Many of you are probably aware that Adobe is now switching to a cloud-based way of selling Photoshop and other parts of their Creative Suite. You will not be able to buy Photoshop as a single-purchase program in the future – you will only be able to get it as part of a monthly subscription cost.
Adobe is determined to go to this model for Creative Suite, now Cloud Suite products, including Photoshop. You can see their reasons here, if you care. At $49 month for the complete suite or $20 a month for Photoshop (which will include Lightroom), the costs add up quickly because this is $20/month "forever" or for however long you use Photoshop. There is an introductory price of $10/month for present users of Photoshop, though that is only for one year. Some people have dubbed all of this the "Adobe tax."
But do you really need Photoshop? Photoshop has many excellent controls and I have used it for nearly 20 years, but I use it very little now. Still, there are times when I really do need it for its layers, even with nature photography. I am not very interested in this cloud-based fee system because I don’t use Photoshop so much, so what else is possible?
I really believe it is possible to manage quite well without Photoshop without paying for this new cloud-based system and still having the control you need. There is very little the average, yet sophisticated digital nature photographer cannot do if he/she has Lightroom, plus the latest version of Photoshop Elements, and possibly, Nik Software Viveza 2.
Lightroom has all the controls that Photoshop's Camera Raw has and includes an excellent set of organizing tools (notice that I did not say Lightroom is an organizer – Lightroom gives you the tools, just like Staples sells the tools for filing systems, but you have to do the organizing or filing). It is an integrated approach to working with digital photos, including JPEG and RAW files, that makes accessing photos faster and more efficient than using Bridge and Photoshop.
Having long been a user of Photoshop and Camera Raw, then moving largely to Lightroom, I can tell you that processing images in Lightroom can be faster and more efficient, too. I have occasionally gone back to Camera Raw just to see what it is like now, and I have seen students in classes make the transition to Lightroom, and I can tell you that consistently, Lightroom comes out on top. It is true that Camera Raw is easier to use than Photoshop, but that is not saying much.
For me, Lightroom connects you with your images more solidly than Photoshop. When you are working in Photoshop, there is no question that Photoshop is the “star”, but in Lightroom, the photo is the star. No matter how much of an expert I became in Photoshop, I never felt as “bonded” to my images because Photoshop always made it obvious that dealing with the software was more important than the photo. In Lightroom, I don’t feel that way and feel my connection to images helps me better understand what the photo needs.
Yet, there are times I need layers. I use layers and layer masks when I need more precise control over adjusting small parts of an image. I need layers when I combine a black-and-white photo with a color photo, when I need to double process a RAW file to get the most out of bright skies and dark ground (or I even have two original shots), and when I need to create an illustration of something, such as showing a camera in front of a scene with that scene showing in the LCD.
A few years ago, those things could be challenging with Photoshop Elements. Not today. Anyone who says that Elements is not a capable, viable program for photographers has not used a recent version. There is very little you cannot do with layers and layer masks in Photoshop that you cannot do with Photoshop Elements (other than Smart Objects, which I never use anyway – I know they are useful to some people, but few nature photographers really need them). Photoshop Elements has full layer mask capabilities with adjustment layers as well as every other type of layer, including those with pixels. It even includes a Content Aware healing brush and a superb panoramic feature.
Elements does not have Curves with layers, but since I do my primary processing in Lightroom, that is no big deal. Elements has both sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces, which are fine because, again, most of my main processing is done in Lightroom which uses a large color space (a proprietary space similar to ProPhoto RGB). Photoshop Elements does allow 16-bit processing if you really need it, too.
Another option is Viveza. This can be used with Lightroom without any Photoshop product or as a supplement to Photoshop Elements. Viveza allows for very precise control of local adjustments, plus it has something called Structure that is similar to Clarity in Lightroom and Camera Raw, but much more refined (Clarity is like working with a crayon, while Structure is like working with fine paintbrushes). If you don’t need to composite photos, such as putting together black-and-white with color, Viveza can be all you need to complement Lightroom.
Viveza uses Control Points to deal with local control. You place a Control Point on a specific part of the photo you want to adjust, for example, a rock that is too dark in a landscape. You can then adjust things like brightness, contrast and color separately from things around it. When you set a Control Point, you set a circle for how large an area it will work, plus Viveza looks for seven different things to match the point you selected, creating a mask without you having to do anything. This can allow you to literally adjust only that rock, or whatever you select, without affecting anything else in the photo.
But wait, there’s more! If your adjustment spills over into adjacent areas because there are similarities in tone, color, etc., you can add Control Points onto those adjacent areas that tell Viveza not to adjust them. This gives you very precise control that does not require you to understand layer masks in Photoshop.
Nik Software is now owned by Google and they now sell a complete package of programs for $149 (which is a great bargain). You can even get a little more of a discount if you use the code, rsheppard.
So you see, you might not need Photoshop after all. Adobe says that they are going to the cloud-based system for Photoshop because that means they can update it in small bits as you go and because it makes everyone have better access to the complete suite. That's probably true on some level, but I also think it is a way for Adobe to increase revenues by limiting choice of how you use the program.