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.