My Blog and Soapbox

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

iTunes Match, Me Gusta

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I have used iTunes Match for a few days now, and it has quickly turned into one of the best things since sliced bread for me.

No more sync trouble, as everything is available on all devices, either to download or to stream*

The complexities of multiple-device sync and having to decide what to take with me on which of them turned into the main reason that I never ripped my entire CD collection (and there are several hundred of them, I'm *that* old ;)) - in the end maybe only 20% of my music was on my computers, distributed between several machines and iTunes libraries. Bit of a mess.

As a result of the new convenience I have now gone back to rip all the music that was still sitting on my shelves, I'm about halfway through my CDs (the picture above shows a small fraction of it) and every time I open the music app on my iPhone and see new/old stuff popping up, it makes me smile as I rediscover some great music I almost had forgotten about.

Thanks for making things quite a bit easier, Apple!

* quick note about the "streaming" part: apparently it's not really streaming. There seems to be a fine distinction between streaming and the "playback while download" implementation that Apple chose, possibly for political reasons. Factually it doesn't make a difference to me as an end user. What I particularly like is that even though if you play an album from the cloud, the first title takes a second to begin playing, the subsequent tracks are 100% seamless. Apparently it's implemented so that it starts downloading the next track if that is less than one minute away. This should pretty much guarantee continuous playback even on slower connections. I like that a lot!


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Do We Still Need Photoshop?

Psquestion

The Hoopla

With Creative Suite 5.5 Adobe is introducing a new subscription pricing model. For many professionals this is a welcome way to spread out the cost for the software over a year instead of having to do the big upfront payment for the software.

Customers can still buy individual products or product suites, but you will now also be able opt for a monthly plan. I will mainly look at what this means for photographers and Photoshop. But just as an example, instead of buying the Design Premium Suite for a retail price of $1899, if you commit for a yearly plan, you'll apparently get it for a "rental fee" of $95 per month or $1140 per year. Mind you, this is not a payment plan, so you won't own the software at the end of the year. Adobe is offering upgrade pricing for those who paid for a year though.

As mentioned, you can still buy the products, but as I understand it, as opposed to being able to upgrade from older versions (I believe you could skip up to two versions), with the new pricing model you can't skip versions anymore to get upgrade pricing.

And this seems to be the biggest rub for a lot of people. Enough of a rub that Adobe went ahead and closed (and apparently even removed) the comments on the blog entry where they announced the change.

International

International pricing of Adobe products has always been one of my pet peeves. In Germany and other European countries, prices for Adobe products are dramatically higher than the US prices, in some cases we Europeans get to pay more than a 100% premium for the same software.

Back in 2007 when I interviewed Adobe product manager John Nack I brought it up, but mainly got an evasive answer.

This might also explain why a lot of people on this side of the pond appear to use pirated versions of Adobe's products.

Skipping A Beat

Over the years a lot of photographers have become Photoshop users. Photoshop isn't the most intuitive product - I usually compare it to a huge toolbox full of tools but without a good instruction manual - but it is very powerful and many photographers have taken the effort to learn its intricacies, to adjust their workflow and to master it to a certain degree.

As I said, I'll mainly look at photographers in this article, but this might also be true for small agencies.

While Lightroom has pretty much taken over when it comes to 98% of my pictures, many photographers have spent years and year refining their Photoshop workflows, they have learned tricks and spent time learning from tutorials. The investment not only on the financial side is huge.

But for monetary reasons many individuals and agencies have also had to adopt a model where they would skip a version or two before they upgrade to a higher version. This possibility is now pretty much gone, so my guess is that the sentiment of many Photoshop users is that they are now expected to pay double or triple the amount they used to pay in the past.

What's Great

Not only is Photoshop a powerful tool, it has also created a massive ecosystem of books, trainings, tutorials, video classes and even entire user organizations.

Aside from that ecosystem, let's have a quick look at what makes Photoshop so great.

The thing that intimidates new users most is also one of Photoshop's greatest strengths. It is a collection of hundreds of powerful image manipulation and design tools and if you know how to use them, there is almost no limit to what you can do with it.

Layers, masks and layer modes let you do everything from complicated composites to things as simple as slapping a layer of text to an image. The mix of vectors and pixel graphics and the resulting flexibility is unsurpassed and I love being able to use smart objects to treat pixel graphics almost like vectors.

Profiles allow for a color-managed workflow in pretty much any color space you like and over the years many specialized tools have found their ways into Photoshop, from handling animations to stitching big panoramas to 3D and perspective work.

