Back in the days of analogue film cameras, the process of taking photographs used to be the key part of the creative workflow. Producing prints or negatives in the darkroom did not allow for much scope when it came to maximising the quality of the images that had been taken. These days, in the world of digital photography, it can be argued that the capture of the images is only half the workflow. Indeed, some regard the post-process workflow as the overriding factor in producing great images.
We have always extolled the virtues of shooting your images in the uncompressed and unprocessed Raw format. Raw files are so named because they only contain the raw data straight from your camera’s sensor; there has been no processing of the image as you would get with a Jpeg file. However it does mean that you have to put in a little work to extract the very best from the Raw format. This is where you need some software that can process your photos. Using Raw processing software is the first step in the workflow. Here you can make all the necessary basic edits to your images such as distortion correction, saturation, tonal adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and so on. Once you have made all the main edits to your photo, you can save it out to your preferred image format such as Jpeg or Tiff and call it done. However, if you want to do some additional photo manipulation, then you will also need to invest in software that can let you apply extensive photo retouching, layers, masks and effects.
When it comes to software, you have a large number of options from which to choose. In fact, there is so much choice, it can be nothing short of confusing. If you are new to photography or even an experienced photographer looking for some new applications to take your images to the next level, we’ve produced a small overview of some of the software options currently available. Note, that from the list, Adobe products feature quite prominently. That is no accident as their popularity cannot be denied, but there are also more options to discover.
Adobe Photoshop CC
(Windows and Mac – £120 annual subscription)
Photoshop is probably one of the best known editing programs out there; so much so that the name of the software has actually become a verb, as in ‘that image has been Photoshopped’. The great thing about Photoshop is that it is relatively easy to use, if you only need to bring the simplest tools to bear on your images, but it is also hugely sophisticated if you require the most advanced editing tools available. It is the go-to application not only for photographers but digital artists, designers and even videographers and 3D artists.
It is probably the most popular layer-based image editing and photo retouching software currently available. Photoshop is now available as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription service.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC
(Windows and Mac – £120 annual subscription)
Lightroom Classic is an image processing and photo organiser that allows the organising, non-destructive enhancement and retouching of images in large numbers. It is a very powerful program that not only sets the standard for image enhancement but also for its ability to organise, catalogue and add keywords to all the images in your library. It also boasts the capability to create photobooks, print parameters such as layout and orientation and can produce web galleries for websites with a number of display templates provided for easy styling.
(Windows and Mac – £50)
Created by Serif, Affinity Photo is a raster image editor very much in the same vein as Photoshop. It allows the creation of multi-layered compositions and has a varied toolset for graphics professionals and photographers alike. Amongst its arsenal of tools and features is the ability to edit Raw images, create stitched panoramic photos, retouch photos and make other non-destructive adjustments. It can also import and export to the Photoshop PSD format, and is compatible across iOS and Windows.
ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020
(Windows – £70 one-time charge)
ACDSee has actually been around for some time now and can be considered a competent alternative to both Photoshop and Lightroom. From its humble beginnings, this high-end version of the software has developed into a fully featured image management tool, Raw processor and image manipulation program. Anyone who has used Lightroom will note that ACDSee has a number of different workspace environments. Each workspace has a specific function and each can be activated and accessed easily, producing an efficient one-stop workflow experience. You can use the Manage mode to find and catalogue your photos, then jump into the Develop mode and process your images, before diving straight into Edit mode to manipulate your photo with some extensive editing tools.
(Windows and Mac – £65)
Another powerful all-in-one option for photographers and digital professionals is Luminar 3. This is another example of a hybrid Raw processing program, image management system and layer-based image editor. Luminar 3 is being touted as a strong contender in the growing list of applications trying to topple Photoshop and Lightroom from the top spot. Luminar 3 has a number of workspaces from which you can choose, or even create your own custom workspace to suit your workflow process. The benefits of this mean that, unlike Lightroom where you might make a series of global adjustments and then save the image and work on it in Photoshop for more targeted edits, Luminar 3 lets you do all of that under one roof.
Corel Paint Shop Pro 2020
(Windows – £55)
Corel Paint Shop Pro pulls off a great trick by being several programs in one package. You are able to use its file management capabilities to tag, rate and keyword your images. Then, you can move to the edit suite and process your images and make all the main enhancements and image adjustments that your image needs; there are also a number of preset art filters, similar to those you find on apps for your mobile phone. Then you can move to the edit suite and use the layer-based editing that makes it a worthy alternative to Photoshop.