The State of Post-Processing and Photo Editing in 2017

In Lightroom, Photography, Photoshop by Matt K169 Comments

The post processing world has been undergoing some pretty big changes lately. There are so many apps out there that do so many different things, yet so many things that are similar. It gets really confusing. I hear it and read it from people every day. And if there’s one thing that gets me, it’s confusion.

But first… a warning. This is a long post. It’s probably a solid 10 minute read. Just sayin’ – give yourself some time 🙂

Now, let me explain…I teach workshops from time to time. And in every workshop I teach, I see the same things over and over again. We’ll all sit down for some classroom time, and someone calls me over to their computer – and they’re just stuck. They don’t know what to do, when to do it, or in what app to do it in. I look in their plug-in list and they literally have EVERYTHING! You name it… ON1, Nik/Google, Macphun, Athentech, Topaz, Alien Skin, and the list goes on.

DISCLAIMER: I have a disclaimer before you go on. If you’re a professional photographer, that pixel peeps at 400%, and talks about bayre patterns, demosaicing, and algorithms and all of that, this is not directed at you. Please stop reading now. You’ve got an eye that looks at something most of us don’t see. This is directed toward people that have other jobs, other lives, families, kids, various travel and just love to shoot and edit their photos. And they want them to look great, enjoy doing it, and feel good about sharing them with friends and family.

How Did This Plug-In Bloat happen?

How did all of these people get all of these plug-ins? Well, I think it happens in a few ways. Let’s take me for example, I won’t even shift the blame anywhere else. Years ago, I used to use Nik (before Google bought them). And in many tutorials, I’d say I used Nik Color Efex (the Tonal Contrast filter) as my stylizing plug-in and for finishing effects. So, some people that followed me probably went out and bought Nik.

But then, at some point, that same person was probably at a seminar or workshop somewhere else. And they really liked and trusted that instructor too. And that person said they use Topaz Detail to get contrast and detail in their photos. And maybe Topaz even had a booth or a representative there offering a discount. This person, not wanting to miss out on a great discount and wanting their photos to look like the instructor’s, went ahead and bought Topaz.

And then let’s say they found another tutorial by me a couple years later. Google bought Nik and I dropped them like a bad habit because I knew Nik was doomed. So I found ON1 and started using them, and talking about them in some of my tutorials. That same person may then have gone out and bought ON1 too.

And the cycle went on. Somewhere, somehow, and some way you will come across a tutorial that uses a plug-in that looks awesome. And you’re always going to find a special sale or deal on them to make them more affordable. And if you buy them all, you’re going to have a huge plug-in list like I see at so many workshops.

More Plug-In Bloat

The other way I think the plug-in list grows is that people follow other photographers who use plug-ins. And when they watch a video, they don’t realize that the specific plug-in that may have been mentioned, was just used for that photo because it made sense. But maybe it’s not on the photographer’s “I use 100% of the time” list. But they don’t know that, so they buy it thinking it’s part of the every day workflow.

Topaz Star Effects is a great example for me. You can probably find a tutorial where I mentioned that I use star effects on some of my sun-bursts in landscape photos. But what I probably didn’t mention then, is that I do that in maybe 1 out of every 100 photos. So is it worth it to go grab yet another plug-in for something we don’t use often? Probably not.

honeymoon-island1

Taste and Styles Do Change

One thing to keep in mind when we talk about Plug-in bloat is that styles do change. I’ll be the first to admit I go through phases. For months I’ll find myself always using a certain filter or setting. And then I get tired of it, or my taste changes and I use something else. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think this happens to everyone. I don’t think we develop a style today, and continue to use it (and the same exact settings) forever from this day on.

So the next time you see anyone demo the newest, best, and coolest filter out there – remember that most likely that person won’t be using it a year from now 🙂

So What’s the Problem?

I really debated on writing this because I figure what’s the problem right? Nobody is really complaining to me that they’re spending too much on plug-ins. So why bother? I’m writing this because, while nobody is complaining about spending too much on plug-ins, I see too many people every day that are confused. And I think that’s what gets to me.

I want you to be successful at taking and editing your photos. And being successful means you develop a workflow that you understand. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to you understanding your workflow, I think there’s one more piece to that puzzle… you have to be confident with it.

Put simply – I believe that if you’re not confident with your photography/editing process, it’s going to be really hard to enjoy it to its full extent. Just like if you’re out shooting and you’re frantically trying to figure out a setting while you shoot, it’s hard to really enjoy it. I think the same thing holds true for post-processing. If you’re constantly second-guessing yourself about which app to use, wondering if it’s the right one, I think you’re missing out on something.

And that’s where I see a problem. Because so many people I talk to have so many apps and plug-ins. And there’s no one place to figure it all out. You’ll NEVER find an instructor with the same app combination as you have, that can show you how to use them all. In a way, it’s forced people to be stagnant. To do nothing because they’re afraid of making the wrong decision, or using the wrong app. Or even worse. I’ve seen people use way too many apps, when just one would do.

I got a message from some one the other day. It went something like this:

“Matt, I love Lightroom and really enjoy using it, but I just bought X app, and I’m wondering if I should be using it instead”.

I guess I don’t get it. You just said you “love Lightroom”. So why would you switch? FOMO (Fear of missing out)? If it’s just because you like to tinker and fiddle around with different apps, then no problem. I know a lot of people are like that. But sometimes I think there’s more to it.

My Answer To It All… A Monster Q&A

I’ve spent hours trying to figure out how to write this. It’s a lot of information and it’s really tough to organize. Then I realized, I have all of the information already because I’ve answered hundreds of emails on all of this stuff. Ever since I’ve made an effort to keep my contact options out there more open/findable, I’ve been getting so many emails from people asking the same questions over and over again. That’s why I had to write it. It is by far, what people ask me the most about right now. So this giant Q&A below isn’t really me asking myself the questions, but it’s a list of questions that you guys have asked me. Okay, here goes:

Q. Matt, with all of the new developing apps out there, what is your personal workflow?

A. By far the most asked question. It’s actually easy to answer because my workflow hasn’t changed at all. I’m a Lightroom/Photoshop and ON1 user. I’ve always been a Lightroom/Photoshop user on the front end, and I’ve always used ON1 Effects for my styling. So my workflow today is the same as it’s been for years.

  • Start, Organize and Develop in Lightroom (100% of my photos)
  • Jump to Photoshop for something specific that LR can’t do (60-70% of my photos)
  • Head over to ON1 Effects for stylization and effects that I can’t do in LR (30-40% of my photos)

Q. But I refuse to rent my software! 

A. I’m not going to get into a subscription battle here so don’t even bother leaving a comment about it. But I understand. And while I may not agree, that doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends 🙂 In fact, if you keep reading you’re going to see that my feeling is that it doesn’t matter as much anymore if you’re using the same apps as me. So here’s what I’d say. First off, if you’re still hanging on to your older version of Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 4, hoping that Adobe changes its subscription policy, I’d start thinking about moving on. New features are continually going to get introduced to versions you don’t have, and you’re continually going to get more aggravated.

As for my personal opinion on the whole subscription thing. I think the Adobe CC Photography Plan at $9.99 a month is excellent. I wasn’t a huge fan when they first started the CC plan at $50/month years ago. But they very quickly added a photographer’s plan at $10/month.

If you’re on a fixed income, then to me it’s the best deal since you can plan your spending. As someone who runs a business, and tries to plan and budget each month, knowing I can budget that money sure beats waiting for the next release of an app to come out 10, 12 or 16 months later – and never really knowing when I’m going to have to spend more money on software.

Q. So If I don’t use Lightroom what should I use?

A.If you loved Lightroom and refuse to do the subscription I’d say consider moving to ON1 Photo Raw or Capture One. ON1 is closest to the Adobe price point (and to Lightroom), where Capture One costs almost 3 times that price.

But at it’s core, you want something that’s a native raw editor. Apps like, ON1 Raw, Capture One, Macphun Luminar are some of the closest competitors. Alien Skin also has one out there, and your camera may have come with some raw software too. Plus you’ll find a bunch of smaller free apps out there as well. But I’m really keeping this discussion to the mainstream ones that are out there (that I personally get asked about the most): Lightroom, Capture One, and the two newcomers – ON1 Raw and Luminar.

Q. What is a “native raw editor”

A. A native raw editor is a program that reads a raw file and lets you edit it non-destructively. Apps like Nik/Google products, Topaz, ON1 Photo 10.5, all render your raw file into a non-raw photo (JPEG, TIFF, PSD) before it starts editing. They’re not non-destructive. Yes, many of them can open a raw file, but they’re not working on the raw data – they’re converting it to something else first.

Q. What’s the Difference Between All of the Raw Editors?

A. I consider Lightroom, Capture One, and ON1 Raw to all be similar. Alien Skin Exposure is actually pretty close too. They’re all workflow applications. They do more than just give you sliders to edit your photos. They give you ways to organize your photos, and do other things with metadata, printing, and other various things. Luminar is cool, and does a lot of nice things. But it’s not a full workflow app. You still need to organize/browse your photos in another app. So to me, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. The free app that came with your camera may be great too – but again, most of them aren’t full workflow apps.

Q. What About Affinity Photo, Photoshop Elements, Pixelmator?

I hear people say all the time, “I’m going to drop Lightroom, and use Elements or Affinity Photo”. Unfortunately that’s not a fair comparison either. You’re not getting a similar workflow. If you said you were going to drop Photoshop and switch to Affinity Photo, that would make more sense. They’re similar programs. These are layered photo, and image manipulating apps. While there’s a lot of overlap with some settings of a raw editor, and can edit raw photos, they’re really very different from the mainstream Raw photo workflow apps out there.

Q. Does it matter which app I use? Is one better than another?

A. And there’s the magic question. Here’s why it gets interesting. I’d like you to consider this. I believe that learning post-processing isn’t about specific sliders in a specific app anymore. Here’s what I’ve come to realize.

Photo processing has become about the art and vision of editing a photo. It no longer matters where you move an Exposure slider. It no longer matters where you sharpen or do your noise reduction. Just about every good editor out there (at least the ones I mentioned above) have the exact same gradient feature to gradually darken the sky. Or a brush to add detail or brightness to certain areas of the photo.

In fact, I’ll go as far to say… wait for it… post-processing has almost become commoditized.

You can disagree. Some people have their ways of doing things and I’m cool with that. But I really feel that post-processing is becoming a lot like the process of photography, and taking photos.

Think of it this way. While we all love our photography gear, aperture is aperture no matter what camera you use. Shutter speed is shutter speed. You pick your camera and gear setup because it’s what works for you and feels right for you. Those settings, for the most part, work the same on all cameras, and it’s just a matter of where they’re located on the camera body, and how the rest of the camera responds to your shooting style.

I believe post-processing has gotten pretty close to this. As I said before, it doesn’t really matter where you move the Exposure slider, or where you adjust your white balance, sharpening, or noise reduction. Most of the mainstream apps are all good at this. And for most of our human mortal eyes, we’ll never notice the small differences between each of them. Yes, there are those with (I guess) more refined eyes than I’ll ever have, that will swear the demosaicing algorithm in Capture One Pro is superior to that of whatever other program you can compare it to (by the way, I have no idea what a demosaicing algorithm is, but techie pixel-peeper people seem to say it a lot) 😃

If you forced most of us to use the editing panel from another app, most of us would all do fine and be able to edit our photo like normal. Again, I’l compare this to photography. There are lots of cameras I’ve never touched before. But if you put one in my hands, I’m pretty sure I could make just as good of a photo with most of them given the right subject. I may not have as great of an experience while doing it, but I think we could all do it.

Q. Does that mean that nobody’s sharpening, noise reduction, shadows, highlights, etc… is better than anyone else’s?

A. Okay I know some of you are probably screaming at your computers and coming out of your seats right now. So here’s what I mean. I’m not saying that Lightroom’s shadow slider works exactly like (or better, or worse) than, say ON1’s. Or that Capture One’s Highlight slider is better or worse than Macphun Luminar.

What I’m saying is that they’re all so close that it’s not worth it for most of us to worry about the differences. It’s just like a camera. One camera auto-focusses in a way that may work for a certain shooter. Another one may have a dynamic range that suits landscapes photographers different than portrait photographers.

I think the same holds true for the raw editors. They almost all have the same settings. Not just close… but nearly identical. Here’s an example of 4 raw editors side-by-side. The names are almost the same, except maybe one app calls it Detail, and the other calls it Sharpening.

(CLICK TO SEE IT LARGER)

app-comparison

You’ll also notice that 2 big-named raw editors have hit the market in the last couple of months (ON1 Raw and Macphun Luminar). Read any review out there and they all get compared to the same 2 apps – Lightroom and Capture One. ON1 has been very transparent about their feature list and opening it up to let people suggest and vote up the most popular ones (the Photo Raw project). Also, read any forum or article where people give feedback on it and you’ll find the same thing – it’s all feedback about adding features to it that are similar to Lightroom’s. Nobody is asking for anything new. Just the usual lens corrections, better Fuji support, improved clone/heal, chromatic abberation, noise reduction, faster, etc… It’s the same with Luminar, and really any new raw editor that hits the market. Nobody is asking for a revolutionary feature – they just want the same app but in a different pricing model.

In fact, I just read a comment the other day that had me wondering:

“Please (company name), devote all your manpower to making (product) a better option to Lightroom – stuff like Virtual copies, Photo stacking (groups), compare mode, etc.”.

Huh? That’s not making it better. That’s recreating the same thing we already have. It sort of helps my point if you think about it. The conversation has shifted from the functionality of the sliders and how well they work / don’t work. People are just talking about pricing models now.

Affinity Photo is another good example. They had the chance to develop a Photoshop-like app from the ground up and revolutionize photo editing right? But did they? Their raw editor has the same basic settings as Camera Raw. Their editing interface looks really similar to Photoshop and has just about the same-named tools. Layers are the same. Blend modes are the same. Adjustments are the same. What they really did is develop an app with a different pricing model than Adobe. Sure there are some differences, but the more I look at every new app that comes out, the more I believe my statement about this stuff being commoditized.

But at the end of the day, they all work great. And we can all edit our photos with them just like we can all make great photos with any camera. At it’s root, that’s really the point I’m trying to make.

DISCLAIMER AGAIN: I’m repeating my disclaimer from before. If you’re a professional photographer, that pixel peeps, and talks about bayre patterns and demosaicing algorithms and all of that, this is not directed at you. You’ve got an eye that looks at something most of us don’t see. This is directed toward people that have other jobs, other lives, and just love to shoot and edit their photos and wants them to look great. I say this because I know there’s someone reading this that’ll swear on their first born that something like Capture One has a superior shadow-recovery-algorithm-demosaic-thingee, and anyone that can’t see it is a fool.

Q. If Photo Editing Isn’t About Sliders, What’s It About?
A. Photo editing has matured over the years. 10 years ago things were different. We had to teach what each slider was because most people with a camera had never even seen these sliders/settings before. Exposure? Shadows/highlights? Clarity? Anyone that was getting into photography wasn’t used to these settings. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t seen an Exposure, Shadows, or Detail slider before. With phones, apps, etc… you’ve almost certainly come across these sliders several times anywhere you open a photo to edit.

So like I said before, it’s not about sliders anymore. I think it’s more about the vision for the photo. The creative process of bringing a beautiful image out of a photo. Like it or not, your experience while at some place taking a photo makes an impact on how you see the scene. Things that aren’t naturally bright, may still draw more attention to you because of what’s going on in that area. The wind blowing, a person walking by, whatever. So many things affect how we see a scene that’s right in front of us.

But when you take that photo, and show it to someone else on a computer screen or print on the wall, they’re going to have a different feeling than you. To me, it’s our job as photo editors to make them see what we saw, and make them feel what we felt about the photo – and that’s where post-processing comes in.

I think editing has become more about how bright we make things. How dark we leave the shadows? How much do we boost the colors and how detailed should something really look? What should I brush to make brighter, and more of a focal point in the photo? What should I brush darker, to hide? That’s the beauty of crafting a photo on our computer and bringing the scene that we experienced to others.

I’m using an example below from the Affinity Photo website because I often hear people say they’ve switched from Photoshop to Affinity. Looking at this before/after, I’m hoping you realize that it’s not one revolutionary tool that instantly changed that photo. It’s knowing what to do with the skin, how bright to make it, how smooth to make it, how to retouch the eyes to make them stand out, and how dark to make the background. This before and after could have been done in any one of a dozen programs that all use the same sliders, brushes, and settings.

affinity-before-after

That’s actually what I try to teach. I’ll show you from time to time how much sharpening is too much. Or talk a little about the “why” behind what one of the sliders did. From there, I don’t care where you add detail to the photo. As long as you know what to add detail to, and how much to add. It doesn’t matter what app you use to do it.

But you need to develop the “eye” for knowing how much sharpening is too much or not enough.

After that, the process and results are pretty much the same. The only thing that differs is what app you choose to make the adjustments in.

Q. What About Plug-Ins? Should I use them for sharpening, noise reduction, lens corrections or other similar things that raw editors already do?

A. Short answer… no. We’re past that. All of the mainstream raw editors have great sharpening and noise reduction. Years ago, that may not have been the case. But don’t complicate your workflow with apps that all do the same thing. Keep it simple.

And lens corrections are great for the most part too. Sure, there’s circumstances that I’ve seen architectural photographers need DxO because it’s lens corrections may work better for their photos. But I’ve also seen landscape photographers with a very slightly leaning tree jump in there too, and I think that’s totally unnecessary.

Longer answer… I read a forum post where someone said they dropped Lightroom and are now using Macphun Luminar, DXO Optics for lens correction, Nik Sharpener for sharpening and ON1 Effects for styling. Wow!

Hey, I’m all for different. It’s what makes the world go around. But that’s flat-out complicated. I get confused just reading it, not to mention the cost of getting all those apps. Macphun Luminar is a good raw editor and will do all of the things this person mentioned in one place. If you have a very specific and tested reason to use another app, then go for it.

But I think if you’re really trying to get better at post-processing, keep it simple is the best advice I can offer.

My Personal Teaching Philosophy

Knowing my feelings on what I just mentioned about post-processing being commoditized, here’s where I’m at in my teaching. I personally use Lightroom, Photoshop, and ON1. I can teach my Lightroom workflow, and very easily point out very small differences with ON1, but teach almost the same exact workflow and hit two groups at the same time.

Once you understand the basics of using the tools, if I teach my photo workflow in Lightroom, an ON1 user (or Capture One, or Luminar for that matter) should be able to duplicate it in their app of choice.

It goes back to the camera example. You wouldn’t skip my landscape workshop because I shoot Sony and you shoot with a different brand of camera would you? I feel I have something to help offer you with my photography training, and I want to help teach that to you – no matter what camera you use. Same thing with software.

I think photo editing is more about the art of the edit, and the vision for the photo – not the sliders. And honestly, I feel that’s where my strengths are when it comes to editing. Seeing that vision and using the right tools to get it there.

Parting Thoughts

I know this was a lot to take in and I know there are varying degrees of agreement out there. But hopefully you’re a little on board for this, and hopefully you see it as a good thing. We’re getting closer to tearing down the walls of confusion in editing photos.

Remember how the article started. It began with me saying one of the things I really want people to have is confidence. Confidence in the tools you use. So rather than be confused by them all and the fact that you can’t seem to find one place that will teach you all of them, I’m hoping you simplify a little, and realize it’s not about the specific app that you use, but rather art and vision for the edit.

You always hear people say photography isn’t about the gear right? You can watch anyone with a camera, and learn from them. Well, in a way, I’m suggesting that post-processing isn’t about the app you use anymore. It’s about how you see the photo, and how you want others to see it. The app you use is becoming irrelevant.

Try Before You Buy

I’m going to finish with some advice. And my friends at software companies are really gonna hate me for this one. But… Try before you buy. I know… I get it. Pre-order sales offers are very compelling. Of course they are, or they wouldn’t work. You don’t want to miss out on special goodies or have to spend more money. But software prices have really come down. Years ago, some of these apps used to cost $399 and $499 or more. So when you could save 10-20% when pre-ordering an app, that was BIG. But now everything is right around $100. Some are a little more, some are less. So consider saving your money until you actually get to try the software. We all know there’s always going to be a sale or a deal all the time. Maybe you spend $10 or $15 more by waiting, but at least you’re confident with your purchase by that point.

Secret Hint: Many companies will honor sales even after they’ve expired. The makers of all of these apps are really good people from really good companies. Most of them aren’t from huge massive corporations with 47 layers of management and corporate jets that fly them around everywhere to big meetings and parties. They’re mostly smaller companies with people that wear multiple hats. People that genuinely want to make great products, and feel the pain of maybe having missed an email or a sale, because it’s happened to them too. So most of them are very accommodating if you give ‘em the chance.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. Have a good one! 🙂

Comments

  1. Alan D. Brunelle

    Interesting stuff Matt, I’ve noticed in following you the past year or so how often you have stated things like “use whatever PP software you’re in to do X (highlight, vignette, …) rather than bop between PPs” (so if you’re in On1, do it there, if you’re in LR do it there – it’s much simpler than bouncing back-and-forth between products – a sure indication that you trust LR, or PP, or On1 (or …) pretty much equally when it comes to those things). Thanks for taking the time to put all these thoughts into words.

    1. Paul

      I think a similar argument can be made about presets . I have so many of them, I just edit the photo the way I want and ignore them.

    2. Royce Nowlin

      Wow all that and a box of cookies ! that by far sums up my life over the last seven years and I find my self in with the heard so I don’t feel so bad now! been struggling to find this forum ever sense I paid to have matt coach me then work came a long and family issues and I just never had the time. I work I save I try to get better at photography. I went to two of the vegas trip to learn I guess its just not my style between my hearing problem of late and the crowds it was just an over load I could not wrap my self around. I want in the worst way to be a great photographer and some how make my living in this field. I have had some success just enough to spur me on. I keep buying saving and taking trips to do better but I now am starting to take a more realistic approach. as for right now I saving for Matt’s light room corse and possibly the new PS coarse as well . DUE to a family Emergancy it may take me more time. Thank you Matt for being a real person. The glut and over land have threw me this way and that and try to follow a few different style of people I like dose not workout either. I have decide you are the most realistic of them all so I’ll keep my eggs in this basket. and just learn for the sack of the love of the work worrying about who is best or worst just make me more nuts. SO I had to remember I do this because I love it. I am in total opes I can come to a smaller on site shoot with you some time as your seem to show up around where I live a lot taking pictures but It’s my style I need to find not yours. The time has been well spent but now my thoughts turn to learning the right thing that I ned to know in both programs to achieve the goals I have set for my self. so thank for teach and have a teachers heart. the floundering group out here needs that more than ever ! Royce Nowlin

  2. Brian Bonnell

    Thanks Matt,

    Once again I think you hit the right tone and right message.

    It is so easy to get caught up in technology and forget what you are actually doing and want to do.

    When someone says, ohh, you must take great images because of your camera, I respond, “actually, it’s not the camera and I take a lot of bad images. I also use my phone as a camera”. Or, with the phone, “what apps do you use?” I give a long answer which mentions multiple apps and encourage people to find out which ones work for them as most will do the same thing; it’s all about finding what you are comfortable with.

    Your messages on editing in this case, social media earlier, and other topics are spot on as they bring us all back to the basic concepts, not the equipment or technology, that we need to periodically remind ourselves about.

  3. Eleanor A

    Very timely, Matt. I have a bunch of plugins but many times I think I’m just wasting my money. ( and I do use them-just not on everything)They are all good but they are not all necessary. I find I’m losing my PS skills by using them cause they make things so easy.

    You’re right. It can be confusing, plus, who has time to learn all of them? Not me!

    Thanks for addressing this timely topic.

  4. Randy

    Thanks I needed someone to tell me that…because I often think, well if I only try this or buy that it will be better, easier, faster, sharper, etc…

    …and I need to remember that for phone apps as well (Snapseed, Over, Lightroom, VSCO).

  5. Michael

    Matt, this is one of the best things I have read in my 20+ years of playing with digital photography. Maybe because I agree with everything you are saying or maybe it is because what you are saying is RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      1. Steve Raub

        I completely agree with you Matt, thank you.
        I’m guilty and have learned to just simplify my workflow thanks to your instructions and examples within your classes.

      2. Bill

        I read the entire blog expecting it to end with a 10% off coupon for your favorite plug-in. 🙂

        Seriously I do agree with most everything you said. I must confess that I do buy more programs than I need, because I enjoy playing around with them. But I still mostly use Photoshop CS5, mostly because after all these years I can use it with my eyes closed, sort of.

        I am starting to get comfortable with On1 Photo Raw, so as long as I can buy rather than rent I may stick with it.

  6. Rik McRae

    Great article Matt. I use a few different apps, but as you say, all for very specific and tested reasons.

    For sports and event jobs, I use Photomechanic to import the RAW images, review, crop then save as jpeg. It is a very fast for getting through a lot of images that will get little to no post processing.

    For travel, archetecture or landscape images, I use Photomechanic for the import and review process but then I use DXO (from within Lightroom) for the initial RAW development because I like the colour rendering, lens corrections, capture sharpening, noise reduction that it gives. I’m not a pixel peeper but I can see the difference and just feel DXO gives me a cleaner initial conversion. After that, I will use Lightroom for manual adjustments and jump to Photoshop as necessary for the things LR can’t do. I use Google/Nik for styling.

    For astrophotography I use a very different set of software for the initial development because of the cameras and file types used, but the images end up in Photoshop for finishing.

    I have tried a whole bunch of other software and completely agree that you can achieve the same results with pretty much any package, so use the ones that seem most intuitive to you. Try before you buy.

  7. Ron Wolf

    I appreciate your continuing transparency and authenticity..this article shows you very well. Thanks!

    Early on, I tried some apps…began to see duplication and feel levels of disappointment. If I try an app…it is to see what NOT to do. I come back to Photoshop tools. Easier! I am told by customers as they buy…that my images are NOT just pretty but engaging as well.

  8. David Vanderheyden

    Thank you for this article. I have often tried plug ins on a trial basis and found they were not for me. This confirms that the right work flow is the one that is right for user

  9. Barbara Amos

    Thank you, Matt, for a very clear discussion of the use of the applications and many plug-ins available for post-processing. For me, it’s Lightroom, Photoshop (if needed) and On-One Effects.

  10. Kevin

    Well said, I’m a bit of a plug-in junkie myself, and I’ve recently come to the same realization that you just confirmed.

  11. Trevor Cooper-Tydeman

    Matt,
    I have followed your articles for a few years and have been impressed by your general no-nonsense, honest approach. I may further research your advice or opinions elsewhere but have never disagreed with you on anything important. This article is the most helpful and honest one that I have ever seen in connection with post-processing. I too have collected processing packages in the search for that one better process and merely found confusion. I shall now desist from further confusion and stick to the program I have used from its earliest beta and therefore know most about. No, it doesn’t matter which one! It isn’t better, its just the one I am most confident in using.
    Well done.

  12. William Chinn

    Yes, I have the Plug-ins. Yes, I have the books. As a retiree, yes, I have the time to do it with the plug-ins and the PS & LR and the Epsons sitting next to me..

    If I set my mind to it I could most likely place Scott Kelby’s image on a grassy knoll shooting a Kodak Instamatic 100 with a flash cube in place.

    But to my point I got into this avocation to take pictures, not to manipulate them. The art is taking the picture (good or bad-but knowing why), not manipulating it. Sometime I forget until I need the fun of remembering why this is my picture. Do you talk to Jay Maisel about the Print module in LR?

    1. Author
      Matt K

      I totally understand William. But hopefully you understand that some people (me included) enjoy editing photos. No one can debate that the photo we get out of the camera isn’t what we see. And sometimes I enjoy making it what I saw or what I wanted to see in the scene. So while you may be in it for taking pictures not manipulating them, some of us just want great images. We don’t mind where we get them – in camera or in LR/PS.

    2. Johnny L

      William, think about it this way, even in the days of film, etching, dodging, burning, stripping film for composites, its all there just in a digital form and a bit more, the craftsman ship is still there. “Ask how many people, actually know why a mask is red. = Ruby-lath” So yes in essence I too agree like Matt, but progression and being able to fix shots that are compelling in your eyes, makes sense. No? “I say shoot for the memories and make it yours” With a saturated market what is your niche?

      1. Author
        Matt K

        Quick side note guys… this wasn’t a post about whether or not it’s ok to edit photos and editing ethics. If you follow me, I’m pretty sure you’re okay with Photoshop and Lightroom. It’s more of a post about getting people to simplify. That nearly all of the mainstream editing apps are the same, and to pick which ones suit you best. Anyway, I saw the convo seemed to be tailing off in to the “is it ok to edit photos” discussion. That one is tired and worn out. I’ve realized that one side will never convince the other – so I’ve moved on a long time ago to helping my side get better 🙂

    3. sally Schriver

      Thanks Matt, you are right and I do wonder if I am using the right app. Now I know.
      Sarah

    4. Fred

      While I agree a little with what you say William, I used to agree totally. Let me explain what I am saying. I used to never edit my photos because I wanted them to look as pure as I saw them but the problem with that is my photos didn’t look like I remembered them, so one day I took my Macbook Pro out on a landscape shoot with me and the reason I took it out with me is because I wanted to see if my memory was just tricking me or not. I set up my shot and when everything was the way I wanted it I took the picture I quickly inserted the flashcard in my adapter and plugged it into my Mac and brought it up in LR and lo and behold the raw picture was very flat and wasn’t any where nears as vibrant as the view was right in front of me. So now I edit my pictures the way I remember them. Try it sometime and see what you think.

  13. AC

    Great article with conclusions I was already pretty well getting to in my mind anyway.

    The only point I would make is that, like with cameras, different products feel right to different people. WRT plugins, for example, I have tried Topaz and Nik (a little) but found that ON1 seemed to work more like the way my mind worked. I felt like if I understood the rudiments of PS and LR, then ON1 already made sense to me. I understand that Nik (now Google) is great and the cat’s pjs for many, but it never felt intuitive or comfortable to me. So, although I own both Nik and some Topaz, I haven’t even installed them on my newest computer.

  14. Kent

    What a timely article! I have struggled with this for quite some time. I usually feel I am “missing out” if I don’t get the latest and greatest. Thanks for saving me from myself. Great article!

  15. Marjorie Borissow

    Thank you Matt. Excellent article and very relevant. I like your style of keeping it simple. One problem we have with Adobe here in Australia is the $9.99 price which we started on keeps going up. We get charged the exchange rate and from this January we will also be charged an additional 10% tax by our government.. So I imagine other people around the world are in the same boat. So alas it is not $9.99 which was are really good price.

  16. Bev Rae

    This was a perfect post for me. I’ve gotten bogged down in all the different ways to edit and lost my confidence. I can’t keep up with everything when I used to enjoy editing my photos. Back to basics.

  17. Colin

    Good article Matt. The more you explore photography online the more you are bombarded by new ideas and everyone has an opinion. After a while it all becomes very confusing. I have settled for LR and PS and thanks to your Ultimate LR course I am slowly becoming more confident with the workflows. It does take a lot of time to realise the benefits of the source you are using so best to select a good mentor and try and stick with their advice.
    Looking forward to the Ultimate PS course

  18. Tom Stoeri

    I really enjoy your sharing of your experience and knowledge and your ability to connect with clarity and style :-). My workflow is similar to yours but without the PS. I was tempted many times to consider a plug-in but I usually defaulted to could I really see a difference in my product most of the time. It always came down to I wouldn’t use the plug-in enough to warrant buying. Your well presented experience was very useful to read. Thanks for sharing with us.

  19. Jim

    Hey Matt just like your photos say I’m “feeling it” what I’m feeling is confused. It makes it hard to stick w a few programs that do what we want 95% of the time. All this distraction really does have the potential to cause folks to take their eye off the creative ball. Wouldn’t it be great to brew all these apps together into one useful program that also might include mindfulness exercises to help us focus on what is really important i.e what inspires us and others 🙂
    Thanks for putting the time into such a helpful piece.

  20. Kent O

    I enjoyed your article, Matt.

    My wife and I like to cook and are in a small local gourmet club. I tell my friends that cooking is all about the sauce. If you have a really good sauce, everyone enjoys the dish, even if the base of that dish is mediocre.

    For photography, I say it’s all about the post processing. Sure, you need a decent base in camera image. But the post processing is like that sauce, finishing the photo to your taste, just like every chef tweaks a recipe to make it his own.

    We are fortunate to have really good software now coupled with better than ever raw files to work with, allowing us to make our own creative choices. Mastering one of the mainstream apps will really add polish to your finished product.

  21. James Kohler

    You could have done the same blog on camera technology. I’m getting so tired of being told I need to switch to mirroless, or the latest DSLR, or micro-4/3’s, etc., to take great pictures., to take great pictures. This happens almost every week. It’s the eye stupid not the gear! You wrote a great article and it’s greatly appreciated.

  22. Jose

    Hi guys,

    I have been using Photoshop (the least) and Lightroom so far. Now, ON1 and Luminar are here and you are completely right. They are too many apps that do practically the same. My aim is staying with ON1 only and leave Adobe’s. I guess I can do everything with ON1, by far. I am not a professional so my use of photoshop is minimal and Lightroom has become a dinosaur. I can catalogue with ON1 and that’s great !!!

