What Photoshop?

Not long ago I took Adobe to task for a poorly executed upgrade path from their expensive Photoshop CS5 to Photoshop CS6. Today, I am calling them on the carpet for their most egregious mistake:

Confusing the H*LL out of their potential clients with an armada of similarly named, poorly differentiated, expensive products. To the casual observer the cost of that fleet of products ranges from expensive to “I have to forego buying a camera so I can edit my photos” expensive.  Nearly daily my students ask me whether they should buy Photoshop and WHICH ONE!

The discontinuation of sale of Photoshop through normal sales channels has simplified the picture considerably since this article was originally written. The choices are:
Photoshop CC (through Creative Cloud), Photoshop Elements, and Photoshop Lightroom (Creative Cloud OR retail sales).  However it’s worth reading through the rest of this article for some historical perspective. 

Isn’t Photoshop Too Expensive?

Let me weigh in on the expensive part first.  Photoshop CS6 Standard Edition (I’ll try to disentangle what that means in a moment) ranges from about $600 at Amazon to $700 directly from Adobe it sure sounds expensive.  But if you think of it as you would  say a sweet new lens for your camera it suddenly sounds less outrageously expensive. If you are willing to invest in Adobe’s future by taking a chance on their wobbly Cloud offering you can “rent” Photoshop for as low as $50 per month (or $20 per month depending on the plan – or even as little as $10/month).

So yes, it’s expensive. The question is: will it make your photos more impressive like a $600 lens might? My answer is yes, if you’re willing to do the time learning Photoshop’s incredible awesome power and escape Photoshop’s maddening quirks.

And for the kind of photography that I do: night photography with layers and complex operations there really is no equal that I am aware of.  GIMP is a free independently written Photoshop alternative. At the moment it is limited to 8 bit operations – though a 16 bit version is in beta. For many years I couldn’t bear the outrageous price of Photoshop so I used PaintShopPro with great success. Eventually I realized that the power I wanted required a payment so I stuck my toe into Photoshop CS3. Later it was CS5 and most recently CS6.  Of course since it is my business to produce prints and teach students about night photography, I get to deduct Photoshop as a cost of doing business. That doesn’t make it cheaper, though, does it.

What Version of Photoshop?

As I noted in the opening paragraph, Adobe has really made a mess of their products.  Here is a PARTIAL list of Photoshop choices for the LATEST version and the cost of each as reported on Adobe’s website. Costs are rounded to the nearest tens.

  • Photoshop CS6 $600
  • Photoshop CS6 Upgrade $200
  • Photoshop CS6 Extended $1000
  • Photoshop CS6 Extended Upgrade $400
  • Photoshop Elements 12 $100
  • Photoshop Elements 12 Editor ?
  • Photoshop Elements 12 with Adobe Premiere Elements $150
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 $150
  • Design Standard CS6  $1300
  • Design and Web Premium CS6 $1900
  • Production Premium CS6 $1900
  • Master Collection CS6 $2600
  • Creative Cloud $240/year OR $350/year OR $600/year

The underlined items are bundles that contain Photoshop in them, that’s why they are more expensive.  The items in italics are in fact not really Photoshop except in name.  Think of them as Photoshop Light with simpler interfaces and fewer features. And the above does not show the Student/Teacher pricing which is yet another kettle of smelly fish.

In a nutshell for the kind of photo processing I do, Photoshop CS6 (not Extended, and definitely not Elements) is the tool of choice.

If you’re wondering whether you need the latest version: probably not. CS3, CS4 or CS5 will do just fine if you find them discounted somewhere and are careful to buy the FULL package, not an upgrade. Beware as there are many counterfeiters and scams – only buy from a reputable company.

What Adobe Tool Do you Need?

One more frustration for me is that Adobe does a very poor job differentiating its products.  You have to be a student of Adobe to understand how Illustrator differs from Photoshop from In Design, from Lightroom, etc. Or worse if I want to make a timelapse video which tool is the best one: Premiere Pro, Premiere Elements, After Effects, Photoshop, Photoshop Extended, