Mail Bag: Image Editing Confusion

I’ve been meaning to start a regular post series featuring some of the emails I get with questions about photography and styling, and what better way to kick it off with a question that I know comes up all the time with folks just getting started into some more advanced digital imaging. A reader writes:

Dear Lara,

I’m really confused about which image editing software to buy. I’m planning to go in for the Canon 40D. I heard you talk about the phase one capture pro on your site. Maybe I will look at it as an option in the future as I don’t want to suffer from information overload!

I need to edit images for publishing in websites and magazines/newspapers. Should I go in for the Photoshop CS3 or CS3 extended? What are your thoughts on the Adobe Lightroom?

I have heard that Mac is better for photographers so i’m switching over to Mac after years of PC use.

Thanks for being helpful.


First, you’ll need to decide what you want to do with editing your photos. Software like Adobe Lightroom and Capture One apply edits to the entire photo, and are great for adjusting things like the exposure or the color for an entire image, working with Raw files, or in the case of LIghtroom, helping you keep all of your images organized, kind of like a beefed up iPhoto. I don’t use Lightroom (yet)… I tried a beta copy quite a while ago and with the number of photos that I have, I found it too slow. I just use the Bridge app included with Photoshop CS to manage my files, and as you know, I love Capture One for my first pass of edits and applying exposure and color correction. Apple has a program very similar to Lightroom called Aperture that is used quite extensively in the industry, although I haven’t tried it yet.

If you need to do any pixel editing though, that is touching up just one part of an image to remove, for example, a blemish, etc., none of those programs will help you. You’ll need something like Photoshop. As you’ve found, there are lots of versions of Photoshop. Depending on your level of experience, you could start with something like Photoshop Elements 5.0 and work up from there. Elements offers quite a lot for its little $99 price tag. It has all the healing brush features and color adjustments. It just leaves out some of the more complicated layering and masking tools. It’s definitely a good place to start to learn the basics without getting overwhelmed.

If you do want to go ahead and step up to Photoshop CS3, that should be all you need. Photoshop CS3 Extended adds support for 3D modeling and some motion, so unless you are doing some kind of integrated video or scientific type photography, skip it.

On the Mac versus PC thing, honestly, it really doesn’t matter. All the software vendors that release photos software for the Mac also make a PC version with the same features. So, it’s really more about personal preference with the operating system UI and the hardware.

  • http://www.cookingbytheseatofmypants.com/ Jerry

    A quick note. Almost all features of PhotoShop are available in a program called the GIMP (Gnu Image Editing Program) It’s a bit more complicated to learn initially, but you can’t beat the price tag (Free). It’s available for Windows, mac and (My particular operating system) Linux.

    http://www.gimp.org/

  • http://iheartfarms.com Tana

    Lara, as much as I love your site (and everything you do), I have to disagree, philosophically and emotionally, on the issue of “Mac or PC doesn’t matter.” And I’m going to be blunt, and opinionated, but I am also going to tell the truth.

    1. There is a reason artists gravitate to the Mac, and it’s not because we are stupid. It’s because the interface—the actual environment of creativity—is prettier. Sure, you can cook meals in your grandmother’s avocado green kitchen, but why would you want to? The Mac operating system itself, with its floating icons, serene whites, and anti-aliased décor is inspirational. Windows is clearly designed by engineers, for engineers, and it’s just plain straight and dull and ugly. (Okay, that is pure opinion and not science, but I’m still right.)

    2. More than the aesthetics, there is the core issue of security. I don’t waste one brain cell wondering if my computer has some potentially fatal virus. I can sleep at night, knowing I am not innocently infecting random strangers with a disease that could be at the least inconvenient and time-wasting (get the updates, get the fix, assess the damage, apologize, etc.), but literally FATAL.

    I once had Virtual Windows installed on my Mac Tower. I opened Internet Explorer exactly ONCE, to test the functionality of a website I’d designed. In that online session, Virtual PC got a virus that LITERALLY killed it dead. It would not run again: I was supposed to re-install it completely to rid the screen of that ugly black and green death box that lets you know you are in deep doodoo.

    I didn’t reinstall it.

