Image Editing Software

When most people think of editing photos, they seem to think they need to go out and buy Photoshop, roughly a $700 piece of software. The most common question I am asked usually goes something like this "I want to edit my photos, should I get Photoshop?" The short answer is "That depends".

The fact is that while Photoshop is an excellent product in my opinion, it is not for everyone. There are other products on the market better suited for some people. Here's a brief comparison:


Software Approx. $ (CAD) Notes
Adobe Photoshop CS3photo
$699 Often thought of as the only option for editing photos, Photoshop is a robust system that is capable of probably anything you can dream up to do with your photos. That is, if you can figure out how to get what's in your mind onto the computer. The high price tag you pay for Photoshop provides you with a ton of features - many of which are not available elsewhere - but most of these extras are only needed for specialized graphic design and are tools that most people will never use. This program is ideal for professional photographers, graphic designers and web designers.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0photo $99 - $149 Elements is based on Photoshop, and is just as powerful in the features that it has, but does not have the high-end fancy features that you probably won't use anyway. You can crop images, adjust color, straighten horizons, and do all the common edits most people do. In fact, what is less known is that you can import actions from Photoshop into Photoshop Elements to get tools that would be otherwise hard to find or impossible to do with Elements. It has been several years since I've used Elements, so I can't really comment on the newest versions but from what I've read it is quite a capable program for most people's needs.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 Win/Macphoto $299 This software is like an all-in-one image database manager and editor. Although not as strong in the area of image manipulation, it is capable of handling about 95 percent of my edits. Lightroom is designed to manage large amounts of photos easily, and in this regard outperforms Photoshop and Adobe Bridge. If you are looking to buy just one piece of software, I would recommend this one. If you buy it, be sure to get some Lightroom training on it first, as it will make a world of difference and save you hours of "figuring out" time (because this program is quite different from the others).

Here are the pros:

You can easily sort and rate photos, and keep and organized database with keywords

The edits you make are non-destructive to the RAW file... meaning you can make changes, crop, color correct, save your edits and if a week or year later you decide you want to un-crop your photo, you can. Anything you do can be un-done later - unlike Photoshop.

Functions include cropping, color corrections, rotating, cloning and healing

The downside:

The only downside I have found is that about 5-10 percent of the edits I want to make are not possible with Lightroom. Lightroom is not capable of layers or masks. (Update - Lightroom 2 now has masks.) For this you still need Photoshop or a similar program. However, with the non-destructive edits it makes, most of what I ever need to do can be accomplished quicker and easier with Lightroom than with Photoshop so I prefer to use it in most cases.

Adobe Fireworks CS3photo $299 Fireworks is a less well-known program, but one that deserves mentioning. Fireworks is great for image editing and is about half the cost of Photoshop. Fireworks has pretty much all the capabilities you'll find in Elements or Lightroom (though some under different names) and it also has the ability to save layers and to create vectors. Before I get into the vector part... (I know I just opened a whole new can of worms) let me go into comparing it to Photoshop.

If you are considering Lightroom, but are not sure if you will need the extra features provided by Photoshop, I would recommend getting Lightroom first, learning it, and then deciding whether or not you need another program. For many, Fireworks can be that other program. It can replace Photoshop in many ways - it used to be an opposing program made by Adobe's competition, Macromedia- until Adobe bought them out. I used Fireworks exclusively for over a year and never needed Photoshop. I also made websites using it. It's a very powerful program. The downside is that it is not considered "industry standard" and your layered files will be saved as .png rather than .psd (Photoshop files). You can still export to TIFF or JPG if you prefer.

Now about vectors... explaining vector vs raster/bitmap is another subject entirely, and I won't get into it here, but if you don't know what it is I would suggest this page. Photoshop is not designed for Vectors, Adobe wants you to buy Illustrator for that. Illustrator is made specifically for vectors and does a very good job - for $599. The neat thing about Fireworks is that it serves two purposes... image editing and vector file creation. You can design business cards, a logo, a website and edit images all with the same program. (Note: Fireworks is not specifically a vector program, but it can be used to create vector files if saved as png not jpg.)


Ok, I tried to keep that as brief and easy to read as possible. I hope it was helpful! So, what is the conclusion? I can say with confidence that Lightroom is probably the best option for hobbyists and aspiring photographers who want a single solution to editing and organizing files. I would say that the second piece of software after Lightroom will depend on your level of commitment to sitting at the computer and how involved you want to get with editing your photos. Most adjustments can be done in any of the programs mentioned above.

The choice is up to you - The thing to keep in mind is that it is not the software that makes the image. Much of your image processing should be done in the camera. It sometimes takes years to master image editing (using any program) to the point where you are really good at it.... it is like learning any art. As I heard someone say "a more expensive hammer will still only drive the nails". For the most part, I agree. However, there are a few of us that will want to make some specialized edits, and Photoshop may be the best tool in those cases.

Good luck with your choice! If you have any questions feel free to contact me!







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