Step three: learning to edit.
OK you have been taking lots of photos, you’ve been using jpeg + raw as your file formats. And you have been using the jpeg files to upload and do any printing. You are now ready to move up to some editing on the files. You can start with edits on your jpegs but in some ways that can be more difficult than editing raw files. Jpegs can take light editing, some sharpening and maybe some tonal adjustment. But any serious editing will cause the images to develop very ugly artifacts like banding and posterization. We will get into that when we talk about raw files in another post. Right now lets list some of the available free editing software on the web. So far as I know these editors will only work on non-raw file formats. Jpeg and .tif formats mainly. Some of the best known are:
And Mac users have a freebie that is included on their system, iPhoto or some such. Your camera also may have come with free editing software of modest capability. Canon cameras come with DPP and Nikon users can get the pretty good Nikon editor but it isn’t free.
Paint.net is an open source project and it has developed a large community of developers who are supplying a good variety of plugins which have greatly extended the capability of the basic product. This is a good choice for a basic editor.
Adobe Photoshop Express comes with 2 GB of free gallery space, and a free photoshop.com address, and it connects directly with Flickr, Photobucket and some other online galleries. The tools allow you to do basic editing like sharpening, cropping, resizing and other simple tasks. These are implemented with a wizard type interface which is simple and easy to use. If you select one of the tools you will see a string of thumbnails at the bottom of the image showing how different levels of the tool will affect the image. You click on the thumbnail to apply that level of the adjustment.
Editors with raw support.
Sooner or later you will want to move to real editor. And the three best supported editors are:
Why Adobe products?
Why do I limit the list above to Adobe products? The primary reason, in my mind, is the fact that there is a vast online support community for these products. You will find literally thousands of online websites, tutorials, podcasts, and video tutorials on these editors. If you participate in online lists almost all the users will be using one or another of these products and you will easily get help when you get stuck. I have never failed to find a number of online tutorials or other help when I use Google to search for a way to do something in one of these apps.
Besides online user help Adobe itself provides a very comprehensive online support capability including forums and user groups and there are literally hundreds of published books available on each of these editors. Amazon shows 183 books for Photoshop CS4 and 202 books available for Photoshop Elements 7. Corel Photo Paint X3 by contrast has 3 books available. GIMP 2.6 has 14 books. Apple Aperture 2 has 26 books.
PSE 7 is the current version of Photoshop Elements and it will allow you to do raw file conversions and just about all basic editing on your images. PSE has a lot of wizard type interfaces to guide new users. And it comes with a pretty good photo organizer. I think this is the best choice for new users who need raw support or who want better editing capability. If you work at developing your editing skills you will eventually start wanting to do things that cannot be done in PSE and that is the time when you should start thinking about moving up to Photoshop. A good online community for PSE is found at this PSE group.
Some good introductory books:
Some people find Lightroom to be a middle ground between PSE and Photoshop. But it seems like every Lightroom user I have heard from also owns Photoshop and uses that for the more intense editing procedures. Lightroom is aimed at production photographers, people who need to batch process large numbers of photographs. Perhaps someone who is shooting senior portraits by the hundreds. You can easily apply the same corrections to an entire batch of shots. This is possible in PS but not as easy and I’m not sure how well it would work on large batches. LR also has a very powerful photo archiving ability, it makes it easy to find your photos whether they are on your hard drive or have been moved to an external storage device. LR has the same raw converter as Photoshop: Adobe Camera Raw. Lightroom lacks the ability to select certain parts of the image and apply effects just to the selected area. That is when LR users move over to PS. Glenn Michell has some thoughts on the two.
Online support: Yahoo Lightroom group
Some good introductory books:
Photoshop is simply the best editor available. Over the years many competitors have attempted to catch up with PS but they never succeed. I think the reason that they fail is this: they usually come up with a fairly good basic product. Maybe something in the PSE range plus a few more features. But to catch up with the vast capabilities of Photoshop they need a large group of programmers and time to write and debug all that code. So they need to sell copies of their first effort to finance the further development and they always seem to run out of money before that happens. Now PS is the best, but it also has a huge user community who has been using it for a decade or more. As new features are added many of those users are used to the arcane and difficult user interface and vociferously resist the least change in the way things work in PS. That means that new features are grafted on to the current user interface making it that much harder to learn. Old features never go away. John Nack has commented on this built in resistance to change from the user community.
Adobe of course has the large developer force, time and money to make sure that they stay far ahead of any competition. They have been steadily adding more power and capability to each new version. And I have yet to feel like a version upgrade is worthless from them. New versions are on a three year schedule lately. So Photoshop is difficult to learn, partly because of all the baggage it is carrying around from the past. It is also darned expensive, about $650 US for a new purchaser. Upgrades are running around $200 every two years.
Also Photoshop has a schizophrenic nature, it is both a graphics editor for graphical artists and it is a photo editor. Photographer may well never use many of the tools in PS since they are targeted at graphic artists. But it can do things that no other editor can do, and it can usually do those things in many different ways. But that will come at a cost to you.
Lynda.com has many online tutorials for PS (as well as many other applications) and they have 30 plus hours of video tutorials just on learning how to use the selection tools in PS. 30 hours for one feature. I watched them and worked thru the examples but still don’t think I understand everything about the tools. So this is why I urge people not to spend that $650 unless you are sure that you are ready to tackle this difficult editor.
A major online community for PS can be found at: listmoms
Good books for CS4
There are some excellent websites that cover editing technique. Like mostsites they are specific to Photoshop but if you know your editor you can probably adapt the techniques to your editor.
Cambridge in Color which is Sean McHugh’s site is one of the best that I know of. It has a slightly technical reading level but has very good coverage of a most basic Photoshop techniques. Be sure to look at Sean’s photo galleries while you are there.
The Light’s Right the site owned by Glenn E Mitchell has a great set of tutorials that probably a bit more advanced than Cambridge. He has a 300 page ebook on sharpening for example. There are also a number of video tutorials. The essential read on this site is the ‘pop’ series of articles but you will want to read more than those. Mitch also has a blog and some excellent photo galleries.
The Luminous-Landscape is owned by Micheal Reichmann and a lot of other writers often contribute including Jeff Schewe. He has a set of video Magazines that can be downloaded (not free) that have some intensive looks at various aspects of photography. He also has the best intoduction to Printing and Color management that I have seen. It’s a 6.5 hour video which he sells on site. This is call From Camera to Print, and it is on the advanced side and probably of little value unless you have Photoshop and a serious printer.
There are many guides and tutorials on this site but they are not as well organized. You have to look for the gems. The trip is well worth the effort. Try the Understanding series.
Lastly let’s look at the two major commercial tutorial sites.
The first is Lynda.com. They offer a wide variety of video tutorials covering most Adobe and many other software packages. The instructors are excellent on the whole and the price is reasonable: $25/month for full access. Lynda is mostly limited to software training tho they have a few more general photography sets. You can get a free month of Lynda as a gift when you register CS4. The courses range from the basic to the advanced and can get very advanced.
KelbyTraining is Scott Kelby’s site and I have only used it when they were offering a free look when they started up. At that time I thought it was very limted and Nikon centric, but I hear that they have added many new instructors and have photographic technique as well as software training courses. Cost is $20/month. I’ll give it another whirl sometime soon. Kelby is the author of many very popular photography books and his books often live at the #1 position on Amazon.
And that wraps this post up.