Test Driving Perfect Effects


I’m a big believer in finishing an image. Back when I used to shoot Film my pictures were finished by a lab that developed my film and created the prints. Choices like film type and what kind of paper you printed on made a huge difference in how a final print turned out. Now, with digital photography, we can use software to develop our pictures to represent our unique vision of a shot. While some people resist the idea of modifying an image after it was shot, I’m at the other end of the spectrum. Not only do I embrace the idea, I like to push the boundaries. My tools of choice are Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop but there’s plenty of other choices when it comes to picture editing software.

But editing images can be time consuming and may require extensive training and experience. One popular solution to these problems is using plug-ins. Two companies (onOne and Nik) have dominated the plug-in market. I like to try new things so recently I installed a plug-in from onOne Software to give it a try. For this blog entry I’ll talk about my first experiences using Perfect Effects and I’ll share a before and after of an image.

Full Disclosure

I don’t want this to be mistaken for a full software review. There’s plenty of places online where you can find those. I also don’t want anyone to think that it’s an endorsement of onOne software or Perfect Effects. I don’t get anything free from onOne and I’m definitely not getting paid to talk about their products or provide a link to their site. This is just my opinion about using Perfect Effects.

Eagle eyed readers may notice that I’m working with Perfect Effects 3 instead of Perfect Effects 4. This was a personal choice I made. Before I invested in the newest version of the software I wanted to try a less expensive (but very highly rated) earlier version to see if it I thought it would be worth buying the latest and greatest.

I also want to mention that I’m still learning how to best use Perfect Effects. It’s incredibly easy to get up and running but to get the most out of any piece of software you need training and experience. As I spend more time with Perfect Effects I’ll learn how to better use it effectively. Until then my production work will stay in Photoshop and I’ll be playing with Perfect Effects between assignments.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to do with new software is get it installed on your computer. Normally this is an easy thing to do but I’m using a Mac (running Mountain Lion) so I had a little trouble at first. A new feature of the latest Mac operating system is called Gatekeeper and it prevents the installation of software that isn’t purchased through Apple’s app store. It’s a nice security feature but it tripped me up when I attempted to install Perfect Effects. This was the first piece of software I’ve installed (without the app store) since upgrading to Mountain Lion so of course it was the first time I had problems. Fortunately I was able to overcome my issues (long story) and I was able to get Perfect Effects installed and running.

Once it was installed it worked fine with Photoshop but I needed to locate the Lightroom Plugin installer to get Perfect Effects to work with Lightroom 4. I’m not sure how easy it is to locate on a PC (or if you even need to locate it on a PC) but here is where I found the Lightroom plugin installer on my Mac:

With that out of the way it was time to give Perfect Effects a try.

Using Perfect Effects with Photoshop

I began by finding an image in Lightroom to process with Perfect Effects. I started in Lightroom because I wanted to start with a RAW file instead of using one of my finished jpeg images. I started by locating a landscape image and doing some very basic processing (lens corrections, noise reduction and basic exposure compensation). I then opened the image in Photoshop.

For some people the first hurdle to overcome is figuring out how to send your working file over to the plugin. To send your image over to Perfect Effects you need to navigate to file>automate>Perfect Effects…

I began with a simple landscape shot processed in Lightroom 4 to look very neutral. Here’s a look at my starting image:

The first thing I do when I process an image is to ask myself: “what would I like to improve about this image?”

My answer was: I didn’t care for the cool color temperature of the image, I thought the shadows were a bit dark and it would be nice to see some additional detail and saturation. With those fixes in mind I sent the image over to Perfect Effects to start improving the shot. Here’s how my image looked in Perfect Effects (with some effects applied):

The interface is nice and simple. You have a preview window to see how things look and you have a filmstrip along the bottom with different effects you can apply to your image. Above the filmstrip are tabs to help you locate a particular style/type of effect. Overall it’s very user friendly.

For my image I started with the landscape tab where I added the Golden Hour Enhancer. I tried all the filters out to see how they looked and the Golden Hour filter just looked best to me.

After that I added Tonal Contrast (located in the color and tone tab) and I really liked how it brought out mid range detail. I create a very similar looking effect with Photoshop but it involves lots of steps (including running the surface blur filter and that can take a while). Adding Tonal Contrast was super easy and it looked killer. But you do need to be aware of how killer it looks. Sometimes a filter can be too much and thats where having the strength slider comes in handy. Here’s a look at the strength slider (circled in red):

Effects like Tonal Contrast can get you in trouble sometimes and when you have too much it can make your shot look really fake. I have a tendency to be on the light side with Tonal Contrast but using it (like any technique) is a matter of personal preference.

Next I added the Shadow Lighten filter to bring out some detail in the darker areas and then I finished the image off with a subtle vignette. Here’s a look at my final image after I clicked the Apply button:

Pretty awesome and super fast. I know this is just one example and that I’ll be trying different effects with different images but so far my testing of Perfect Effects has me super impressed.

Are there things I don’t like about it? Sure, but I don’t know if my minor issues have been addressed in Perfect Effects 4 so I’ll keep my complaints to myself for now. I will say that after further usage I’m finding that I prefer to add a single effect and instantly hit apply to bring the image back to Photoshop as a separate layer. The reason I’m doing that is to take advantage of the selection and brush tools in Photoshop for my masking of the effects. When I used the Hollywood Glow filter, for example, I preferred the look of masking the glow out of some areas and for now using Photoshop still feels better for me. Your experiences may be different.

And that’s my quick assessment of Perfect Effects. It’s one heck of a program and it’s super easy to achieve very professional results without having a deep knowledge of Photoshop. I know it will be a lot easier for me to tell someone to add some Tonal Contrast than it is to describe every step of my personal Photoshop technique for adding midrange detail. Now I need to look into a few more plug-ins to see what other results I can acheive.

To learn more about onOne Software be sure to stop by their website here.

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