Lots of photographers will say that using plug-ins to process your images is cheating.
Cheating what, exactly, I'm not sure? Cheating reality? Well, duh. But who ever said photography had to be about reality? Photographers have been cheating reality in the darkroom almost since photography began. Dodging, burning, hand-tinting - heck, even shooting in Black and White is cheating reality.
From my perspective, Photoshop plug-ins are an artistic tool, to be used by the individual as they see fit. Yes, sometimes people go overboard, and a style can get done to death (everybody say HDR). And No, a filter or an effect is not a substitute for a good image to begin with. But it can also help turn a reasonably drab image into a more pleasing one.
Often it also comes down to what the image is going to be used for, and who is going to use it. Some competitions have strict rules around any form of 'manipulation', while others let you go for it to your hearts content. Most magazines, however, will want untouched images so that their own graphic department can start from scratch - unless of course it's a photography magazine showcasing your own, finished, work.
I've used Photoshop since version 3 (or there abouts) and have been guilty of over-processing one or two images in my time. But that is also how you begin to learn when enough is enough. All artists go through this. And yes, that does mean I consider photography to be an art form. Of course it is.
My favourite suite of Plug-ins comes from onOne Software - PhotoTools Professional. They have a great range of one-click Photoshop presets that you can apply as single effects, or mix and match to create individual looks. Most looks are controllable from within PhotoTools, varying the degree of the effect before you apply them and export back into Photoshop on its own layer. I use single effects all the time in my wedding work, and they really do speed up the overall workflow.
Case-in-point today, when a file arrived at my in-box from a client who asked me to 'fix' the attached image and 'make it look more moody etc' (they were his exact words).
|Original photo as supplied for 'fixing'|
Rather than spend a lot of time in Photoshop, I decided to see what I could get out of onOne's PhotoTools suite. I did a basic curves adjustment in Photoshop to boost the shadows, and then exported the image to PhotoTools from within Photoshop itself.
|And the final result using PhotoTools Plugins|
Yes, I could have done everything from within Photoshop, but that 5 minutes would have turned into 15 or 20. And time, as they say, is money.