Our 20 Favorite Photoshop Plugins for Photographers

If you’re looking for maximum creative control over your photos including adding, removing or changing any part of the image, Photoshop is the industry standard for designers and photographers alike.

Its built-in features can keep you busy and creative for the rest of your life, or at least till the next version is released... :)

But for those things it doesn’t do, or actions and effects that can seem overly complex, there’s a whole world of plugins available.

Some address key practical features like sharpening or erasing objects. Others focus on creative effects, allowing you to quickly change the look and feel of your photos and/or develop a unique style.

Whatever fix or effect you’re looking for, using plugins - especially premium plugins - can revolutionize your workflow.

Here are some of our favorites.

Portrait Retouching

Retouching is something every serious portrait photographer ends up doing a fair amount of, and using Photoshop alone can be a bit long and arduous, even with a good set of custom actions. That’s where the following plugins can help.

Portraiture focuses on getting perfect skin texture without losing any detail. No need for complex masking or even the healing brush.

Portraiture’s presets automatically smooth the skin, while removing blemishes and maintaining both texture and detail.

In fact, the default settings and presets are so good that you may not find much else to change. (Just stay away from the “Smoothing: High” setting, unless you’re looking for a mall-brand, doll-like image.)

The user interface is pretty sleek and approachable, yet hides a lot of power under the surface.

The price is a bit high, but if you shoot a lot of portraits and need professional results, it’s well worth the investment.

Price: $199.95

Looking for more than just skin softening? PortraitPro does everything you can imagine, from applying realistic digital makeup to face-sculpting.

PortraitPro is especially amazing If you’re one of those retouchers who likes to sculpt the face, as it immediately outlines facial elements upon import, then allows you to drag the lines of the eyebrows, lips, nose, and eyes anywhere you like.

It also knows just how to lighten and smooth eye bags, smooth out crow’s feet, detect pores, and its sliders isolate just about every detail on the face, so you have ultimate control. It’s won a number of awards over the years and is far cheaper than Portraiture.

It also comes with a free trial.

Price: $39.95 at time of writing (normal price is $79.90)

Removing Unwanted Objects/Backgrounds

While Photoshop’s healing brush and clone stamp do an amazing job of deleting unwanted objects and backgrounds, there are a few plugins out there that can make the job much easier.

Fluid Mask is an amazing little plugin that makes backgrounds disappear like magic. Fog, strands of hair, or other fragile or fading elements?

Never fear.

Fluid Mask’s ability to handle near-transparent objects is nothing short of amazing. You know the time it takes to create an in-depth selection?

Fluid Mask can literally cut it out in a matter of minutes!

If you’re a photo-compositor, graphic designer, or love to make memes, this little plugin will literally save you hours of time.

Price: $99

Snapheal, by Skylum software, focuses on the quick removal of elements like traffic signs, powerlines, bystanders, road damage—whatever you might want to make disappear.

It doesn’t have the finesse of Fluid Mask, and you’ll still have to manually cut out elements that lie on a tricky background, but for simple things, Snapheal is does a great job.

It’s also fairly inexpensive. (Mac only)

Price: $49.99

Working with Color and Contrast

Color and contrast are two of the main elements that will make or break the quality of your photos, and learning how to adjust them perfectly in Photoshop can take years to learn.

Using the following plugins, however, takes far less time and often produces stunning results.

Color Efex Pro, part of the Nik Tools Suite, has long been the professional photographer’s mainstay for color effects.

The filters run the gamut from portrait and landscape to creative, and are not only stackable, but allow you to apply different ones to different areas of the photo all at once.

If you’re a landscape photographer, their tonal contrast filter is worth the package alone. (I’ve not seen any filter come close to what Color Efex’s Tonal Contrast can do.) Their detail extractor is also the best I’ve seen on the market today.

But these are just two of many, and you can have them all out for free ever since Google bought Nik Filters. And now that DxO has bought them from Google, there’s an update scheduled for 2018. Woot!

Price: Free!

Topaz Adjust is another industry-standard plugin that’s been around for years.

The filters, though similar to Color Efex Pro, yield fairly different results.

