Do You Need Photoshop?

Now in its 12th major release, Photoshop is essentially synonymous with image editing for photographers and creatives. From beginning to end, it’s as comprehensive a program as youcan get for working with images, and each new release sets the bar for other image-editing software to keep up with.

With a price point that hovers just below $700, however, many photographers find the almost overwhelming capabilities of Photoshop to be an expensive bullet to bite, especially when so many of the basic features that they need are available through other options that are as capable as they are fun to use.

With new approaches to the classic workflows of image editing and interface designs that offer ease of use paired with complex abilities, these programs are much more cost-effective software solutions, offering many of the traditional tools of Photoshop while addressing the disadvantages of the program. Many photographers will want the all-encompassing power of Photoshop, but there are many good alternatives to consider.


Unlike Photoshop, which has a complex workflow when working between Adobe Bridge for browsing, Adobe Camera Raw for working with unedited RAW images and Photoshop itself for image editing, ACDSee Pro 4 concentrates on keeping your workflow minimal for working through lots of pictures quickly and effectively.

The interface of ACDSee Pro 4 is built to follow the logical sequential steps of image management for large groups of files, with a workflow streamlined into four customizable modes for working through images: Manage, View, Process and Online. Files aren’t imported, but rather they’re referenced in your library, which means that you can start working on photos almost immediately, and you also can leave them on unattached drives and memory cards in order to work with them later.

Other tools in ACDSee Pro make it much faster in some ways to use than Photoshop, like the Quick Search tool that allows you to retrieve images by date, event, location and other metadata. You can use ACDSee Pro to organize nonphoto files, and the image-editing suite has many of the same image-processing tools as Photoshop for perfecting exposure, color, sharpness and more.

Output to the web is exceedingly simple, with integrated uploading to a free ACDSee Online account, Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, Twitter, Zenfolio or FTP accounts. ACDSee Pro also is available in a long-awaited Mac edition. List Price: $169 (ACDSee Pro for Mac); $249 (ACDSee Pro 4 for Windows).


Aperture 3 is similar in many respects to Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom. Originally released before Lightroom, it was offered as a much heftier image browser and editor than the more consumer-oriented iPhoto.

Now in its third generation, Aperture 3 has matured into a full editing solution that foregoes many of Photoshop’s complexities at an incredibly low price if you buy it as a digital download through the new Mac App Store (a feature of Mac OS X Snow Leopard). Aperture excels in its simple-to-use interface, nondestructive editing without layers, and GPS-enabled library-organizational capabilities.

What’s more, Aperture is all-inclusive when it comes to the different aspects of image editing and image browsing. In Photoshop, for instance, Adobe Bridge is your image browser, and you have to launch two different programs to achieve what you can do in Aperture in two tabs.

Aperture includes all of the family-friendly applications of iPhoto, including Faces, an auto face-detection and -recognition mode for tagging friends and family in your images. The third generation also adds robustness to the image-editing tools and selective retouching for localizing adjustments. There are adjustment presets for previewing and making changes to images in black-and-white, color and in between, like sepia. Adjustments can be applied to any other image, even multiple ones, and users can save their own presets and publish them to the web for other photographers to use. Sure, Photoshop has similar “Actions,” but what Photoshop doesn’t have is Apple’s celebrated ease of use.

There are other nice features, as well, like advanced slideshow templates, a full-screen Projects view and the Vanishing HUD, which reduces distracting contextual windows from the interface so you can see the image in full on your screen. List Price: $79 (Mac only).


Downloading and installing software and photography applications for Apple computers just got even easier. Building on the model of the iTunes App Store for Apple’s line of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, Apple recently made the decision to offer applications and programs to Mac users in an online storefront that makes software as easy to find and use as browsing and purchasing music through iTunes.

Available as a free upgrade for Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6), the Mac App Store provides ratings and user feedback for more than 1,000 apps, and if the Mac App Store is anything like the popularity of the iTunes App Store, that number is likely to increase rapidly. You can search through featured content and popular downloads in a variety of categories, including photography, and results are divided into free or paid programs.

Keeping applications up to date is as simple as updating through the App Store application, and in the event of a computer crash, you also can reinstall purchased apps from the store. There are already close to 200 available photography apps, including favorites such as Pixelmator, iSplash for adding a “splash” of color to black-and-white images and Dynamic Light for creating HDR effects from single images.


Adobe is aware that the complex possibilities of Photoshop can be overkill to many photographers, and with that in mind, it introduced Adobe Lightroom in 2007, a much more user-friendly image-management system. For both beginners and seasoned pros, Lightroom is well regarded by photographers of all ages, combining a nicely designed, easy-to-understand interface with the basic editing tools that most photographers use on a regular basis.

Much more sophisticated than Photoshop Elements and offered at only $299, the price is set to be inexpensive enough for pros to embrace as a day-to-day companion to Photoshop, while also offering enthusiast photographers an affordable image-editing suite.

Lightroom 3 concentrates its efforts on fast image processingof multiple files, with five self-explanatory modules that switch rapidly between Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. There are a variety of creative presets that also can be manually adjusted, saved and published.

There’s support for video files, and it’s simple to perform a variety of adjustments like watermarking, lens correction and film grain simulation. You can post to Facebook, SmugMug and Flickr right from the software, and for more complex image-editing needs, Lightroom is designed to easily export photos to Photos
hop and import them right back into Lightroom once final adjustments have been made. List Price: $299 (Mac and Windows).


Addressing the mobile market and tablet computers, Adobe has released three Adobe Photoshop Touch apps for the Apple iPad, as well: Adobe Color Lava, Adobe Eazel and Adobe Nav. These touch-screen apps allow users to perform a variety of tasks on images from the iPad, like Lava and Eazel, which let users fingerpaint on the screen to mix and create colors and effects that can be imported into Photoshop.

