Are we hurting ourselves when we use Plugins???

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: July 8, 2011

Category: General

Ok let me explain what I mean by the title to this post…

From the moment I was introduced to Photoshop and very soon after discovered the N.A.P.P. [Link] I was hooked! It seemed like (and still does) that every spare moment I had I was playing around trying out all kinds of techniques trying to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could, and within a relatively short space of time I’d built up enough knowledge to take and pass the ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) Exam.

However once I started up my business and work was coming in, time became an issue so I started using Plugins to reduce my editing time. If I remember correctly I was using Photo Tools by ‘OnOne’ which was a great bit of kit with all manner of presets and sure it reduced the amount of time I spent editing considerably BUT as I experienced this carried with it a negative effect…

You see because I became so reliant on using a Plugin to help with my editing by default I wasn’t really using Photoshop and because I wasn’t using Photoshop my knowledge and skill level naturally began to deteriorate. I actually started to feel a bit of a fake when people would complement my work which may sound a little odd because yeah I know it’s the actual image out of the camera that’s most important but it still needs to be ‘finished off’ and to do that I was just turning to a Plugin.

I eventually made the decision, and this is a personal one you understand because it was how I was feeling, to remove all my plugins and get back to basics. I started reading Photoshop books again and watching video tutorials with a passion, hungry to build my skill level back up and this is what I continue to do each and every day.

There’s no excuse not to keep educated and working on your skill level these days thanks to all the excellent quality online training that’s out there; resources like the N.A.P.P. [Link] and Kelby Training [Link] carry a wealth of knowledge from some of the best instructors in the world that we can access anytime and anywhere.

So where do I stand now when it comes to plugins?
Well what I’m not saying here is that Plugins are a bad thing…far from it! In fact I wouldn’t be without Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro [Link] for Black & White conversions…it totally ROCKS and there’s nothing out there that beats it!!!

If you find yourself with large numbers of images to edit, from a wedding for example, then plugins are invaluable because you can’t be spending large amounts of time editing when you have other weddings to work on too…that I totally understand. In fact lately some of my jobs have resulted in large amounts of images and I’m considering using Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 [Link] for working on such shoots when clients need the images fast.

Being able to use and create all kinds of looks and add finishing touches to images by having a working knowledge and understanding of Photoshop is very important to me. I know from my own experience that if I personally rely too heavily on plugins then my knowledge and skill level will decrease but this may well not be the case for you as we’re all different; I just know what happens to me.

One more thing…
I know that famous Digital Artist Calvin Hollywood [Link] will make use of plugins like Nik Color Efex Pro but again only when he has a client that needs a volume of images fast! But one thing I also know is that he can recreate any of the presets in the plugin himself using techniques in Photoshop.

So what are your feelings on plugins? Do you use them and if so which ones? Have you found that your skill level in Photoshop has kept the same or decreased?

I’d really love to ‘hear’ your thoughts and feelings on this whole topic of ‘plugins’ so please as always feel free to make use of the comments section below.
Enjoy 🙂

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  1. Scot Baston

    Hi Glyn,

    I saw your Poll on Facebook about this recently, and I voted that plug-ins do negatively affect Photoshop skills.

    As you mention, using plug-ins is more about the speed benefits than the artistic benefits. A plugin is more likely to give a standard look to an image rather than developing your own style.

    There is a place for plug-ins, and a place for having the skill set in PS.. I think the problem arises when we use one method exclusively. Variety being the spice of life et al

    An interesting and thought provoking blog today.. thank you!


    • Glyn

      @Scot…Thanks for commenting mate. Yeah I totally agree with you as I said in the post…there is a place for plug ins as well as having a skill set in using the ‘out of the box’ Photoshop.


  2. Jon Swainson

    The Nik Software plugins are worth their weight in gold. My wedding photography would be much less profitable if I had to do everything manually.

    That said, I still process some studio work ‘manually’ to get the look I want. I try to find time to experiment and regularly read tutorials/articles to see how other photographers do things.

    In summary then, a bit of both for me!

