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Preferred Post – Processing Software?

Crystal Beach Twilight
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Recently, I have been trying to branch out and explore some new, or at least rarely visited, territory.  For me, this usually involves reading:  both on the internet and books on particular topics.  In the past months, I have read about B&W, painting images and converting photographic images, flash photography, and more recently, night photography.

Almost everything I read has at least a short section on post-processing.  Because our world has become digital, it is, at the very least a “necessary evil.”  But some of us find it to be a huge positive to our photography, and even enjoy playing around with it.

I would appreciate if readers would respond here and let me know what their “go-to” software for image editing is, and why?

What I see in virtually every text and article though, is the inevitable reference to either Adobe Light Room, Photoshop (which has become a generic reference in many cases to all things digitally manipulated), or both.  It is understandable that Photoshop was the original image editing program, but over the many years since it was first introduced, there have certainly been a number of other programs designed with photographic image-editing in mind.  I have recently experimented with some of these offerings, including, most notably, On1‘s all-in-one, stand-alone, photo-editing software competitor to Photoshop (though I have not used any of them enough to have any judgment about them, there is an impressive lineup, including Capture One, Corel, DxO, ACDsee, and numerous others (interestingly, they all compare themselves against the Adobe “benchmarks” – Photoshop and Light Room – and often mention that you can work in and out of the Adobe programs, “seemlessly.” I gave On1 a pretty thorough test drive over a couple weeks.  Ultimately, I could not get the software to play well with my HP Desktop or my Microsoft Surface 3 and they graciously refunded my purchase.  It was an impressive program at what appears to be a lower price point than Photoshop.  I am currently subscribed to the Adobe Cloud solution; Photoshop CC and Lightroom Classic CC and whether the price point is actually significantly lower may well depend on how often these stand-alone programs need to be updated and at what cost.

In a recent post, I spoke about keeping up with the newest iteration of Photoshop, and concluded that it would remain my “go-to” software for all phases of image editing, for the time being.  The books all seem to suggest that most photographers are either using Light Room, Photoshop, or both.  The then go on and say that the image-editing process is pretty much the same.

Having come from earlier versions of Photoshop that predate Light Room, I never embraced its image-editing capabilities.  Early on, I felt that it still had too much missing from my workflow, and the Photoshop Adobe Raw Converter (ACR), now essentially the same conversion “engine” in both Light Room and ACR, seemed more capable in its early days.  By the time Light Room “caught up” to Photoshop, I was thoroughly entrenched.  I appreciate that Light Room was really developed specifically for photographers, and many who came to digital image-editing later than I did, probably started with Light Room.  There is little doubt in my mind that it is an easier learning curve, and its design is perhaps more logical to photographers.  But that is a little like saying that the metric system is a little more logical than the “English” system to a 62-year-old who has used the latter system all his life.  🙂  I am sure it is more logical.  But that doesn’t make changing my thinking to it a breeze.  So I pretty much stay with Photoshop (and use Light Room as an expensive cataloging tool).  That may change.  But for now, it still does a few things that Light Room doesn’t.  And Lightroom integrates well with it.

The point of this rambling blog is really to try to satisfy my own curiosity.  I would appreciate if readers would respond and let me know what their “go-to” software for image editing is, and why?

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t lost all interest in the “doing” phase of photography.  Not much shooting lately, but a little:  mostly experimentation.  The image here was taken a couple nights ago near my Florida home.  We often have spectacular sunsets here on the gulf.  But this night it was more subdued.  I made this image after sunset during twilight, and used my newest toy, a remote flash trigger, to walk over near the vegetation in the foreground and light it up with the flash.  I am a long way down on the learning curve for using lighting with my Sony system.  Nikon made it so easy.

Now, Fall rapidly approaches, and I suspect the excitement to get out will build.

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4 Responses

  1. I use Lightroom for a couple of reasons – mainly it has a workflow that fits perfectly with my high sports business. Secondly it lets me easily do burning and dodging. Most every other software I have tried (certainly not all) require layers. I intend to learn layers at some point (with Photoshop) but never learn it but never seem to spend time with it during the summer before school has started. Then I am swamped with the volume of games I cover and the heavy editing load.

    Last year I was extremely frustrated and angry with the new Lightroom rollout. My robust version of Lightroom was rebranded as “Classic” and it performed horribly with my large volume of raw files. I full intended to research other software this summer and switch.

    Over an extremely long period, Adobe seems to have fixed the performance issues. My cynical belief is that they waited to see how much of an outcry there would be. I believe it was sufficient for them to fix Classic for us loyal, serious, professional customers. So I have put of my replacement search for now.

    My perception is that Adobe wants to cover the iPad/tablet crowd where the volume is. I understand the business model makes sense to go where the market it. But the new version of Lightroom does not have all the tools I desire in my professional workflow.

    I use an ON1 plugin for a certain HDR effect and it works fine for me. A very experienced friend has dropped Lightroom for ON1 but it does not fit my needs (easy Burn/Dodge) at the moment.

    I literally like the way I can build a series of edits and COPY them for the duration of the editing session. I used to save these as custom presets but no longer bother. If I do not finish a game/gallery, I go back into edit mode, find the last photo with those edits, and copy that preset and use for the current session.

