I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Adobe owning our photos, and being locked in to their software for our editing needs. Or maybe you think one day you won’t need the software, for whatever reason, and you’re worried your photos will be locked in to a subscription that you need to keep paying in order to see them. Or maybe you just want to take a photo software break, but occasionally still look at your photos even if you’re not paying a subscription fee.

While most of you are using Adobe, I think that – overall – knowing a little more about what being tied to any photo editing software app means can help you understand and feel more at ease.

Let’s dive in and take a look at this from a couple of perspectives because both are a bit different. First we have your Raw Editor and then we have your image (pixel pushing) editor – and they do work a little different.

Before We Get Started: This is NOT a “You should use Adobe”, or a “Subscription is good or bad” or any post to get you to feel one way or another about any software. This is a post meant to help you understand how “locked in” or not you are to photo editing apps, and what being tied to any one software really means.

Your Raw Editor is Your Basket

I got a question from some one the other week asking about how I use Lightroom over Lightroom Classic. They mentioned how that sounded good to them because it doesn’t need a catalog and they’ve always felt that a catalog was proprietary. They were worried about having “all of their eggs” in the Adobe basket, if they used LrC because of that catalog.

While I’m personally happy to be rid of a catalog system, it has nothing to do with proprietary software, etc. When you use a raw editor you are using that company’s special sauce for decoding, reading, viewing and editing that raw photo. Every company has it’s own proprietary software for doing this, and they don’t talk to each other. In a sense, It really is the secret sauce.

Making a Shadows adjustment, as an example, isn’t an industry wide adjustment that is recognized by a governing body of image editors. There is a complex set of tonal values being read, masks being created on the fly (even if you don’t see them), and adjustments being made to the photo. Some companies invest an incredible amount of man-power to making this better, smoother, and more pleasing to the eye. Others do not.

So adjusting Shadows in an Adobe editor are all the same since it’s all Adobe code. However, adjusting shadows in another raw editor (like Capture One or ON1, or Skylum) will look and feel different from Adobe. I personally think Adobe does this best, followed closely by Capture One. And those are pretty much the only two raw editors I’d trust my photos with.

But any way you slice it, it is proprietary. So my shadows adjustment of +31 will look different in Adobe than it will any of those other editors. While ON1 and Capture One (what’s with the 1’s already!?) do have conversion tools, they are not worth it. Trust me, your images will not look the same and you’ll have to edit them from scratch, to get there again. I’ve yet to ever hear from one person that was happy with this process and it’s results.

In short, the moment you edit a raw photo in most of your popular raw editors, you’re placing your eggs in their basket. Whether or not you use a catalog system and can transfer your keywords, metadata and all that, your edits are not transferable in spite of what their marketing says. You will essentially lose your edits if you change raw editors. This isn’t Adobe’s fault, this isn’t ON1’s fault, this isn’t a camera company issue, etc… It’s just the way the world works, and each company is protecting their property and proprietary code (that they paid A LOT of money for) by doing this.

Photoshop and Image Editors

When I say image editors, I’m really talking about pixel pushing image programs like Photoshop, Affinity, Corel, Gimp and others. These are different from “instruction based” raw photo editors, which is why we’re always able to do more to photos in these pixel pushing programs, than a raw editor.

This part differs a bit from the first one because the files are typically readable in many programs the same way. For example, if you open a JPG, GIF, or PNG file in any almost any image editor, it will look pretty much the same. That’s because your edits are in essence “baked” in to those formats. They can’t be undone and these image formats are considered final.

Now, PSD and TIFF files can contain layers – even though they don’t have to. PSD files (stands for Photoshop Document) can surprisingly be opened in many image editors that are not even created by Adobe. That’s because years ago companies recognized that Adobe had become the standard. So if you open a 1 layer PSD file, or 1 layer TIFF file in most of those editors, it’ll look the same.