    Nice post, Matt, very interesting !!!

  23. Johnnie Doc

    Much appreciated Matt. Spot on is all I can state. I believe the audience that follows you most will benefit from this… It’s your talent to teach that hits it on the nail for me and I would bet others. Again, I (We) appreciate the time you put into sharing your knowledge of photography.

  24. Ed A

    Awesome article Matt! We get hammered to buy from Black Friday thru the holiday sales every year and for the first time in several years I resisted the urge to buy the latest and greatest PP software, plug-ins or whatever. Instead I invested in a photography video course package that includes many of the aspects for making a good photo in camera as well as PP. You’re absolutely right! Working with the courses have really increased my confidence and I see a difference in the final product that pleases me. Even my wife is impressed the changes. Thanks again for a vary thoughtful post!

  25. Lester Lefton

    Well said. Most thoughtful piece I have read in a long time. As a Sony and C1 user I have chosen a route less often travelled, but I feel comfortable and at ease with my choices. I could easily use Nikon and LR again, but in our world of choices, I don’t have to. Thanks Matt, well done

  26. R David Parker

    Matt, you have done it again. A real person with the voice of sensical reality as we past by the photographic woods of confusion. I am still exploring my photo expression having dropped several plug-ins, easy to use presets and and opting for things to present the image as I best see it. Your article is on target and something I have briefly thought about as I explore things, feeling like a rogue, perhaps, at times because I have not followed the normal path. I agree with Mr. Lefton, in that I can explore the road less traveled and you helped foster that. Where I will wind up is not clear yet. Thanks for a timely expose’ on the state of the craft of photo imagery.

  27. rick.malamed

    Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate your insight. Years ago, our local photo club recommended Nik Software, so I bought it. Then there was a recommendation for On 1. So I bought it. Then each vendor had an upgrade. So, … I have finally settled on Lightroom , Photoshop and On 1 Raw Photo. Most of my time is spent in Lightroom. Your Ultimate Lightroom Course was my best investment. Not only did it help me understand Lightroom, it really helped with my organization and workflow.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Great to hear Rick. So glad it’s helped you. I really put a TON of time in to the organizing, import and catalog part of it so I’m glad it shows through. Thanks! 🙂

  28. Peter Jukoski

    Matt, I think for myself I don’t have the time to learn several post processing software programs to a level of proficiency that I would like but I do need to process my photos, clean them up and on occasion add some interesting effects. I consider myself fairly proficient in Lightroom but struggle in Photoshop because I don’t use it all the time. I was glad ON1 Raw came out as I want one program that I can use all the time and get to know how to use all the functionality so I can reduce the time I spend post processing and get out to shoot more photos. As I have found over the last ten years my photos are getting better needing less post processing and that is what is most important. I have all sorts of plugins that I have never used and probably won’t I’ll stick with Lightroom and ON1 moving forward.
    Great post!
    Thanks

  29. Chris Cook

    Great article Matt. I own numerous plugins but tend to stick with Lightroom for most of my workflow with a little Photoshop on the side. I do like Topaz DeNoise for high ISO shots, I find that it does a great job. I have owned several versions of ON1 but have never really taken to it. I know how to achieve the results I want in LR/PS so tend to stick with them. Which is, I think, basically the thrust of your article. KISS.

  30. Mike Maroko

    One of the best article I have read. It answer my question of yesterday which program is better. After reading the article I do agree with you, the best program is the one that does what one is looking for.
    Thanks for the clear detailed explanation of the “difference” between the various programs.

  31. Robert

    Great article and very timely. Many of us were wondering with all the Plug Ins that we see, just how different is each.
    Thanks

  32. loretta franklin

    This is an excellent article. I am guilty of running around among processors in an undefined workflow pattern. It is great to read how much I can reduce this. I have one big question. My previous (logical) flow was Lightroom, PS, ON1. With the introduction of On1 Raw, I have been thinking of switching to: On1 Raw, Photoshop, On1 Raw. What is the disadvantage to this flow? The reason I’m thinking this is to ditch the cataloging. However, I do use the Collection feature a lot in Lightroom. Is this a reason for staying with LR?

    Thanks for your time.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hi Loretta – If you don’t like/understand the LR catalog, and just want the browse experience then ON1 should be a good workflow for you. The LR/PS combo is tighter integration obviously and would make things easier. But if you don’t like LR then go with ON1 on the front end and just jump to PS if you need layers and Photoshop-like tools.

      1. loretta franklin

        Sorry to keep this going. I should have made it clearer. Do you know whether On1 Raw will have a feature similar to “Collections” or does one need a Catalog in order to be able to do this since the collections are just created with references back to the photo folder?

  33. Anne F

    Thanks Matt, and all the commentators above. We plugin junkies needed to be told this. Why did we buy them? Fear of missing out (FOMO) the modern phenomenon, and of course, the hard-sell emails that arrive daily. Again, thanks all!

  34. Celeste Ellis

    Hi Matt,
    My name is Celeste and I am a post processing and plug-in collection addict! (And to make matters worse, I really don’t know how to use any of them!) And another confession, I read the article mainly to see if you were going to recommend something I did not already have. Your comment about being in your workshop and seeing someone’s laptop with EVERY plugin on it actually almost gave me an anxiety attack for fear you were referring to me until I remembered I have not actually physically been in a workshop with you (yet!). But a BIG thank you for the article… (and not having me purchase another plugin today.) 🙂

  35. JeanH

    Hi Matt!

    Well, one of the advantages of being a poor person whose passion is photography is that I have followed your advice about simplifying by circumstances and found it fruitful. I have two older cameras (Canon SXi and 60D) now and decided to go with Lightroom 5 and Photoshop Elements 14 which has added functionality of the PS things I need (like soft proofing) in the form of a little known program called Elements XL programmed by a German man. Oh, I wanted the Nik plugins and got them when Google made them free but haven’t used them since!

    As a result, by circumstance and default, I have learned my software very well and can’t say enough about your emphasis on VISION and editing to it! I approach my photography as an art and art is about communicating feeling. To that end I have followed David duChemin’s basic PP advice from years ago:

    1) Identify intent
    2) Minimize distractions
    3) Maximize mood
    4) Direct the eye

    To me, PP is simply doing in the light what we used to do in the wet darkroom. With the added advantage that it can all be done so much easier and less expensively.

    Love your teaching style though I will never be able to take a workshop with you unless you hook up with one of my local photo clubs and even then it would be a big stretch for me. Keep on writing for all of us!!!

  36. Phil Scala

    Matt, well done, greatly shared and a real important article.
    I have been at this “art form” for 50+ years. As an awful armature, a semi successful pro, and a technician and image processor for a wide format service business.
    Everything you say is so very true. When I was processing and printing for the service bureau it was obvious the people that had a good workflow. I was also obvious the ones that had used 10 different plug-ins and were still searching for the magic fix. When I was asked to help I told them get comfy with one or two programs and just anchor and learn. Make the image your way.
    I found that PS was the go to tool for my work. I have retired and now do my own work with a workflow I am comfortable with. I am a PS/Bridge/ACR kinda’ guy. Old dog and very few new tricks. I am forcing myself to use LR more and more and it is OK.
    I think being comfortable and feeling knowledgeable is a big factor in all of the post process world. I have On1Raw and will work with it to get a feel for something new.
    In my experience in every aspect of technology there is always a standard to measure to. Photoshop/LR seems to be the mark now. And as you point out all the new platforms run parallel to these long standing pieces of software. Good or bad. In the inkjet world it used to be EPSON. But as time went on HP and Canon became much more accepted and are now very well placed in the printing world. Time is the magic there I think.
    The new guys in the RAW business will have to advance and grow. They will always be compared to some degree to the Adobe products.
    My idea, be your own photo person. Get a style, or a result you want. Do it the way you want and be content. As you stated all the PI’s all do mostly the same thing. Get what you can afford, what you get competent with, and what gives you the image you perceive in your own thinking. That is all that is needed.
    You make such good points about the vast array of products. There should be no reason anybody cannot find a good combination of process to get the end product they want to see. But be smart and make the process simple and effective.
    Thanks for all the years of sharing with the rest of us Matt, greatly appreciated.

  37. Maryllis

    I loved this post. I am such a frugal person. I sometimes envy my friends for having LR and Topaz and and and. But I just would not put out the bucks. I had some “free trial plug-ins” but found them to be not my taste for the most part. Whats more, I could do that in the PS cs6 I already own. PS is the only one I own. And I love it. It’s all I need and now feel confident (thanks to your article) that I am good with what I have. I can save my money for other toys. Thank you.

  38. Jerry Stachowski

    Hi—

    I think I would add LR presets to your comments about plugins. I run across many instructors online who say that they have the magic preset. In some cases they help get you into the ballpark. But realistically, anything that someone does with a preset can be done with LR. If you do something to all your photos, then you can you can make a preset to do that thing and save time. But I tend to use presets sparingly.

    Thanks!

  39. Cindy Hollingsworth

    Awesome work, as usual, Matt. I enjoy the way you cut to the chase and talk to us using common sense. I also like how much emphasis you place on gaining confidence and the art of photography.

  40. Mark Ferri

    Interesting read, I completly agree with it as well. I pretty much only use LR cc I rarely use PS although I do have access to it. I’m not really sure what I would need to do in PS.
    I’m happy with the results I get and ask if seems are my clients. Its definitely a confidence thing, I have confidence in the images I produce and that brushes off on my clients I guess.
    Thanks.

  41. Allen Weitzman

    Hi Matt,

    As always you’ve hit the mark square on. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Keep up the good work,

    Allen

  42. Diane Imfeld

    Matt, this article came just at the right time! I have spent the last week asking myself which app to use and why I need a number of them.
    I am 70 years old and desperately want to simplify, but didn’t know what I need to eliminate.
    Your article is clear, and to the point, as are your teaching skills.
    Thank you for following your passion and motivating me to “let go” of the unnecessary and to keep things simple.

  43. Matthew McDermott

    Matt, I think that what has gotten lost in photography, with all the options that are available in digital, is the sense of the “artistic choice”. While I always try to “capture the image in the camera”, there are those times when you grab a quick snap and it needs “retouching”. Just as I would have done years ago in the darkroom. Then there is the critical crowd that dismisses a technique out of hand. “Oh, I HATE HDR!” or “That’s TOTALLY over processed!” or “I NEVER drink Merlot!” Whenever I hear that I have to stop and ask, what was the creative intent? If the photographer wanted the HDR look, did she/he achieve that goal?

    In one of my photo classes a woman would shoot and print and then tear up her images and glue them back onto a canvas of yet another print. Talk about a workflow! But these were her artistic choices, nobody accused her of “over processing”.

    I have been sitting on an image that was a “snapshot”. It’s a heron flying over a fog covered lake. I got the shot, but there are a lot of issues. To achieve the shot I have in mind, I need to remove a few trees and soften the details to get a “lone heron on a foggy lake”.

    The software is just the tool. Walk into any art store, there is an isle for charcoal, watercolor and oil paint. Are two of those options “wrong”?