Most photographers will prefer one over the other, but those who love Topaz say that it pretty much “reads your mind” about what you’re looking for.

And if you like quick, nice-sized previews, Topaz doesn’t waste your time churning away. You get to see what your image will look like almost immediately.

The user interface is considerably different than Color Efex Pro, so you’ll need to play around with it and see what you think.

But if you’re like many photographers, you’ll probably find filters you can’t live without.

Price: $39.99

Intensify is a newer Photoshop plugin and definitely packs a punch.

It comes with far more presets than Color Efex Pro or Topaz Adjust and offers layer options and masking as well.

The user interface is simple and intuitive, and there’s next to no learning curve. You can either work from a single-slider global adjustment in “filter” mode or make more detailed adjustments (i.e. exposure, structure, sharpness, etc.) in their adjustment panel.

So, if you’re a presets lover and/or want something that’s super easy to learn—this little plugin will make your day. (Mac only)

Price: $69.99

Noise Reduction

Unless you’re always shooting in bright conditions, a time will come when you end up with some noise in your photos.

While you can remove noise in Photoshop, there are a number of plugins that do the job much more quickly and efficiently and, in most cases, with far better results.

Another plugin from the Nik Collection, Dfine is much easier to use than Photoshop, especially when you want to adjust the contrast and reduce color noise separately.

Noise reduction is applied only to noise elements in the image, and you can use Nik’s trademark control points to selectively control what the filter affects without using masks.

And, like all the Nik filters, it’s free.

Price: Free!

Skylum designs all its software to be incredibly easy to use and Noiseless is no exception.

The plugin uses a smart algorithm to identify noise and automatically removes it. Then, it runs a second algorithm to add back the detail back in.

You can either sit back and let the presets do the work or refine and fine-tune with their adjustments panel.

The settings range from “Lightest” to “Extreme,” but if you’re going for a more realistic look, stick to the lower settings.

They’re much subtler, and in my opinion, much more effective. And as Noiseless doesn’t have any masking options, make sure you open a duplicate layer in Photoshop before applying. (Mac only)

Price: $70

Light Effects

If you’re someone who likes to add effects to your images, you’ll definitely want to take these two light plugins for a spin. They both create some amazing results.

10. Glow In Studio

Another plugin from the Topaz suite, Glow in Studio offers everything from eye-popping brilliance to subtle, ethereal light.

While the “Glow” adjustment is unique in itself, the HSL Color Tuning gives you almost superhuman control over your image’s hues, saturation, and luminance.

A great option for intense, creative design—especially if you like to push the limits of what your images can do.

Price: $69.97

11. Light

If you like playing with light and shadow but can’t always get the lighting you want in-camera, Dtf’s Light plugin might be for you. Light allows you to add shadow patterns into any image using the gobos of Gamproducts and Rosco. (A gobo is a stencil or template placed in front of a light source to control the shape of the projected light.)

You can project everything from window frames to leaf patterns, or make your own template.

The final lighting effects look as if they were shot in-session. Other effects include fog, diffusion, fill light, and glow effects.

It comes with a layering system so you can use multiple effects selectively.

Price: $50

Artistic Effects

Color effects not enough for you? Never fear—the plugins below offer many, many more options.

Filter Forge comes with access to over 12,000 ready-made textures and effects. It works with both still images and motion pictures, and their advanced versions let you create your own filters, without any knowledge of programming or coding.

While this might not seem so spectacular if you’re not designing your own content, artists creating new images—especially those working in 3D—will find Filter Forge absolutely essential.

Price: The basic edition starts at $149

13. ON1 Effects

Though On1’s Effects 10 has fewer filters than Filter Forge, it will probably be more than enough for folks who don’t need to create their own. In fact, for many the number of filters can be somewhat overwhelming.

Luckily the basic presets are of high enough quality that they’ll probably keep you satisfied until you feel like branching out to the others.

The software comes complete with local adjustments, blending modes, and masking. You can even apply a filter to just highlights and shadows.

Honestly, this plugin offers so many options, it’s best to start slow. (If you’re a landscape photographer, try the Magic Ocean preset!)

