November 2018 - Digital Group - Choosing Software & NAS

Meeting Notes March 2009 to 2018.
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November 2018 - Digital Group - Choosing Software & NAS

Post by spb » Sun Nov 04, 2018 5:47 pm


Newcomers to digital imaging will need to get to grips with at least one major software package. The industry-leaders are Adobe but they have attracted much condemnation in recent years for their confusing product strategy. Some of this is historic but much of it is related to profit as they move their customers onto monthly subscriptions for software suites and cloud storage. The few remaining products for which there is a one-time licence are increasingly side-lined. You have to say that this has been a very successful strategy as they rake-in revenues of $2b per quarter, at our expense.

Here follows a brief guide to the products that I would recommend for various photographic tasks;

Adobe Lightroom Classic CC £10pm* The original Lightroom and still the best but probably due to be withdrawn soon
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC £10pm* A new cloud-based Lightroom for the mobile photographer. Currently missing vital features such as printing (!)
Adobe Photoshop CC £10pm* The original and best photo editor but aimed at professionals
Adobe Photoshop Elements and Organizer £70 An excellent photo editor aimed at amateurs but still containing every necessary tool and feature
Adobe Bridge CC £0* Adobe’s image browser
Serif Affinity Photo £50 (often discounted) The new photo editing kid on the block. Widely rated as a potential Photoshop-killer
Faststone £0 (Win) An excellent little image browser, organiser and developer. Primarily for .jpg but raws can be browsed.

* With the Creative Cloud Photography Plan £10pm

1. Bulk Image Management eg following a big photographic project, a wedding or holiday where detailed long-term record-keeping is required in a database. This could also involve batch importing, keywording, tagging, searching, comparing, rating, sorting, sub-setting etc.
For this task I would recommend Lightroom Classic CC, or Photoshop Elements Organizer. Faststone is also worth considering if only working in jpg.
Lightroom CC has the potential for this task but is currently immature.

2. Casual Browsing eg the quick reviewing of all image types, thumbnailing, previewing, comparing, bulk re-naming. Also image file and folder management. Volatile working ie no long-term storage of records. This would be suited to those who manage their own filing system by file and folder only and don’t want commit to any one long-term image management system or software package.
For this task I would recommend Faststone or Adobe Bridge.

3. Image Development eg the routine adjustment of exposure, colour, saturation, contrast, clarity, de-haze, toning, monochrome, sharpening, transforming, filtering, cloning, cropping etc. Adjustments may be made to one or many images overall or to specific areas eg with a brush or gradient. Jpgs and raws should be equally adjustable.
Virtually every image will require this most basic of photographic adjustment to overcome deficiencies in light or equipment, all the major products qualify except that Faststone is not a raw image developer.

4. Detailed Editing of Single Images eg localised or major changes to one image which may involve pixel-level development and filtering, control to precise edges (selections), combination of multiple images, control over editing sequence (layers), non-destructive editing capability and advanced healing of undesirable areas.
For this task I would recommend Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Affinity Photo.

5. Multiple Outputs eg the production of single or multiple prints, slideshows, photo books, projects and web output.
For this task, all of the major products are suitable although Faststone is limited and Lightroom CC is currently immature.

The process of image management and development in Lightroom products is relatively easy to pick up and they have a logical and visible workflow from left to right and top to bottom on the screen. Furthermore, development is inherently non-destructive so it’s impossible to do lasting damage to an image. On the downside, once users have committed to a version of Lightroom they must stick with it to retain all of the managerial benefits. Even moving between the two versions of Lightroom will involve a catalogue (database) conversion and images cannot be moved around in other programs or they will be ‘lost’ to Lightroom.

By contrast, both versions of Photoshop are notoriously difficult as they have no visible workflow and merely consist of a mixed bag of tools and menus. Some of this is historic but some is due to the random nature of image editing which often relies on experimentation, serendipity and intuition. It’s not a linear process. Non destructive editing is very possible in Photoshop but requires training and practice. Photoshop Elements does at least add Quick and Guided Edits which lead the beginner through the process of adjustment. However, despite the difficulties, image editors are a necessity if you wish to make radical and dramatic changes to images.

The new Affinity Photo is trying to bring some of the logical workflow of Lightroom to image editing. It also comes with a host of video tutorials on every topic under the sun. It’s too early to say if this will be commercially successful but it deserves to be.

