C. David Tobie: The Changing Role of Adobe Photoshop
Oct 2012 23

Photoshop: once the be-all and end-all of digital imaging; but no longer. There have always been Photoshop competitors, but none ever had the feature set, or the market reach, to seriously compete with Adobe’s flagship image editing application. But what competition alone could not alter, is changing over time, with other shifts in the industry.

RAW Formats Produced the First Cracks

When RAW file formats become common, and RAW converters from each camera company came on the market, Adobe responded with a RAW utility for Photoshop. Adobe Camera Raw became one of the most common ways to convert RAW files to “real” image files, meaning the types of universal file formats (Tiff, Jpeg etc) that we all considered to be the bedrock of imaging.

The changes did not stop there. Applications which performed RAW conversion, plus image storage and other functions, began to appear. Adobe’s entrance into that market came with the release of the first version of Adobe Lightroom. Before long, it became apparent that the types of adjustment tools in these RAW apps were actually more photo-centric than those in Photoshop. Adobe appeared to see the writing on the wall, and changed Lightroom’s name to Photoshop Lightroom. A technicality, but one that keeps the name Photoshop at the top of the image editing heap, one way or another.

Apple’s entrance into the RAW converter/Image Manager field with Aperture created stiff price competition for Lightroom, forcing the intial price of Lightroom to be much lower than Photoshop, and recent version prices to be lower still. This price differential has been an added factor in the move to RAW format apps for the majority of image editing work.

Mobile Imaging Provided the Second Front

The next sea-change was the move to mobile. While Adobe released a minor app for imaging on the iPhone early-on, other companies launched an all-out assault on the mobile image editing market, resulting in the odd situation of smaller companies like NIK providing superior image editing capabilities in third party image editors, and leaving the lesser features of Adobe’s PS Express in the dust. As the mobile imaging field matured further, both Adobe and Apple responded by releasing major image editing products for iOS.

The future of NIK’s award-winning SnapSeed for the iPhone and iPad, as well as their desktop applications, are in question, following the recent acquisition of NIK by Google. But we can rest assured that the surge in mobile imaging apps will continue unabated, from companies large and small, augmented by web apps of the Instagram-type; which seems the most likely field for Google’s NIK acquisition.

Photoshop CS6 Changes the Rules

The release of Photoshop CS6 heralded the next change in Photoshop’s role in our daily lives. The CS6 version introduces an interface more like that of Lightroom, and a backdrop that covers the main monitor’s screen behind Photoshop’s pallets and image windows, also somewhat similar to Lightroom’s full-screen interface, but without the total-control attitude of Lightroom.

This is a first-generation feature, and not without difficulties. It is most effective when images are “tabbed”, a function that locks them to the top of the screen, and allows them to be viewed by toggling between the tabs for each image. When using free-floating image windows, the new interface has more noticeable weaknesses, including the disturbing habit of “losing” image windows behind the background (which, by definition, should always be at the back), and difficulty accessing other applications while Photoshop is on-screen.

This rather minor change has wider reaching ramifications for casual Photoshop use. Historically, most users linked all common imaging formats to Photoshop, so that double clicking on most any image file would trigger it to open in Photoshop. However the new “black-out” effect of Application Frame mode makes it less practical for use in conjunction with other applications. Perhaps you need to have an image on screen while writing a critique of it, or need to read text from a screenshot while performing the steps it represents, or a hundred other such multi-app situations.

For such uses, Photoshop’s default state is no longer practical, and must be reset to it’s previous interface by choosing Window >Application Frame to uncheck the new Application Frame feature. However, there are some real advantages to having the Application Frame in place while working with Photoshop for serious image editing work. So an alternate solution is use Photoshop as a dedicated advanced image editor, not a general image viewer. This means finding another application which can be conveniently used for the types of casual image display that Photoshop does not specialize in.

Image Viewer Utilities Come to the Rescue

For Mac and Windows users, Graphic Converter is one reasonable low cost choice, which allows navigation amongst a group of images. But there is an even less expensive alternative on the Mac, with some clear advantages. That is Apple’s own Preview app, which is installed free with Mac OS X.

Preview is ideal for opening a range of file types, including common image formats. And it offers an excellent way to view a group of images. Command click on the various images you would like to view. Now Control-Click on one of them, and from the contextual menu that appears, choose Open With > Preview.

This will result in an image viewing window with a vertical set of thumbnails of your selected images on the left, and the first image in the group at a larger size on the right. The size of the previews can be adjusted by moving the border between the preview and main view sections to the left or right. The size of the larger image can be adjusted by dragging the lower right corner of the window. The Arrow Down and Arrow Up keys can be used to navigate the series of images. Preview is a color managed utility, so your images will display correct color on screen.

This method of displaying one or more images, and an array of other file types, while not losing the convenient ability to work in other applications at the same time, makes Preview a useful tool for everyday imaging tasks. Give it a try, or start your own search for a favorite image viewer for daily use.

C. DAVID TOBIE has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early development. David has worked to see affordable solutions put in place for graphic design, prepress, photography and digital imaging, and then taught users how best to utilize them. He has consulted internationally for a wide range of color-related companies, and is best known by photographers for his writing and technical editing of texts and periodicals for the photo industry such as Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photographic workshop around the globe. David is currently Global Product Technology Manager at Datacolor, where he develops new products and features for their Spyder line of calibration tools. His work has received a long line of digital imaging product awards including the coveted TIPA award, and a nomination for the Spyder line of calibration tools. Much of David’s recent writing can be found at his photography blog: cdtobie.wordpress.com, and his samples of his photography can be seen at: cdtobie.com.