  44. Bill Gordon

    Hey Matt,
    I am a fairly advanced Lightroom user and while I understand Photoshop basics, I find its complexity intimidating. I can get back and forth to use Content Aware Fill but beyond that I am reluctant to adventure further. How about a course on the 10 must have Photoshop skills for Lightroom users.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Bill – that’s coming with my new Photoshop Course. It’ll basically be geared for Lightroom users (or camera raw). But it’s going to assume you first develop your photos with Adobe (ACR or LR), and it’ll pick up from there.

  45. Gary A Walters

    I used to be a crime scene investigator. Thats what introduced me to photography. I loved it and quit 2 years later and just became a photographer (self taught) Not knowing what the good books were I just by chance started thumbing through Showcase and assumed that’s what photography should look like. If I would have picked up Popular Photography I would have had a much easier path to follow. I also read ever one of Ansel Adamd books and what your blog post said to me was what I remember most from his books….Pre Visualization.

    Great post

  46. Robert Kanee

    Matt: right on the mark as usual. It is always helpful to be reminded what is the real goal in terms of a given photo and what is the easiest most efficient way of getting there. It is exciting to see the development of new software solutions in the digital photography/video arena. But developing a smooth clear workflow that is internalized and works to give us our desired outcome with the minimum amount of incremental learning curves and use of multiple programs will make our post work more enjoyable and successful.
    Keep reminding us of your insights in this area. Thanks again Robert Kanee

  47. Danny

    Hi Matt
    Great post. I agree with everything you wrote.
    I have been using Photoshop from version 2 and LightRoom and ON1 from the first available versions.
    I have a few other software apps/plugins, some that I use and some that I don’t.
    I wanted just to stress one point – it really doesn’t matter have many applications you use as long as you know exactly how to use each one of them to achieve the effect and result you want.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Danny – you’re absolutely correct. And I know there’s a lot of people that like to tinker around with multiple apps. But there’s also a lot of people that get all those apps, don’t know how to use them, and don’t have time to learn. And in the end they get confused, and lose confidence because they feel like they’re missing out on something by not using them all. That’s pretty much all I was saying… and… well 3000 words more 🙂

  48. JEM

    …” I’ve realized that one side will never convince the other – so I’ve moved on a long time ago to helping my side get better” Love your quote!!!

    I actually try to appease myself instead of others by using my own “method” of post production in creating that one great image I had pictured in my mind when originally clicked on the camera. (I’ve argued that same question with other about image manipulation.) Loved your article. Thank you.

  49. Ralph Blough

    Great article. The one thing you left out about plugins and software is the time consumption. It takes time to learn the software. I have caught myself reprocessing a photo to see if I can make it better with other software only to find that the results looked identical.

  50. Alton Marsh

    I am guilty of too many apps and your post comes at the right time for me. I have PS6 and LR5. Lately I have just used PS6 because of the clunky import/export process in LR. I have Perfectly Clear that frankly fixes problems I don’t know how to address in 20 percent of my photos. But I do Adobe Raw, then OnOne contrast ( forget if it is Dynamic Contrast or Pro Contrast because I used to be a Nik user and still have those filters in PS6). I throw in a dash of OnOne Color Enhancer and back out. OnOne already sharpened the photo but I haven’t sharpened yet and don’t do it in Raw. So I am stuck wondering if I should sharpen more (but not get halos around things or emphasize grain) and so I hit the PS High Pass filter at about 3.0 and I;m done. Too much? I think probably so.

  51. Priss

    OH MATT! What a TERRIFIC article! THANK YOU SO MUCH for taking the time to summarize and explain the questions of today—to me–a “yesterday” user pretty set in less effective ways. I am starting in Adobe Camera Raw every time. And I want to get to Lightroom when I break those bonds of yesterday!

  52. Don Fahnestock

    Thanks, Matt. That was very interesting, enlightening and a bunch of other adjectives. I have the Adobe Photo subscription, and maintain the On1 Plus subscription. Yeah, I’ve got Nik and Topaz, and every so often, if I’m stumped, in Lr, Ps or On1, I check them out. But, that’s really rare. I’ve also stopped downloading presets, in favor of creating my own, because that was also getting confusing, and mostly I’d end up modifying the preset to the point that I could have created it myself, anyway. I read this with great interest. The only apps I keep pinned to my desktop are Lr, Ps and On1 RAW. And, I always look forward to your sage advice.

  53. Christopher Thorpe

    A brave post Matt given the internet’s tendency to go negative way too quickly 🙂 But I agree, we as photographers’ are always chasing that last 1% of pixels, dynamic range, processing techniques etc. I went down the 1% rabbit hole with CaptureOne – love the tool, love the way it can tone images, but it added a decision point with when do I use this processor vs LR, and then I had to think a little harder around file management etc – now I find it just liberating to focus on LR/PP and faster from a mental workflow perspective. Still use Nik as a plug-in every now and then as a secret sauce, gone down the Topaz path as well – but there’s a lot to be said for just keeping it simple and just focusing as you said on the vision.

  54. Tom Crockett

    Yes, thanks for the honest assessment, Mark. I’m one of those guys that was pretty sure I needed every plug-in that came across my computer screen. Now, I find myself in Lightroom clicking on “Edit In” and seeing about 20 plug-ins, many of which do the same specialized task, with no clear way of making a decision about which is best or why I would use one over another.

    Since Lightroom and Photoshop handle about 85% of my basic processing, styling, and retouching needs, I’ve decided to cull the programs that I’m not using and simplify my photographic work-flow (if not my life). I’m sure I will still hold onto a few specialized plug-ins that I do actually use for specific projects, but there is no need for 4 different noise-reduction apps.

  55. John Pascucci

    Good Morning Diana and Matt.
    This was a great blog with good examples such as the camera. I had purchased perfectly clear a while ago and a lot of times will use as a fast starting point. Since taking the your lightroom course I follow that work flow. I am anxiously awaiting your photoshop course. I hope that it will start from basics and work its way up like the light room course..
    Thank you
    Johnny

  56. Mary Lou Frost

    I will see that the photographers with whom I interface, read this article. It is a statement we have needed.
    I frequently teach the real beginners to digital processing. I have encountered students, with no processing experience, go out and get a Photoshop Cloud membership to start with! They are totally overwhelmed with the busy, dark, interface.
    Because of this I recommend that the begin with a 30-day free trial of the latest version of Photoshop Elements. It is clean, bright and easy to navigate. If they feel successful, they go ahead and make their first small investment in digital processing by purchasing Photoshop Elements. When the become confident in developing an image to express their personal vision, they are ready to move on to the “Cloud”.
    As experienced photographers, we need to appreciate how confusing the modern apps can be and get people started simply with a path to success.
    Thanks for your clarity in all you write and teach!

  57. Terry Goodfellow

    Matt
    At last some one prepared to say “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes”.
    Thank you for saying sense!

  58. ELLIOT STERN

    What an incredible article Matt. I could not agree more and I am 1000 percent with you on everything you wrote. I have been working with products like Luminar, On1 Photo Raw, Pictorial and for my Fuji files, Iridient to name a few that are not necessarily main stream. iI want to be on top of “new trends” in order to help my students. Fortunately I have the time to investigate all this software but you are right that in the end it is how the photographer envisioned the image and reproducing it in that way.

    Thanks for this article which I am going to re post on my site. Everyone including outside your own extensive contact list truly needs to take some time to read your thoughts.

    Elliot

  59. Bette Warn

    Thanks for the timely subject Matt. You helped me confirm that my confusion on which app to use is not just one end all be all application. My challenge is in learning the nuances of each so I know which one to use for a particular image and what I want out of it in the end. This is coming but just takes practice.

    Also I heard a very good explaination justifying the use of post processing verses getting it right in the camera. This professional explained that the camera is not the same as our eye and what we are doing in post processing is to accomplish what we saw with our eye. Yes getting it as close as we can in the camera is important and minimizes the post processsing but in many instances, to my eye anyway, the post processing puts the WOW effect to the image whether it is simple tonal adjustments, or rendering a photo to be an “artistic” reproduction.

    Also your Lightroom workshop was a GREAT tool in helping me become better acqainted with LR and I use the Course Outline regularly in my learning curve to get me to the particular solution I need. THANKS

  60. Keith Preston

    What a wonderful article Matt! As always you’re speaking common sense and right down to earth. I like the logical structure of LR and its non-destructive nature. I can always take steps back even to the starting point. I am experimenting with Luminar which looks promising, but so far I find that I can achieve nothing that I can’t already do with LR. It relies heavily on Presets, but they are available in LR too and in abundance. With LR, ON1 and Luminar as plug-ins, what more could I possibly need?!

  61. Colleen K

    Simply put your transparency and honesty is what I was looking for in the forest of editing apps. Try before you buy is something I should’ve done, but now that I’m learning so much on your “ultimage” LR Course I know I will be better prepared to select what works for me. THANK YOU for this open conversation…I look forward to first getting out there and getting photos that capture my interest and heart AND if need be to have the tools to convert it to something greater.

  62. Bob C.

    A great article Matt. I know I’ve wondered at times weather buying one of these apps would somehow enable me to improve my photos but after trying one or two I just went back to using Lightroom an occasionaly Photoshop to enhance them and I’m fine with that.

  63. KC Glastetter

    Thank you for the best blog ever. I am always trying to “be the best” and in the process keep trying every new thing that comes along and subsequently, become scattered and leave behind the workflow that I can do in my sleep and always works for me. This advice was validation for me to just ENJOY my photography and keep it simple.

  64. James Bruckman

    Matt you should add photography philosopher to your list of professions. Keeping it simple and be confident is the key I get from your message. Those are the same reasons I get the most from your teachings.
    I watched an ON1 teacher who knows PS inside and out and does magical things with it, but it is too complicated for me. I find your three programs the ones I use now. Although on a few photos I use Topaz to make it painterly, or add textures, or stars, but maybe less than 10%..
    Keep posting man!

  65. John Boothroyd

    All very true Matt. I find people can do the same with printing papers – buy all sorts of surfaces from different manufacturers so as not to miss out on the best or so they think.

    Keep smiling.

    John.

  66. Andy Johnston

    Matt, thank you for putting it all out there and helping me to see and accept the obvious. I think we all secretly hope for a magic application that will create stunning, professional, unique images with one click. What I’ve learned is software is just a tool that allows me to take what my camera recorded and transform it into what I saw. As I tell people, “You take pictures with your mind. All the rest is what you do so other people can seem them.”

  67. Susan Burt

    What a informative and timely (for me!) piece! You certainly clarified all those confusing things that have floated in my brain for years…and more so now that new apps are being developed all the time. Your blog helped me to figure out where I need to spend my post processing time….LR, PS (when needed) and On1.

    I have followed you for years but this is the first time I have posted anything. Thank you again!

  68. Helen Montgomery

    Your comments are exactly right: it’s about your vision.
    Using plug ins and quick fixes on my photos is like “paint by number”.
    I want my photo to be me: my personal tweaks, my sliders and creative
    use of playtime. thank you for sharing your insights, Matt

  69. calebasch

    Hey Matt, First let me say that I agree. But I have another software question. I’m a yoga teacher and landscape photographer in So Cal. (www.calebasch.com) and I’m starting to make videos. What software do you use for your videos? I’ve heard good things about Camtopia, and Screenflo Pro. What’s your opinion?

