Do Great Products = Great Photographs?: The Right Tool For The Right Job


© Joe Farace

“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality.”—Ernst Haas

Like most photographers I occasionally become equipment obsessed, but sometimes even the smallest tool, something as simple and useful as a new LensPen, can make creating new images a little easier. I’ve often said that the most important piece of equipment is the one between a photographer’s ears, but creating images also requires tools. Choosing the right tool or accessory may not make the difference between a good photograph and a bad one, but may make the difference in whether or not you even try to capture it.

The Swiss Army Knife Of Software
onOne Software’s updated Perfect Photo Suite 8.5 offers photo browsing, file management options, and improvements to its Perfect Eraser for creating complex masks. The software integrates its different modules in a flexible way. There’s Perfect Effects, a library of customizable one-click presets, and Perfect Enhance, for brightness, contrast, sharpening, and color cast removal. Enhance includes Perfect Eraser and has a Clone tool to remove objects, fix dust spots, and repair flaws. Perfect B&W is the module that I use most and it lets me produce the many moods that monochrome photography can evoke.

Perfect Portrait is useful for retouching, with automated feature detection and enhancement tools to smooth skin, remove blemishes, brighten eyes and teeth, and correct skin color. Perfect Mask creates high-quality masks and has tools for selecting subjects and isolating backgrounds. Perfect Layers gives photographers the ability to combine images in a layered file workflow, sans Photoshop. Perfect Resize a.k.a. Genuine Fractals is, for me, the de facto photo enlargement standard. Perfect Photo Suite 8.5 supports Adobe’s Photoshop CC, CS6, and CS5; Lightroom 5 and 4; Photoshop Elements 12, 11, and 10; and Apple’s Aperture 3. It’s a free update for 8.0 users or can be purchased new for $179.95. The Lightroom & Aperture Edition is $99.95.

PocketWizards For The Studio
The inexpensive radio slave I’ve been using for the past few years refused to work with my new mirrorless camera, so I found a replacement. It was another inexpensive radio trigger and worked (most of the time) but was rather flimsy and constantly falling off whatever monolight to which I attached it. As I pondered the inevitable, I decided the best solution for my dilemma and to make my future lighting tests hassle-free was to get a PocketWizard PlusX.

Courtesy of LPA Design, Inc.

Recently the company showed me a limited edition yellow version, celebrating their new collaboration with Bowens. The well-crafted and rugged PlusX model is compatible with all channel-capable PocketWizard transmitters and receivers, but what I liked best is its simplicity of use: you attach a PocketWizard to your camera, another to a flash using the included cable, set both on the same channel and start taking pictures. Shutterbug advertisers sell the PocketWizard PlusX for $99 each and you’ll need two, one to transmit and the other to receive.

Retouching Software/Plug-In
Portrait Professional Studio 12 from Anthropics is the latest version of the company’s industrial-strength retouching tool that works with Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop and Apple’s Aperture as an add-on or plug-in. Now I can retouch images within Photoshop without having to export the retouched file for the finishing touches. Portrait Professional Studio 12 lets you avoid the over-airbrushed look some retouching software produces by adjusting light on the subject’s face, producing more natural results. It has updated and enhanced features that make it my go-to retouching tool, including enhanced face slimming and sculpting, but does it much faster—4x—than previous versions. As I was wrapping this up, the software was on sale for $79.95 for either Mac OS or Windows versions.

© Joe Farace

Making Books With Macphun
In my April 2014 column I mentioned Macphun’s Focus 2 creative blur application that provides digital bokeh control over a photograph. The application was updated and V2 integrates the printing services of MILK Tailor Made Books ( What’s the big deal—doesn’t everybody and their cousin make photo books these days? MILK Tailor Made Books offers Moleskine books as an option. Moleskine are those “little black notebooks used by avant-garde artists and writers for the last two centuries.” Ernest Hemingway used Moleskine notebooks and I use one to take notes when covering trade shows or attending meetings. You can also turn your images into fine-quality postcards, note cards, framed gallery prints, or wrapped canvas prints. The update to Focus 2 is free.

Courtesy of MILK Tailor Made Books

Steady Now
I’m far from an expert at shooting video but I know that you need a steady camera even if you’re just shooting a YouTube clip of Mr. Fluffy the cat playing the piano. To me, a monopod seems like a better solution for shooting flowing video than a tripod, an idea reinforced when I had a chance to talk with SIRUI’s Jeff Karp who showed me their line of P-S Series Multi-function Photo/Video Monopods.

Courtesy of SIRUI/Argraph Corp.

These monopods have three sturdy fold-down legs and allow you to pan the monopod 360 degrees and tilt 20 degrees without worrying it will move because (get this) you can step on the feet for more stability! To tilt the monopod in any direction, SIRUI uses a ball head mechanism in the base of the monopod. Turning a tension control knob lets you control the amount of drag. The legs have rubber feet for slippery surfaces, which can be replaced with stainless steel spikes for outdoor use. It’s more than a monopod with legs: the legs can be removed and you can then convert it to a tabletop or down-low tripod; when the legs are detached it becomes a traditional monopod. Models are available in aluminum or carbon fiber for added strength, increased load capacity, and vibration reduction. I’ve been using a midsized P-324S carbon-fiber monopod that weighs less than 3 pounds and also makes a great walking stick when hiking.

Courtesy of BoSiHo Leisure Products GmbH

And now for something completely different…the German-designed BallPod is an alternative to a traditional tripod or monopod. It’s about the size of an orange and weighs less than 11 ounces. The smooth silicone shell can be molded into any shape by hand and fits all cameras, including small videocams. It comes in a bunch of hard-to-lose colors and should be a perfect match for mirrorless cameras, like the Lumix GM1 that I’m thinking about giving myself as a birthday gift. Think of it as a Silly Putty tripod, but a lot prettier.

Action-Made Tablets
Panos Efstathiadis, our friend from Greece, has a new set of Tablet Frames actions that let your photos appear on the screen of a (virtual) tablet. The commercial version features three tablet styles (black, white, glassy) and supports landscape and portrait aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2). There’s no limitation on the image’s final size; the finished tablet is proportional to the original image’s size. There are three different tablet views: front, left, and right perspective. The final image is layered and you can even add a custom description on the notification bar. The price at current exchange rates is $15. The free version creates a black landscape tablet, whose width is 800 pixels, and there are no different views. The illustration shows how I used the action to display an eBook on my car photography website.

© Joe Farace

Joe Farace invites Shutterbug readers to visit his blogs, including “Saving the World, One Pixel at a Time” ( and “Mirrorless Photo Tips” ( Check for new how-to posts every day, Monday through Friday.

Anthropics Technology Ltd.:
Argraph Corp. (SIRUI):
Macphun Software:
MILK Tailor Made Books:
OmegaBrandess (BallPod):
onOne Software: