For the majority of my graphic editing work, I need something quick and simple.
Cropping, brightness / contrast / curves, levels / colour balance.
Photoshop is fantastic, but it’s a huge lumbering beast.
As an underwater photographer, my usual workflow is:
- Browse photos, and delete bad photos as I go through them.
- Crop the image down.
- Edit the colour levels.
- Edit the brightness & contrast, and/or luminosity curves.
- Tweak the saturation (which is often adversely affected by the last two steps).
- Save uncompressed version.
- Save compressed-for web version.
Here’s my shortlist for photographers looking for a decent toolkit to get started with that meets the above requirements. I use Windows, so unfortunately I cannot offer advice on Mac software.
- Nik’s Collection
- Cyberlink Powerdirector
Pros: It’s completely free (even for commercial use!) – but accepts donations. Good plugin support & community.
Cons: No way to feather masks or selections like in Photoshop.
Pros: free for private use, or educational or non-profit organisations. Fairly quick viewer, with some nice built in tools, like lossless JPG rotation and cropping.
Cons: $12USD / 10EUR for commercial use. Aging user interface hasn’t changed since the late 90s. Doesn’t pre-cache the next image, so it’s not the fastest viewer around, and can lag a bit with big images because of this.
Now free for Windows, Mac and Adobe Photoshop (up to CC 2015). However, it is no longer being updated or supported. In this package, three parts are particularly useful:
Color Efex Pro
“A comprehensive set of filters for color correction, retouching, and creative effects.”
Levels and curves filter
“Bring out hidden details consistently with the professional’s choice for image sharpening.”
“Improve your images with noise reduction tailored to your camera.”
Why not GIMP?
I found GIMP to be a much bigger program, and far slower to load up and make changes with. Admittedly, it is more powerful and flexible, but I found the complexity and reduced speed were not worth it for my purposes.
However, it is still free, has a huge support network, and works under Linux – which is also free. (Also works on Mac!)
Why not Photoshop?
To me, Adobe Photoshop is that massive red tool chest in your dad’s garage that he uses for everything from cars to plumbing. It’s about the size and shape of that tall-boy dresser in your room, at 1.5m tall and 1.5 metric tonnes in weight – give or take. If you need something done, Photoshop will find a way to do it, and do it right. You have to know what you’re doing, and what it’s capable of, though.
Sometimes… sometimes you just need a hammer and a screwdriver.
Paint.NET to me is that small toolbox you keep in the house. This is the one you use to fix most of the problems around the house – fixing loose pot handles, or squeaky doors. Handy.
If you can afford Photoshop, I definitely recommend adding to your collection, but it’s not the only option. If you can afford it, and learn how to use it fully, Photoshop will take your images to the next level. Its ability to remove spots, or intelligently fill in gaps is nothing short of amazing.
What about videography?
For underwater videos, I recommend Cyberlink PowerDirector. Mainly because it supports colour correction out of the box. It’s fairly simple to use too.
Cyberlink PowerDirector is quick, hardware accelerated, fairly lightweight (compared to others) and easy to use.
Adobe Premier is fantastic, and I would recommend it in a heartbeat, but the toolboxes analogy I made with Photoshop applies here as well.
A review of video editing software: http://www.toptenreviews.com/software/multimedia/best-video-editing-software/powerdirector-review/
What about Apple, or a mixed environment?
In this case, you are better off sticking to Adobe’s ecosystem. The files you create on one system will be completely compatible on the other, allowing you to go back and forth between operating systems to edit content.
I am a travel-diver, with one Dell laptop. I like small and fast, and my recommendations reflect that, but may not be the best for you.