Browsers such as Bridge and Faststone feel very familiar. They have a shallow learning curve and can be used occasionally or regularly as required.

I am a born and bred single image editor – a producer of the so-called ‘hero image’. I do my browsing and filing casually and do not need an image database. As a consequence of this I use Photoshop CC and Faststone to the exclusion of the other products. I have also endorsed and demonstrated these products in the APS Digital Group for many years. In recent times I have actually demonstrated and recommended Photoshop Elements for reasons of cost and standardisation (whilst still using Photoshop CC at home).

Meanwhile, many APS members have discovered and adopted Lightroom with no help from me as I am a Lightroom denier. Many (perhaps a majority) of our members take pride and care in the traditional production of images ‘in-camera’ and only need to develop them as a whole or make small adjustments such as cropping or local cloning. For them, Lightroom is an ideal product and I recommend it highly. We also have members who have tried to learn Photoshop and simply abandoned it because they didn’t ‘get it’ or didn’t need it. All of these members are well-served by the other Special Interest Groups at Amersham and are blessed with software that is relatively easy to pick up.

A minority of our members are dedicated to going ‘beyond the viewfinder’ and producing images that are different, creative and artistic. They need support with the difficult software but also with collective discussion and feedback on images that may be unconventional and challenging. This has always been my personal photographic style and after 20 years I feel now that this is the future of the Digital Group. Following discussion at the November 2018 meeting, there was widespread agreement and enthusiasm for such a change of focus.

I would still provide Photoshop Elements tuition but cease presentation of equipment and industry news. I would widen the software scope to both flavours of Photoshop and also introduce Affinity Photo. Photographic editing and creativity would be the focus with demonstration of successful images from the wider competitive world and exploration of the tools and techniques that could have produced them. One exception might be Printing where the need for ongoing support never seems to go away!

Apart from new members following the Elements tuition, this would not be a beginners group. I would expect members to be competent and active with an image editor and a basic skill level encompassing Levels and Selections. Anyone not comfortable with the principles of using levels and selections should chill out, adopt Lightroom, and enjoy getting their images in the camera. Optional monthly challenges would be set to explore creative techniques.

It may be that images produced by the group will be less successful in local competitions having largely traditional judges. If this is the case we might exhibit our images at the back of the hall on occasional Monday nights for all to see. Conversely, non-traditional images may improve the club’s fortunes in the big national and international competitions. I would like to think so, in any case. I would expect the size of the group to reduce as a result of these changes.

Uneven Printed Borders – a member wished to print thin borders of equal width around a set of images on their Epson printer. However although the borders were even in Photoshop, they were of differing width when printed ie the sides, tops and bottoms differed. It was a slight difference but annoying. Whatever we tried, this was consistently seen and also reported online. There are several theories but no obvious fix. It seems to be related to re-sizing in the printer driver. In the end, the solution was to move the border away from the edge of the file. Eg Select>All then Edit>Stroke inside the edge of the file with, say, 10px of border colour and then again stroke inside the edge of the file with ,say, 7px of white. This left a 3px visible border inside an invisible (and presumably) variable width white border.

Odd Keyboard Behaviour – I noticed that when using keyboard shortcuts for tools eg S for Clone Stamp or V for Move, drop-down menus would sometimes also appear at the same time. They had to be cancelled every time with ESC. I thought that this was a bug but it turned out to be by design. If the ALT key is pressed, one letter of each menu tab and each drop-down item, is underlined. I guess that this is an accessibility feature to use the keyboard to select menu items. Once a menu item is activated in this way the underlining disappears. The solution is to avoid pressing the ALT key in the first place.

Cloning Between Images – a beginner wanted to simply transfer a small piece of an image to another image without any editing skills. Unfortunately anything involving more than one image requires an editor such as Photoshop. Without actually putting both images into one file first, it is possible to open two images in Photoshop Elements , display them side by side using Window>Images>Tile then select the piece of image required in the source image, paste it into the destination image and then position or clone or blend it in place. However even these basic steps require the use of editing tools and a considerable learning curve. This raises the whole Developing vs Editing debate covered above and everyone has to decide whether they want to produce in-camera images and have an easier life or constructed images and commit to learning an editor. Sorry.

The Mac operating system has a much-vaunted backup system called Time Machine which enables you to return to any previous state of any previous document on an hourly basis.

