I don't know how many hours I have put in writing actions to allow me to produce some of the currently popular photoshop effects; really more than I want to admit. By the time I've worked my way through reading tutorials, performing the action(s), refining the effect(s), redoing the action(s) and getting client feedback, I have quite a bit of time committed to some projects. Not that I don't think some of the techniques aren't pretty cool and I admire the developers of the concepts; some are dynamic visual improvements that will be around for quite a while and a few will be temporary trends or fads and soon be ignored.
But as a photographer I have often wished that Photoshop had a particular plug- in that would simplify some of the things I want to do. Photoshop has a number of built-in filters and plug-ins but it also has the ability to add third-party plug-ins either under the filter menu or sometimes under the automate menu. You can spend as much money for Photoshop plug-ins as for Photoshop itself.
I've just encountered a plug-in that combines aspects of filter>high pass, hard light, soft light, noise/smoothing, color adjustments, sharpening, vibrance, and maybe the aspects of a dozen other things that are sneaking in by subtle variations. I really don't know what all is really encompassed, but I like what I can do.
Here's Topaz, LLC (Topazlabs.com) with a Photoshop plug-in they call Topaz Adjust. There's both a Mac and a PC version and it's available for download for $49.95 and it will pay for itself in the first fifteen minutes you use it if you are post-producing a lot of images with the current stylistic looks. On one end of the scale it produces the "grunge" look; on the other end of the scale it reduces noise and produces a skin tone for glamour work that normally takes four times as long to produce. In between you can do an HDRI look without the necessity of taking multiple images. You can do a version of tone-mapping that allows you to reach into the shadows on contrasty, starkly shadowed images. You can sharpen, increase vibrance, shift hue, and otherwise manipulate images with easy to use slider bars which allow infinite settings.
Let's take a look at the interface.
On the left side of the window there are 21 possible presets to choose from. However, I encourage you to experiment instead with the adjustments in the EXPOSURE, DETAILS, COLOR, and NOISE adjustment frame below. The infinite number of possibilities allows you to customize your image to your exact preferences.
The redraw rate in the PREVIEW window works extremely fast and allows you to determine changes almost as they occur. If you want to compare backward a small VIEW ORIGINAL IMAGE button allows you to shift back and fourth between the original and the modification.
Each of the ADJUSTMENT CHOICE buttons allows you to zero in on a particular part of the image modification that you want to use. Topaz recommends strongly that you work from left to right through each adjustment.
EXPOSURE allows you to adjust the exposure, contrast, highlights, regions, brightness and shadow in the image. Think of "regions" as a tone-mapping function. It will make good sense as you play with it.
DETAILS allows you to select strength, threshold, sharpening, boost, and radius adjustments.
COLOR allows adjustments in adaptive saturation, saturation, hue, regions and saturation boost. Think of regions as being a tone-mapping ingredient in your recipe for modification.
Finally NOISE allows you to define the amount of suppression, the lowering of artifact impacts, and the amount of the strength of the suppression.
Here's a typical example of an image shot in hot bright sunlight with the exposure set to look into the shadows at the expense of flattening the tone of the image and blocking the highlights. A blue sky is burned completely out.
Exposure Correction: Adaptive exposure 0.7, Regions 36 gives you the following:
Here's another original, unmodified image.
Here we are using an adaptive exposure of 0.74 and a regions of 42. As you can see the "regions" setting is a tone-mapping setting or another way to think of it is posterization with soft edges and which has the "grunge" look.
Increasing the DETAIL strength to 3.34 and the boost to 0.66 produces visible changes in the hair and moustache.
Here are a couple of "after topaz adjustment" samples (without the "before" versions).
I'll leave you to download the 30 day trial version and experiment with Topaz Adjust. Play with it a little while; and also try the noise filter on skin and then try your copy of Noise Ninja on the same image and compare the results; I think you will be favorably surprised. Topaz Adjust is available for download from http://www.Topazlabs.com for $49.95.