Serious Shutterbugs Should Consider PhotoTools Photoshop Plug-in

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Adobe Photoshop is a remarkably deep and powerful program, but when you want to edit a photo with particularly advanced enhancements, the process can be time-consuming and intimidating. OnOne Software PhotoTools 2 (available in $160 Standard and $260 Professional versions, each with a 30-day free trial) is a Photoshop plug-in with a large library of effect presets created by top professional photographers.

PhotoTools isn't a cookie-cutter FX package. Instead, you can layer effects, with different levels of intensity, or use a paint brush to apply or erase each one from specific areas of your picture. When you are pleased with the effect you've achieved, you can save it as your own preset. The result can be applied to your Photoshop image as a separate layer, keeping your original picture intact. But, once it is placed there, you cannot re-edit the PhotoTools parameters. What's more, PhotoTools ignores Photoshop masks and layers, working globally on an entire image file rather than the selected portion or layer. Batch processing--applying the same effect to a series of photos all at once --is relatively simple.

The biggest problem with PhotoTools is that it has so much to offer, you can easily get lost in it. The Standard Edition includes 181 preset effects, and the Professional edition has 293. Then, add to that library presets you can download from the OnExchange, plus any that you create and save. The sheer volume can be overwhelming, even for pros. However, all presets are saved with a description, keywords and a sample image, which helps to narrow down your searches. Plus, you can create customized categories of effects. To get you up and running, OnOne Software has a slew of online video tutorials and free Webinars for all of OnOne's programs, including PhotoTools 2.

Other than the larger library of presets, what sets the Professional version apart from the Standard is that the former integrates with Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture, as well as Photoshop.

If you enjoy exploring different variations of your photographs, in the quest for another look or style that makes them pop, PhotoTools could be a useful add-in to your Photoshop toolbox. PhotoTools makes professional quality edits comparatively easy, while keeping you in the driver's seat, creatively. Your choice between the Standard and Professional edition should be based on your typical workflow. Do you prefer to do your production edits in Lightroom or Aperture? Then, download the Professional edition. But if you plan on staying within Photoshop, go with Standard.

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