Adobe Nav

Adobe Nav allows users to work with Photoshop tools right from the iPad for a customizable control panel that’s far more interactive than the traditional mouse-keyboard combo. You can keep Photoshop files cached on the iPad to share with others when away from the computer. Thanks to the recently announced Photoshop Touch Software Development Kit (SDK), there will be even more apps coming your way soon. The SDK kit lets software developers work with Photoshop to build new and exciting apps for Android, BlackBerry and iOS (iPads and iPhones) mobile operating systems. List Price: $4.99 (Adobe Eazel); $2.99 (Adobe Color Lava); $1.99 (Adobe Nav).


Nik Software took localized image adjustments to a whole new level with its U Point technology. Unlike the complicated layers and masking required for making selective adjustments in Photoshop, U Point Control Points are incredibly simple-to-use control panels that you place in the epicenter of an area that needs adjustment.

Control Points automatically analyze the surrounding area so that specific aspects of the image can be controlled by simply clicking and dragging sliders to adjust color, light, contrast and tonality. Radius is adjustable, and you easily can alter changes afterwards just by moving the sliders again. You can make universal adjustments to grouped Control Points, or delete them altogether after you’ve performed other adjustments to the image. This approach is incredibly fast and efficient, eliminating the need for tedious masking, and you can see changes as they’re made.

Viveza 2 harnesses the power of Control Points in an image-editing solution with both selective and global image adjustments, as well as structure control for working on fine details and textural enhancements. Shadow recovery brings back details in overexposed areas, and you can zoom into the image for incredibly precise localized adjustments.

Viveza 2 is a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture and, for only $100 more, it’s available in Nik Software’s Complete Collection of editing plug-ins. List Price: $199 (Viveza 2); $299 (Complete Collection for Aperture or Lightroom); $599 (Complete Collection Ultimate Edition for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture).


Photoshop CS5 is still king of image editing, and with a variety of pricing structures and new features, you might want to look at it as an option after all. For photographers who really want the best of the best, you can’t argue with the incredibly sophisticated possibilities of Photoshop CS5. It’s especially useful for photographers who also are graphic or web designers, with tools for adding professional type and other nonphotographic effects.

There’s a steep learning curve, but once mastered, you’ll have access to every tool that the pros do, and you’ll be able to make your images the best that they can be. For photographers already invested in Photoshop’s lineage, there’s also much less expensive upgrade pricing available that starts at only $199, which may make the investment a lot easier to swallow.

Now on its mid-cycle 5.5 upgrade, for the first time ever, Photoshop CS5 is available not only to buy, but also to rent. If you buy into the yearly plan, you’ll receive Photoshop for $35 per month and Photoshop Extended (which adds tools for 3D and motion editing) for $49 per month, or you can choose to select a month-to-month plan without the annual contract at $49 and $75, respectively. The plan is ideal for photographers or businesses that are working on short-term projects and for users who don’t want to spend the money to upgrade, but need specific tools like Content Aware Fill or Puppet Warp that aren’t available in previous versions of Photoshop. List Price: $699 (Photoshop CS5); $999 (Photoshop CS5 Extended).


The incredibly affordable Pixelmator program offers Mac users a beautiful graphical interface and more than 20 tools for editing and retouching images, including brushes, transforming tools, selection tools, and layers and masks, not to mention 15 tools for color correction alone.

That may not sound like a lot when compared to Photoshop, but Pixelmator’s advantage is in its simple design and basic, but powerful image-enhancement abilities.

Pixelmator follows Photoshop’s lead in its layout and layer-based image editing, but it performs layers and masking in a much simpler process, allowing you to drag and drop portions of an image to stack them together as editable layers. These layers then can be blended together with sliders for opacity and masking. There are more than 130 filters for adding effects to an image, and you can download others and produce your own with support for Apple’s Quartz Composer filter editing and creation tool. The Photo Browser palette will give you access to libraries, events and albums in both iPhoto and Aperture, and the program publishes directly to Facebook, Flickr and Picasa. List Price: $59 (Mac only).


Now in its fifth edition, Picture Window Pro 5.0 from Digital Light & Color includes a Photoshop-like tool set, including curves adjustments, histograms, color management, black-and-white editing, resizing, masking, blurring, sharpening and much more.

Picture Window Pro 5.0 also offers its own features, like 2-zone and 3-zone adjustment transformations that enhance local contrast, brightness and saturation based on shadows, midtones and highlights. The program creates a workspace copy of your image so that you can compare and contrast changes as needed, and the History feature allows you to redo previous changes that are then updated on the adjustments you’ve made afterwards.

RAW support in 5.0 includes a totally redesigned Raw Converter for more control over RAW image conversions. Dedicated Color, Gray, S&N and Properties tabs provide sliders for finely tuning color temperature, tint, sat
uration, exposure, highlights, shadows, midtones, sharpening, noise reduction and metadata. Batch processing can be applied to multiple similar images for speeding up workflow.


ACD Systems |
Adobe |
Apple |
Digital Light & Color |
Nik Software |
Pixelmator |

RAW support in 5.0 includes a totally redesigned Raw Converter for more control over RAW image conversions. Dedicated Color, Gray, S&N and Properties tabs provide sliders for finely tuning color temperature, tint, saturation, exposure, highlights, shadows, midtones, sharpening, noise reduction and metadata. Batch processing can be applied to multiple similar images for speeding up workflow.

Just as in Photoshop, Picture Window Pro 5.0 creates sidecar files with image-adjustment information, and you can apply them to other images later. Photo-album and slideshow generators are included, as well. Unlike Photoshop, Picture Window Pro 5.0 is available for less than $100. List Price: $89 (Windows only).

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