Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Photoshop At 20

Insiders at Adobe discuss the evolution of software that has become as vital to photography as a lens

What The Future Holds
Having grown from a small program that displayed grayscale images into an industry-leading software application that makes a significant contribution for a company that generates several billion dollars a year in revenue, the obvious question is where Photoshop is headed after its 20-year rise in popularity. That’s a difficult question to answer, of course, especially because Adobe isn’t providing any major clues regarding the future of Photoshop. However, much can be drawn from recent developments at Adobe and in the industry at large.

Perhaps the largest factor changing the landscape in which Photoshop exists comes from Adobe itself, in the form of Lightroom. In fact, in many respects, Lightroom holds the potential to completely replace Photoshop for photographers. Keep in mind that Photoshop has evolved over the last two decades into a tool that serves a diverse range of audiences. Lightroom, by contrast, only serves photographers. So while Photoshop will continue to serve a broad audience, it’s reasonable to assume that over time Lightroom will effectively replace Photoshop among photographers. As Adobe’s Kevin Connor summarizes, Lightroom is “purely for photography, and is essentially Photoshop re-thought for photographers.”

Photoshop is even available in a limited version online via Photoshop.com, and Adobe’s Russell Brown thinks that may hold one of the keys for the future of Photoshop. His vision completely changes the potential for how photographers work with their images.

“It’s going to be everything online,” he says. “That’s the extreme it has to go to, where Photoshop is simply everywhere. Everywhere you go, it’s there. If I could sit down to any computer and have my images always available and be able to use a fully functional Photoshop, I think that would be pretty cool. I would have all of my settings and all my filters and everything available from any machine, anywhere. And it will be a total metadata wonderland. Your photos will automatically know who, what, where, when.”

Over the years, Photoshop has grown from being a single product to a family of products. In addition to Lightroom and Photoshop.com, the product family also includes Photoshop Elements. So as photographers contemplate the future of Photoshop, they might worry that the product will cease to exist at some point in the future. Perhaps it will move online in a future iteration of Photoshop.com. Perhaps it slowly will fade away as Lightroom moves into the limelight. Adobe’s Connor suggests that may not be the best way to view the potential changes that will come in the future.

Says Connor, “In the future, we can’t look at whether the current Photoshop product still exists so much as whether Photoshop in some form exists. Photoshop really represents a set of technologies that we have to package up in a way that makes sense for the way people work. Over time, the way people work will change. We’re certainly going to keep the core Photoshop product for as long as that makes sense for people. But there are other ways to package up those technologies. In a sense, that’s sort of what we’ve done with Lightroom. We’ve taken a lot of technologies that were already in Photoshop and put them in Lightroom. We reinvented how this set of tasks is performed. We’re continuing to evolve that. One of the things that was controversial about Lightroom was the name. Should it be called Photoshop Lightroom? But Lightroom is Photoshop in terms of the technologies it contains.”

In many ways, Photoshop is responding to changes in technology and the industry as much as it seems to be driving some of those changes. For example, the advent of DSLRs that are capable of recording video is causing Adobe to take a much closer look at how video needs to be supported by the entire Photoshop product family.


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