Price: Effects 10.5 is currently free. Their 2018 version is $119.99

14. FX Photo Studio

If you’re a Mac user looking for creative effects, you’ll definitely want to give Skylum’s FX Photo Studio a spin.

It has a beautiful and intuitive interface, plenty of filters to choose from, and a smart brush that allows you to apply the effect selectively, without using masks.

While it only has basic image editing options, this won’t affect plugin users much. Simply apply the effect to a duplicate image layer in Photoshop and edit away. (Mac only.)

Price: $39.99


While Photoshop’s HDR option will combine your images for you, most HDR photographers find it seriously lacking in usability.

And while many turn to stand-alone programs, that can really create more hassle if much of your workflow is already in Photoshop.

The solution? Plugins.

Truly one of the best HDR options out there (both as a standalone program and as a plugin).

Aurora allows for advanced (yet easy) HDR editing that can be anywhere from truly natural-looking to the wild and extreme.

Most HDR editing programs don’t allow you to easily end up with a natural-looking photo, but Aurora really shines here.

Comes with layering, multiple blend modes, amazing presets, and even lens correction. If you’re a serious HDR photographer, do yourself a favor and give Aurora a try.

Price: $99

If Aurora’s not your thing (or you’re looking for something free), Nik’s HDR Efex Pro does a decent job of processing HDR photos.

Most of the presets look clearly “HDR-ed,” so if you’re looking for a realistic-looking image, stick to the default or the Balanced preset.

If you like the HDR look, then the presets will work fine for you. Either way, the default settings still look far better than what Photoshop and Lightroom offer for HDR.

The plugin also works in Lightroom, so an easy workflow is to do your lens corrections in Lightroom, then export to HDR Efex Pro.

Price: Free!

Lens Effects

Sometimes we just don’t have the camera gear to get the depth of field (or other lens effects) we’re looking for. The plugins below can save a lot of hand-numbing work.

Tuned to many of the more popular lenses out there, Topaz Lens Effects makes incredible bokeh, tilt-shift effects, motion blur, vignettes, polarization, and just about any other effect you can get out of a lens.

As far as the effects are concerned, they vary from the subtle to the extreme.

The most helpful ones will be for photographers who need filters that are simply too expensive to buy. Or, if you’re working with a slower lens/cheaper camera and need selective focusing, being able to choose the bokeh effect can allow you to precisely mimic a faster lens.

Price: $79.99

18. Focus

If you’re looking for creative lens effects and like experimenting, try Skylum’s Focus plugin.

It comes with both radial and linear motion blur controls, a “twirl” control, lens blur, and selective focus effects. (Mac only.)

Price: $59.99


Enlarging photos without losing sharpness is definitely an art. These two plugins make it easy.

This easy-to-use plugin far outpaces Photoshop’s native options, especially where large art-quality prints are being made.

Comes with a large library of standard paper sizes and Lightroom and CMYK support.

For printing out images that just don’t have the resolution, this plugin will definitely make your life a lot easier.

Price: $99 on its own, or $199 as part of the Exposure X3 Bundle

20. Resize

Resize is different from Blow Up 2 in that it uses a fractal-based algorithm to resize your images.

Some people notice a distinct difference and others don’t.

One feature that sets it apart, though is its tiling feature that allows you to divide your photos into diptychs, triptychs, or mosaics—something super useful if you’re into creative art installations.

It also has a “gallery wrap feature” that creates extended margins so you don’t lose any part of your photo when printing to canvas. (This seriously takes the guesswork out of sizing canvas prints!)

Price: $59.99 at the time of this post

TChoosing between Resize and Blow Up can be challenging—they both do pretty much the same thing.

It’ll probably come down to what user interface works best for you, whether you’re already using other software from these two companies, and in the end, price.

What Computer Should You Get For Photography?


Apple iMac Retina 5K (Image Courtesy Apple Inc.)

If you’re wondering what the best computer is for photography then you’re not alone! It’s one of the most popular questions we get asked.

We also just recently purchased new computers so I’ll also share some thoughts on the decision making process we took.

The Most Frequently Asked Questions About New Computers For Photography

Should I get a Mac or a PC?