  70. Gerry Slater

    One thing us photo-types have in common is a love for “stuff.” We love equipment like a coke addict loves a white line. One trip to PhotoShop World, back in the day when it was flying-high, and the people who sold “stuff” lined up to buy booths, so we could have a tsunami of apps and add-ons. I was as susceptible as anyone. Then several years ago Kelby One had a video, you may recall, of Scott Kelby doing a walk-about in NYC with Jay Maisel. Scott came regaled with cameras and lenses, his photo vest bulging with filters, and sunscreens. Jay, in his inimitable gruff manner, looked at him with disdain, and said, “what do you need all that shit for.??” Jay carried one camera, and one 18-300mm lens. He had been producing wonderful images for 60 years. What an eye-opener that was for me.
    I got rid of all the extraneous apps, rarely use presets, and concentrated on really learning LR and PS. I do have On1, which i would never have had if you weren’t connected with them. I have my Sony 6300 and two lenses. The upshot is I enjoy photography more, I am improving faster, I love your LR course, and your PS course may be the last tutorial I will ever buy. The funny thing is if someone told me all this 15 years ago, I would never have believed them.
    Good post buddy-boy. Hope people take it to heart.

  71. Doug Hansgate

    Matt, great treatment of a difficult topic. We all become the proverbial seeker of the the best tools, the latest gadget, the best gear, and too often we forget that the development process is an art form. That’s why we call it the art of photography. When I teach, I actually spend more time on concepts that specifics, teaching how to control a viewer’s perception and how to develop an image to meet your perception of the scene as you shot it. The mood, the emotion, the sense of a scene is the most important part. There are many tools that allow us to create that emotional connection for the viewer. What we all need to do is focus on the why.

    Well written and thought provoking. Keep up the great work.

  72. Greg Reed

    Exactly Matt, I think you hit the nail on the head – one must have a vision when one triggers the shutter!! Then one must develop and render that vision to the viewer using whatever methods and techniques that are required. And I believe that the finished art is the proof – not the method one uses to get there!!

    I am still refining my own vision and techniques and will continue to do so as long as I can pick up a camera – any camera and use a computer!!

  73. Avi

    To us who take pride in how our photographs look – Photo Editing – becomes part of the creative process. If we use a spatula, brush or pour paint from an open can on to our canvas – it really does not matter beyond the importance of obtaining a pleasing aesthetic result. Which tool to use? The one which evolves from the constrains of practicality: you are good with it and can afford it!

    Matt your article was very important to be brought to the forefront of the creativity discussion!
    Like you, I love my tools, but take pride in my creativity!

  74. Don Baird

    Great blog. I have been spending too much time trying to learn how to use every new feature in Topaz, NIK, Lightroom, etc. upgrades so I can be assured that I can use the latest and greatest. But guess what, I can’t remember how to use all these new features or even which plugin had that feature that I learned about a few weeks ago. You have convinced me of what I have been trying to convince myself of: learn a few programs well and forget the others. I like your Lightoom, Photoshop, ON1 Photo Raw workflow. I just wish that I could keep the ON1 styling edits as non-destructive edits in the same raw file instead of ending up with 2 files. It really adds to the confusion when I want to go back and see what I did or make a change.

  75. Gary Scaife

    I agree with you 100%. I use Lightroom and occasionally Photoshop. I also used several plugins and a year ago switched to On1 to try and simplify my workflow and have been very happy with the results. As On1 raw gets updated this year I may consider using that as my raw processor and eliminate LR.

  76. Gene Wolski

    Thanks Matt, I needed that. You have put it all in perspective for me. A great piece! You have hit the nail on the head. It is all a commodity now. I have read your books and re-read them and I have learned much. I have a much better vision of what to do now. Keep up the great work!

  77. bill bane

    I buy into what you say with a major exception: the ideas and approaches of Dan Margullis. His, while not always needed, trump all the sliders, apps, and plug-ins you discussed. His are the only sources of the unexpected “WOW”.

  78. Don Stouder

    A great article, Matt. I agree with most everything you said. I did find it interesting that you mentioned Photoshop Elements (calling it Elements) in only one section, and then never mentioned it again or elaborated on it in that section. I strongly suspect that it has a enough world-wide users to warrant a bit more coverage than you chose to give it.

  79. Mark Myhaver

    Matt, This is an excellent piece! Well thought out, written and spot on. Perhaps I should give full disclosure here that I too am primarily a Lightroom > Photoshop editor and do consider myself a very proficient professional photographer which in my opinion requires being a proficient image processor. I also began over 50 years ago when it was all done with film and in a darkroom. I did not stop reading after your disclaimer because I have come to know and respect your insights. I had a strong feeling this topic was going to be handled with true professionalism and make a great point. Your comparison of editing software to all cameras basically having the same settings and accomplish the same thing again was spot on and made an excellent point. Having said that, I have used many of the plugins you have mentioned in the past and try to stay up on the most popular ones strictly for mentoring reasons. I like to be able to help serious up and comers with whatever tools they are using. For my own work, no matter what I have experimented with, I always go back to doing most editing with the tried and true tools that I know best and continue to find new ways to use them. Yes, I do think the well developed editors that have true workflow build into them are the best way to go. Having started using Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom from the very beginning of each I find the subscription format, contrary to much initial complaint, to be a win, win situation. After paying upgrade costs almost yearly for many years to get the most advanced and upgraded tools, now getting those upgrades instantly and quite regularly without waiting a full year or more is well worth the subscription price. To sum up, I reiterate well done and spot on, Matt.

    Now here is a suggestion. Put some share buttons on here to make it easy to do so as it is a great piece that should be shared widely. Thanks Matt.

  80. Kevin La Rue

    Matt – another characteristically excellent post; thanks for taking the time to write this as I can imagine it wasn’t just a walk in the park – very heartfelt and… nailed it.

    I’m very much an amateur photographer, so tend to rely on software a bit more to “craft” the final result. My editing mantra these days is to go into post-processing with a vision of where I’d like a photo to end up. Although it’s taken a long time for me to open myself up artistically to wherever that leads. The 3rd party plug-ins mentioned help me discover and explore creative paths that I might not have taken otherwise.

    Thanks again for the post – very thought-provoking way to spend 10-15 minutes this morning! 😉

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Good to hear from you buddy! 🙂
      I totally agree with you. Jumping in to some of those other apps definitely yields some possibilities I would have never thought of. I think that’s the real benefit. Even LR presets as an example. I bounce in and out of using them as a core workflow tool. Sometimes I’m in preset “mode” and sometimes I’m not. But what I’ve found is that hovering over a few of them and trying them out, sometimes I see a creative route to go with a photo that I may never have otherwise taken. Talk soon my friend!

  81. Ashok Kumar

    Very timely and useful article, now I feel less guilty not having all the apps on the market. One need to get good with the tools they have. I basically use Light Room. Since Light Room came, I am loosing touch with PS and a refreshing course in it will be helpful. First I got into On1 because of boarders but then it got too complicated. On1 Raw seems to be more structured and I am grasping it better. Before On1 I liked Nik soft ware but lately it is falling behind

  82. Irene Boudreau

    aaah, you have put a smile on my face and a fond memory in my mind.
    I too had my own darkroom many years ago. I am now an Adobe user and love every moment.
    Thanks for sharing

  83. Keith Haase

    Matt:
    I totally agree with all you said. I just installed the Nik collection (only plug-in I have). I was impressed with them. But they’re not going to change my work flow, which I’m very happy with.
    Just something to use occasionally when I want to experiment.
    Aside: Enjoy & learned much from your book Photoshop Compositing Secrets. Do another!?

  84. Christine Gaubert

    Thank you Matt,
    As you have done with your Ultimate Lightroom Course you have once again provided a clear, common sense roadmap to move forward into the wonderful world of editing. As a trainer from years gone by the old acronym of KISS (keep it simple stupid) very much applies in this high tech world too!
    Keep up the great work, I just wish you would visit Sydney to run some workshops here.

  85. Kent Rebman

    Interesting point of view and I would subscribe to a lot of it, and my workflow is an awful lot like yours. I would personally say that my plug-in bloat is due to changing tastes over time. I never tried NIK until it was free and now I’m addicted it as a B&W processor. One plug in that I come back to constantly is ON1. I started using it at version 7.0 when it was still the Perfect PhotoSuite and you’ll never get me to quit using its dynamic contrast. I also have no problem with the Adobe subscription model. To me, $10 a month to catalog and process all my photos is a terrific deal, having once paid, I think it was, $500 for PS 2.0 many years ago.

  86. Joan

    You don’t mention Photoshop Elements at all … is it completely out of favour?

  87. Danny T.

    Yup, I’m right there with LR and a bunch of plugins (including star effects) – but I do enjoy using them and comparing results. I agree with you blog’s premise and for it boils down to time or rather to lack of time. So I have my workflow and stick to it.

    BTW, if shooting Sony then Capture 1 is free for the basic and highly discounted for the Pro version. But as I said that would require to learn a new workflow that I have little time for. LR is already intuitive for me. Be well and thanks for the insightful blog.

  88. Russell Seneca

    Matt: thanks for simplifying my life: too many things to learn that interfere with enjoying photography; I want to enjoy editing my photos as you have recommended. Please put a nail in the coffin of luminosity masks as the edited photos look great but at what a cost in the learning curve. Can’t we get there with LR, PS & OnOne RAW? russ

  89. Earl Dodd

    Well Matt, it’s to bad it took a long article to say this. Use the KISS method. it works

  90. Eric

    Thanks for this long and useful article, Matt.

    I’m not a pro but I like to do things well.
    Tools should allow me to achieve my vision of a scenery, or an object, or … whatever I want to render.
    Years ago, I was using Aperture. I invested a lot of time to understand the effect of each parameter. I did the same for Nik Software.
    I was at a point where I could virtually process the image in my head. I knew in advance, when shooting, what I would do to achieve my vision.
    It took me still a long time to switch to LR and PS and still today I do not know those tools deep enough to have that confidence (you talk about) when I’m shooting. I invest time every week to try to gain it back.
    Even Google does not update their Nik Collection, I’m still using it.

    Here is my point, and I believe it goes in the same direction as yours : when looking at all those available tools, I’m always wondering if I’ll have the time to invest to learn and know them in order to achieve a vision.
    My own answer is “no”. I believe that buying additional tools makes us buying more tools…. because at the end you know less and less about one tool and you intend to believe that you can achieve this there, and that elsewhere.

    When I’ll know LR and PS the way I knew Aperture + Nik, and only at that moment, I’ll be capable of saying if yes or no another tool can bring me something additional…

    PS : Just for the fun…
    I’m also a ON1 Plus Member… as I was looking at ON1 as an alternative. So… I’ve been trapped myself in the “selling system”…. (even with strong principles you can still have that hope that something else will help better).

    Cheers,
    Eric

  91. SLC

    Very nicely written article, and thanks for taking the time to write it- I enjoyed it and learned a bit. The only downfall from having lots of plugins (aside from their cost, of course) is the amount of time it takes for them to load in up in Photoshop, as least in CS6. While having a lot of them can add a lot more time to your processing by having to trying out different ones to get the look you want, that is the “creative fun” part for me. I found your comments of Google’s purchased of Nik interesting and have wondered what that was about. Thanks again for this blog!