The plugin model is another part of that ecosystem, with a ton of add-ons available to do virtually anything you can imagine.

What's Troublesome

But its strengths can also be seen as weaknesses. Photoshop tries to be everything for everyone and its user base is so diverse that it is hard to find a common thread. Illustrators use it, it has its applications in the pre-press processes, it has even medical uses and of course there are the photographers.

Because Photoshop wants to be for everyone, it feels like a big piece of patchwork rather than an integrated application.

What I Use Photoshop For

The uses for Photoshop have become less and less over the last years, especially for photographers. One of the main reasons for that change are products like Lightroom or Aperture.

There are still a few areas where I tend to resort to Photoshop. These include simple illustrations that use layers and masks, adding text to images, more complex cloning operations, adding transparency and stitching images.

That's pretty much it. I do everything else in Lightroom.

So, Do We Need Photoshop?

I can only answer that question for myself, and it's pretty much a resounding no at this time. The few uses that Photoshop still has for me are easily covered in the CS4 version that I still own and there are a lot of great alternatives out there that cover a lot of Photoshop's bases.

What Are The Alternatives?

One of the strongest alternatives on the Mac platform at this point is Pixelmator. In its new 2.0 version it supports layers, layer masks, over 100 file formats, plenty of filters, and even some of Photoshop's "killer features" such as content-aware fill. For €23.99 it's a bargain. Is it a full Photoshop replacement? No, but it covers 95% of what I need as a professional. The one item it doesn't have and that's high on my wish list is 16 bit support, but for most of the things I use it, I can live with that. If that's a must for you, I suggest you have a look at PhotoLine. It's not as pretty, runs on Mac and Windows, and it supports 16 bits and more, for a mere €59.

As a Mac user I can cover most of the remaining 5% with the tools that Mac OS X already has on board and I'd be surprised if Windows didn't have similar things on offer. I use the ColorSync Utility to do color space conversions, which includes converting pictures to CMYK, so they are ready for a printing house. Preview, one of the Mac's most underestimated apps, lets me use any ICC profile to soft proof images. And Image Capture (the second most underestimated OS X app) serves as a great front-end to any scanner.

When I got my MacBook Air with its 128 GB SSD, I went through a long software list to decide what I needed on the road and what I could go without. Lightroom made it onto that list, Final Cut Pro X did, Scrivener too, and even Apple's 4 GB heavyweight XCode development environment.

The one thing that I left off the system was Photoshop.

That was half a year ago. So far I haven't really missed it.

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We Need Less, Not More

Hole by Chris Marquardt
Hole by Chris Marquardt

Haven't been up on my soapbox in a while…

I have taught photography to over a thousand of students, among them many really good photographers who often weren't aware why they were great, but I have also been surprised at times as some of the more professional appearing ones weren't even able to do basic things like setting up custom white balance for a specific light situation.

There is a part of me that loves to see all the nifty photo gadgets that brilliant people come up with, but I've also been watching the development of the camera landscape with a concerned eye.

There are a lot of automated sub-systems in our cameras. Focus, exposure and white balance are the important ones among quite a few.

But the smarter these systems seem to get, the more decisions they take away from the photographer, the more the photographers lose the ability to make the right decisions.

I've seen this over and over again this year during the workshops.

It's not the photographers' fault of course. The philosophy of the camera manufacturers is quite understandable: take as many of the complicated photography stuff as possible and make the decision (and set the setting) for the photographer. This way many of the less technically inclined people out there can pick up a camera and quickly get results, which will make them happy, and as a result they will buy more cameras.

The big issue with this approach is that even though the automatic systems get it right most of the time, the camera will never be able to know the photographer's intention. How can the camera know that I'm not at all interested in exposing for the face, but instead I want to show a silhouette? How should the camera know that I actually want this shot to be bluish cool and unfriendly instead of giving it a caribbean sunset white balance? And how should the camera be able to anticipate that I deliberately want to blow out the sky in this picture?

The philosophy of me as the photography trainer is substantially different from that of the manufacturer: if you want to tell a story (and let's face it, a good story is usually what makes a good photograph), you need to make the tools that help you tell that story do the right things. The tool in this case is your camera. And making it do the right thing means to know how to make it expose, focus and white balance in exactly the way you want.

And that's a skill set that more and more photographers have either lost, or they never had the incentive to learn.

Relying on the automatisms of the camera and getting it right 80% of the time might be good enough for many photographers.

I want those remaining 20% to be under my control too.

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