What the heck are plug-in filters?

As regular readers know, I LOVE my NIK Software products. I’ve got their sharpener, noise reduction, black and white convertor, color changer and effects software and I used them all the time. BTW to be fair to NIK here’s what they call their software 🙂  —  Sharpener Pro 3.0; Dfine 2.0; Silver Efex Pro; Viveza 2; and Color Efex Pro 3.0. These software packages are sold individually or you can get the entire collection (at a reduced cost). They work in conjunction with photo editing programs such as Photoshop (and Elements); Lightroom 2, Apple’s Aperture and Color Efex Pro 3.0 also works with Nikon’s really wonderful Capture NX 2. All of these editing programs work on JPG images (where the image parameters are set in the camera and you can’t changed them much) or RAW images where almost nothing is set and everything is changeable in software editing).

So what do I use and why?

For my commercial work I use Lightroom 2. I’ve got a big job on Saturday night shooting a formal dinner and gathering of about 100 people. I’ll likely shoot 500 to 800 images. Lightroom 2 is the only way to handle this volume of work easily. Now if I’ve got really serious photo editing issues (like removing scars or former lovers) I’ll use Photoshop (which honestly: I’m still learning but with manual in hand, it’s pretty easy for most of what I do to an image). If I’m working on my own landscapes I’m using NX2 which is by far the superior RAW editor for Nikon NEF images.

When it comes to plug-in filters I’ll probably run my 100 or so best picks through Dfine to reduce noise (noise in the digital world looks like old fashion film grain) and Sharpener to make the RAW images look as sharp as JPGs. The depending on the images I may run a few through Colour Efex Pro 3.0 filters. I love the golden glow filter for party shots but you must be careful not to over do it.

Once I get my 100 edited images finished, I’ll post them as high-resolution JPGs to my gallery so my client can have a look at them and pick what they want.

So you might ask: Why go to all that trouble? Why not shoot JPGs and be done with it?

IF, AND IT’S A BIG IF, I knew for certain that the white balance was perfect and the exposures right on the button I could shoot JPGs and all I’d have to do is just crop them to eliminate extraneous bits and pieces and I’d be done. If these weren’t important images, I’d be tempted and might just do that and save a bunch of time. But here’s what you can do with your RAW images. First of all my D-300 and D-90 are capable of taking RAW images with virtually no delay for processing as I’m not likely to shooting in continuous (sport-type) mode. Also, once I’ve got my RAW images loaded into any of my editing packages all of them will allow me to produce a batch of JPGs right away. So if I have a need for speed I can go this route.

But what if the white balance (the colour cast being emitted by the lights in the room) isn’t pure white and I am getting a slight yellow or green tinge. Well if I’ve shot JPGs I’m up the creek because they can’t be changed. Also, if I miss my exposure (and I’m likely going to be shooting with the flash all night) RAW will give me a four-stop ability to make changes. JPG – well, not so much.

But let’s get back to plug-ins. They work a whole lot better on RAW images because you can make so many changes without hurting the image quality.

One of the better websites for plug-in filters is a company called Totally Rad. They’ve just brought a $99 package of filters for Lightroom 2 which if I get my hands on a copy I’ll do a review. But in the meantime, you can do your own review. Totally Rad has an online preset page. You pick one of the photos they have as examples and then go down the list and apply the various filters in the package. Totally Rad filters are used by many of the world’s best wedding shooters.

I’m adding this note on Alien Skin which has a 20% off to help the Haiti Earthquake victims. I own a copy of Boken and it’s great fun.

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