Make your digital photos look analog
In the grand tradition of ultra-hip programs like Instagram, Topaz’s Lens Effects plug-in makes your digital photos look like they were taken with a different camera in a different era. The difference with Lens Effects though, is that the quality of the photos is not compromised—actually, sometimes it's improved.
The plug-in has 26 effects—including Toy Camera and Tilt/shift—and 170 presets so you can quickly apply your favorite looks. One of the best effects in the plug-in is the dual-focus lens. Using this option, you can make even the dullest point-and-shoot photos look like an SLR shot.
This plug-in works for both seasoned photographers looking to add an old-time look to their shots and budding point-and-shooters who want to make their photos extraordinary.
Topaz Labs; $80
Give photos a unique look
It is very easy to overdo it with photo filters, but when used correctly, filters can make your photos look much better than basic retouching. And as far as photo filtering plug-ins go, Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 is one of the easiest to use, has plenty of options, and produces excellent results.
Color Efex Pro has 52 filters, more than 250 effects, and lets you edit multiple images at a time, flipping through them quickly and easily. One of the features that sets this software apart from other filter plug-ins is the “control points” option. After applying one of the filters, you can choose a region to exclude from the new effect. When you do this, your model in the foreground can remain untouched while the background gets filtered.
You can also change the opacity and size of the area affected for a unique and interesting look. If you’re a grayscale fan, Nik Software offers a similar plug-in that will desaturate your images and make them look like antiques.
Nik Software; $200
Holy halftone, Batman! You don’t have to be a superhero to use the ToonIt plug-in from Digital Anarchy. While most photo-editing software packages have one or two cartooning options, few are as extensive as ToonIt's. Choose from over 50 cartooning styles like Graphic Novel, Zombie, and Faux Lichenstein. Once you’ve found a good preset, use the customizable controls to make your photos look either more or less animated. While the presets do take a bit of time to load, the final product is well worth it. I mean, really, who doesn’t want their Facebook albums to look like comic books?
Digital Anarchy; $129
Make your highlights luminescent
Turn that blown-out window in the background of your photo into a stunning beacon of light. The Rays plug-in from Digital Film Tools places rays of light in your photos. It lets you choose the source of light as well as the brightness, length, and opacity of the rays. The plug-in only streams light from the extreme highlights of the photo, so the rays appear to be coming through cracks in the wall or reflecting off of objects. So, the next time you take an extremely backlit photo (not that you ever would), just use this plug-in and you will have a masterpiece quicker than, well, a ray of light.
Digital Film Tools; $50
So, you want to make your subject look radiant but you don’t want to spend hours with a brush tool, slowly erasing every pore on their face. The Portraiture plug-in from Imagenomic isolates and smooths skin tones—giving your subjects that glowing, airbrushed look.
Within the plug-in, you can choose how soft you want the subjects to be, as well as whether you want Glamour or High Key enhancements. The plug-in allows you to edit multiple photos at a time (though it slows down a bit when handling a lot of them). This is a great tool for photographers who have a high-volume of portrait editing—party and wedding photographers come to mind. It makes your subjects look good without taking up too much of your time.
Add fractals to your photos
Time to find last year's Burning Man photos and make them look a little more like what you actually saw when you were looking through your lens in the middle of the desert. HumanSoftware’s Edit Fractals lets you create your own fractals with customizable equation-making settings, or choose your favorite from their more than 100 options.
After you have picked the best fractal for your composition, you can layer it on your photo with as many other fractals as you can fit and combine them with blurs, vignettes, and gradients to really trip you out. And even if you have never been to the playa, you can still appreciate the photographic applications of a romanesco.
A roundhouse kick at digital noise
Great. Your new DSLR can go up to ISO 102,400, but now your no-flash, high-shutter speed, fluorescent-lit volleyball action photos look like they were taken in a sandstorm. PictureCode's Noise Ninja is one of the best products around for cleaning up a little of that mess.
Its automatic noise cleanup is better than most programs' adjustable options and its plug-in also runs incredibly fast (like a ninja!). You can also save your own presets and edit multiple photos at a time.
Get distinctive Looks for a bargain
If you’ve read this far, you know that Aperture plug-ins can get pretty pricey. If you are just a casual user, then you probably don’t want to spent upwards of $100 on a product that you're only going to use a couple of times. But if you still want to make your photos look dreamy, you can get ApertureExpert’s Looks preset package of eight different film-style filters. All of the preset Looks are adjustable, so you can actually get a wide variety of effects within each filter. And for $5, it’s a steal.
All too often, when shooting in mixed-light situations, you have to choose between an under-exposed foreground and blown-out background. Sure, the naked eye can take in the gorgeous sunset as well as the street and houses below it, but your camera can choose only one or the other.
With Hydra, you can combine up to 10 different photos of the same scene, taken at different exposures, to create an easy HDR image. And with its warping algorithm, you don’t even need a tripod to perfectly match up your photos.
You’ve cropped, filtered, smoothed, and even created fractals. Now it’s time to give your photos a home. PhotoFrame by onOne Software is a massive plug-in that offers everything from basic frames to scrapbooking templates and everything in-between. You can even add design elements like graphic overlays and darkroom effects. There are hundreds of options to choose from—from rustic-looking torn edges to detailed layouts. You can also apply the frames to multiple photos simultaneously.
onOne Software; $100
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