Software Power Tools From PMA 2007; Plug-Ins & Presets, Oh My!

"A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognize it?"--Ernst Haas

Power tools are small bits of software, be they Photoshop compatible plug-ins, Photoshop Actions, or software utilities that can make a digital photographer's life a little easier for creating practical or special effects. Much like an electric screwdriver makes household projects faster than an old-fashioned hand tool, software power tools let you produce imaging projects quicker and with less fuss than doing it "the hard way."

One of Adobe Photoshop's most useful features is an open architecture that lets it accommodate small software applications--called plug-ins--that extend the program's capabilities. The use of plug-ins lets digital imagers increase the functionality of graphic programs and allows them to customize their software to match whatever kind of projects they're working on. But don't let the name fool you. You don't need Adobe's Photoshop or even Photoshop Elements to use compatible plug-ins. Adobe Systems defined the standard, but compatible plug-ins can be used with many other image-editing programs, including Ulead Systems' PhotoImpact, and Corel's Painter, Photo-Paint, and Paint Shop Pro. At PMA 2007 software companies large and small unveiled new power tools that vary from the merely useful to the indispensable. Here are the best of them:

Plug-Ins & Presets
Always one of the companies at PMA with interesting products, Digital Anarchy ( has several new plug-ins. Primatte Chromakey 3.0 removes a blue/green screen background from a photograph, leaving the subject against a transparent background. Primatte Chromakey preserves important details like wisps of hair and sheer material. Version 3.0 adds new features, including more automated masking tools and better blending between subject and foreground. Knoll Light Factory 3.0 generates light flares that dramatically enhance the natural or manmade lighting in photographs. Version 3.0 introduces a new interface that's significantly easier to use, streamlines the process of creating light effects, and ships with more flare and lighting presets.

Knoll Light Factory 3.0 and Primatte Chromakey 3.0 add support for Intel-based Mac OS computers and Photoshop CS3. Also, don't miss Digital Anarchy's ToonIt!, an easy way to give photographs a cartoon look. ToonIt! analyzes an image, reducing its color palette and detecting important edges. These edges can be rendered to produce a pen and ink look or you can apply effects such as Flat Cartoon, Graphic Novel, or if you're a Will Eisner fan like me, Comic Noir.

Tiffen's ( new Dfx filters are available as a stand-alone or a suite of application-specific plug-ins and are compatible with Mac OS or Windows computers. Unlike other filter-related software, Tiffen Dfx filters simulate the extensive range of Tiffen's optical filters, including effects that replicate characteristics of Kodak's Wratten filters. Dfx plug-ins are available in a standard edition featuring a range of popular filter effects while the complete edition provides the entire range of more than 1000 Tiffen filter effects and gels. All sets offer the ability to apply factory presets or save custom effects. The suggested retail price of the complete edition is expected to be $349.95.