    It’s a moral thing: Windows machines will FOREVER and UNCURABLY be prey to the virii that infect that operating system, and the resources (money, worry, tech time) that are wasted in dealing with it are, in my mind, very much like wasting money on troops and ammunition and human lives in a needless war.

    I know some PC people who are in denial about this, and clutch their machines to their hearts with their dying breaths, but the security issue alone makes the platform, and the businesses who support it, unsustainable. (And I also know those who are simply resigned, as though there is no sound alternative. Yes, Macs cost more, but it’s because they’re healthier in the long run.)

    I’ve been on a Mac (and online) since 1989. I’m not any kind of über-geek and never plan to own an iPhone. This isn’t about that.

    I think Lara’s questioner will be delighted and relieved with her new Mac. It will be easy to learn, and when she gets a few fun user tricks under her belt (like Command-Tabbing through open programs), she will be deliriously grateful.

  • http://stilllifewith.com L

    Hi Tana –

    Your opinions are certainly both more than welcome here, and, I know, echoed by a lot of other people. That said, for me, having worked extensively on both platforms, I think it is a religious matter. Some people believe fervently one way, others the other… and, I have had equally good and bad experiences with both.

    The main difference I see is one of aesthetic, and that is so subjective that it is really hard to say one is better than the other. Some people actually like the old avacado green kitchens! :-) Personally, my aesthetics do tend toward mac, which is what i use, although that is more for the hardware than the user experience.

    One final note- security. Unforutnately, here’s an area I think there is far too much misinformation. You are no more secure on a Mac than a PC. No machine is. Windows users have it rougher now because they are the “big guys” and have been a big target. I’d bet big money that someday, perhaps someday soon even, the public perception of Apple is going to change, and people will start realizing that they are the new “big guys.” If you go back, way back, Microsoft was a small, rebel company to IBM’s empire back in the day…

    Software is software. It’s made by people. It has flaws. And flaws get exploited when people think it is interesting or profitable.

    As a photographer, all the tools are available to you on both platforms. So, you just have to decide which one you feel more comfortable in, and which one you like better. Mac, PC… heck, it’s likely that pretty soon even Linux will have everything you need. It’s all good.

    -L

  • http://www.mattbites.com matt

    What’s a PC?

  • http://www.cookingbytheseatofmypants.com/ Jerry

    sigh…

    With all due respect to the Mac lovers here (Matt, Tana)

    I see us *nix users are lost again amongst the PC vs. Mac wars. I still prefer Solaris, but since my hardware isn’t supported, I run Ubuntu.

    Nice thing is, I can still run Photoshop under it, as well as the Gimp and most of my other software. What I can’t run I find a replacement for and it cost me zilch.

    I agree with Lara. It’s not the platform. It’s also not the software. It’s the operator. I’ve een things accomplished in windows paint that I would have had a hard time recreating in PhotoShop. That’s talent there…

  • http://nikas-culinaria.com nika

    I know Matt loves Aperture (he has definitely tested it better than I!) but after beta testing Aperture and Lightroom, I tended toward Lightroom for reasons that are intangible and hard to articulate (as in, yikes, I dont get Aperture but I seem to be picking up on Lightroom, lets go for that and try not to think too much about the choices that COULD have been :-)

    I am as a-religious in all respects as one can get so for me PC vs Mac is most definitely not a religious thing.. I dont bash PC for being a tool of the Borg, I do not bash PC for it’s viral-tendencies, I do not drool over Mac because of its relative beauty.

    Our household runs windows and linux on unix machines. I used PS2 for years on the windows system with first the chunky old monitors and then flat screens. We even port out PC and Mac data to our flat screen TV (42″ westinghouse monitor – no TV tuner, just the monitor) but all these viewing solutions were just not enough to get a good sense for how my images looked before and after post.

    I invested in a MacBook Pro 17inch because it handles image files awesomely, my CS3 extended suite is optimized on Mac now that its all got its act together. I run PS3, Lightroom, InDesign and Firefox and Safari simultaneously. No problems.

    Regarding the look of my computer, sure, its nice to impress the client while on location but those prepost images are never as good as after the magic so its not a huge reason for me to use the computer (as in, I use it to post-process after the shoot to get a jump on things. Could not do that on any of the other PC laptops I have had.)

    Just like with cameras, you get as much as you can stand to spend on it and then maximize the heck out of what you DO have.