With the glut of products available to digital photographers it can be overwhelming determining what to spend your money on. Which programs are necessary and which are just nice to have? Which programs are worth the money? Which are worth the free download?
The necessary programs:
Photomatix Pro 3.2.6 – I’ve used Enfuse and I’ve really tried to love it, honestly, but the love just isn’t there! There are a lot of photographers making gorgeous images with it but I just couldn’t find my stride with the program. Photomatix has a more user-friendly interface, with the sliders and controls giving real-time previews as you’re adjusting them. You don’t need to know code, linux or whatever that Enfuse stuff is, which is hugely appealing to me. I’m a photographer, not a developer. Photomatix has easy batching options for tone mapping and allows you to save presets** (suprisingly only for tone mapping, though, not exposure blending).
Photoshop CS5 (including Bridge) – The version of Photoshop you’re using doesn’t matter much (although Content Aware in CS5 was worth the price of the upgrade). This is where I’m doing the bulk of my post-processing: fixing verticals, color adjustments, saturations boosts, etc. This is my “work horse” program.
Lightroom 3 – I don’t use Lightroom for any processing. None. The only thing I use Lightroom for is archiving. I’ll discuss this more in my next post where I discuss Part 2 of my workflow.
Noise Ninja – Tone mapped images (and I’m assuming blended images, too) are very noisy. Very. Noisy. You need to have a good program to reduce the noise. I prefer Noise Ninja (over Nik’s Dfine – see below) as it’s quick, easy to learn and doesn’t create a separate layer for the process. ‘nuf said.
And here’s a list of “nice to have” software:
Dr. Brown’s 1-2-3 – It took me awhile to download this program, mostly because I didn’t realize it was free. You can do the same thing, very easily, in Bridge, CS5 (which, really, is the same thing) or Lightroom but Dr. Brown’s 1-2-3 is so much faster and you do all of your resizing and exporting at once. Before, I had actions set up for each resolution size but now it’s all in one window. And it saves the settings from your last use so you don’t have to continually update your settings. Just download it already. It’s a plugin that works in CS5 and Bridge and, I think, Lightroom. I might be wrong about Lightroom, though.
Nik’s Viveza 2 (this one toes the line of “Nice to have” vs Necessary) – I use this for every exterior photo that I shoot and a large portion of the interior photos now, too. This helps control the wicked color casting that’s so familiar to every HDR shooter. It allows for specific techniques (color correction, sharpening, contrast boosts, etc) to be applied to specific areas by placing a re-sizable control point on the image. New to Viveza2 is the ability to duplicate and then “group” your control points. Search Viveza2 on YouTube to see some really great tutorials (I’d link to them but I’m on a restricted wifi connection and can’t log into YouTube right now). The new Structure slider alone was worth the money to me.
Nik’s Dfine – According to Scott Dfine does a better job at noise reduction than Noise Ninja, my preferred noise reduction software. The downside? Upon execution Dfine creates a new layer for its process. I’m sure there’s probably a good reason for this (maybe someone can explain it to me?) and maybe some people prefer this but for my workflow Noise Ninja just works better. In my own side-by-side comparison the difference between the two was negligible. Noise Ninja won. So why do I still have Dfine in my toolbox? Noise Ninja requires a lot of RAM and my little MacBook sometimes doesn’t have enough. I find that if I quit CS5 and reboot this resolves the issue but there are times, more often than not, when I’m not able to reboot CS5. This is when Dfine swoops in to save the day.
And this is what I have that wasn’t worth the money
PTLens – There are some die hard PTLens advocates out there. I get it. PTLens is kind of cool. And, really, it was only $25. But, PTLens *NEVER* corrects verticals completely and even after I run it I still have to make slight adjustments in CS5 so I finally gave up on PTLens and started doing all vertical and perspective adjustments in CS5. I mean, $25 is, like, almost five lattes.
*Yes, I realize I haven’t done Part 2 of my Workflow Tuesday Tutorial. It’s coming. There’s a lot to say!
**Yes I use the same tone mapping presets for all of my interior images. Why? Read this.