Optics Allows Photographers to Add Particle-Based Effects to Their Photography

As the artificial intelligence race intensifies among photography software companies, Boris FX is filling a completely different niche with their editing software Optics. With their latest release, Optics users now have access to their powerful Particle Illusion generator, which can create thousands of useful emitters like explosions, smoke, fire, and other particle effects. Today, we take a look at the new Optics 2022 release which is available as a plugin for both Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as a standalone application. 

As a photographer who creates images in many different genres including weddings, commercials, advertising, headshots and portraits, and social media work for all of Fstoppers' platforms, I'm always looking for new software that can help me achieve a final deliverable product quickly and easily. If you follow the Fstoppers Youtube Channel, I'm constantly trying new software and testing new features as they are released. By far, the majority of editing software we test usually focuses on trying to improve what other software companies have been doing for decades.  This includes processing raw files, manipulating exposure, retouching skin, and simplifying complex mask selections. Now and then, we run across a piece of software that attempts to solve a unique problem, and Boris FX Optics is one of those programs.

What Is Optics

Optics is a relatively new program that was just released over a year ago (you can watch my initial review video below). Boris FX, the parent company behind Optics, is a well-established leader in the video and special effects world. Here at Fstoppers, we've been using their video effects software Continuum since we first started our YouTube channel back in 2010. When Optics was announced, Boris FX was looking to supply many of these same video effects to photographers so they could easily create effects, colors, and visual assets quickly and easily.

Some of the effects Optics gives photographers since the software was first released include:

  • 600+ historical film stocks and film looks
  • 126 optical lens flares found in Boris FX Sapphire collection
  • 800 gobo lighting patterns and projections
  • Masking tools including EZ mask
  • Lighting effects include light rays, lightning generators, glows, and light leaks
  • Text and graphic design effects 
  • Stylized overlays and grunge effects
  • Blur effects and defocus looks

Of course, Optics can be used to process your camera's raw files and do basic exposure and color adjustments too, but by and large, the software is aimed at giving you a ton of creative tools that are simply not available anywhere else. 

New Particle Engine for Photo Editing

By far, the most exciting new feature found in the newly released Optics 2022 update is the Particle Illusion generator. This effects processor is a small part of the overall Optics software, but I think it might be one of the most exciting and powerful tools in the entire suite. 

If you click on the Particle Illusions category within Optics, you have access to over 1,7000 particles presets that you can modify and apply to your images. Some of the most useful effects are smoke, fire, water, explosions, dust, sparkles, and some pretty crazy sci-fi effects. In using these effects myself, Optics has done an incredible job at allowing you to manipulate these effects easily with the Parameters field on the right-hand side of the effect, but if you want to dive deeper and change every aspect of the particles, you can click the Launch Particle Illusion button and open a secondary editor that houses every single tweak-able element of the effect. 

In the above image, I was able to add some fog on top of a photo of Lake Matheson in New Zealand. If you followed our Photographing the World behind the scenes, you might remember we hiked an hour into this location 4 days straight to try to capture the mountains, stars, and a reflection on the calm water. Elia Locardi was hoping to also capture the cool fog we saw on day 2 but by our fourth attempt, we were able to capture all of the elements except the fog. Optics makes it easy to add subtle smoke, fog and haze to your images.

In this example above, I took an already snowy scene and added both out-of-focus snow and small, blizzard-type snow. I also added some smoke haze in the background to give a more intense snowstorm feel. 

All these effects can be rendered in real-time, which means each adjustment you make will be unique to your image and not reproduced in other people's work. Also, unlike buying and comping stock images into your work, these custom-rendered particles are added non-destructively, meaning you can always open Optics and tweak the assets in your projects at any time. 

My Experience Using Optics 2022

As I mentioned above, I find myself producing all sorts of images. Some of them, like my wedding photography, do not require any sort of special effects or rendered elements in them at all. However, at times, I do find myself adding light-painted swooshes, dust, snow, debris, sweat, and other "particle" elements to my work, especially with advertising, commercial, and conceptual work. For these types of images, I've found Optics to be a worthwhile plugin to have available in my workflow. Over the last year of using Optics, it has saved me a ton of time and has saved me money from having to buy high-res stock images. 