    • Glyn

      @Jon…Totally mate; the time they can save when working on ‘volume’ of images is incredible.
      Cheers 😉

  3. Nate Stiverson

    I see this as a parallel to school. We go to school to learn the long way of doing things in order to understand the process. When we get out into the ‘real world’ this process is shortened by the use of software and hardware in order to save time. After all, Time is Money!

    I think plug-ins are a great tool for professionals to use, but having the knowledge and understanding of what these plug-ins are doing is important.

    I am a fan of plug-ins, but want to learn all I can about the process. Thanks for the discussion topic!

    • Glyn

      @Nate…Nailed it mate; couldn’t agree more!

  4. Gene McCullagh

    Hi Glyn!

    I’m going to disagree. When one talks about “getting back to basics” what does that really mean? Is PS Extended worse than PS Standard because it has video and 3d? Remember that PS itself is comprised of quite a few plugins that are loaded out of the box and are so tightly integrated that you don’t even know you are using a plugin.

    PS, like any well crafted application, is extensible. Avoiding plugins can be likened to using a rock to drive a nail instead of a hammer. The hammer performs a similar function to the rock but is a more refined and elegant solution to the problem. So it is with plugins.

    Now, I agree that one should continue to hone PS skills and not “go soft” from plugin overindulgence. But, to foresake plugins in fear of that I think is a mistake. We should approach plugins (that is if they are quality applications themselves) as enhancements and refinements to PS. As additional tools in our toolbox.

    It is the end product of our creative visions that matter. Whatever the tools, we need to learn to use them well.

    • Glyn

      @Gene…I’m with you here Gene and to clarify, what I’m not saying is that we shouldn’t embrace plug ins and make good use of them. My own experience was that when I used plug ins such as OnOne Photo Tools where I can click to add a glamour glow, smooth skin, add a bleach bypass effect and so on, my skill level decreased i.e. I began to forget how to create those effects ‘manually’ by for example using vivid light, inverting it, using the high pass filter then blending options etc to create realistic smooth skin. i wanted the knowledge to know how to do it manually but didn’t so that’s why I stopped using them for the majority of my editing…does that makes sense?

      Forsaking plug ins that have those effects is just a personal choice for me as I teach Photoshop at my workshops and need to ‘stay sharp’ (excuse the pun 😉 ) but when it comes to editing a large volume of images as I’ve had to recently then for those jobs I will be turning to Nik Color Efex Pro for the speed it offers but those jobs where I have a large volume of images aren’t that often.

      Absolutely 100% agree with you when you say “It is the end product of our creative visions that matter. Whatever the tools, we need to learn to use them well.‘ … I just want to keep my knowledge to the point where I can fulfill that vision without having to turn to a plug in such as Color Efex Pro but rather using it because I want to. But this is just how I feel about it knowing how I forget techniques…must be my age 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Gene; I really do appreciate it.
      Keep up the great work with Lightroom Secrets too….a great read 😉

      All the best to you,

  5. Neil Holmes

    Hi Glyn, I think Gene puts it much better than I could, but I agree plug ins are just another tool in the box, I save so much time with the Nik suite, however i have always believed you need a serious understanding of what goes on under the bonnet. Cheers Neil

    • Glyn

      @Neil…Absolutely mate; totally with you on that!

  6. David Hodgins

    I think this is a struggle that’s existed as long as “progress” has happened, and it’s a philosophical one, not a practical one.
    Is your car an automatic or a manual transmission? Does your camera have autofocus? Ever used TTL flash, or do you only use manual? Do you use Photoshop’s Sharpening filters, or do you manually, pixel by pixel, sharpen your images?
    Plugins are the assembly line of Photoshop. My Volkswagen was made on an assembly line. It’s a great car for getting to and from work. It is not a hand-crafted Ferrari, nor would I want it to be. It is a tool I use for a specific purpose. Ferrari costs more, takes longer to build, but the proof is in the pudding.
    Is your client after a Ferrari or a VW? If it’s a Ferrari, you’d best be able to deliver one. If not…. build VW’s. You’ll be fine.


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