Perfect Photo Suite 7 + 1
Around the beginning of November, onOne Software released a brand new edition (3 editions actually) of their Perfect Photo Suite. This new suite delivers brand new Photoshop plugins as well as some updated plugins, and a couple that have remained largely unchanged. This article will take a look at my favorite upgrades, include Perfect Black & White (brand new), Perfect Portrait 2 (new version), and Perfect Effects 4 (new version).
Using these three plugins you can pretty well cover the most common photography workflows, and get some great results. You can also get those results more quickly now, with a user interface that continues to evolve and improve with each version of the suite. Hopefully next time around all the plugins will use the new UI, which looks sharp and works very well on my Mac. Let’s take a look.
Perfect Black & White
Of the new Photoshop plugins, Perfect Black & White is my favorite. “Perfect B&W” as it’s known, gives onOne Software users an equivalent workflow that’s long been enjoyed by users of Nik’s Silver Efex Pro: the ability to take a color photo and convert it to a professional looking black and white image.
(So Nik fans don’t feel left out in the cold, Later in the article we’ll also look at a new plugin from Nik (now a part of Google) — HDR Efex Pro version 2.)
As you might imagine, a brand new plugin like Perfect Black & White should take advantage of the latest UI developments, and it does (see above – click any inline image to see the full details). It’s a very easy plugin to use, and can even be combined with other plugin workflows, like the HDR + B&W tips I published a few weeks ago.
At left is a well organized collection of thumbnails with quick search and favorite marking capabilities, and a wide range of black and white settings on the right. In the center we have the main preview with some zoom and comparison controls, and a very useful set of tools down the left side. These tools allow you to more precisely apply settings to specific areas of the photo. The image below provides an idea of just much control you have with these new Photoshop plugins from onOne. My favorite settings in Perfect B&W is the Color Response panel, which allows you to finely control contrast based on the color data in the image.
(NOTE: Click the larger inline images for the uncompressed version / more detail.)
Perfect B&W also provides other important controls for black and white workflows, like simulating film grain from classic film stocks (like Kodak Tri-X), as well as a tone curve and the ability to protect highlight and shadow details.
Perfect Portrait 2
Another great addition for 2013 is Perfect Portrait 2. As great as the first version of the plugin was (can even make a guy like me look OK, despite the red masks looking a little goofy), the second version is a must have in my view, for anyone who spends a lot of time retouching portraits, but who often has limited time to dedicate per photograph during busy times.
Perfect Portrait 2 allows you to very precisely work on things like skin tone and blemishes, as well as limit your “eye corrections” and “mouth corrections” to exactly the right regions of the photo (right). This is accomplished using an impressive facial recognition technology, that -once it finds the boundaries of the face- allows you to define with click-and-drag efficiency, the exact “perimeter” of the features you’re trying to retouch (before you apply your settings).
From there the corrections itself are a snap! The areas where Perfect Portrait excel the most are getting a correct skin tone, evening that tone out across the face and neck, whitening teeth and eyes to exactly the degree you want, and smoothing over rough skin texture (large pores, things of that nature). I still recommend that you use Photoshop’s healing brushes to work on any wrinkles around the eyes or smile lines, for example (because you will have more control that way), but even so Perfect Portrait 2 can save you a LOT of time once you learn your way around this new photoshop plugin for portrait photography.
Perfect Effects 4 is another plugin from onOne that has an analog in the Nik / Google universe, and that is Color Efex Pro 4. While not quite as many of the presets are options that I would use every day, the latest version of Perfect Effects still several great features (including an updated UI with a much better preset previewing setup). The biggest of the new improvements (in my view), is the new Perfect Brush feature (also found in other Perfect Photo Suite 7 Photoshop plugins).
The Perfect Brush allows you to stack up the effects, and as you go along, using a special masking technology to isolate those effects to specific regions of your photo. The way it works is that you have a new series of special present, designed to work with this brush. Things like color, exposure, contrast, glow are all included. Once you create the effect, a layer-mask-like feature is enabled in the Effects Stack (the plugin’s equivalent of Photoshop’s Layers panel, complete with special blending options). You can then use the Perfect Brush to add the effect only to the areas you like, as shown below. Notice how the soft glow has been applied only to parts of the creek and nearby foliage, while the color intensity effect is applied mostly to the orange tree regions.
HDR Efex Pro 2
Last but certainly not least is one of my favorite new Photoshop plugins from any vendor: HDR Efex Pro 2 from Nik Software (Google). You can find an overview of HDR Efex Pro 2′s new features here, working on a more stormy looking shot… the biggest benefit for HDR Efex Pro users in my humble opinion, is the improved exposure merge controls, and a very useful effect that simulates a Graduated Neutral Density filter. Let’s take a quick look!
As you can see there are now easily accessible options for defining which image serves as the “base layer” for the details that remain after Ghost Reduction (this works much like Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6), as well as options for defining how strong the Ghost Reduction is (you can use a detail previewing mechanism — just click the magnifying glass in the preview and choose the appropriate mode). You can also remove Chromatic Aberration but I typically find it’s best to do that ahead of time in Lightroom or ACR (the plugin will read select XMP data for the merged shots in my experience).
Above you can see the simulated ND filter near the bottom right part of the window. This helps to “separate” the tonal corrections you’ve made, and can be very handy for some shots.
All told, these four Photoshop plugins that I don’t think you should be without in 2013, if you want to give yourself every chance to make the best photos possible. Again, plugins should never be used as a “crutch” or means of “fixing a poor exposure”, but rather to enhance good exposures that just need a bit of extra “punch” or assistance, to get them where your vision wants them to be.