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By Derrick Story |

Spicing Up Aperture with Plugins and Presets


When will we see Aperture 4?

I get this question all the time.

The implication is that users want new tools for their favorite photo management app. I have no idea when we’ll see Aperture 4. But on my Mac, I’m exploring new image editing techniques all the time thanks to the app’s plugin architecture. Companies like onOne, Google, and Photomatix are supplying me with the ingredients to spice up my existing pictures.

Perfect 8 plug-in on OSXPlugins are designed to work with the host application.

And it doesn’t stop there. I also use Presets, which leverage existing Aperture tools. I think of them as recipes: Tired of the same old chicken dish? Get a new recipe. That’s what presets can do for image editing.

Plugins and presets each have their strengths and weaknesses. But they both let you add new flavors to your image editing. Here’s a sample taste of each.

Beefing Up with Plugins

Plugins are software applications featuring their own user interfaces; they’re designed to enhance the image editing.

Many plugin packages, such as OnOne Perfect Effects 8, install their software on your hard drive and establish a connection with the host app. In the case of Perfect Effects 8, plugins are installed for Aperture, Lightroom, and Photoshop, if you have those on your computer.

Then, when working in the host app, such as Aperture in our case, you can load any image from your library into the plugin software using the Edit With command.


Enable this command by choosing Photos > Edit with Plug-in or by right-clicking on the image and choosing the command from the contextual popup menu. Aperture sends a TIFF version of the file off to the plugin where you can play to your heart’s content.

This process of sending a copy of an image out of the library is called a “round trip,” meaning that a file leaves the application, goes to another, then is returned to the host. The upside is that you get to use completely new tools to work on your Aperture photos. The price for this opportunity is that the returned file takes up additional space in your Aperture library.


I love plugins. But because I have to pay the price of adding a second, larger file to my Aperture library (via the round trip), I only use them for my favorite shots.

Presets Are Like Recipe Cards for Image Editing

Presets, on the other hand, use existing Aperture editing tools, but in combinations you might not have previously imagined.

Presets are readily available for download on the web. Install them by dragging the package onto the Aperture application icon. They are immediately available for use via the Effects popup menu in the Adjustments tab of the Inspector.


Presets have two main advantages over Plugins. First, Aperture does not have to create a separate file; it uses the existing RAW or JPEG in the library. Second, since presets are a collection of adjustments applied at once, you get an immediate preview of the effect without having to apply it.

So even if you don’t plan on using any of the presets you’ve loaded, they make great brainstorming tools, letting you see the editing possibilities for an image. You may not have considered that a certain portrait would look great in B&W until you saw a preview of it via a preset.


When experimenting with presets, I like to create a new version of the picture in Aperture (Photos > Duplicate Version) so I can experiment with different looks while still having the original image to compare them to. I think this encourages creativity.

Since I’m only making versions of a photo (which are just virtual copies of the master files), why not make three or four and apply different presets to them? You might discover a look you never anticipated.

Stack ’em Up

Regardless of how you cook up new sensations for your photos—using plugins or presets—you can keep everything organized by putting them in a Stack. The technique is simple. Select all of the versions, then go to Stacks > Stack.


Put your favorite shot on top of the Stack by making it the Pick (Stacks > Pick). When you close the Stack, you’ll only see the preferred version of the shot. Open the stack to revisit everything.

This is a great way to keep your library in order.

Next Steps

You can get started with plugins right now by downloading onOne’s Perfect Effects 8 for free or by visiting the sites of other plugin designers. A great place to browse for presets is PresetPond.com. But there are plenty of other offerings on the web, so look around. If you want to learn more about using Aperture, check out my Aperture 3 Essential Training.

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