I get asked this question frequently at workshops and from you readers online. People wonder what software I regularly use and what websites I regularly visit. So, here goes.
Please, No PhotoShop!
I came into digital photography kicking and screaming in my fifties. I started by trying to climb the learning curve with Photoshop on my PC. Now for those of you who use Photoshop regularly and expertly, my hats are off to you. But after a few months of diligently studying and experimenting, I found I was taking way too much time off from being in the field photographing and did not enjoy the convoluted Photoshop layering process. But that’s just me. Perhaps if I were 10… make that 20… years younger.
I soon switched my entire system to Apple and now own a high-end Mac desktop, a 15” MacBook Pro laptop and a 13” MacBook Air for the field, along with the latest iPod Touch (can’t live without that little baby!). The switch to Apple simplified my life and not only wouldn’t I ever go back to a PC, but I wish I had made the switch years earlier (maybe then I’d be an expert on PhotoShop).
With the switch, I decided to try Apple’s Aperture and I’ve never looked back. Aperture, now in Version 3.1, is a high-end post-processing program by Apple which I always keep updated. Aperture, like its Adobe counterpart, Lightroom, does 80-90 percent of what I need in post-processing. What it cannot do to my satisfaction, I find I can accomplish using several very fine plug-ins that I use without ever exiting Aperture.
All my plug-ins, with one exception, are made by Nik Software. I use Color Efex Pro for maybe five of its effects, and even then sparingly. Silver Efex Pro comes into play for my black & white conversions and Viveza for fine local adjustments. They are all 64-bit and I never have to leave Aperture (also 64-bit) to use them.
I will also use Define, Nik’s de-noise program, although not very frequently since most of my images are shot at ISO 100 or 200, so I don’t have to deal much with noise.
I also use Nik NX2 for certain specific images, now that Bob Boyer (http://photo.rwboyer.com) convincingly demonstrated to me that Aperture does not do an accurate job of translating some green tones from in-camera to computer. The greens are too yellow, so if I have a very verdant green scene, I might use NX2 to input.
The exception to my Nik-only software add-ons is that I sometimes- and I mean very seldom- use PhotoMatix for HDR. When I first started using PM, I overused it, like many of my colleagues. It is a very cool technology and I found myself mesmerized by its capabilities. However, after I let some of those ‘5-star’ images sit for a while, I came back and wondered what I had been drinking when I processed them. Nowadays I dislike probably 90% of HDR images. When I use it lately, it is with a very, very light touch.
PM makes a plug-in for Aperture so, once again, I don’t have to leave the program to use it. I just highlight the 3 or 5 images I want to use for the HDR process, click on the PM bar and away she goes. In 30 seconds or less I have my completed image, ready for fine-tuning back in Aperture.
One note of caution, though. Bob Boyer and I have found a horrendous bug in the newest version of PhotoMatix (version 4). The program shows a preview that is crisp and sharp, but once it is finally rendered, it comes out fuzzy and soft. We have sent two rounds of detailed emails to them, but they do not seem to understand the issue. I guess we’ll keep trying, but if anyone else is having this issue, please let me know.
In the interests of fair and full disclosure, I have to say that there are times when I have to produce big prints for my clients (and I do mean b-i-g, as in 5 feet by 9 feet!). In those cases, Bob takes my files and uses Perfect Resize 7 by onOne Software. Bob is also an expert in PhotoShop and will sometimes work his magic with it when readying my images for printing. I have no idea what he does in those cases. I just approve the final product.
I’ve only recently begun to do panoramas and I have just started using PTGUI for that work. I love its ease-of-use and its clean output.
For backups I have an advanced system to accommodate my paranoia about losing my entire business. That’s why I keep secure backups both on- and off-site, as well as when I’m in the field. For details you can visit my previous blog on the topic (http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com/2009/06/02/backing-up-your-digital-images/). Just read it with caution because it will cost you some bucks to replicate and it’s a pain in the rear to discipline yourself to do the monthly backup.
There you have it, that’s what’s in my computer. Now let’s be fair. I’ve shown you mine; you have to show us yours! Please share with readers of this blog what photo software you use and why.