Post Production 2: Types of Software

Post Production 2

Disclaimer: I wrote this a day after surgery so forgive me if I’m not the sharpest tool in the workshop at the moment.

Software choices abound when it comes to post production tools. I was hoping to skip by them but it seems that there is sufficient interest to at least warrant looking at them briefly.

So you’ve transferred and backed up your files already, they’re safe. Now comes the fun part, what do I do with them now?

I’ve always had a copy of PhotoShop for as long as I can remember, from about version 3 onwards. It is the industry standard for digital photography work and is widely used. BUT it isn’t the only pony in the stable, and as digital photography and image manipulation has evolved so too have the specialist pieces of software that run alongside it. These can be broken down into a few different categories.

1. Main Workshop.
These programs do the heavy lifting, able to use layers, integrate multiple file types, advanced selections and masking, integrated type, these are the programs you use. So naturally this would be Adobe PhotoShop, but others include [URL=“”]Paintshop Pro and [URL=“”]GIMP. Paintshop Pro has chased PS for many years offering a lower cost alternative but fully featured and capable workshop. GIMP is the open source alternative, freely available and contributed to by some of the very professionals who have been involved in PS production over the years.

2. File organisers.
These are programs whose primary job is to catalogue and tag a photo library for making access and organization easier. They can manage huge libraries of files, and thumbnail them all. You might do some very basic editing like rotating the image, but by-and-large these are organisational tools. Examples would be Extensis Portfolio and [URL=“”]ACDSee Pro Photo Manager 3.

3. Plugins.
Entrepreneurs are good at spotting holes in the market or untapped niches. Plugins have extended the use of those piece of software they run off making them more useful. Many commercial plugins have become must-buys for their extra functions, and many have been negated by future versions of the main workshop software encompassing their role. Examples such as Alien Skin, [URL=“”]Nik.

4. Specialist.
Similar to plugins but stand alone software that fills a specific need for a type of photography, like B&W, HDR, Panoramic, frames/edges etc. They often do a more comprehensive and customised job than say Photoshop of these areas allowing greater power and flexibility in the results or style looking to be achieved. They are able to be used as a stand alone application and don’t rely on owning Photoshop. Most realise the great benefit in being accessible so often offer plugin capability. Examples like Photomatix for HDR processing.

5. Do-it-all.
Products like Adobe Lightroom and [URL=“”]Apple’s Aperture have brought another option to the table. A hybrid mix of the above the contain file organization, some editing tools, able to utilise plugins and link to other specialist software they offer a one-stop shop. They don’t have the power to fully replace the workshop software, but their basic editing tools and powerful colourisation tools enable good photos to be quickly cleaned up before moving on. They shine with good source material where major editing doesn’t need to be done but are also well integrated to launch external editors when required.

Those are my own crude categories of software. Where as once before I did all my work through Photoshop I have started to become more devoted to Lightroom. (Thanks to tutorials by and [URL=“”] While I primarily use Apple products and have no doubt that Aperture is a great product, for cross platform and integrations sake I purposely chose to use Adobe Lightroom (one of the companies I work for uses PCs). I’ve read many of the online reviews, watched video breakdowns and tried the demo versions. And in the end while I may not agree it does everything better, Lightroom does a solid job.

It is worth mentioning that there is a class of software that probably falls between the cracks in the above categories. That is RAW converters (RAW data is the unprocessed numbers that come from light interacting with the camera’s sensor). While they marry alongside the workshop and do-it-all categories they also operate as both specialist and plugins. They are typically only useful for a RAW workflow but some are able to work with JPG if they come straight from the camera.

I’m not going to cover this ground extensively because in reading and making my own decision I came across some resources I found extremely helpful. One of those was an article called Raw Deathmatch where the author compared 4 main RAW converters with each other on as similar footing as possible. There are all sorts of factors that come into play when considering these pieces of software as the major camera companies use their own format of RAW data. What I loved about the write up was the same photo processed through these 4 products all seen side-by-side. On top of much of the other things I read there is nothing quite like these comparisons to see the differences.

For my own workflow I chose to purchase DXO Optics Pro product as I work with mainstream cameras and lenses (Nikon & Canon) and see their product as having a more scientific basis for the algorithms that are used. Again I had tried the demo and was impressed with the results, I took advantage of the special they recently ran taking US$100 of the elite version. At the moment I’m able to achieve the looks I want with the pieces of software I already own too.

Hopefully that gives and indication of the types of software that are available and their typical use. I’m by no means an expert in all of them, I’ve just been around for a while and like all software they evolve over time, this list is probably already out of date.