This software is pretty powerful, and at times, I have to admit it can be a bit overwhelming if you don't exactly know the direction you want to go with your edits. I've spent a lot of time playing around with all the effects and understanding the capabilities of Optics, but that being said, I do know that the time I've spent diving deep into the effects has also made the software easier to use and navigate, especially when I need to revisit and edit an effect I've used before. 

The pricing model for Optics isn't that bad either. With Optics, you have two different pricing options: you can either pay for the software outright for $149 or you can pay a subscription fee of $99 per year or $9 a month. I prefer buying the software outright and having those fees upfront, but I do like that you have either option. If you bought Optics in the last year, you can simply install Optics 2022 and gain access to the Particle Illusions engine for free.

Speaking of pricing, since we have a working relationship with Optics (and many other software companies as well), all our readers can use the discount code "fstoppers-optics22" through Boris FX's Optics website to save 20% on your purchase or subscription. 

The only major complaint I have with Optics is depending on how deep you dive into the software, some of the adjustments can be slow to load. We've all used photo editing software that is extremely slow to render and use, and Optics isn't that slow, but depending on your computer specs, but it can take 5-10 seconds to load certain effects or launch the particle illusion editor. Considering I use Optics as a plugin within Photoshop and usually only spend maybe 5-10 minutes of my edit in Optics on any one photo, I don't find it to be that big of a deal, but I did want to mention it because at times, it is noticeable. 

Patrick Hall's picture

Patrick Hall is a founder of Fstoppers.com and a photographer based out of Charleston, South Carolina.

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Ahhh yes the subscription model. You will own nothing and be happy.

plus you can do this in blender for free.

Blender is quite complicated for many photo editors. It is not a fair comparison, as Optics is designed for Photo editing and Blender is a 3D modeling and animation application. WIth Optics you can create pretty sophisticated particles quite quickly.

Trew though I'm not intending it to be fair comparison. I'm just saying you can learn to do it for free in blender.

In your dreams! I’ve been using Optics for a year now and also know Blender. The two are poles apart while Blender is a fantastic app it is in no way comparable with Optics and is aimed at very different uses though there is an overlap if you were prepared to work had at it. The downside of Blender is the learning curve needed to replicate an effect similar to what’s in the video along with the complexity of establishing a smooth workflow between photoshop and Blender. Optics on the other hand can start producing shortly after you install it.. The above demo only shows one part of Optics. The fact that it is specifically designed to work with images and has a great integration with photoshop makes it a go to app for those wishing to really spice up images. Good luck integrating Blender into your photoshop photographic workflow especially if you are working in a commercial setting where time is money.

I mean, you can outright buy it as well. $120 with our code for this software doesn't seem like a bad deal at all for what it does.

Or with the discount, the annual subscription is $6/month.Considering what people pay for stock images, it is very affordable.

I downloaded the demo for this. I'm not a stupid person but I am absolutely stuck. For a PS and LR user the tabs and buttons don't mean anythng and if you click the wrong one the whole display can change and there's no logical way of getting back to where you started.It's so frustrating that I'd sayit's useless - except it isn't if you can get agood "how to" somewhere for this. Any ideas before I go nuts?

Can you clarify what you mean by tabs? Do you mean once Optics opens, the organized tabs for the effects? I can't say I've gotten lost in the software but maybe you are doing something differently than I have been. If you can, post a screen shot of these tabs you are referring to and I'll see if I can help.

Hi Andrew, I would advise you to watch this Optics Getting Started video. https://borisfx.com/videos/getting-started-optics-2022/

That’s why you convert your image into a smart object so you can work non destructively. Like any new software you do have some simple learning to do. Plus there are lots of good videos out there that cover all the basics you are having problems with.

