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by Lars Kotthoff

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I am starting to invest a little more money into my photography business. I've gone from a hobbyist to being asked to take professional shots, so I have the lights and other equipment. I'm upgrading to a new camera soon and was wondering about the differences in the photo editing programs everyone suggests - Adobe Photoshop, Gimp, Piknic, or even the software that comes with a new camera?

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I edited under the assumption that the OP was talking about Photoshop given the Gimp and Piknic is also in the Q., –  rfusca Aug 23 '11 at 3:33
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To expound a little on Itai's witty comment, whether or not some specific software is worth the money to you depends a lot on what you want to do. For just about anyone who is or wants to be serious about photography, I would say that Lightroom is definitely worth the money. Photoshop on the other hand may or may not be, depending on your workflow and editing needs. But remember, if cost is a big issue for you, you don't have to go with Photoshop CS5. An older version of Photoshop, or even Elements, can probably serve you fine for a lot less money. Edit: good call, rfusca. –  Sean Aug 23 '11 at 3:38
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See What are the key photography-related features from Photoshop that are missing in GIMP? That doesn't tell you absolutely if it's worth it, but should give you an idea of the photo-related features you might miss. –  mattdm Aug 23 '11 at 4:38

5 Answers 5

If you have to ask, then Photoshop is NOT worth the money.

Only if you need Photoshop, will it ever be worth the money. It is expensive because people who use it find that it pays them back easily.

If you do not know what you need, then you do not need Photoshop.

Photoshop is a tool that can help you solve problems and create creative solutions in your photography business. It is not required for a photography business and Photoshop will NOT make you a 'professional' photographer. Photoshop is complex, powerful, non-intuitive, and flexible.

So then the question is, How do I know I need Photoshop?:

  • If you have an image that you can not adjust, correct or edit with your current tools
  • If you have extensive photo editing: removing objects, removing backgrounds, adding objects, removing objects/distractions.
  • If you have many images you wish to combine into a collage, or a multi-image HDR or other complex image manipulation.
  • If you wish to learn more to advance your photo editing capabilities (Photoshop tutorials, lessons, and classes dominate all other software)
  • If you need to deliver pre-press files and output (CMYK)

If you need to crop, adjust curves, sharpen etc, then Lightroom is a much better choice.

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Great advice. It would be a good idea to start off with Lightroom, then add Photohop when you reach the point where you need it. You can open an image in Photoshop (CS5 or Elements) directly from within Lightroom, including any edits you've made within Lightroom –  slead Aug 25 '11 at 23:37
    
For occasional HDR work there is also a free software tool called Luminance HDR. I use it all the time, and while it's not as polished as it could be, for occasional work it does the job just fine. If you need HDR, try it and Photomatix Pro out and only then decide if you need Photoshop. Photomatix Pro is commercial, but a lot cheaper than Photoshop. –  Zds Aug 26 '11 at 8:46
    
I would add another item to your bullet list. If you find yourself doing similar items to each image, Photoshop's actions can be a massive time saver. I have a set of actions I created that apply noise reduction, crop, adjust local contrast, and sharpen. I have various actions depending on which steps I want to perform and which I don't. For example, not all batches will need noise reduction. Depending on the output (web gallery for display, web gallery for ordering, 4x6 proof prints), I'll resize differently. Based on the size and medium (screen or print), I'll sharpen differently. –  Eric Feb 17 '13 at 19:16

This depends of what do you want. I mean, Photoshop is more complex and offers a wide range of tools and techniques for photo editing, giving more control over the photo.

If your purpose is only to edit photos quickly, easily, maintaining the complete history of the changes applied without altering the original file, I recommend you Ligthroom. These are some advantages of using Ligthroom over Photoshop:

  1. Nondestructive editing.
  2. Better controls over organizing your photos.
  3. Large views.
  4. Quickly customizable interface.
  5. Interface that keeps controls readily and quickly accessible.
  6. Always-available History palette.
  7. Superior batch or multiple image processing.
  8. Superior color control.
  9. Nondestructive, easy local control.
  10. Nondestructive cloning and healing brush.
  11. Save space in the hard drive.

For beginners Lightroom is the best choice with the best results.

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Photoshop is probably not worth the money, try Artweaver first.

Artweaver is another free package - but out of all the free ones I've tried, its the one that feels most like Photoshop ...

http://www.artweaver.de/home-en/

It supports the PSD format and if you pay the $29 for the 'plus' version it will allow you to Photoshop filters.

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The actually is a version of Photoshop that IS worth the money and that is Photoshop Elements. It has most of the features that Photoshop has, but not all, to a fraction of the price. Check it out before you decide.

Good luck! /B

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So by implication, full Photoshop is not worth it? can you elaborate on why or why not? –  mattdm Aug 26 '11 at 13:24

If you don't have it, I'd recommend Adobe Lightroom and then use Gimp for the occasional 'advanced' edit. Most of the reasons are already outlined in this question. Photoshop is nice, but its not meant to deal with the huge number of photographs you can do from a real shoot. Its a workflow thing.

I find 90%+ of the basic tweaks I need can be done in Lightroom. Its a faster, more efficient workflow. Lightroom is designed for you to make all the small tweaks to your photos fast and efficiently without worrying about changing files around, 'saving' new copies, or changing your mindset for every picture. It saves your changes in metadata and then reconstructs the changes from the metadata instead of saving an altered photo. You 'run' from photo to photo in Lightroom, making the changes quickly or even applying batch changes for whole sets of photos. Its much faster. For the every 'blue moon' edit that I need that Lightroom can't do, you can set the Gimp to be an editor in Lightroom.

It (the Gimp) may lack some of the really advanced features of Photoshop, but in general its pretty suitable. There are plugins for many features (like the content aware fill is provided somewhat by the resynthesizer plugin). We have another question on the differences of Gimp vs Photoshop already. The UI is often a big complaint and can take some getting used to, but after some usage - its acceptable to me.

As Sean points out in a comment above, Adobe Elements is also an option. Its got many of the features of Photoshop, at a fraction of the price.

Piknic and any online editor just isn't in the same class. They're far, far too slow to work with at any real scale.

As far as 'worth it' goes - that's something only you can decide given the benefits and differences above.

At the very least, download a trial of Lightroom and Photoshop. And download an actual copy of Gimp. Start your workflow in Lightroom and see how often you think you need to even go to another editor.

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I completely back those comments on Lightroom. It's much cheaper and much better suited to a photographer's needs than Photoshop: I barely ever use the latter these days. Your profile doesn't say where you're from but Lughtroom is half price this week (until Sunday 28th) at Amazon UK: £118 is an absolute bargain! –  Mark Whitaker Aug 23 '11 at 7:16
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Plus 1 for the workflow. If you don't like GIMP then go the Photoshop route and just use the free trial whilst you decide whether to fork over the cash. –  Nicholas Smith Aug 23 '11 at 8:47
    
Gimp has a similar tool to Liquify called Iwarp. –  Imre Aug 23 '11 at 14:10
    
@Imre - wow, learn something everyday. I'll update to my answer to reflect as such. –  rfusca Aug 23 '11 at 14:22
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You might also be interested in Darktable, an open source program in the same problem-space as Lightroom. Here's a recent blog post (not mine) comparing the two: tutorialgeek.blogspot.com/2011/07/… –  mattdm Aug 23 '11 at 17:16

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