I am getting daily messages from people asking me what actions, automated third-party plugins, premade effects, etc.. I use when I edit my photos. Many people think that just a "click" turns a photo into an artistic product print-ready, like Instagram (and I like Instagram, it's fun but not for my artistic or professional photos ).
I don't use any of these plugins/actions/third-party effects for my creations and I think all these products are useless if a person knows how to use all the features of Photoshop. These products do nothing more then Photoshop native features, but they combine functions of the program, as the 'actions' do, but in a limited way because you never have full control, there are many limitations and often they ruin the picture quality (grain, unpleasant pixels effects , etc..)
I started using Photoshop since version 6, 12 years ago, when premade effects like Topaz & company did'n't exist (I think).
Over the years I have tried to use some actions and third party plugins, just for curiosity. Until now, the only two plugins that I find really useful are the Nik Define to reduce noise (very helpful in HDR) and Alien Skin Bokeh, which simulates the bokeh effects of various lenses, I have used a few times because it's not something I need, but I think that the plugin is excellent and superior to native blur filter in Photoshop. Also OnOne Perfect Mask is good for complex background removal but it's not a premade action, with this plugin you need to use wacom tablet or mouse (but with precision) to clean the background (we're talking about very complex background as a forest or a street with buildings and people behind the subject, not simple one color bg) and it works good with hair and little details.
All other plugins are nice and funny but I do not need them, because I only need Photoshop and Camera Raw.
When I did HDR I used Photomatix for HDR tone mapping, but this summer I stopped doing HDR (I do not exclude the possibility that I'll do HDR again, but now I'm experimenting other techniques) so I no longer use Photomatix. But I suggest this product if you need good tone mapping.
Photomatix is an external program, not a Photoshop plugin. The HDR plugins for Photoshop are not that great, when I extract the details from a photo usually I use the native Photoshop HDR toning but this effect does not make HDR photos, Photoshop is just a tool that uses the concept of tone mapping but it is only a simulation, is not a true HDR. To be a true HDR it needs at least 3 shots with different exposures.
That said, I recommend it to all who write to me to know which miraculous filter I use to create my photo effects to study Photoshop, all its functions, without waiting for an automatic magic filter that turns his photos in 5 minutes into unique works. Unfortunately (and fortunately) all we have to work hard to get results, we have to study, practice, learn from our mistakes.
Try to search on google: "photoshop photo editing tutorial", "best photoshop tutorials" "photoshop photography tutorial" and for those who want to do HDR "photomatix tutorial", "hdr photography tutorial", etc..
There are many, during these 12 years of using Photoshop I have seen many videos, I read many books, I studied many tutorials ... You can not learn without study and practice, because the theory alone is not enough.
Good study and good luck