External Editors and Hardware for Lightroom CC May 13, 2016 – Posted in: Photography

Let’s look at some of the applications you can use with Lightroom to further enhance your photos. These are only basic looks at the plugins—each one could easily have a chapter or entire book to itself.
I’ve been the main writer on a column called “Maximum Workflow” in Photoshop User for over a year now. It’s dedicated to third-party add-ons for Lightroom. Generally the articles are longer than most of these sections, and I usually include an example file so the reader can follow along, step by step. If you’re a KelbyOne.com member, all the back issues of “Maximum Workflow” are available as PDFs on the website. All the text here is freshly written for this book. So back to External Editors! We’ll start with the one with the tightest integration: Photoshop.


Unlike other external editors that can be used with Lightroom, Photoshop doesn’t require you to generate a file prior to editing it in the external editor. Photoshop reads Lightroom settings and applies them to the file when it opens it via Camera Raw in the background. A Canon RAW file will open with a .CR2 extension, for example. The file format isn’t created until you save the file. If you abandon editing without saving, no file is created, so there will be less clutter from unwanted files on the drive.

While the file is not generated until you save it, the file format that gets created is taken from the settings in the External Editor Preferences. The file options match those for any other external editor. For highest quality, use 16-bit TIFF files set to Pro Photo RGB. For faster editing, use 8-bit TIFF files set to AdobeRGB (1998).

As well as direct opening for editing, there are a number of other options for opening images in Photoshop from the Photo>Edit In… menu: Open as Smart Object, Merge to Panorama, Merge to HDR Pro, and Open as Layers in Photoshop. The latter three are grayed out when only single images are selected.

On1 Perfect Photo Suite 9.5

One plugin set that I’ve used for a long time for finishing images is the Perfect Photo Suite from On1 (formerly onOne Software). In fact, there was no “Perfect” in the name, and there were far fewer applications in the suite. There was also a very premium price tag on it, but these days it’s a lot more affordable, and has a larger range of applications. It’s even more
affordable because On1 was kind enough to offer a discount code: LRblog10 for 10% off any of their products

You can get a trial of the program by going to On1.com.Run the installer, which will ask you to shut down Lightroom (and any other host programs that are running). When the installation is complete, restart Lightroom. The various apps that make up the suite will now be available in the Edit In…menu. Choose one of the plugins to work with from this menu. You’ll notice other plugins that you can select from this menu in the same way.

Tiffen DFXv4.0

Tiffen is probably best known for its physical lens filters, but with DFX, it takes its experience with those filters and applies it to the creation of digital filters. These filters provide the basis of the Presets that form the heart of DFX v4.0. There are over 2000 simulations available in the program, making it the most preset-laden plugin that we’re looking at. There’s a huge range of film stock emulations, color gels, and gobo and lighting effects, for example. It’s not all about Presets, though. Every Preset has access to a whole bank of parameters to make them even more versatile. DFX can be run as a stand-alone application, but once installed, you have access to it via the Edit in…menu. Once open, you’ll notice it looks a lot like Lightroom.

Tonality Pro

Macphun (http://macphun.com) is a dedicated Apple Mac software team that produces high quality plugins for the OSX platform. Tonality Pro is their black-and-white plugin, which offers a complete workflow for grayscale conversion. There’s also a non-pro version that’s cheaper, but it doesn’t offer Lightroom integration. Strictly speaking, Tonality does have color presets, but for the most part, it’s focused on black-and-white.

Topaz Impression

Impression from Topaz is a delightful plugin designed to bring out your inner artist. From sketches to oils on canvas to watercolors, it truly does let your photographs mimic classic painting techniques.

Impression works by taking your image and applying real brush strokes, scanned from thousands of works using oils, acrylics, inks, watercolors, pencils and pastels. Each stroke builds on other strokes quickly until the entire photo becomes a painting. It can create gorgeous results, and bring a whole new dimension to your work. Once installed, Topaz Impression is available from the Edit In…menu. When the plugin initiates, it shows your selected image at almost screen size. Previews of painting presets from Featured presets are available to the right.

Alien Skin Exposure 7

Exposure is Alien Skin’s Film Emulation plugin. In truth, it does far more than just having film presets. It offers a whole range of image-finishing options. Photographers like Sue Bryce and Lara Jade heavily promote it, and that’s appropriate, because it’s really good at what it does. Alien Skin used to have a plugin called Bokeh for focus control: this is now part of Exposure, which makes the program even more valuable.
As seems to be the trend, Exposure, too, now has a standalone version. It has an image browser, RAW Converter, and its own Crop and Rotate tools. I mention these because they don’t appear in the plugin version, so you may want to try the standalone version.


Palette is a plugin for Lightroom, but it’s the hardware kind. I was fortunate enough to be offered a chance to test a preproduction set of modules for this plugin, so I learned how it works. Palette is very different from any hardware add-on I’ve seen for Lightroom. It’s made of separate modules that lock together with magnets. Other than the power module, each module has three sides of seven copper connectors, and one side with six pins. The power module has three sides of pins, and one side has a micro USB–B connector (like most phones) and a power adaptor connector for low-powered USB situations.

Install the Palette App from http://palettegear.com/start to begin. This will install the Lightroom plugin as part of the process. Run PaletteApp to begin. You can start Lightroom, too. When the app opens, you’ll see the range of devices that you can connect. Click Lightroom to create a new profile for Lightroom.

These tips were written by Sean McCormack, author of The Indispensable Guide to Lightroom CC: Managing, Editing, and Sharing Your Photos.

Check out Sean’s website here.