A Dell Inspirion PC All In One PC (Image Courtesy of Dell Inc.)

From a technical point of view there’s not a big difference between a Mac computer and PC. They’re both computers, and both operating systems will run the popular photography programs you’ll be using (Lightroom, Photoshop, etc).

One drawback of Mac is the premium you pay over an equivalent PC. Apple computers generally cost more than PCs. It’s my opinion that the superior industrial design and operating system from Apple is worth paying extra for.

Another drawback of Mac is the lack of upgradeability. With a PC there’s a much better chance you’ll be able to upgrade the hard drive, RAM, video card, etc. Most Mac computers aren’t very user upgradable, which means you need to pick your upgrades when ordering the computer. Also, if your Mac breaks the chances of repairing it yourself are pretty slim (get the extended warranty!)

Macs have developed a bit of a reputation for their reliability because of the control Apple has between hardware and software. Since Apple makes the computer and the operating system they can ensure maximum compatibility between the two while other PC manufacturers just make the computer and then run Windows. Personally I think this is less of an issue than it used to be.

Having used both PC and Mac over the years, and despite the drawbacks I just mentioned, my personal recommendation is still for Mac. The biggest reason is that I find the Mac operating system (OSX) more intuitive and more enjoyable to use. I feel like I can work faster with Mac than with Windows (this nothing to do with computer speed, just but rather the design and usability of the operating system).

As kind of a counter-recommendation, I wouldn’t specifically switch to Mac just for a new photography computer. If you’re using a PC right now and you’re comfortable with PC then it might be better for you to stick with it. Learning photography can be confusing enough without also trying to get comfortable with a new computer operating system.

Should I get a Desktop vs. Laptop?


Apple Retina MacBook Pro (Image Courtesy Apple Inc.)

The short answer is “get both!”.

If you don’t have a computer at all then starting with a laptop is probably the better choice. They’re often a bit cheaper than desktops, and you can always connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse to a laptop and use it like a desktop.

If you do any sort of travelling, or you’re still a student in school then you’ll likely find a laptop a more versatile solution.

So why buy a desktop? If you’re using a computer more professionally, a desktop is probably the better choice. Desktops are often more powerful, and you only need to worry about connecting all your peripheral devices (monitors, keyboards, external hard drives, memory card readers, etc) once. It’s nice to just sit down at a workstation that is totally ready to go.

I personally prefer working on my desktop computer. I like having multiple large screens to spread out windows from various programs. I also prefer using a wired mouse which is faster and more precise than wireless mice. My desktop computer also has a direct connection to my network/internet, which is faster than wifi. Finally, we have also built up a good workspace around our desktop computers (nice desk, excellent chairs, printers close by, etc).

I think another reason to get a desktop would be if you’re looking for a family computer – something everyone can use.

Ideally having both a laptop and a desktop is the way to go. You get the portability of a laptop when you need it and the power of a desktop when you’re not out and about.

We’ve been using both desktops and laptops for years and it’s been so nice (I’m writing this from a laptop on the couch right now!).

How much should I spend on a photography computer?

This is a tough question to answer because there is such a wide range of computer prices depending on whether you go Mac or PC, and what system options you choose.

I think a lot of entry level computers are fine for the hobbyist photographer, and you don’t need spend a ton getting all the bells and whistles. In fact a great place to start is probably with the computer you already own (if you already own a computer). New computers will certainly run photography software faster, but older computers (really anything released in the past 4-5 years) will still run programs like Lightroom and Photoshop.

If you’re doing photography professionally, and you’ll be using your computer everyday – then spending a bit more can certainly help speed things up for you.

Now, it’s not just the computer you need to budget for. You need to think about getting a monitor, additional hard drives for photo backup, a printer, and if you’re using Adobe software – the price of subscribing to Creative Cloud.

It all adds up:

A good colour accurate monitor that you can calibrate will run you between $1000-$1500. It seems steep, but a great monitor will really help make sure your prints look the way you intend. (I would recommend a 27-30inch monitor for photo editing, you can read our review of the NEC PA271W here).

And a photo printer can cost you anywhere between $150-$1000+ depending on the size of prints you want to do and whether you want a printer that uses archival quality inks.