    Other software may just as effectively let me collect edits into a preset – but I have not taken the time to learn them.

    I have very comfortable with Lightroom. If Adobe eventually drops the Classic version or if I stop doing high school sports, my needs will be different.

    I still intend to learn a basic level of Photoshop. But until I stop working with (sports) volume, I cannot justify the time taking photos through my perceived long-editing workflow with Photoshop.

  2. It’s interesting that you should ask this question now. I just finished this almost same discussion on a forum that was mostly about work arounds since every editing/processing software has a kink or two.

    It was the general feeling that Lightroom CC sucks. It is slow, buggy and can cause full computer crashes. Lightroom Classic is better mostly because it doesn’t live on a cloud. Any software that is based in a cloud is problematic. Not only do you need an internet connection to start using it, but it is very hinky. The last time I tried to use it to import about 500 large raw files it crashed and crashed and crashed. There’s a reason for this. Adobe says the minimum is 4 gigs of RAM. They’d really like 12. What they really mean is 16 or more. Same with Photoshop. I have 12.

    Photoshop is way too bloated for most photographers needs. The learning curve is very steep and unnecessary in this day and age of so many better processing softwares. It was originally designed as a pre press platform and that’s how I used to use it.

    For doing the one thing that Photoshop does well for me — adding copyright information/watermarks to the picture — I use Affinity. Originally designed for Mac platforms only, it is a great replacement for Photoshop. It costs $49 and upgrades are free. You don’t have to pay for it forever. It was new software of the year a few years back. Now, they have developed it for Windows platforms. It is actually a pretty great processing tool. I use it in a pinch usually after I realized that I missed something in post workflow.

    I’ve given up on PhaseOne, which really should be the state of the art. I can use it free — as you can — because of a deal they made with Sony. It works just fine. My problem is that it takes over the computer and doesn’t really want to let go. I have to use my Mac’s “force quit” feature to even shut it down.

    Where am I now?

    I use Photo Mechanic for ingress (as their terminology calls it), labelling, key wording and all meta data. I also use it to cull my images. I read Phil’s comments about his volume. This software is what just about every working photojournalist uses who transmits from the field. It is wonderful for large volume takes, like I do.

    For final processing and finishing I use OnOne. I generally keep the import files as raw, and let OnOne do its thing. But, you know me. I might make 500 images in the field, but no client will see more then 5-10% of them. I’d suggest you give it another test. This latest upgrade is as rock solid as it’s ever been. One thing that nobody says about installation is turn off everything else. You don’t have to shut down other software/apps, just don’t have them running.

    So. My workflow is basically Photo Mechanic > On One > Affinity, if I need watermarks. For anything I publish on the web, I need a watermark. For clients, no.

    I can photograph something at night like a Mardi Gras parade, get home around 8pm, and by 10pm everything is done and ready for — at the very least — Storyteller, which has grown big enough (16,000 followers) that I can apply for press credentials in Storyteller’s name and get them.

    Hope some of that helps.

  3. Andy, I own lots of different photo processing programs. I have used Photoshop for years and while I bought Lightroom and it now comes with my Photoshop CC subscription, I really haven’t adopted it in my workflow. I own On1, DXO Photo Lab, Topaz Studio and Luminar. In my experience all of them will enable the user to improve images significantly over what comes out the camera. Some allow layers and masking, others use tools like the adjustment brush but most rely on offering presets that only require the user to pick on.

    For me though, Photoshop offers me capabilities that I need far beyond what I can get from the other programs. For example, I have a photo of a derelict pioneer homestead that I photographed on the South Dakota Prairie. It was late in the day and the light was exquisite. Unfortunately, the fence line that would make a great leading line to the house ran from the bottom right to the left side of the image. The house was on the right side. In addition, there was an old car next to the house that was a distraction and the sky was as clear as a bell. In my post processing, I wanted to remove the car, move the house from the right side of the image to the left side and replace the sky. The only tool available to me that could do those things easily was Photoshop. While I don’t do a lot of structural revisions to my images, I do them often enough that I must have Photoshop.

    Some adjustments in Photoshop have to be done using adjustment layers and masks and it will probably take more time to do them than might be required in other programs. That said, if I want to use other programs, I can just use them as a plug-in for Photoshop. Sometimes I will do that but, because I am a control freak, I would rather use masks in Photoshop because I can choose exactly where the adjustments should appear.

    Photoshop CC now includes the Camera Raw filter which is exactly the same interface as Lightroom so if I want to use the adjustment brush or if I want to adjust oranges or purples, I can do it there.

    Photoshop also offers smart objects which allows the user to apply filters to an image and then go back and change them at a later time. You don’t have to go back to the beginning. Smart objects are a great time saver.

    Speaking of smart objects, Photoshop offers image stacking for noise reduction. I photograph the night sky a lot and at high ISOs, there can be a lot of noise, especially in the shadows. I make multiple RAW images, open them as layers in Photoshop, convert them to a smart object and use the median stack mode to remove random noise. It really works great.

    So, the answer to your question is that my preferred post-processing program is Photoshop.

  4. Guys: Thanks for your comments, information and insights. Hopefully some others will chime in too. If, that is, there are any other readers of this blog out there 🙂

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