  92. Chris

    Hey Matt! Really nice of you to share all the info. I read your entire blog, I will admit I skipped all of the comments so far 🙂 Admittedly, I am the guy that bought every single plug-in and factually I hardly use them. I use Lightroom for pretty much all of my stuff.When I do HDR I do use Aurora because i think Trey and the McPhun guys did an excellent job. I do use the Perfectly Clear preset to do a basic photo edit, but I do the final retouching in Lightroom. I don’t so much use Photoshop. I do use On1 for sky replacements and stylization things.

    That is pretty much it. The other bagillion apps I bought I don’t really use. BUT…. I also don’t regret buying them. I agree with your view in that they are all just another brush to create with. If I use it once and really like the result, I am happy I spent the money 🙂

    Anyway, I figure I would share my interests and views for those reading. Thanks for everything.

  93. marc

    Hey Matt,

    my language is french.

    Great article but you forgot something.

    If you buy a sony A7rii , you see probably a difference between body camera and if they are difference in body why no difference in raw editor ?

    i’m a nikon user with a d810 and i think what a user want for a raw editor is that raw editor when he opens the picture has the same as the jpg. Most of people don’t use raw because they are not be able with a raw editor to have the same of jpg …

    many user of nikon speak and use now capturenx , the end of this program 4 or 5 years ago and they love this program because they begin to edit with the same jpg aspect.
    I have the same workflow , lightroom , ps and photoraw … but i’m in a club of photograph not professional , just the sunday photograph 🙂 and twice a year , we made a small afternoon and the futur thema is the best way to take jpg

  94. sylvio

    Good article Matt. A few years ago I did get caught in buying different apps but now I’m using only Lightroom and I’m looking forward to learn Photoshop.
    You are a good teacher and make learning simple.
    You should come to Australia one day!

  95. John Robert McNally

    Great Article Matt: – I am am also guilty of looking for that magic wand, by going for all different software/plugins/presets.

    I need to get back to basics & learn LR & PS properly.

    A long article, “But True” – Many Thanks Matt, This Has Hit Home.

    John Mac – UK

  96. Charles Lyons

    Great article Matt. I am one of those who has many plugins…….still trying to find the one that will give me the “great image”. Today I think I will delete a few and just consecrate on LR, PS.

  97. Menahem Thalkar

    Thanks Matt for very good advice .I am one of those that started with Nik and then switched to ON1 after reading one of your blogs,.I agree that it doesn’t make much of a difference, at least to me and often I switch back and forth depending how I feel or if I get tired of one.

  98. Al Guden

    Matt – As usual you are right on! I have more plugins that I’ll ever use. So many that I listed them all with some details about what each of them does. I use LR and PS CC and On One Raw 2017. I’ve followed you so long that I guess I really about follow your workflow. I rarely use any of the Plugins. Thanks for the great blog.

  99. Robert Maag

    Thanks Matt I needed this ,any freebee I have to have it . Your right great blog.
    .

  100. Michael J Head

    I am one of those pixel peeping at 400% monsters! Doesn’t matter you are still correct. I have LOTS of software but most of it only gets used AFTER I have set most of the parameters of the photo. I have learned my basic LR-on1-PS workflow and stick with it to speed my work and generate repeatable results. Once the learning curve is done you can get backt o thinking creatively.

  101. Mary Coles

    Just what I needed to hear. I spent a whole day trying to improve my photo and jumped from program to program. In the end the the image was so overprocessed, that I had to go back to the original and tweak just a few thinks in ACR and LR. I have so many programs, plug ins and presets and don’t know how to use any!

  102. LillianG

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, you put into words some doubts that I had ……!!!!!

  103. Kim Braley

    I’m one of those people who have a whole bunch of plug-ins, but find myself using mostly the same things – LightRoom and ON1. I have often wondered if I’m doing something wrong by not utlizing the many other tools….your post (a really good one, by the way) helps me understand that more isn’t necessarily better. I appreciate your honest opinion on this subject!

  104. Mick M

    Brilliant article Matt. It gave me “permission” to relax and just get on with what I’ve got (LR & PS), learn them properly and become as proficient and confident as possible with those tools. I can now stop forever looking for the next “big thing” even if it comes at a better price point than Adobe. The price difference per month is, at most, probably a couple of beers. Thank you for taking time to write this article. Every photographer should read it!
    Regards
    Mick UK

  105. Ria Waugh

    Great read Matt! In addition to “Plug-in Bloat” I see many photographers (myself included) come down with a similar affliction called “Preset Bloat” in which they over-indulge in downloading literally hundreds of both paid and free presets for Lightroom and a variety of other Plug-ins. Then they (and again, I am certainly guilty of this) just straight out apply the Preset to whatever photo they are editing. They haven’t given much thought to the vision of the photo they are editing, but fall into the same trap you described of wanting to emulate a Photographer they follow. Don’t get me wrong, Presets are great for inspiration and can be used as a jumping off point for stylizing,, but they shouldn’t be applied like a blanket to every photo. They should be tweaked to suit the photo being edited and the vision for the final image. Like a magpie, I am still attracted to “shiny, new preset offers” that show up in my email, but I am trying to make a conscious effort to use them with a lighter touch and even develop my own that reflect my style and vision.

  106. Mary Ellyn

    Thanks for your thought provoking article. I agreed with so many of your points, although I have to admit that I own a lot of plug-ins, but I enjoy using them for different purposes and, fortunately, through taking webinars, watching video, and experimenting myself, I have a pretty good sense of what I want to do with an image post process-wise and will even comment to myself about how I intent to process the image and with what plug ins when I am taking a shot. I don’t do this all the time, just scenes that I know I want to go beyond what simple edits in LR or PS can do. And when I do explore and experiment, like I am currently exploring in On1 Raw, I am going to think about Plugin bloat and software overlap and assess what is right for me and the types of post process work that I like to do.

    I do have friends, however, that are simply overwhelmed by the choices that are out there and tend to do just simple editing in LR and are perfectly happy with that simple choice once they finally decide to concentrate on one workflow and learn how to do it well, even if it’s only the basics.

  107. Michael Dill

    Great read Matt. You always wonder when a new software comes out and it looks so good on one photo but your right, how many times will you use it on other photos.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article.

  108. Ross DeValois

    “I think photo editing is more about the art of the edit, and the vision for the photo – not the sliders. And honestly, I feel that’s where my strengths are when it comes to editing. Seeing that vision and using the right tools to get it there.”
    That pretty much sums it up for me…. I have a woodshop and I always tell everyone it’s not tools that are the problem, it’s me and my skill set using the tools I have. Granted buying a new tool is fun, and easy to rationalize that it will solve some perceived problem, but I see many creations turned out by those with much less nice tools but with an eye and skills I haven’t developed.
    You do a great job helping develop the skills, and indirectly our “eye”. Now if we could just buy the “Professional Eye App, with the ‘refined taste’ slider plug-in”………

    1. Frank Klein

      Matt, What a great read. Thanks.

      I’ve used Photoshop for over 10 years, and my work flow has been Camera Raw, Photoshop, and NIK.
      Collection. I bought the NIK programs `1 or 2 at a time, so they cost me a sum of money. I was upset when Google bought them out, and furious when I heard they aren’t going to update them.

      I played a little with Lightroom, but never got serious. Then I bought your Lightroom course.

      I am trying a 30 day try it of ON1. Seems like might be a replacement for NIK. What do you think?

  109. Jim Kahnweiler

    Hmmmm, commodification of image processors. After testing at least a dozen apps over the last couple of years, I definitely agree. I’ve been using Photoshop since version 2.5 and use it daily in my work in pre-press. All these programs are Photoshop-wannabes. And as you so rightly say, offer different pricing models.

    Adobe had to move to subscriptions; at one time only 15% of Photoshop users had paid. After testing, I found all these photo tools make similar adjustments, but with varying degree of success and efficiency. $120 a year is about what we paid when Adobe charged $165 for an upgrade every 18 months. And for $40 more per month, I get ALL the Adobe apps and services. Such a deal. Such hand wringing over price. That’s what tools cost. In most cases, the feature set of Photoshop and Lightroom exceeds everything else. You get what you pay for.

    And plug-ins? Many of them I thought were for users who don’t understand how to use Photoshop. Though, many also go way beyond the algorithms in Photoshop. Topaz Clarity comes to mind; it’s working the numbers in ways Photoshop does not. But the result often goes way beyond the traditional photograph aesthetic. It’s all about expressing your vision.

    Whatever works.

  110. William Campbell

    Matt, your readers are overwhelmingly applauding you for the well thought out and well written article. So you shouldn’t need one more person saying what a nice job you did. But…who cares…I’ll say it anyway. Nice job. I think you pickup well on the general frustration and amazement by average photographers about the plethora of photo editing tools hitting the market. I appreciate that you put yourself next to that confused photographer and said, “Listen to me, I’ve got some experience and you don’t need to worry about it. Let’s cut through all the marketing hype. Here’s what’s really important.” And you did it all without trying to sell something or push a product. Again, well done.

  111. Henry Lawrenson

    Hi Matt Great article. It might be interesting to know how many of your readers use similar software – originally Nikon Capture with Nik and then Lightroom, Photoshop and ON1. Do you think a survey would be worthwhile?

    I was interested in your analysis of the numbers of photo that you processed with the three software applications:

    “So my workflow today is the same as it’s been for years.
    •Start, Organize and Develop in Lightroom (100% of my photos)
    •Jump to Photoshop for something specific that LR can’t do (60-70% of my photos)
    •Head over to ON1 Effects for stylization and effects that I can’t do in LR (30-40% of my photos)”

    I do most of the post Lightroom processing in ON1 and wondered if there was a reason that you worked in Photoshop to a greater extent than ON1 for the post Lightroom work.

    For example, are there specific areas where you prefer Photoshop to ON1 for the post Lightroom processing or is it more that this is what works for you – more of a familiarity choice than a technical reason such as speed, performance etc.?

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Henry – For starters, I love the Photoshop/Lightroom combo. The integration between LR/PS is tighter than anything else. And they come together in the Adobe Photography 9.99 Package so it just makes sense. I’ve been using Photoshop for over 20 years and it’s just my happy place. It’s layers, selections, and retouching technology are all the places that I feel work for my photos the best. ON1 Effects is only about presets for me. Some effects that I know would take 10 layers to do in Photoshop, are just a click away to do in Effects which is why I make that jump on some photos. Hope that helps.

  112. Doug valentine

    Excellent article matt. Just a quick note for people who don’t like the subscription model. Here in the UK we can still get lightroom 6 from amazon for £99. And this has most features of cc that would be needed. Not sure if the same in other parts of the world.

  113. George Dewey

    Impressive article Matt. You hit the nail on the head. Even though you are not nessarily a man of few words, you have a clarity to what is said. And I actually understand where you are coming from. I have a feeling most of us using multiple programs, presets, brushes, etc.have been there. I have several of your video presentations and admit am somewhat envious of the ease at which you operate. Thank you for being in the business and helping the rest of us along the path. While much of my recent work has been in video, I still enjoy taking the time to developed a beautiful picture.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Thanks George – This was a tough one. I’m usually never write long-winded posts and I’m known for keeping my videos short. But I just couldn’t say what needed to be said in this one any shorter. I worked an embarrassingly long time on it too 🙂 I could have cranked out another course in the time I spent writing this. Take care!

