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When I heard the claims onOne software was making with their new product PhotoTools 2, I was so skeptical I almost wrote them off as another company over-hyping, over-pricing and under-delivering. As I was opening the case I read on the cover, “Instantly Give Your Photos the Professional Look”. Um hm… Flip the product over and you read the claim, “This is the fastest and easiest way to make your photos stand out from the crowd.”
Had I not noticed that some of the biggest names in the business, like my favorite Photoshop guru Jack Davis, and renowned photographer Kevin Kubota were part of the team behind this software, I may have put it back in its box. But, to get to the punch line now, I was dead wrong.
PhotoTools 2 has positioned itself to be a one stop effects and photographic enhancement software that fills the needs of almost every type of photographer. Made by photographers, it fits nicely into the work flows that most of us already use, namely, it integrates smoothly with Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom. I use Aperture almost exclusively these days and I was very excited for a product to come out that would get me one step closer to eliminating bouncing in and out of Photoshop. A disclaimer is required here however… Because PhotoTools uses Photoshop as its behind the scenes “engine”, you are still required to have a copy of Photoshop installed on your computer (CS2 or higher). That definitely ups the ante if you don’t already have PS, since that more than doubles the investment to use this software. I had it installed already so I was off and running in no time.
What makes PhotoTools so powerful in my opinion is its use of “Effect Stacking”. You no longer have to manage confusing PS layers, masks and blend modes. This takes the same results and puts it in its own simple interface. Out of the box you get hundreds of effects and surprisingly, most of them are very usable. Taking it one step further, each time you find an effect you think might add something to the image you are working with, you simply click “Add to Stack”. From there, you have three options. 1) Adjust the intensity of that effect with the slider bar, 2) Grab the brush tool and paint over areas you want to isolate from that particular effect or 3) Keep browsing for more effects to “stack” onto that image. From what I can tell, there is no limit to the number of effects you can have in your stack. Each one has independent sliders as well to let you fine-tune your composition. Ok, if I have already lost you but your still interested in this software, I suggest you take a look at this brief video introduction to PhotoTools before continuing this review.
I try to be careful not to over process my images. A few vignettes here and there, saturation boosts, contrast etc. and I’m happy. Most of these are done without leaving Lightroom or Aperture. However, there are situations where an image needs some “pop” to make it stand out. This could be anything from bleaching the colors, converting it to sepia, adding selective blurs, the list goes on and on. Other times, it’s coming from a customer that really wants a “magazine” or “glamour” look that you just can’t get without software. PhotoTools bag of tricks seems to have all these bases covered. From simple edits to major enhancements they can satisfy anyone’s artistic and editing needs.
Here is an example from a photo-shoot I did recently. The goal was to get something suitable for the inside of a CD cover using a glamour portrait effect. I decided to take one image I was working on from the shoot and see what this stacking could do for me. I opened the image in PhotoTools, went to the “Portrait Enhance” area in the library and in less than 15 seconds, I had a smooth, soft skin tone. The effect was perfect for this style of portraits. But wait, I didn’t want soft smooth eyes and lips! Grabbing the brush tool, I “painted out” the effect where I wanted to keep the sharpness and edge. I was impressed. A warning though, you may find you lose track of time as you flip through the other effects out of curiosity. I still haven’t been through them all.
I went through some old pictures looking for a landscape image to run through the PhotoTools ringer. Spent maybe 3 minutes stacking some effects and this was the result. As you can see in this before and after comparison, I added some punch to the colors using one called “Landscape Wow”, added a vignette then a little blur to the foreground of the photograph all without ever entering Photoshop. The result gave the original image have dimension. Of course if this was going to print or to a customer, I might spend more time fine-tuning the effects, but you get the idea of what is possible. By the way, it’s not just these types of effects you’ll find. It also has frames, border effects and even one that adds that cool show room floor refection.
So enough with the good, there has to be some bad. There are a few. First and foremost is price. This tool is really geared to the professional photographer, and it shows in its price. Coming in at $159 for the standard version and $259 for the professional, it’s anything but cheap. As mentioned above, not included in this price is the required Photoshop CS2 or higher. It can end up breaking the bank. If you spend more than an hour each day working with Photoshop, I’d still recommend taking the hit and purchasing it. There are a few other little things worth mentioning. First, it really only includes one license which could be a problem if you work on your laptop at times and a desktop at others. Speaking of laptops, I did have a little trouble getting the software installed on my Macbook but I didn’t investigate it too deeply or call tech support since I had a desktop nearby to test. I’m sure it’s an issue I could have resolved had I done some basic trouble-shooting but I thought I’d mention it. On my iMac it installed flawlessly. If you’re interested in seeing what the product can really do, start by downloading the demo or by watching some of the tutorial videos here.
In the end, PhotoTools will have a permanent place in my workflow. It’s a welcome and powerful tool to streamline editing and helps me provide a better product in a timely manner for my customers. It may actually bump a few trusted tools into the recycle bin. 4 out of 5 stars.
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