Photoshop is Not Dead

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel 8 Comments

Quite a dramatic title, eh?

Well, with the advent of Lightroom this seems to be the idea many people have.

Is Lightroom a powerful tool that can handle 95% of your processing needs?  It sure is.

Do I use Lightroom? I sure do.

Does that mean Photoshop is dead? It sure does not.

I recently completed my last Advanced Photoshop for Wildlife Photographers course for the year at the Wild Eye offices (we’ll release the 2015 dates soon), and I was enjoying how much it meant to the participants, many of whom were quite adept in Lightroom. I personally also use Lightroom for the entire RAW process – tweaking and adjusting the RAW file to extract maximum data and quality from it – and then I port it into Photoshop, 100% of the time.

I don’t ever use Lightroom to save my finished files for web, as I prefer to have full control over the contrast and sharpening adjusmtments, especially in the final optimised file (whether that file be for high resolution printing or low resolution web sharing). The main purpose of this workshop of mine is to teach logical and memorable workflow to the participants – one that maximises the use of Adobe Camera Raw (or Lightroom if you have it) for the RAW portion, and maximises the power of the most powerful processing platform in the world – Photoshop.

If you practice enough and get the principles down well, it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to process a file to exceptional output quality from scratch.

Case in point…

This totally unprocessed RAW file is one of the images worked on Saturday. It’s one of a sequence of images I captured one epic morning in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (you can read the story here).

_D3S1577

Doesn’t look like much, does it?

Many people would probably bin this shot outright – in fact my workshop participants all pointed out that they would not have considered working on this given this apparent quality.

In case you didn’t read the story of this sighting – this is seconds after a young eland was taken down by these lionesses. The dust hanging in the air was thick, which is why it looks misty. It was just after dawn on a somewhat cloudy morning, so the light was low. The camera’s white balance setting did not have a clue what was going on and somehow this green cast crept in.

Check out this histogram – severely compressed by the lack of actual light and the dust…

histogram1

Let me show you a version that I processed purely in Lightroom…

_D3S1577_LR

Looks much better, right? Like I said – Lightroom is an amazing piece of software and I’d definitely recommend everyone gets this as their baseline go-to photo processing and cataloguing software solution.

Back to the image: This is the exported product form Lightroom, using a moderate sharpening setting and output at 800px wide.

To get to this point, I needed to be quite heavy on some of the sliders in Lightroom. Even with the sliders pushed as they were, you can see the histogram is still not optimised (ie, the input and output points on the blacks and the whites are far from where the actual histogram starts and ends).

histogram2

I did some limited noise reductio, some selective brush adjustments as well to deal with the background grain (my D3s handles low light well, but the noise in the image is from the camera sensor compensation for the lack of light in the dust and pushing the photosites hard to captured something). My one big problem with noise reduction in Lightroom is that it does it globally to the whole image, and there’s no way to mask your subject to make noise reduction only apply to your background and out-of-focus areas.

Let’s fast forward now to bringing the “Lightroom processed” photo into Photoshop. I do it this way because all the adjustments I did in Lightroom makes the image better, and it’s done on the RAW format so it’s non-destructive editing. Steps taken in Photoshop amount to destructive editing which affect the final quality of your file.

Now, opening up the “Levels” window gives you your histogram. By dragging the blacks and whites output markers back to the actual start of the histogram, I lend the photo some much-needed “pop”. It also required a midtones marker adjustment to make them a tad lighter.

histogram3

By making a layer selection now of the lions and their prey, and adding some further customised tweaks like “Local Contrast Enhancement” (see my tutorial on that HERE), selective sharpening and then overall noise reduction on the background layer – and voila! Downsized to 800px wide like the previous version, and sharpened to my own taste to a point where I am happy with it.

_D3S1577_PS

Let’s view the finished Lightroom and Photoshop version side-by-side (or bottom-and-top), shall we?

_D3S1577_combo

So what are my take-home points here?

1. Lightroom is awesome, and much easier to come to grips with than Photoshop.

2. Lightroom is my starting point and I use ALL of the pertinent sliders in Lightroom to get my RAW file optimised and first-line processed. You cannot beat the simplicity and intuitive nature of the Lightroom process.

3. Photoshop Creative Suite is powerful, there’s a reason that it cost 6 times the price of Lightroom in the pre-cloud-subscription days.

4. Photoshop will not be everyone’s forte – it’s hard to come to grips with for most, and even those of us who understand much of it don’t even tap into 10% of its potential.

5. Photoshop is the next step for you if you want to pour some awesomesauce over the already awesome product that is Lightroom – it gives you more control, but it takes practice to get your workflow down to a tee.

I hope this short demo has at least shown you that the ole Photoshop has far from kicked the bucket.

If you use Lightroom already – it may be worth it to add this to your arsenal. If you are yet to make a decision on what to use, start with Lightroom first and come to grips with it.

Morkel Erasmus

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Comments 8

    1. Simon Beevers

      And as you can see, I sometimes struggle with a computer generally, hitting the post comment button before I have finished typing!

      In Lighroom, would the adjustment brush not give you similar results to what you are doing in Photoshop?

      1. Morkel Erasmus

        Hi Simon. No worries 🙂
        Yes, the adjustment brush can come close to it – in the Lightroom image above I did do local adjustments with the brush: I decreased clarity globally to soften the background, then brushed the subjects and increased clarity and sharpness and contrast to a point where it didn’t feel/look pushed too much but still added some pop. I have not personally been able to replicate the look of LCE in Lightroom. One plugin that does a good job of delivering that much-needed midtone contrast is Nik’s Color Efex “Tonal Contrast” tool, which you can use straight from Lightroom as well and is very intuitive to use.

    1. Post
      Author
      Morkel Erasmus

      Hi Mathilde. Bridge has some of the same functionality when it comes to cataloguing and sorting your images compared to Lightroom. Either way, if you purely bring it into Photoshop you still take the RAW file through Adobe Camera Raw plugin, which has the same engine as Lightroom’s RAW engine, albeit a slightly different interface.

  1. Håkan Bley

    Hi,
    Yes You can do more in PS than in LR, but could´t You come closer to the PS result by using the Tone curve in LR? There you can adjust the black and white points and the midtones as You like!

    1. Post
      Author
      Morkel Erasmus

      Hi Hakan. Theoretically yes, but I tried it and even after adjusting the black and white points in LR tone curve and taking into Photoshop the histogram was still “less than optimal” according to these guidelines.

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