A 4TB external hard drive goes for about $160. You’ll need multiple drives to ensure safe backup of your photos, with offsite storage.

Adobe offers a Creative Cloud Photography Plan that includes both Lightroom and Photoshop for $10/month. If you want the whole creative suite (adding programs like Premiere, Illustrator, InDesign, etc) then it will cost you $50/month.

Back to the computer:

As a rough estimate for an entry level system you can expect to pay between $1000 – $1500. For this amount you should get some kind of monitor (either included separately, or as part of the computer – like an all in one iMac, or Dell Inspiron).

For a pro level system you can expect to pay $2500 – $4000+. This price might not include the cost of a monitor (and you probably should be looking for a proper color accurate display to add to the computer).

What To Look For In A New Computer For Photography

When shopping for a new computer make sure to pay close attention to the following features. Two computers might look identical from the outside, but it’s what’s under the hood that makes a big difference to performance.

Here’s what to look for (roughly in order of what I feel is most important)

What to look for:

Solid State Drive

Your computer needs something to store its operating system files and programs on. Right now computer manufacturers are transitioning from hard disk drives (HDD) which store information on spinning magnetic platters, to solid state drives (SSD) which have no moving parts (like the type of storage used in your cell phone). Solid state drives read and write data much faster than traditional hard disk drives. The downside is that solid state drives are often small in capacity and cost more to upgrade

Your computer will be much faster with your operating system running on a solid state drive. I strongly recommend upgrading to a solid state drive (even if you have to settle for a lower capacity drive). It’s the best way to improve the overall performance of your computer. I would recommend at least a 512GB SSD for your computer’s operating system. I used a 256 GB SSD for a couple years and I was constantly filling it up (but I’m not super disciplined at keeping my downloads folder, or desktop very organized).

Note: some manufacturers like Apple offer a combination SSD + HDD. This has the advantage of offering the speed of a SSD with the larger storage capacity of a HDD. The performance of these drives seem pretty good, the main disadvantage seems to be when moving large amounts of files (larger than the SSD can cache), then you end up with the super slow HDD speeds. For the average user I think this is a fair trade off.


This is probably the second most important feature to consider when purchasing a new computer. RAM stands for random access memory. Your computer’s RAM is basically super fast, but temporary storage space that computer programs use.

The more programs you have open, the more RAM you’ll be using. Some programs also require / use more RAM. For example editing multiple high resolution images is going to take up more RAM than editing a couple of text documents.

I would recommend a minimum of 16GB of RAM. If you’re working with really large files (500MB+) then you might want to move up 32GB. If you’re on a Mac you can open up Activity Monitor to view how much RAM each program is using (I’m sure there’s a similar app on Windows). This will give you an idea of whether you need to get more RAM (or how much RAM you should get in your next computer).

Check to see if it’s possible to upgrade the RAM in your computer, if it is you can often purchase RAM cheaper from a 3rd party and easily install it yourself.

Video Card

A video card is what outputs images and video from your computer to your monitor. It’s also known as a graphics processing unit (GPU).

You should be looking for a video card with 2GB of RAM. You might even be able to get by without a video card (in which case the GPU is integrated into the motherboard or CPU). A video card with more RAM (4GB) will be better if you’re running ultra high resolution monitors, or doing video editing – but most photography programs won’t benefit from beefy video cards.

New to Lightroom 6/CC Adobe has added support for GPU acceleration. At the moment the only part of Lightroom that utilizes GPU acceleration is the Develop module. When making adjustments in the develop module you’ll notice how quickly the image updates with the adjustments you’re making (very little lag between making an adjustment with a slider and seeing the adjustment performed on the image).


The processor (CPU) is the part of the computer that performs operations, it’s basically the brain of the computer. The faster your CPU (measured in GHz) the more operations per second it can perform. Processors can also have multiple cores. The more cores a CPU has the more operations it is capable of performing simultaneously. The key word there is “capable”. Most programs aren’t very well optimized to take significant advantage of multiple cores.

Photography programs like Lightroom and Photoshop will benefit from a faster processor speed. That said you may not need the fastest processor out there.