Last year Patrick posted an article on Optics, It intrigued me so I decided to try the demo, It seemed ok, but I did not use it until one day I was working on a style for Still-life shots, I then looked into using Optics in PS. Once I got the hang of using the many options on a 50% Gray Filled Layer, Boom! I was off and running! I love this Plug-in! I use it almost on all my Still-life shots. It creates Great backgrounds, and I LOVE the Gobos, with masking and blending the sky is the limit. Here are a couple of images where I used Optics to create backgrounds and Gobos for lighting effects.

Now, what don't I like? I would like to see the program faster, now with the new Particle feature, it can be slow, but not completely intolerable. When used as a plug-in in PS (Not sure if this is an Optics Limitation or a PS one) it requires a layer to have something on it. You can't have just a blank transparent layer, this forces you to have to use additional blending. I really like it, If you're into creating images, and enjoy making composites, Give this a chance it's great I think.

Hi Leon, thanks so much for sharing positive feedback about Optics. Nice work as well. ;)
On one point, the new Optics 2022 improves masking & alpha exchange with Photoshop, so now you can use Optics as an element/asset generator and render a layer with its mask back to PS. So, a standard comp will work without transfer modes. You may find this tutorial useful: https://borisfx.com/videos/optics-and-photoshop-exchange-masks-alpha-cha...

I personally have really enjoyed using the new Particles for product-style editing and generating environmental elements.

Thank you Ross I will try that out on my next Image.!

Sure wish the Optics tutorials would allow you to go full screen, There very hard to see at their limited size, especially on a large screen

right bottom you have option for full screen

That right bottom is greyed out for me?

Yt changed this recently. If you want to view full screen, you can click the video title which will open it in YT and standard full-screen works.

This has now been fixed and you can view YT on the site in fullscreen.

Agree, and love your work. Great images, very cool.

Looking forward to purchasing this one. This will certainly speed up the workflow for composites.

I love this program, BUT, it's licensing, is very bad, Only one machine per Subscription, and it's a pain to switch your license from one to another, EXAMPLE: I'm on the road now, using my laptop, I can't switch my license from my desktop to my laptop? There is a way to do it by going online and in your account setup, you can reset your license, BUT, again, major limitations, When you attempt to do this, it says, you can only do this once every 30 days?

That's messed up! Adobe and all the major Plugins have 2 machine installs. They really need to change this!

If you remember, the license can be deactivated in the Help menu. But yes if you are on the road and forget you can do this by logging in to your Boris FX account and releasing the license.

What do you mean releasing, vs resetting? So are you saying that I can go to my account and release the license,and then plug the serial number into the Optics on my Laptop? This is very confusing on this, especially when details and different names are used for the same or different meanings. Please explain!

The main way to deactivate to move your license to another computer is to do it in the sfw under help>licensing. If you forget and need to deactivate the license from another computer, you can do it from your acct on the site as described. Hope that helps.

It is cool software BUT buyer beware. Their site messed up and double charged me and they apparently have no customer service at all. I tried to contact them twice with no response whatsoever.

The other thing is that the window as a Photoshop plugin won't resize properly. Has big aspect ratio problems on my Dell 4k laptop screen.

Hi Ed, I am very sorry to hear you had issues. We do have a very active support team and are doing our best to provide servie. While I am not on the support team, I'd love to help you sort your issues out, so please email me at RossS (at) BorisFX (.com).

It finally got solved after several days but the team really didn't feel very active. I don't know if you solved it or I did by challenging the double charge with my credit card company but either way it seems like I am down to a single charge. Thanks for your response. I just checked back and it was literally a week I was stuck wondering if I was going to get the refund from you.

And now back to completely frustrated. First you double charge me. Take a full week to get back to me and now I get an error that the license is expired.

I’ve been using Optics for over a year and while you can opt for a subscription plan you can also buy it outright with one year of support, which is the option I chose. As for the review I think the guy did a great job. Optics is unique and the person who thinks he could do this all in in Blender needs to take a reality pill. The review just shows one of the many effects modules. Optics is immensely powerful and offering effects you will find no place else. If anything Boris have packed so much into Optics that really getting to grips with all it has is pretty time consuming. The other area I’ve found really useful is being able to produce realistic gobos. Download a trial and give it a shot.

Seems expensive for a few layers.

Try the demo for free and you will see it's fairly priced.