use different algorithms – image processing is all maths after all – to work on the images for results that are hard to achieve without the use of plug-ins.
You will need the compatible application to use the plug-in of your choice, though some of the plug-in makers also offer standalone versions of the plugins that will open the image file and work without owning a version of say Photoshop.
What do I need?
This will most likely depend on you, and how you process your pictures. It will also depend on the application you plan to use the plugin with. Most plugins work with Photoshop, and then other applications like Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop Elements. Please check you get the right plugin for your application. Your chosen plugin might also be possible to run as a program by itself which is great if you don’t have a compatible plugin imaging program.
What plug-ins do other photographers use?
Amongst the club members there are three main plug-in suites in use…
Of course this is not the extensive list, and you should also consider Alien Skin, Imagenomic and if you are an Apple Mac user then MacPhun’s Intensify Pro is also worth a look, but there are plenty more. I recall that there was a lot of mention of the Google Silver Efex Pro plugin as a fantastic way to convert colour pictures to great black and white versions. Like many good software tools you can download evaluation version of many plugins to try for a few days before you commit to buying them. You will also find plenty of video tutorials from the manufacturers and their supporters on YouTube and other places.
Did we miss any?
If you have or use a plugin that’s not mentioned put a note in the comments below.