Photoshop has an extensible architecture that allows new capabilities to be added. They appear in the form of plug-ins, automation tools, or actions. Producers of such software are shying away from using actions which are visible to the user, no matter how complex. Actually, I used to find them quite educational and studied them to understand the logic behind them. But this clear visibility provided for little intellectual property protection and programmers developed ways to encapsulate the steps of these actions into automation tools.
I find using tools, filters, plug-ins embedded under “File/Automate” more cumbersome than those under “Filters”. In the end, they all provide the same or similar functionality. Depending on the implementation, the plug-in installs either to be accessed from the “Filters” menu item or through the “Automate” menu. Some of these have user interfaces that allow tweaking various settings while others simply do their job and disappear from the view.
A good collection of plug-ins makes the digital workflow more efficient and could add new tools to the arsenal. Choose them according to your needs, not to promotion and hype. I will share a set of plug-ins that I use and what they do later on. I urge you not to rush out and get something because I list it here. Many of them have free trial versions, at least try them before buying.
I recently bought a plug-in only to find out that it mimics one of the tools I explained in a tutorial on my photography Web site three years ago. I told the maker what I thought and he agreed that it mimics the results of using a polarizer. I ended up completing a survey for them, no good deed goes unpunished.