Which application is best for post-processing your images?

Several years ago, when I was first starting out in digital photography a friend of mine advised me – “You have to know how to use Photoshop for post-processing your images if you are going to be a photographer.” I was a purist back then, having shot only film up until that time. For me the only post-processing techniques that I knew was dodging and burning. But I realized very quickly that my friend was right. There was no way I could make great images using digital camera, if I were only to rely on what the camera shot. Thus, began my journey in to the world of digital image editing.

My first exposure to digital image editing software was Adobe Photoshop. I was told that there was nothing that Photoshop couldn’t handle. A phrase that got stuck in my mind. It impressed me so much that I actually wrote an article sometime back with that same headline.

The thing is Photoshop quickly became my favorite image editing tool. Also, because I have predominantly been a windows user and that kind of limited my scope. I never really needed to venture beyond what was available for the windows platform.

The need for a software for post-processing your images

The need for a photo editing software to handle the requirements of post-processing your images would resonate with any photographer. There are a number of reasons for that. To handle issues such as distortions, vignetting, white balance, and of course exposure. I also apply varying amounts of noise reduction which ensures that the images my camera captures are less grainy than what was captured in the first place.

The dynamic range of a digital camera is way below what the human eye is capable of. And that is why anything that we capture on our camera becomes less than what we see with our eyes. This necessitates the task of bringing up exposures in some areas of the image and then pulling the exposure down in other.

Then again there is the need to adjust white balance. White balance adjustment is one of the most basic post-processing requirements. Regardless of the light that you shoot in or the amount of adjustment that you may have done already at the time of shooting the images, you need to do fine tuning at the time of post-processing.

post-processing your images

There are a number of good post-processing options currently available. Let’s look at a few options for post-processing that we have currently. Also, let’s identify what is the best use of some of them and which particular circumstances.

Lightroom

Lightroom has come a long way from being just a workflow management tool. From being just a tool to organize, label and cull photos to being a full-fledged post-processing application, Lightroom is now the favorite tool to edit for a large chunk of photographers. Whatever you can do on Photoshop you can also potentially do on Lightroom. Having said that Lightroom and Photoshop does have some differences. There are moments when you do feel the need to use Photoshop over Lightroom or vice-versa.

The full name of Lightroom is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Which kind of is a giveaway that Lightroom was always meant to be an understudy of Photoshop. Since Photoshop lacked a proper image management tool Lightroom was necessitated. Also because with the promulgation of digital imagery and the widespread use of digital RAW files there was need for a long term solution for this; I mean image management.

Photoshop

Photoshop was the precursor to Lightroom. It was launched back in the 1990 as a simple image retouching software and since then has become the most powerful and the most widely used application the world over. Even in 2017 it remains one of the most popular and arguably the most powerful software for post-processing your images. For a large chunk of photographers Photoshop was and still is their only application for image editing.

There are some inherent advantages to using Photoshop for post-processing your images compared to Lightroom. We shall discuss a few here. The most fundamental point of difference between Photoshop and Lightroom is that the former is a pixel based application. Being a pixel based application means the system is far better in handling intensive editing details than Lightroom.

For example, let’s say that you need to remove a patch of grass from the background of a portrait images that sticks out. In Lightroom this would be difficult, not impossible. But with Photoshop’s content-aware fill this is much easier to accomplish.

Phase One Capture One Pro 10

Phase One Capture One Pro 10 is the latest iteration of the very popular image post-processing application from Capture One. Among the many advantages of this application is the built-in image management system, something that Photoshop lacks. As a matter of fact there are two different database management systems that are designed to work in two different shooting situations – one when you are shooting tethered and the other when you are shooting stand alone and then import the images later on to your computer.

Gimp

Gimp’s biggest advantage being it is free. It was launched as a free alternative for the powerful yet pricey Photoshop. Launched for the Linux platform Gimp has familiar tools and panels and techniques that revolved pretty much around what Photoshop had. But is it really that powerful enough to be called a Photoshop alternative?

With the Creative Cloud option you don’t have to dish out a huge amount of money to own Photoshop. Plus, with this subscription you will now have an unlimited number of upgrades, for as long as you are subscribed that is.

Image Database

Lightroom uses its own database systems for importing, storing and manipulating images. Details of any image that you import to Lightroom, are stored in this database, known as ‘catalog’. These would include the EXIF data of the file, the camera and lens used, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, day and date. In some cases when files contain location data, that information too is saved.

In further to this Lightroom allows you to add keywords that will help you find those images based on those search parameters. It basically takes guess-work or the over-dependence on your memory out of the equation when you are looking for your images on your hard drive. You can also use Lightroom to put stars on your image. This basically is a sort of visual reference that you rate these specific images highly. It also assists you in looking for higher rated images when you need.

Photoshop on the other hand do not have database backing it up. That means you have to use a separate image management software to do all that. This can be a bit of a problem for most photographers.

Image Editing

Lightroom also has access to the Camera RAW feature that erstwhile Photoshop users used. For many photographers and photo editors this is the definitive way to post-process an image. Thus there is no difference between Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop if you are a Camera RAW user. Lightroom at best allows light image retouching functions only.

Let’s say that you have a fairly well exposed RAW file and you want to fine-tune it before saving a JPEG to share. After the initial adjustments using Camera RAW, open the image in Lightroom. You can now use from a bunch of adjustments including Temperature (White Balance) Adjustment, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation. And this is just under the Basic panel.

