Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

One of my favorite ways to convert a color file into monochrome is to use Photoshop-compatible plug-ins. You can use always use Adobe Photoshop’s Black and White command (Image >Adjustments>Black & White) and it’s a pretty good tool as far as it goes but I prefer to use plug-ins, such as Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2, shown above.

Plug-ins are software but they are not applications and must cling, remora-like to a host application, like Photoshop, in order to survive. Clouding the digital waters is the fact that some of these products are available as a plug-in and an application but a plug-in doesn’t have to be an application. Life was never simple in the chemical based traditional darkroom either and it isn’t for the digital darkroom. Curious readers should pick of a copy of my long out-of-print book, “Plug-in Smart,” to read about the imaging plug-in’s origins in a Forward written by Ed Bomke, the programmer who created the very first plug-in for a program called, interestingly enough, Digital Darkroom.

Although Adobe defined the standard, you don’t need Photoshop to use plug-ins. Fully compatible plug-ins can be used with other image editing programs including Ulead Systems’ PhotoImpact, Corel’s Painter, PhotoPaint and PaintShop Pro. But not all plug-ins work with Photoshop Elements and some plug-ins are not compatible with Apple’s Aperture. Some companies offer Aperture-compatible plug-ins but they must specifically be designed to work with the program so it’s important to check before dropping your credit card number on a website.

Many companies have extended their technology to work with Lightroom but its plug-in architecture is dissimilar to Photoshop. The bottom line, according to Adobe, is that “image processing plug-ins are best utilized through Photoshop…” using Smart Objects to maintain access to the raw or nondestructive workflow.” When working with any plug-in it’s important to remember one of Farace’s Laws of digital imaging that any special effect filter is ultimately subject dependent. One effect may look great for portraits while another may work best with landscapes, so you may need more than one plug-in. Many plug-ins are available in trial or demo versions, so be sure visit the company’s Web site and download any that interest you and use them with your own photographs.

Joe is the author or co-author of thirty-three books, including the long out-of-print “Plug-in Smart”, which was his favorite book to date.


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