DPP Home Software Image Processing Photoshop Takes A Backseat

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Photoshop Takes A Backseat

As Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom have advanced and evolved, these packages offer capabilities that give professionals the ability to streamline workflow with local editing power

This Article Features Photo Zoom

FIGURE 7: Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush
(dodge and burn) controls

The Adobe Way
With Lightroom 2.0, Adobe also introduced a new plug-in architecture. Unlike Apple, however, the functionality of Lightroom’s plug-ins is really limited to exporting plug-ins for online services and webpage templates. Its third-party plug-in page lists far fewer plug-ins than Apple’s and also considers some processing preset lists as “plug-ins.” However, processing presets are just a list of favorite tone curves or other Develop module settings that someone has saved to a file that can be loaded into Lightroom.

What Lightroom lacks in extensibility it makes up for with its own new local correction tools. Unlike Apple, Adobe has integrated these directly into the RAW image-processing pipeline it uses for all corrections. This means that all of these local changes can be applied in a nondestructive way, where users can return at any time and make changes to one or more of the settings without having to exit the program for Photoshop or another plug-in.

Adobe has applied this architecture to two new local correction features in Lightroom 2.0, the Adjustment Brush and the Graduated Filter.

Like Apple’s Dodge & Burn plug-in, Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush allows users to darken and lighten, as well as affect sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, clarity and color of local areas in the image. Users also can control the size, feather and flow of the Adjustment Brush as well.

Unlike Aperture, however, the changes are held similar to a Smart Object in Photoshop, meaning they can easily be modified after the fact. For example, say that upon further review the dodge and burn changes were too strong. Instead of starting from scratch, the user simply can select the Adjustment Brush and decrease the density/intensity of the changes. Several different brushes can be applied to different areas of an image. The user can dodge and burn, selectively affect saturation and sharpness, and have independent control over each of the brushes.

FIGURE 8: In Lightroom, the batter’s forearm has been darkened with one brushstroke, indicated by the gray control point, while the face is being lightened with the active control point indicated by the black dot. Amount and effects of control points are set in the panel on the right.
Lightroom’s Graduated Filter uses the same mechanism to mimic the effect that a graduated filter would have. The Graduated Filter offers functionality that analog filters simply can’t, like applying sharpness, clarity (midtone contrast) and saturation on a user-defined gradient.

Since these settings are part of the standard image-processing pipeline, they’re much faster than creating copies of images and loading them into a plug-in or external editor. They also can be synchronized or batch processed with multiple images. Again, this can be useful if you’re working with several similar images, for example, a landscape panorama stitch where consistency is important. With this architecture, you even can create the same three-stop, hard-edge, graduated ND filter, apply it to multiple images and then fine-tune the angle or position of the filter on an individual basis.

So Which Method Is Best?
Both methods offer advantages and disadvantages for local corrections. After working with both, I have to say that I’m impressed with the speed and flexibility the Adobe solution offers. I like the open plug-in concept from Apple, but feel that the implementation leaves much to be desired, especially as it relates to the rest of the nondestructive workflow.

My ideal solution would be a plug-in architecture that would allow for third-party plug-ins to be integrated in the processing pipeline, offering the extensibility of Aperture with the speed and nondestructive functionality of Lightroom.

My only fear is that this kind of tight integration would probably get too close to the crown jewels or secret sauce of both the host applications and the plug-ins for either party to agree to a spec, but one can always have hope.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the workflow benefits of both applications and the increased image quality and flexibility gained from working with RAW image files.


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