Let’s Talk Software

If you shoot JPGs the images that come out of your camera don’t need much if any photo editing. The camera has baked into the image all of the parameters around brightness, contrast, colour and more.

Oh sure you might want to crop the image or brighten or darken it a little to taste but that’s about it. For this type of simple photo editing just about any photo editor will do the trick. Even the photo editors for smartphones will do all of the above and more. Much of this software is freely available for downloading to your phone, tablet or computer.

All of this software will allow you to print your photos at home using standard colour inkjet printers and glossy photo paper. You can do a better job editing and printing your own photos than printing at a big box store. (However if you want to print hundreds of images then the big box store prices can’t be beat.)

But what if you want to set up a digital darkroom? (Okay it’s not the same as the darkroom when we developed film but you get the idea.)

A great deal of the less expensive (or even free) software will run easily on most laptops and home computers. This is especially true on MACs which come bundled with IPhoto which is pretty simple and pretty effective. Photoshop Elements (which sells for $99) can open raw files and works on both PCs and MACs. There are a ton of other editing programs out there but these two are really excellent.

Some pros and advanced amateur photographers really like Lightroom 4.

It’s way more complex than IPhoto or Elements but it does so much more as well. LR4 is a bunch of programs that work together. First it’s a file management program. This is really important if you’re shooting every week and you’re creating hundreds of folders containing tens of thousands of images. LR4 automatically catalogues and saves your images for easy future reference.

LR4 also contains the same raw editor as Photoshop which uses Camera Raw as its primary editor. Camera Raw is a very very robust and effective raw editor.

(A quick review of why we might want to shoot raw images: JPG images toss away a lot of data while raw images retain all the data that was recorded. This means the software can change the exposure settings of raw images for four or five stops (a stop is the combination of aperture and shutter speed which results in a properly exposed image) while a JPG might allow for 1/2 a stop of changing the brightness). Raw images can be edited in other software programs (called external editors) such as black and white convertors (NIK’s Silver Efex Pro) or high-dynamic range programs (NIK’s HDR Pro) and many many more. JPGs not so much. )

LR4 also can create slideshows and online galleries easily. Best of all LR4 does all of its edits using what’s called non-destructive editing. What this means is you can always go back to your original raw image without any loss of quality. Every time open, edit and close a JPG is looses some quality. (Just opening and closing JPGs is fine.) This is a very cool feature and worth the price of admission ($200). LR4 also can handle thousands of images at a time. This is very important to photographers who shoot say sports for newspapers or magazines and especially for wedding photographers who can shoot three or four thousand images per wedding.

The other big photo editing software package is, of course, Photoshop CS 6 which at $800 is a lot of money but worth every penny if you’re a commercial photographer or you shoot weddings or portraits. Photoshop is what’s called a pixel editor. Unlike LR4 which works on the overall image (I’m generalizing here.) Photoshop works on the individual pixels. This makes Photoshop immensely powerful as you can change anything (Switch heads on people you don’t like. Change eye colour. Enhance body parts. Etc.) but these changes can be destructive. In other words Photoshop actually changes the original image. (The way around having an image destroyed by Photoshop is to make a copy of the original and work on the copy keeping the original in storage. This makes for a lot of work if you’re working on thousands of images which is why wedding photographers prefer LR4.)

Both LR4 and Photoshop CS6 are available for both the MAC and PC platform.

Regardless of which program you choose you will really really want at least 8-gigs of memory in your computer (16-gigs would be heaven) and an external fast terabyte hard drive or two.

(NIKON OWNERS NOTE: Many Nikon DSLR cameras came bundled with a photo editor called Capture NX 2 which works on both raw and JPG images.

NX 2 is an amazing photo editor and can do things that even Photoshop can’t do on raw files. I would be perfectly happy to stay with NX 2 and use it instead of LR4 or CS6 and would have been way ahead of the game financially if I had 🙂

While it does not have the management chops of LR4 or the pixel editing capabilities of CS6 it does do non-destructive editing (very cool) using NIK’s (who manufactured NX2 exclusively for Nikon) amazing U-Point technology. U-Point allows you to drag your cursor onto the image right on your screen where a drop-down menu appears and depending on what you want to do (lighten, darken, increase contrast, change colours among a bunch of other stuff) does it in real time right on the image. Photoshop has to make a new layer (which adds immensely to the overall size of the finished image) and LR4 needs to import an external editor NIK’s Viveza 2 is one of a number of editors that plug into LR.)

Whichever software package you use, it will take some practice but none are as tough to learn as they look. There are tons of online video “how-tos” and I give classes in all of the above aimed at the beginner level. Another great resource is Creativelive.com which has video workshops you can watch for free or buy the downloads (I’ve bought four myself.).

If you decide to do your own raw editing consider the purchase of a Wacom digital tablet. Their Bamboo series can be had for as little as $99 and makes editing a whole lot simpler. The larger Intous series is great if you can afford the $$.


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