Should I just buy Photoshop? If so, which one?
November 29, 2012 7:08 AM   Subscribe

What is the best, easiest image editing software for a shutterbug?

I am a shutterbug. I have never studied photography, but I take thousands of digital pics a month at concerts, art shows, community events, parties, etc. I feel like I have developed a good sense of aesthetics through classes, reading, and 40 years of appreciating art in museums and galleries. I know that most of the photos I take are not art, but I enjoy documenting the events I attend. Every once in awhile, I take a picture I think has especially good composition or some great chiaroscuro or some other positive characteristic. But, because I am a shutterbug, it usually has some other flaw that I know could be fixed with image editing software. I am seeking an easy-to-use, easy-to-learn software package for image editing. Important considerations: easy to use, PC compatible, powerful, able to output in multiple formats. Cost is not a major concern, but I would rather not pay for lots and lots of features that I will never use.
posted by hworth to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Lightroom, without a doubt.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:10 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

+1 for Lightroom.

For anyone who comes upon this topic in the future, I prefer Aperture if you're on a Mac.
posted by sgo at 7:34 AM on November 29, 2012

Nthing Lightroom, based on what I've heard from pros and advanced amateurs.

Personally, I use GIMP because I'm cheap, but Lightroom is definitely more full-featured than that.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:36 AM on November 29, 2012

Lightroom, is fantastic, and easy to use. But be warned that "easy to use" is subjective, and does not mean "obvious how to use it."

For years, I used iPhoto for basic editing, and Photoshop for more intensive things. I consider iPhoto truly "easy to use." When my needs outgrew it, I went to Lightroom and did NOT find it "easy to use" at first. I had to set aside some time to learn Lightroom, and force myself to use it until I was comfortable with it.

So, I suggest you get Lightroom, and immerse yourself in learning it. Thankfully, there are endless websites with tutorials and videos of how to use it. It is extremely powerful, so give yourself some time.

Also keep in mind that Lightroom is your photo cataloging and organizing tool. As such, it works in two modes. The Library mode is where you do most of your sorting: "picking" and "rejecting" your photos and sorting them into albums. To actually edit a photo, you switch to "develop" mode. This is where you adjust, crop, remove blemishes, etc.

Lightroom is also great for exporting your finished photos. There are a number of plugins that allow you to publish your photos directly to various online albums such as Zenfolio, Flickr, and even Facebook. It will even automatically add a watermark or signature upon export.

As far as Photoshop: there is still a place for it. For heavier editing duties, it is very useful. Although 95% of anything I need to do can be done in Lightroom, there are still occasions where Photoshop is better. (Removing objects, combining photos, etc.) Thankfully, from within Lightroom, you can choose to edit an image in Photoshop. Lightroom will open a copy of the desired image in Photoshop (or any other editor) and save the Photoshop-edited version back into Lightroom.

(As an aside: I actually use Photoshop Elements, which is much less expensive than Photoshop, but does everything I need for editing Photos.)
posted by The Deej at 8:09 AM on November 29, 2012

Don't overlook Picasa - it is really more a tool for organising photos than for editing them - but it does have enough tools available to cover most basic needs. Beyond that may be sufficient for more elaborate editing.
posted by rongorongo at 9:32 AM on November 29, 2012

Lightroom is complex. It has nice sliders for various settings and everything in the user interface is exposed to you and well-arranged, but it is in no way a simple tool to pick up and get good results. You have to learn what each of the many, many settings do, how much to move a slider, how they work together, etc. Lightroom looks simple, and it's much easier than Photoshop, but it is not easy to get good results.

That being said, I would advise you pick up Lightroom and either download or purchase a bunch of photo presets. Presets are really just combinations of the settings I described above. Once purchased, you can easily (with a few clicks) apply the presets to your photos, and revert back if you don't like what the preset does. Once you have a bunch of presets you like, you can shorten your learning curve to things like cropping, straightening, spot removal, noise reduction, vibrance/clarity and sharpening, which are all pretty easy to understand and learn.

To sum up, Lightroom by itself isn't going to do what you want without a significant time investment. However, Lightroom with presets will get you 90% of the way there.
posted by cnc at 4:26 PM on November 29, 2012

PhotoScape and Irfanview get high ratings on Haven't used them myself. Another well known one is ACDSee.
posted by Dansaman at 8:52 PM on November 29, 2012

I'm a huge fan of Lightroom. Photoshop may have the word "photo" in its name, but it such a swiss army knife of image manipulation for so many Things That Aren't Photography that it's rarely the optimal choice for straight photo editing...unless you're really heavy into complex masking and layering stuff.

Lightroom is a productivity beast. If you learn its grammar, it will enable you to be master of your image collection. Example: I decided I wanted to create a photo book for my wife for Christmas...of the first 6 or so years of our marriage. And I wanted to get it printed through Blurb, and to get it in time I had to upload the book to their servers by like December 17th or something.

Problem was that I had come up with this harebrained scheme on December 10th. So I only had a week of evenings to work on the book. I could not have done it without Lightroom. The whole process only took me about 12 hours of total work and I ended up with a 240 page coffee-table-sized book that actually brought tears to my wife's eyes when she opened the present (yes, I AM a gift ninja). My process in Lightroom was basically:

1. Create custom album.
2. Go into each year (my photos are sorted by year), sort through the photos and use a keyboard shortcut to throw pictures into the custom album.
3. Go to the album, quickly look through each picture and apply tweaks (sometimes this was just a preset, sometimes it was manual adjustment. Average time per pic = seconds)
4. Load the Lightroom built-in Blurb Book plugin. Choose the book format and run the auto-fill script.
5. Review the book and tweak the layouts and cropping to to put the spit polish on.

Lightroom kept track of everything, even showing me the Blurb pricing as I changed things. When I was done I hit the "upload" button and Lightroom did it's thing, sending 750+ full-size photos to Blurb for printing. With the exception of a crop or two that I missed (totally my fault), that book came out a smashing success and my entire family was totally agog that I made it.

Seriously, Lightroom is an AMAZING piece of software for photographers. And it's a lot cheaper than Photoshop.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:03 PM on February 22, 2013

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