I am, for many things, a creature of habit. I learn or develop a way of doing things, and pretty much always do it that way. Sometimes that is a good thing. Some “process” ensures consistency and often protects against important omissions. In my post-processing, I have tried to develop a process which involves the same steps in the same order every time. I have tried to establish a “best practices” process and follow it consistently.
But sometimes habit is a bad thing. This is especially true in the digital world, where those “best practices” are constantly evolving as newer technology surfaces. Keeping up can be a time-consuming task, and a technique learned or a process established may be adhered to for a long time before I embrace something new.
“Best Practices” are constantly evolving
In June of 2103, following what has really become the current software model, Adobe moved to its “Creative Cloud” (CC). For those who haven’t figured it out (welcome to the 21st century 🙂 ), this means that after CS6, subscribers no longer own the complete program, resident on their local hard drives. Instead, Adobe licenses software to be installed on the drive that accesses the program from the internet. The “cloud,” of course, is a euphemistic, marketing-driven name for a remote hard drive that is continuously connected to the internet. So now, the Photoshop software is on a remote drive somewhere — their hard drive; not yours. The software that is installed on our devices through the CC licensing process just gives us the ability to log into and “read” their software (a very elementary explanation — I don’t have the digital “chops” to do better than that).
One major issue for many of us is that we like control. We want to own the software, and set it up the way we want — on our own hard drive. We want to control the cost to us (no annual subscription – just our “one-time cost of acquisition). And, we want the ability to tell Adobe to “take a hike,” but still own our version of Photoshop. Those are valid concerns. Many of my friends who I have spoken with about CC had said that they probably would never need or use a more advanced version than CS6 and they would just keep that up-to-date.
For me, there seemed to be two problems. First, the annual subscription cost seemed a little steep. Second, and more importantly, I was (and still am) concerned that if I decided to stop the subscription, I would have no access to my PS files and no way to “work” them. My current “fix” for the latter issue is that I still have CS6 and if I had to, could work with it. On the subscription costs, their current model actually seems reasonable to me – particularly when I go back and look at what I generally paid to upgrade every couple years or so.
So why move to CC?
One reason is their “real-time” updates. I am probably misusing the term “real-time,” here a bit. It is not like the Adobe developers are constantly tweaking and adding to the software so there are “improvements” every time you open a new session (though perhaps they are to some extent). But when they add new things to it, you get a notification and then you just upgrade. To be sure, you are paying for the upgrades with the annual subscription, but but once you get beyond that part, the process is pretty painless.
But wait; there’s more. :-). The “upgrade” process above does not really answer the biggest objection most of the folks I have talked to have. They just don’t see the need to upgrade constantly. Many only upgraded every other time or less often (and before they shifted to the cloud-based only program, Adobe started making that more difficult). And the argument: “what more can Adobe add for photographic post processing that we really need beyond CS6?” still loomed pretty strongly. There is certainly an economic incentive to Adobe (and other providers) to have us constantly upgrade. In fact, it may be the price of progress.
In 2014, I subscribed to CC, thinking I would try it and could always drop the subscription. At the time of this writing, I still have CS6 fully installed on my machine, but it hasn’t been used in months now. I may be getting just comfortable enough to uninstall it.
You have to re-install all of your Photoshop Add-ins
Time and life got in the way, and I didn’t really start using CC until sometime in the Spring of 2015. One reason was the work involved in re-installing all my add-in softwares. You will have to re-install them (like Nik and OnOne). And of course, there would be a (small) learning curve. But once I started using it, I have been doing so exclusively. Here are just a couple items I have found useful in my own workflow.
Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)
Perhaps the biggest improvement in my view has been the constant upgrades to Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). We have, of course, had very much enhanced ability to make significant image adjustments in ACR since its process versions 2010 and 2012 (which are available in CS6). I only very rarely make image settings (like levels and curves and color correction) in Photoshop anymore, as they are so much better when made in ACR. But while Adobe is continuing to upgrade ACR for use with CS6, there are some new options in the CC version that I do not believe are available to non-CC users.
Manual Lens Corrections. This one is a bit of a misnomer in my view, as it is really perspective corrections which can be made as raw adjustments. I have begun using it, especially for my wide-angle, buildings and structures shots from my travel photography. When you are moving rapidly and often shooting handheld, it is pretty difficult to make the adjustments often necessary for good architectural shots, so this is a great tool. It has slider adjustments for leveling, for tilting both vertically and horizontally, among other things. It is designed with the lens correction data in the database in mind.
There is also a more sophisticated vignette control here.
Like it or not, Photoshop CC is here to stay
Radial Targeted Adjustment. There are a number of other new features, including the continually improving targeted image adjustments interface. They have added a “radial” targeted adjustment tool, which works somewhat similarly to the Nik control points (though perhaps not yet as sophisticated).
Sharpening and Noise Reduction. Again, much of this is available in the CS6 (and perhaps earlier) version. I don’t currently do any of my noise detection and removal or my pre-sharpening in ACR. I am not sure whether I am missing the boat here, or on solid ground, but I have been using the Nik add-in software to do both of these. I may experiment with the sharpening again, but probably will rely on Nik to do my noise control. I am sure there will be more to come, as users demand it and technology supports it.
One really cool feature that is new to CC’s latest version is the ability to convert any layer to a smart object. Working with a smart object on an image you may plan to do a lot of work on is a good idea, because you can go back and re-do or adjust changes. This is particularly true for the more complicated adjustment layer process that the Nik software (and, I presume, OnOne) uses. Once you press the “done” button in those programs, you cannot go back and rework the layer – unless it is a smart object. Previously, when I wanted to do this, I would open the image from ACR as a smart object. But I found this cumbersome – largely because it seemed like the process was processor consumptive and make work slower. So often, I am lazy and don’t open smart objects. Now, if I decide I want to go back into, say, a Viveza layer, I can simply convert that layer to a smart layer and it works just great – after I have opened the image in Photoshop.
Photoshop CC now also allows you to add a layer as an ACR layer, providing some of the ACR adjustments (though at this time, I am not sure why you would do that instead of just originally opening the image in ACR).
We all have our own approaches and favorite software, tools and techniques for post-processing. These are just a few of the things I have learned and am using. Like it or not, I am afraid CC is here to stay and for the time being, I have embraced it. I will try to come back here from time to time when I learn something new that might be of interest to other photographers.