Photoshop vs Photoshop Elements vs Lightroom

Monterrico Sunset WEB2


Monterrico, Guatemala

Along with digital technology came total creative control.  As photographers we are no longer constrained by cost or the limitations of anonymous “Lab Weenies.”  There were many frustrating things about shooting film:  the cost, the time and the lack of creative control.  With the advent of digital photography most of those frustrations have gone away.

Cost.  You no longer have to buy film, and then incur the added expense of having it processed.  Equipped with a high-capacity memory card you’re good to go, shoot to your heart’s content.  Granted, shooting film instilled a certain discipline rarely seen in digital photography.  We were much more deliberate in our approach.  A typical roll of 35mm film allowed only 12, 24 or 36 exposures–whereas I can easily shoot 500+ CameraRAW images (huge files) on my 32GB memory card.  And if you were shooting transparency film (slide film) and “bracketing exposures” then your image count typically dropped to 4, 8 and 12 respectively.

Time.  With digital, you not only get immediate feedback via your camera’s display screen (allowing you to make necessary adjustments on the fly), but you eliminate the need to process your work in a lab.  This is huge.  When I was shooting for The Yucatan Times newspaper in Mexico, I was constantly pushing up against publishing deadlines.  By post-editing my work, I could realistically shoot in the morning or afternoon, and still have it ready for publication later in the evening.

Creative Control.  This is where the elimination of the anonymous “Lab Weenie” comes in. In the old days I would have to take my film in, have it processed, get a proof sheet to select my final images and then try to convey my artistic vision to some techie in the lab.  Some were artistically inclined, but most were not.  The result was rarely satisfactory to me (or any other photographer).  Now I have complete control from beginning to end, for better or for worse.  Yes, it is a marriage of sorts.  I am married to my photographic output, my artistic creation.

River Bottom WEB

River Bottom

Panajachel la Laguna, Guatemala

The big guns in photo-editing software are:  Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Lightroom.  I am no expert when it comes to software, a computer nerd I am not. My sole criteria for choosing a software package was simply:  I wanted to get the biggest bang for my buck based on my needs.  I am not a wedding, sports or commercial photographer.  Thus my need for a package that could organize and process a large volume of images in the shortest amount of time was not of paramount importance to me (in fact it wasn’t even part of my decision-making equation).  So I immediately eliminated Lightroom.

What was more important to me was creative flexibility.  I wanted a lot of creative tools. Photoshop has them in abundance, and by all accounts far surpasses Lightroom in that regard.  I’ve never personally used Lightroom, so I can’t positively swear this to be a fact. Google the comparisons and come to your own conclusion.  Photoshop Elements (in my case PSE11) reportedly has about 90% of the features as the full-blown version of Photoshop, but at a substantially lower cost (less than $100 USD versus over $700 USD). The biggest bang for the buck was my selection criteria, so I went with Photoshop Elements.  It is also a bit easier to learn and use for the “newbies.”

As I said earlier, I am no expert when it comes to computer software.  I will say that I have been very pleased with PSE11, and it allows me to do almost everything I need, or want, to do.  I shoot primarily in CameraRAW (and I would suggest that you learn to do the same), and I can process my images from RAW conversion all the way through to completion.  I also use a program called Photomatix Essentials for most of my High Dynamic Range (HDR) work, and I’ve been very pleased with the results.  My one caution is to not overdo it, the initial temptation when post-editing your images is to over-process them.  It is a learning curve for sure, but will pay big dividends in the long run.

We are blessed, as photographers, to live in this digital age.  When I hear an oldster like me say things like “I never post-edit my photos, I am a purist” I just cringe.  I’ve written about this phenomena before, and it’s just plain silly.  I just want to say dumb-ass.

WB IMG_2747

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer and World Traveler

Quito, Ecuador

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