Do We Need Photoshop?

Photoshop ?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.


About Rob

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at; my blogs are at and
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37 Responses to Do We Need Photoshop?

  1. Gordon says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. Not sure I need Google either!

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      I am still a little suspicious of Google's purchase of Nik Software. Nik was a small company truly devoted to making software geared to photographers, software that would make our digital work easier and more efficient. At least Google has dropped the price on the bundled pack to a more affordable price.


    • R Christopher says:

      Adobe has greatly upset me since I rarely use, but sometimes REALLY need Photoshop. Photoshop CS6 will be the last one for me. I am not going to the cloud service. It had NOTHING to do with features, it was all about money. Less people were upgrading, because the new features became less and less.

  2. John Sylwester says:

    Very useful information, but I need information. I have a Nikon D40, which I only use in jpeg, and which I use with iPhoto in my iMac. If I were to shoot in RAW, can I go directly to Lightroom?

  3. Pat L says:

    Good article telling it like it is. I am appalled that after having supported Adobe for many years, they are now discarding a large segment of their customers. I agree with you. I too am not interested in paying a monthly fee for a program that I rarely use now that I process my images in Lightroom. I do like to do some composite work but hopefully my CS6 will continue to be operable for a considerable time for the limited times I use it.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Definitely, it does seem a bit much for a program only used occasionally. Photoshop Elements tends to pick up Photoshop features first in its own way, but more after a year or so. Composite work is about the same in Elements as Photoshop. But if you are mostly using Lightroom, CS6 will probably be fine.


  4. Larry Neel says:

    Rob, do we know for sure that when Adobe converts Photoshop to Cloud subscription only that they will continue to offer and update Photoshop Elements? Or is there indication they will discontinue Elements to facilitate herding everybody into the chute?

  5. Aram Langhans says:

    I, too, am sort of disgusted with this marketing model, yet I can see their point. Lots of piracy out there that this should prevent.

    About Elements. Never used it. What I use Photoshop now for is to do panoramas and staked images for increasing depth of field, and for large touchup's that I can't do in Lightroom 4, but may e can now in Lightroom 5, which I just downloaded.
    Can Elements perform these functions with RAW images? Is it as easy as in Photoshop?

    Aram, with feet firmly on the ground, NOT in the clouds.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Elements does a wonderful job with Panoramics. It does not do stacked images directly (though it is possible -- I know of some photographers who were doing this with Photoshop just by using layers and layer masks before). I would say Elements is a little easier to use than Photoshop.


  6. Jan LeCocq says:

    I am not going to pay $49/mo for Photoshop. I use it a lot, but am starting to do more in Lightroom. And with Lightroom 5 coming out.. I also use Nik and Topaz...Nik often directly from Lightroom. I hope they don't decide to go to the cloud with Lightroom!

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      According to an article in this month's MacWorld, an interviewed and named Adobe spokesperson (I don't remember the name) said that there were no plans to make Lightroom will cloud only.


  7. Steve says:

    I've been using Canon Digital Photo Pro since I always shoot raw, converting to jpeg and going to Elements for any final touch ups. Always saw Lightroom as more for organizing so after this article I'll have to take another look. So Elements will still be available to buy? Haven't updated since 8.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      According to the article mentioned in my reply to Jan, Elements will never be part of the cloud. Elements 9 and 10 did some interesting new things that can be worth a look, such as content aware healing brush. Adobe has consistently brought out a new Elements in the fall, so there probably will be a new one then, but who know what will be new to it.


  8. Rich Bahl says:

    I'm confused about all cloud based applications. There are times when I don't have an internet connection or the speed is so slow as to be worthless - will the application still work? I'm betting it is only a matter of time before Apple moves to a cloud based iPhoto and Aperture. Google will also with their applications. I assume there will be independent companies that don't have the infrastructure that will provide useable product but I think we are facing a new paradigm for life with a desktop or laptop computer.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      It does seem like these companies are moving forward with the cloud because it works for them rather than being concerned about all users. With Adobe's cloud system, I believe you will have a version of Photoshop on your computer that will be constantly updated from that cloud, also you can access it from any computer.


      • Rich Bahl says:

        I tend to agree with caveats. I still worry about access when no internet connections are available. I visit folks in western Montana. They have no internet. The closest Wi-Fi is about 50 miles away. If I want to edit something and show them how is it going to work? What happens when you fail to update credit card info and the card expires? Are you going to be blocked from using it?

  9. Howard says:

    You can use OnOne Perfect Suite which includes Perfect Layers if you want another alternative to a layered workflow.

