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When I first started working in digital photography I was excited by the prospect of being able to do on the computer what I had previously done years before in the dark room. I entered the world of digital image processing with a completely open mind. I literally had NO preconceptions about computer software (or hardware for that matter). Times have changed and I now have some definite opinions about what I like and, more importantly, what I need.
Part of my initial evaluation process for software had me testing out 5 different products. I took each of these products for a test drive of at least 30 days and after doing so came to my conclusions. Agree with them or not, differences of opinion is what helps make the world a more interesting place. In alphabetic order I evaluated Aperture, Elements (photoshop), iPhoto, Lightroom, and the big kahuna, Photoshop. Without making this posting about the differences between the software packages I ended up going with Apple’s Aperture and am very happy, thank you very much.
That is not to say that my choice to go with Aperture (or even the second place product in my little derby, Lightroom) was made easy at all by the HUGE market presence that Adobe has developed with their Photoshop product. Everywhere you look on the web people keep telling you that you just have to have Photoshop, be familiar with Photoshop, or that to do any real editing you need Photoshop. This is just nonsense. I will tell you here and now, I will never use Photoshop. Period. There, I am officially a heretic to many.
Please do not confuse my decision to not use the product as a condemnation of it in any way. Photoshop is an extremely powerful product that sets the industry standard for what image processing software should be capable of. Some would argue that BMW does the same for the automotive industry, but I do not drive a BMW. Just because something sets the standard does not automatically make it a necessary, or even a desirable purchase for everyone.
As of today you can purchase the base package of Photoshop CS5 from Adobe for the sum of $699 US. That ends up at over $725 in Canadian funds. That is a lot of money for a software package that I only need to process pictures (it does a lot more than that and I will get into that later). For that amount of money I can pick up a new lens or a couple of speed lights, some lighting equipment or other software packages and have money left over for a nice dinner with my wife. Lightroom costs $199, Elements $79.99 and Aperture $79.99. (iPhotos comes free with the Apple operating systems) In my mind, one has to have a pretty compelling reason to shell out $700 to do what all of these other packages can do equally well or even better (oops, another heretical statement).
Photoshop is not the easiest program to learn. In my testing I found it extremely frustrating to get it to do the most basic things without constantly having to refer to the manual. Indeed, an entire training industry has grown up and prospered by how innately difficult Photoshop is to use and master to any level of competence. I have nothing but admiration for those individuals who have invested the time, patience and money required to truly master this complex software product. The fact that there is a sub industry of users who are continually churning out plug-ins and actions that simplify the use of Photoshop speaks for itself. I want a simple to use product that minimizes my time at the computer processing my raw images and making routine adjustments to white balance, exposure etc. 90% of the time. All of the other available products accomplish this very well without breaking the bank (see point #1). Yes, Photoshop has so much more to offer, but for the 90% of tasks that I am asking of it I do not need a bazooka to kill a horsefly.
Photoshop was designed to give the user all of the basic tools to do just about anything to an image. It was originally geared towards graphic designers. If you want to make a poster, design a fantasy painting or digitally manipulate a photograph beyond any resemblance to the original, then this package is the one for you. Some absolutely stunning art is being created by master photoshop artists. It is truly a wonderful general toolbox that can address virtually any image processing task. The problem for me is that I do not need any of those capabilities.
My photographic philosophy is that I want to capture as much of the final image as possible in camera. I want to get it right as much as possible at the time of capture. I have no desire to turn my 27 year old daughter into a sexy vampire with digital imaging techniques. I would like to spend as little time as necessary in post processing my images. Much of my professional career (outside of photography) has been spent learning to use and become a power user of some pretty sophisticated scientific software (most of which would algorithmically put what photoshop does to shame). I am definitely not a luddite and, if it were the only product available, I am more than capable of learning to use Photoshop extremely effectively. I do not want to spend my remaining time on earth learning to use a software package (see point #2). I do not want to turn my experience of photography into a software experience. I just do not want or need all that the product has to offer, sorry.
One of the things you will still need to invest in after you have put out the big bucks for photoshop is data management software if you ever want to be able to locate your photographs on your hard drive. It was never intended to be more than an image manipulation product. Adobe developed Lightroom partially to supply this missing element. Even Adobe’s entry level product, Elements, was developed to have a photographic catalogue/database. Of course Aperture has a very nice database as does iPhoto. All of these products were developed years after the first version of Photoshop was rolled out. They all had the benefit of hind site in seeing how the photography community was developing and answered those needs. Photoshop was around for the infant stages of the digital photography revolution and its developers never anticipated the requirement for cataloguing, storing and retrieving photographs from within the product.
So what happens when an image I want to work with needs that extra care that can only really be achieved with Photoshop? Well, being an Aperture user, up until last year if I wanted to do some more complex manipulations that requires the use of layers (a very innovative concept, by the way) I was forced to move my images into a copy of Elements. Recently, developers like onOne have brought layering technology to Aperture as a plug-in product called Perfect Photo Suite that accomplishes much of what can be normally done in Photoshop that cannot be done by Aperture’s own powerful processing capabilities. Additional software plug-ins by Nik Software, Portrait Professional, HDRsoft and other developers currently supply many of the niche processing requirements that were previously only available through Photoshop. Careful selection of supplemental software can give you a diverse capability of processing equivalent in power to Photoshop for less than the cost of Photoshop, with a cataloguing database to boot!
While some will find my position controversial, challenging, or even heretical, it is the right decision for me. Your situation may be different and your requirements different. I would never council anyone to not consider Photoshop, because it is an excellent tried and tested program that has been around for a long time and will undoubtedly be around for a lot longer. I am just saying that, in my case, Photoshop is not the solution that works, nor will it ever, in all likelihood.
Your comments are, of course, welcome. You definitely do not have to agree with me, but be nice as I do moderate them before they appear on here.