  114. Allen B.

    I have read and reviewed this several times and really appreciated your insights. It is so easy to think the latest software will give me an edge. For the most part I use LR and Photoshop but have added ON1 10 since I feel it is easier to use than PS.

    As a retired engineer and engineering manage I saw this type argument related to Computer Aided Design. Whis CAD software is best? My answer was the one that you know best since it allows to do your work. I did not apply this to myself concerning post processing. I have jumped around a lot and added more software. LR is the one I know best but I have not even used all of its power.

    Thanks for a great article

  115. Volker

    Thanks Matt. I agree with everything.
    It’s like the answer to the question “What is the shortest way to a certain destination?” – “The way you know best.”

  116. Rui Lopes

    HI Matt, great article and I’m sure it will definitely help a lot of folks simplifying their creative lives as it makes total sense.
    I was pleasantly surprised to see you at the GRID today, just like old times 🙂 and, for the record, your style of teaching has been always superb. Greatly missed by the followers of Kelby One.
    I am in the midst of a family situation but in due time I will contact you with some Photoshop problem that I need to address, hopefully you can help me out with it. What is the proper way to contact you?
    Best regards,
    Rui

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hi Rui. Thanks for the kind words. Best thing to do is hit up the Forums page: https://mattk.com/forums
      There’s an “Ask Matt” section in there for questions that don’t relate to the areas in the other topics.
      Thanks!

  117. Edward Fox

    Hi Matt,

    On your recent appearance on The Grid, you expanded on this post. But I still don’t get why you would stop using plugins you like just because they’re unsupported. I’ll bet you use other products that are out of warranty. I agree with you that the day will come when Nik plugins no longer work and that you should prepare for that day. In the meantime, I will keep using Nik. I prefer it to the other plugins and apps presently available.

    I am using the Nik plugins with Affinity Photo. The plugins all work really well with Affinity except for Viveza. As for Affinity, you pretty much covered it. Affinity may as well be called Photoshop’s Greatest Hits.

    Also, thanks for all the good work. I have followed you online for a very long time and I have a couple of your books.

    Edward Fox

  118. Mrs. Chana Stein

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks for a great article. I am still confused though. I never bought any apps. I was one of many Photoshop Elements Users that was given On1 as a gift when the magazine Photoshop Elements User (is that what it was called?) closed down. I don’t have Lightroom and I don’t know what to use it for. All I know is PSE. I haven’t the faintest idea what to do with On1. What does it do that Photshop doesn’t? so what courses do you give? Do I need lightroom? Mostly I do school photography as a hobby. I do individual pictures, groups, and action.Where will is see the answer to this question? Please don’t put in my personal name.
    Photobubby

  119. Mike H

    Hi Matt,

    I agree with some of your ideas but I would go way further down the ladder than that. I have seen images from 10 year olds taken with cellphones and edited using $3.00 apps like PicsArt, Hipstamatic, etc that to my eye can also create any look that the apps you mentioned that most of use can for a fraction of the cost, a fraction of the time and some of their images are absolutely amazing. Also as a so-called “geek” I don’t see anything wrong with knowing the technical aspects of a hobby or see how that precludes us from having the same conundrum with plugins. Your comments might come accross as insulting in regards to who has a “more important mission” in life so you might want to rephrase that disclaimer a bit?

    You are right on with the ridiculous competition over what camera gear people use. No one gives a damn what camera you use or what your settings were for a given image anymore. I am more jeolous of younger kids with cellphones than folks with the newest overpriced Sony cameras bragging about 42MP image sensors. Anyone can see the work of these talented kids on Instagram and I am speaking about creativity, composition, perspective, etc. and not about e instant effects applied with the apps. The boundaries are all gone now.

    Just for fun I would say that education is also a commodity, and from the prices being charged it is a much bigger and in some cases a more profitable one than the photography software itself! Though personally I have spent more on presets than training. Lightroom is about $150 outright and VSCO was charging $110 for a preset pack that anyone of us could create from scratch!

    I am embarrassed about how much I spent on presets so far but that ended last year. Besides the training is much more useful and I would absolutely tell anyone to get some training on the main apps they use most often. Most training sites seem to be $10-$20 a month or more which is much more cost effective than a single VSCO preset pack. I was such an idiot to buy those presets and to even briefly consider buying a fancy $5,000 Sony mirrorless rig. At least I dodged that train wreck.

    Thanks

    Mike

  120. Penny Lisowski

    You just saved me lots of money. I bought programs and never used them and even updated them thinking this is the year. And usually because they were on sale. On1 Raw,( I use resize) Luminar, All the Topaz Collection ( i use some of them),All the MacPhun ( I use Snap Heal). But I use Lightroom and photoshop consistently and love the. I think I’m worried that they will increase the monthly cost out of my price range. I’m going to stop and think carefully about what I want my work flow to look like before I buy. Stop wasting my money on sales and special offers.. Thank You.

  121. Ednsb

    Matt, why didn’t you right this years ago before I became the poster child having used Aperture (thanks apple), Topaz, Nik (thanks Google), Lightroom , On1 Perfect 10.5, On1 Raw, MacPhun, Pixelmator, PS Elements, iPhoto, and Photos. No wonder I am confused. These have been the primary questions I’ve asked you and a lot of other people in the last 5 years or so. I had hoped On1 Raw would end up being my single solution but more and more I’m leaning toward a combination of Lightroom and ON1 10.5. Im a software guy for over 40 years and the sad thing about this glut is all of these products will not survive. Pretty sure Adobe will not go out of business in the near future but consolidation and failure will reduce the number of solutions out there. It happens in every vertical software applications group especially as they reach commodization. I think most of us get caught up in the process rather than the goal. Your statement about ” To me, it’s our job as photo editors to make them see what we saw, and make them feel what we felt about the photo – and that’s where post-processing comes in” hits the nail on the head. Once again thank you.

  122. Jay J. Brandinger

    A very interesting and appropriate set of comments about editing. Thank you for sharing. I went through the same process NIK etc. and ended up today with the same software and apps -Lightroom, Photoshop and ON1 Raw. I work at taking the best image with the camera, but many times I find they need post processing to satisfy what I was trying to capture. But, I have to admit that I get real satisfaction when the camera image needs minimal processing. Since I take images to learn and enjoy the world around me, I only have to satisfy one customer…me. I have published 5 photo books and am working on my next one. There is still so much more for me to learn, enjoy and record. Most of all I have begun to understand why I chose certain subjects, characterize them in certain ways and then create a story around them.
    Thank you for helping to simplify the post processing so I can spend more time doing the fun part of creating images with my camera. .

  123. Hans Jørgen Lindeløff

    Good read, Matt.
    Loved the comparison software/cameras, spot on! It doesn’t matter which camera or editing software people are using…its the end result that counts! What feelings the viewer gets from the photo…and that the photographer is happy with the creation.
    I must admit when I started using Aperture about 10years ago, I wanted the Nik bundle so bad…but never had the money to buy it…so when Google released it for free, I downloaded it as soon as I could, now as a Lightroom CC plug-in…
    BUT I have still not opened it for any of my pictures…
    I like it simple…all of my edits are in Lr, and some small touch-ups in Ps….
    that is also why I like the simplicity of iPhone photography…you don’t get frustrated of all the settings taking a photo.. 🙂
    You wait for the right light and the motif… and there you go.
    Thank you again for a well thought and written article..
    Hello from Norway
    Hans Jørgen Lindeløff

  124. Thales

    Hello Matt,
    Good that you came up with this post. It´s really a mess for everyone to choose, and most of all to take advantage of what it can accomplish. One point that I don´t see anywhere is the “why do we have to go over all those enhancing and modifying procedures” Sometimes I think that people don´t care anymore about the instant and the light and the special moment or the purpose of the original click on the camera. The craziness of post production just move the act of taking a good picture somewhat to obscurity. Ok that some things are useful to be done in post, like correcting a small thing here and there, or removing some annoying point that could not be done at shoot time, but what we see is that most people are trying to produce a new photo from the original with color retouching, with filters, with presets and so on. By the way a thing that those modifying presets came up from the phone applications that made very popular and funny for those that are really not in the photography world but suddenly had a piece of hardware that could be used just for fun. I remember, some time ago those japanese group with their cameras taking pictures of every thing on their site. Most of all all crap, but they had the technology and where able to buy those cameras very easily, but we, on the other side of the planet, did not have that kind of opportunity for the common people. Now with phones all changed. So in this scenario where taking a photo don´t cost anything, everyone can take any kind of photo, and most of them are really just a way to say “hey a got a picture”. So the tech guys came and said: ok they are carp but what if we could distorce those to be something funny and/or completely different from what it was so they can say: look how incredible… Yep, they did it and made a lot of money I think.
    To wrap all this I would say that all those post applications are the new reality and they are here to stay.
    They will improve with better algorithms and performance to handle the original work and moment of the shoot click, but they will not make you a better photographer, just a better illusionist. So stick with whatever you fill good with and try to keep the original moment. Don´t go crazy with those sliders, options or whatever it offers. Some basic things are worthwhile, like temp correction and exposure/contrast and so on. Others are just a way to create a new thing. This is not what a photographer work. This is a technical job done in someone else work (the real photographer). At the end this our reality I think, and we should be aware of it with all the good and bad it lead us on our work or hobby.

  125. Sohana Jesy

    HI Matt, I believe that your article is definitely helpful for all visitors. i have more benefited from your awesome article. thanks a lot for this best idea

  126. Shari Weidenbaum

    Matt… I enjoyed reading about this great debate. For me, it really all comes down to how to be a better photographer so you spend less time editing and more time shooting! True, its wonderful to have all these tools available when ‘some’ editing is required. I know a photographer he’s got a good eye. When he goes home and edits, the resulting or finished product becomes something other than reality. Nothing worse than taking a great hobby and turning it into ‘bad’.
    thanks for this opportunity to read so many lively comments!

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Thanks Shari – though I don’t know if I agree with your “Nothing worse than taking a great hobby and turning it into ‘bad’.”. Doesn’t seem fair to him. If he’s happy with his photos and how they turn out, I don’t know that it’s our place to judge it. So I’d say give him a break a little – some people have a different plan for their editing and I think it’s largely personal 🙂

  127. Randy Henderson

    Just stumbled across this article, great piece. I’d like to add however that for a select few of us, the road to bloat was more a journey of nostalgia than affliction of app hoarding. You see, I’m an Aperture user. And while it’s not quite made it to digital oblivion, I’ve come to accept that I need to move on. I really liked Aperture. It did pretty much everything I needed…management, editing and a couple of plug-ins if I felt like getting ‘artistic’. Being an Apple fanboy, I enjoyed living in the ecosystem, everything worked together well for me. When it was announced that Aperture was being shown the door, I anxiously awaited to see what it’s replacement (Photos) would look like. Perhaps predictably, I was disappointed. So, I started shopping around, read reviews, clipped coupons, loaded up the Applications folder but still haven’t been able replicate what I thought was a fairly simple workflow while at the same time being able to play effortlessly in my Apple sandbox. Perhaps it’s time to accept i can’t relive the past and lower my expectations. And clear out the bloat.

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