Photo Programs I Use And Why I Use Them

I’m often asked “what do you edit in?” and there was a time when that was an easy answer: Photoshop! That’s not the case across the board for every assignment, so I want to give a quick overview of what I use and why I use it. I need to preface this by saying I shoot in RAW format. If you do not, then some of this info is totally pointless…unless I can convince you that you need to shoot in RAW. When people ask me how they should adjust ________ on an image, my first question is “are you shooting in RAW?” If their answer is no, I usually ask why and the most common response is “I don’t really know much about shooting in RAW”. Well, I won’t tell you all the reasons why in this post (but I promise to do so in a future post), but I would challenge you to have a better reason than that for not shooting in RAW. If that is your only excuse, you owe it to yourself to get educated. Ok. Sorry. I had to say that. Now, on to the techie stuff:

Adobe Bridge: Since I shoot in RAW format, all my images pass through Adobe Bridge first (A few exceptions noted below). Adobe bridge is my baby for standard things such as

  • White balance
  • Contrast adjustment
  • Highlight recovery
  • Light/dark adjustment
  • Clarity
  • Vibrance
  • Saturation
  • Sharpening
  • Noise reduction
  • Lens correction (I.E. vignette, distortion, and such)
  • Cropping
  • Spot removal

There are probably more things I could list, but these are the primary things that come to mind. Could I do all these in Photoshop? Absolutely! Could I do them as well? No. And they would be destructive edits that would either permanently alter the image or force me to save off a layered file. You see, I change my mind a lot, so I like things to be editable without quality loss being an issue. Therefore RAW processing is 99% of my work on most briefs.

Adobe Lightroom: Even though I am in fast-paced shooting environments a lot, I do get the chance to shoot near a computer on occasion, and when I do, I tether up to Lightroom. Tethering has its pros and cons. Pros being that you can see your images on a pretty screen and display them to the model/client as you shoot, store them directly on the hard drive, apply RAW settings as you shoot, and so on. Cons being mostly speed (the larger the file size, the longer it takes to display on the screen. Patience is¬†definitely a virtue when tethering), and the fact you will probably have a cable running from your camera to your computer, so don’t take off chasing that passing car. Anyway, when I am using Lightroom it’s mostly for

  • Tethered shooting
  • Instant RAW processing (when tethered)
  • File creation (when tethered)

Right about here there will be a Lightroom fan that will deride me for not pointing out that you can do the same things in Lightroom that you can do in Bridge, and there are a lot of photographers who use mostly Lightroom even when they are not tethered. This is true. Lightroom is a sweet tool and you could use it happily all by itself if that suits you. However, this post is about what I use, not what you use, so chill out. This is how I use it and abuse it. Case closed.

Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop is my home away from home. I do a lot of composite images that require more than the standard RAW tweaks. If I could implant the shortcut keys in my brain and simply think them as I work, I probably would consider it. Anything to streamline my workflow, because I spend more of my life in this program than in the real world some days. That being said, I primarily use it for

  • Isolation
  • Masking
  • Layering
  • Additional sharpening
  • Texturing
  • Watermarking
  • Web optimization
  • Animation
  • Web slices/html
  • Batch processing
  • Total world domination*

There are a million things I could put on this bullet list, but I will stop here. These are the primary things I use it for. Occasionally there is some crossover from Bridge to Photoshop and I will crop in Photoshop instead of Bridge or so on, but this is meant to reflect my typical workflow. I am averaging out what I do, and this is about average. I used to use Photoshop for layouts and print work before I fell in love with InDesign, but this post is about photography…why did you even bring up InDesign? Shhhhh, stay on topic.

Plugins: Ah, here is a topic I encounter regularly. Yes, I do have some plugins in Photoshop, but I almost never use them. I do everything manually and I rarely defer to plugins. I have Topaz Labs collection of plugins, of which I have only ever used a few, and only when certain planets align or I stay up too late drinking caffeine and watching YouTube. I also have Nik Software’s HDR plugin. It is a marginal improvement on Adobe’s standard HDR processor in some respects, in other ways I don’t think it matters. Maybe I don’t know enough about it, but I can honestly say that if there was a fire in my Photoshop and I had to grab the things I love most, I would let plugins burn and snatch the pen and brush. Just sayin’.

Notes: As I write this post, I am using Creative Suite CS 6 and Lightroom 3.3. I upgrade Photoshop at every possibly opportunity. Lightroom is less of a priority for me at the moment, so I am still a version behind.



4 thoughts on “Photo Programs I Use And Why I Use Them

  1. I recently began using RAW and Bridge and have noticed better adjustment capability since I still dont ise the right camera setting often enough. It has opened up better looking end results and is not overly complicated to use or do.

    • Yes, it’s actually much easier than using Photoshop for common adjustments. RAW files are also editable on mobile devices now, so the format is not as exclusive as it once was.

  2. Excellent article! We are linking to this great article on our website. Keep up the great writing.

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