If you need a computer for professional photography use then it’s worth upgrading to a faster processor, it will save you time.

If you’re a hobbyist then processor speed, and how many cores the processor has, is much less of a concern. It will simply take your computer a bit longer to perform some tasks (like exporting photos, or generating preview files).

The recommendation for processor speed and number of cores is tough to make since it will vary widely depending on whether you’re looking at a laptop, an all in one desktop, or a standalone tower. Generally when it comes to processors the higher the GHz, the faster the computer, and the more cores the processor has, the more capable it is of handling professional applications.

Our New Computers

So what did we get, and what would we do differently?

First a bit of backstory on what we’re upgrading from. For the past 4 years we’ve been using custom built PC computers that run the Mac operating system. This type of computer is called a “Hackintosh”. My recommendation is against creating a hackintosh because they take more work than either Macs or PCs to setup and to maintain. (If you’re interested you can learn how to build your own hackintosh here.)

I really enjoyed experimenting with hackintoshes. We originally built them at the time when it seemed like Apple was discontinuing the Mac Pro and we badly needed to upgrade our current Mac Pros. The hackintoshes allowed us to build very powerful computers quite cheaply.

Fast forward to today and those Hackintoshes are now quite old. Over the past year I haven’t been able to upgrade to the most recent operating system (because of the time consuming task it is it is to get everything working properly with the latest version of OSX).

So we moved back to real Apple computers!

We ended up getting two 27-inch Apple Retina 5Ks. You can learn more about the iMac Retina on Apple’s website here.

The first iMac Retina has pretty much all the upgrade options available:


We upgraded to the 4.0GHz processor. We ordered a 2x16GB upgraded RAM kit from OWC to bring the total RAM up to 40GB (the computer already comes with 8GB). We upgraded the SSD to 1TB, as well as the video card to the 4GB option.

This first computer is definitely overkill at the moment. We’re planning on doing a lot more video this year, which was the reason went with the beefy upgrades.

For the second iMac Retina we were a bit more reserved:

Bag_-_Apple 2

We upgraded to the 4.0 GHz processor. We ordered a 2x8GB RAM kit from OWC to bring the total RAM up to 24GB. And we upgraded to the 512GB SSD.

So basically the only difference between the computers is the amount of RAM, the size of the SSD, and the video cards.

For both computers we ordered the additional 3 year warranty (Apple Care). Since you can’t easily repair these computers yourself, the additional warranty is definitely necessary.

We use our computers professionally for hours everyday, so our choice of upgrades are a bit on the heavy side.

The 27inch screens for the Apple 5K are beautiful. Photos look absolutely stunning on this display. The color and detail from this screen is mind blowing. Text looks razor sharp. We do still have a color accurate display for print work, but for our primary screens I much prefer looking at the the ultra high resolution 5Ks.

As far as what we would do differently, I think the second (cheaper) computer we ordered was a good mix of upgrades – I probably would have upgraded the RAM on this computer to 40GB since 24GB already hasn’t been enough. While it’s awesome to have lots of room to grow with our beefier (more expensive) computer I’m not sure how much we’ll take advantage of the upgrades (the upgrade to a 1TB SSD and 4GB video card adds quite a bit).

I would also consider a slower processor. The 4.0 GHz isn’t that much faster than the 3.2 or 3.3GHz processors.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s important to emphasize that you do not need to have the latest and greatest computer to do photography on. We tend to upgrade our computers only every 4-5 years Computers are expensive so you want to make sure you get good value out of them!

I also want to stress the importance of peripheral devices to your photography. I wish I had gotten a nice photo printer sooner (we paid for our photo printer with our very first print order!). If you already have a computer I would recommend getting a printer before a new computer. 

And don’t forget about photo storage! If you’re photos aren’t properly backed up then go buy a new hard drive (or hard drives) right now and do whatever it takes to make sure those files are safe!

One final tip: look for deals! You can purchase refurbished computers directly from Apple which even qualify for the 3-year extended warranty.

When we were first getting started with photography we purchased one of our first laptops used, so check your local classifieds for deals!

Hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have any other tips for buying a new computer for photography feel free to leave a note in the comments below! Thanks!

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