  10. Craig Myers says:


    Thanks for bringing up this topic. I've signed on for the cloud PS for a year at the reduced rate as sort of a trial to test other alternatives and to evaluate just how PS dependent I am. I've been considering PS Elements, so I appreciate the information on that program. When I first began using layers as part of the workflow, I turned to PaintShop Pro which was a pretty robust and more economical alternative to Photoshop. It is still out there. I have been very happy with the Nik applications I access from LR--Color Efex, Silver Efex, and Viveza--they have really reduced the time I used to spend in PS. More and more I find myself turning to OnOne's suite of applications which have really improved over the past few years. I especially like the fact that I can work with layers in the OnOne suite and their B-W application is the equal to Nik's SEP, in my opinion. OnOne's complete suite for use in LR or Aperture (or as a stand-alone) is available for $99, less for an upgrade. Anyway, I just wanted to share some of my software impressions and to express my appreciation for your helpful and thoughtful columns.

  11. Carol Nourse says:

    Very timely and useful information for me. I have recently switched from Aperture to Lightroom because of the strange way Aperture seemed to process Nikon Raw on import lately. Lightroom certainly is a good program for editing and enhancing my shots, though I have difficulty in navigating through its menus as yet. I did get Elements 11 to replace my ancient CS-3, but again, I have not yet mastered all of the ins and outs, so have retained CS-3 and turn to it when I get frustrated trying to accomplish something in Elements. As you can tell, I am not very adept at adjusting to all the changes I have to make, but your blog gives me encouragement and some interesting alternatives. Thanks.

  12. john says:

    Rob, i have not seen where LR is included with just the single Photoshop CC subscription. Only when getting the full CC.

  13. John Sylwester says:

    In response to Rich Balh's comment

    "but I think we are facing a new paradigm for life with a desktop or laptop computer."

    As a reminder we need to take transparent tape and tape two dimes below the computer screen.

  14. Andrew Spink says:

    Have you considered open source alternatives such as GIMP ( I use Acdsee for organising my photos and straightforward editing (most tasks without layers), but if I want to use layers or otherwise more complex tasks, I use GIMP together with a couple of other programs for HDR (picturenaut, free), stacking (combine ZP, free) and noise reduction (Noiseware). Do you have an opinion on how GIMP compares with Lightroom?

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      I have not used GIMP in years, however, from everything I have seen, it is more like Photoshop than Lightroom. It does not have the efficiencies of Lightroom.


  15. Beth DeBor says:

    Rob, thanks for your thoughts. I really enjoy reading your blog. I can't remember why I upgraded to CS6 from PSE10 but I have no intention of paying $49/mo. I use LR all the time first and then sometimes use Nik which I recently got as a free upgrade (bundle) for being a previous Nik customer. I also use Topaz a lot and they offer free upgrades. I also recently started learning onOne. I find myself practicing like crazy but don't feel like I'm proficient at all.

    By the way, have you had a chance to use the new Panasonic yet?

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      You have to be patient with yourself as you practice. It takes some time and experience like any craft (which this really is).

      I bought a Panasonic GX1 with power zoom because i found a really good deal on it. I love it, so far, though I wish it had a tilting LCD. I am much impressed with the controls. To set a lot of things on my Sonys, I have to use menus. You need to use very few menus with the GX1 which is really great because there are a few things i change all the time. I am also quite impressed with this lens. I have to do some direct comparisons.

      Panasonic is still promising me a chance to work with the GH3, but not yet.


  16. Jon Sund says:

    In the past I have used Adobe programs that required connection to the cloud and found the process poor and limiting. If you travel and are not connected to the internet for a period of time your software does not work. Price setting for today does not guarantee that it will stay at that level in the future, price increase seems inevitable once control is gained.

    A second set of tools to look at comes from Topaz Labs. They do allow stacking in their software and you can control each layer and how it is combined with the others in the stack. Take a look at photoFxLab (, it plays well with Lightroom and works as a standalone.

  17. Dave Spindle says:

    One thing to keep in mind when choosing software is Customer Service. My personal experience with Adobe Customer Service has not been good. With the addition of such a massive business plan change as "Creative Cloud" computing I do not see them getting any better. Already, Thom Hogan reports that many people have encountered problems when trying to update to Lightroom 5 through the Adobe site. When these people finally reach a live person at Adobe Customer Service, instead of fixing the problem they receive a hard sell to switch to Creative Cloud.
    So, I think when evaluating software we should also not forget to ask ourselves if we feel confident that when problems occur, this company will quickly and efficiently help us fix our issues.

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