Windows has had a ‘me-too’ offering called File History for several years but they haven’t publicised it. It does almost the same thing once pointed at some suitable external storage. Common user folders are chosen automatically and other drives and folders can be added or excluded. Once set up it should run automatically in the background without further attention. Rather than a single external HDD, I decided to purchase a Network Attached Storage (NAS) box for my home network, purchasing a Synology DS218j with two 4TB drives in mirrored RAID array providing further protection against the loss of one drive. This all proved to be fairly easy to set up once I had persuaded my PCs to talk to it on the network, which proved to be as troublesome as all home networks have been since the dawn of Windows. To access File History, search on a Windows 10 PC for; Backup Settings > Backup Using File History.

For further protection I have periodically created an image of my C: drives using Windows 10’s ‘Backup and Restore (Windows 7)’. I have read that Microsoft don’t really approve of disk images. They believe that we should back up our data (as above) and then in the event of a catastrophic failure of the C: drive, the entire operating system and all applications should be re-installed. It’s true that this will result in a nice clean fresh installation (assuming you have the authentic original media and/or licences) but I have spent too many days getting this all sorted out to want to do it again. Restoration of a disk image takes an unattended hour or two – job done. It is rumoured that MS will be discontinuing their imaging capability and a clue is certainly visible in its ‘(Windows 7)’ name! Consequently I went looking for a highly recommended third party disk imaging solution and chose Macrium Reflect Free. This was very cheap (the clue is in the name) and was quick and easy to set up. It proved to be easier to create the image on an external HDD than on the NAS for reasons (once again) of access privileges but it is permissible to simply copy the image onto the NAS afterwards. I had a little more trouble making the rescue media on USB memory sticks which need to be formatted especially. It can also be a little tricky to make sure that the PCs would boot from them in the event of disaster. However Macrium and their forums were the source of sufficient help to get it all working. Better to sort this out in slow-time now than when disaster strikes.

Cheers, Steve

Posts: 148
Joined: Tue Mar 25, 2008 7:04 pm

Re: November 2018 - Digital Group - Choosing Software & NAS

Post by spb » Tue Dec 25, 2018 5:11 pm

I am grateful to APS member Patrick for this explanation of the various Lightroom options following a demonstration of the software in October 2018;

One of the things that seemed to confuse many people is the fact that there are now several products in the range. It was quite tricky to explain them all last night so here is a quick overview:

Lightroom 6 is the latest, but probably the last, version of the original Lightroom software which you can buy for a one-off licence fee (currently around £115) for use on PCs or Mac computers. Most of the things we demonstrated last night are available in that version and the look and feel of the product is virtually identical. This is the latest version of the software that was first launched over ten years ago and Adobe openly admit that this is a bit of a "dead end" as the architecture can no longer be used for many of the functions they are now planning. However, if this version does everything that you need and you are not planning on buying a new camera (eg one with a raw file format which is not yet supported) then this is still a perfectly good choice.

Lightroom CC was launched in 2017 as a totally new system. It is still intended for use on Windows and Mac computers but this uses a completely new architecture and is based around the "Creative Cloud" concept whereby your images are held "in the cloud" and can be accessed and edited from several other devices. This allows you to also use phones, tablets or internet-connected PCs which are not running Lightroom to manage, share and edit your photo library. Lightroom CC uses a quite different interface to the one we showed last night and is currently missing some of the functions available in the old system. I'm sure that this will change however as the system is developed. Lightroom CC is only available on a subscription basis which currently starts at around £10 per month.

Lightroom Classic CC is the system we demonstrated last night and is the system that I use on my desktop PC. This is effectively version 8 of the original Lightroom software so has the original look and feel but it has been enhanced to allow it to communicate in the CC ecosystem and share images "in the cloud" with other Lightroom CC products. This is only available as part of the Lightroom CC monthly subscription but is ideal for me as I like having some images in the cloud and some stored locally on my desktop so I find that a good combination. I also like the look and feel of the software that I have used for over ten years.

Lightroom CC mobile is the final part of the new system for Apple iOS and Android phones and tablets. This allows you to import images in to the CC ecosystem from your phone or tablet and also to manage, edit and share photos in your CC library. This is the system that I have on my iPad and how I get images in to Lightroom when I am travelling. These apps are free to download but only have limited functionality until you have purchased a Lightroom CC subscription.

Cheers, Steve

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