However, most of these programs also support layers, and masks and adjustment layers, and whatever… in different ways. So if I open a PSD file with 5 layers, some of them containing adjustment layers and smart filter layers, they will probably not look the same or act the same and I won’t be able to edit certain layers from one program in another one. That’s because ON1, Affinity, etc… can’t edit a Photoshop Adjustment layer and vice versa.

So if you have a lot of Photoshop files with a lot of proprietary adjustment layers, smart object layers, Generative fill layers, and smart filter layers, then your eggs are in the Photoshop basket and it would be hard for you to switch without doing a significant amount of rework to your images.

If you’re like me, and mostly use Photoshop to remove distractions and maybe the occasional sky or background replacement, and flatten just about every Photoshop adjustment along the way, then that’s not as big of an issue to open in another program. Regular layers with only transparency and masks are (mostly) easily read between various image editors.

Side Note: Program compatibility IS NOT the reason why I don’t use a lot of layers and I flatten layers often… I just favor simplicity, and don’t often have to go back and use those layers to re-edit an image, personally. Some of you differ, which is totally fine.

In short, some of your Photoshop edits will show up fine in other programs and some won’t. The file format doesn’t really even matter much, since most other image editors will read PSD files just as well as they’ll read a layered TIFF file. It just may not be able to show you all of those layers or edit them like you’re used to in Photoshop.

What Can You Do About All Of This?

The last questions to ask yourself is does any of this matter and what can we do about it? I understand some people are hesitant to put all of your eggs in one basket. But as I pointed out, with raw photos, the moment you choose a program and edit those files in a raw editor, your eggs are there and there’s nothing you can do about it.

If you stay with that program, then no sweat. If you decide to move raw editors, then you could re-edit those raw files if you need, or just leave them alone. Even if you don’t subscribe anymore, you can open Lightroom to see / export your photos in to different non-proprietary formats like JPG, TIFF, PNG – you just can’t edit them anymore.

With Photoshop your eggs are definitely not on one basket. As I pointed out, there are certain things that PSD or TIFF files opened in other programs can do and show, and there are things they can’t.

A Simple Solution

All of us reading this have to face the fact that 1) We may not have an interest in using editing software one day, or 2) We may not be around to do it. So what then? Do we (or our loved ones) need to keep subscribing to these programs to view our photos?

Absolutely not. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

For me, whenever I’m done editing a photo that I like a little – Notice I said “a little”. I may not love it but I like it enough to have spent some time on it. After editing, I simply save it as a full resolution un-resized JPG in to a folder called “Matt’s Favorites”. Even if that folder has thousands of images in it, it’s relatively small in size and easily backed up. When I want to get to a favorite photo, that’s where I go and that’s where anyone that would access my computer (if I weren’t around) could go. And a JPG can be opened anywhere, and you can print it, put it in a book, or do whatever you want with it just as good as you could a PSD, TIFF or whatever else.

Last Thoughts

One last thing to consider. If you do ever decide to switch photo editing software, this all applies in reverse. Every software company will do their best to keep you with their software, so their edits won’t show up the same elsewhere.

Some of this discussion has popped up as a result of Adobe’s Terms of Service (FAQ Link Here). If you do your research, all of the good photo editors out there have the same terms of service that Adobe does. I just looked up Capture One’s TOS and they have a cloud option too. And their TOS for cloud files reads almost identical to what Adobe’s did – yet somehow they escaped the internet rage that Adobe recently experienced. At least Adobe went back to make theirs more plain-English-like. C1 hasn’t yet, so it reads like a bunch of legal gibberish.

And they ALL (yes I said ALL), want you on a subscription. If they have a perpetual version just know they don’t want to offer it to you, and will do everything in their power to make sure you pay every year to continue to use their software. This isn’t opinion… it’s fact. They’ll use it to their advantage in marketing to you, but rest assured if it’s good software, they will get you to pay some how.

Hopefully this cleared up a few things if you were ever worried about the impact of using an photo editing app for the long term and what would happen to your photos if you no longer used that app. Thanks for stopping by!



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