Some of us collect plug-ins like they’re stamps; some us sip them like f ine wine, choosing only the best vintage from the racks. I’m in that second camp, letting plug-ins cohabitate with Photoshop only if they can prove their value regularly and repeatedly. And f inally, I have taken a vow to only praise f ilters that are fully smartable—meaning the filter works with Smart Objects. Smart filters can be modified with a double-click, making image processing even more f lexible.
HDRsoft Tone Mapping
CS4 is loaded with neat new features and workflow improvements but, let’s face it, the high dynamic range photo capability is pretty much as lame as it was in CS2 and CS3. Happily HDRsoft has a plug-in that takes over where Photoshop leaves off. Though not as full-featured as their standalone Photomatix Pro application, HDRsoft’s Tone Mapping Plug-in (www.HDRsoft.com) pays its rent with superb processing of the 32-bit images you create from your bracketed series of captures. Like Goldilock’s beds that were too big, too small, and just right, the Tone Mapping plug-in feels just right with a swell array of options that give us great control over tone mapping without overwhelming us in complexity. If you’re going to shoot and process HDR images, this is the software to use.
Nik Sharpener Pro 3
Considering that 100% of your images need sharpening before output to inkjet, Web, or press, deciding which sharpening method fits into your Photoshop arsenal is both important and intimidating. After all, Photoshop now includes two sharpening schemes and there are a plethora of jury-rigged methods utilizing high pass filtration, Overlay mode, etc. Now in its third version, Nik Sharpener Pro (www.niksoftware.com) answers the “why should I spend money on a sharpening plug-in” with a resounding “because it’s better!” With improved multi-core support (Nik’s Define and Silver Efex Pro have also been tweaked for enhanced core recognition), sharpening is both better and faster. And Nik’s patented U Point technology lets you control where and how much sharpening is applied, with nary a mask to make. To get the maximum benef it, Sharpener Pro 3 takes a bit more study than older versions, but the payoff is stunning output-tuned sharpening and artifact-free detail.