Presets

The fastest way to post-process a single or a batch of images is to use the preset option in Lightroom. Presets are basically a bunch of pre-programmed adjustments which allow you to apply a series of the effects with just a few mouse-clicks. This saves a considerable amount of time when post-processing a large number of images. Presets are easy to create. You can record a set of adjustments, such as highlights, shadows, whites and black adjustments, along with noise and create a new preset. This preset can then be used for editing future images just at a mouse-click. This way additional presets can be pre-programmed and then used according to requirements.

If you are not too familiar with the process of creating a preset or want to use ready-made solutions there are ready made solutions galore for you. Hundreds and thousands of online resources are available that create readymade presets. Some of these are free to use. Others cost a little bit of money.

Overall effect of these presets is that you can adjust and process an image exactly the way you want without having to go through all the steps one after the other.

Tethered Shooting

Both Capture One Pro 10 and Lightroom allows tethered shooting. Photoshop and Gimp do not have this feature. Tethered capture is for photographers who shoot basically in a studio environment. But it is also used by photographers who travel with their gear on outdoor shoots and would like to see what they have captured on a larger scree,

That is the single largest benefit of shooting tethered. You can see what you are shooting on a larger screen and don’t have to depend on the small screen at the back of the camera. Things like sharpness, dynamic range, details can be checked instantaneously without having to wait until you reach home / office.

Also another advantage of shooting tethered is that you can shoot and immediately transfer images to your computer. That gives you the ability to make simple adjustments like white balance and exposure right away being able to do these adjustments right there when you are still at the scene allows to you use your visual reference to give final shape to your images.

Copying adjustments from one image to others

Just as in batch processing in Photoshop, Lightroom also has the option to copy adjustments from one image to others. This greatly speeds up the process of retouching a large number of images.

Let’s say that you have shot about 50 images using the same lighting set-up, white balance and exposure. You are now adjusting the images in Lightroom. Normally, you would adjust each one of them one after the other. Starting with lens profile correction, removal of chromatic aberrations and then moving on to white balance, exposure and contract adjustment, and then removal of dust spots and so on.

Let’s say that to complete adjustment of one image it takes about 3 mins. Even if you work non-stop without break it is going to take about 150 minutes. That’s 2.5 hours! What if you would just have to edit one image manually, and then copy all the adjustments to the rest of the images? I mean a total of 6 mins and all your images could be ready? That’s the beauty of this feature in Lightroom.

Noise Reduction

Noise reduction is a customary step for low light photography. Regardless of the camera that you use it is one step that is as obvious as removing chromatic aberrations and doing lens profile corrections in Camera RAW.

When it comes noise reduction both Photoshop and Lightroom has a large number of options. But Photoshop is slightly ahead. This is because with it you can work with both layers and filters and combine different techniques at the same time.

Lightroom is more dependent on presets. It gives limited scope for noise reduction. You can play around with the Brush tool, or the graduated filter or the radial filter. Using these tools and the various options under the Basic adjustment panel a basic degree of adjustment can be achieved.

Capture One Pro10 also has an effective noise reduction mechanism. But truly when it comes to professional level noise reduction third party applications such as the one from Topaz labs is the best.

Image Sharpening

Both Lightroom and Photoshop has extensive image sharpening tools. So does Capture One pro 10. In fact capture One pro 10 has an elaborate three-step sharpening tool. It can sharpen images based on the medium as well as the viewing distance. Additionally, you can do both local and global adjustments.

Overall, however, Photoshop wins the race when it comes to image sharpening. Simply because it allows more than one ways to sharpen an image. As more and or photo editors use the tool newer methods are developed to better manage the editing processes.

Lightroom is for Photographers, Photoshop is for image retouchers

I have used both Lightroom and Photoshop for my personal needs. And I firmly believe that among the two, Lightroom is more suitable for photographers. Photoshop, on the other hand is more suitable for photo retouchers and people with graphic heavy assignments.

Lightroom is lighter (no pun intended) compared to Photoshop and is easier to learn and get started with post-processing your images. Photoshop, on the other hand is more difficult and has a longer learning curve. Additionally, Lightroom’s excellent image management feature allows better image management compared to Photoshop.

I love the thumbnail display option which lists all the images in a convenient way for me to see and choose from. This is something that Photoshop seriously lacks in. on the other hand Capture One Pro 10 also has a very strong image management feature that comes in handy.

Capture One Pro

CaptureOne Pro is also a very useful software. Just like you would expect to use Lightroom or Photoshop to do an array of adjustments, with Capture One Pro as well you have a full array of adjustments. However, the layout will take you some time to get used to. Especially, if you are an Adobe user. The good thing is the layout is intuitive. You should definitely try the latest 10.1 version and take advantage of the 30 day trial period to test out the full version of the software for post-processing your images before taking a decision.

Who should use Gimp?

People who are on Linux and people who have reasons to be on both Linux and the need to use Photoshop for some of their work. Although I cannot imagine a photographer looking to be on the Linux platform and or for that matter any photo editor to be either, there might be one or two users who belong to that rare segment.

Having said that with increasingly powerful android based operating systems now available and faster and more powerful mobile computing platforms, Adobe has successfully launched their Lightroom Mobile version for the mobile platform. It makes no sense to continue using Gimp, if you are on Linux.

If you need Photoshop or some other full-fledged post-processing tools on a regular basis you shouldn’t be using Gimp for post-processing your images.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

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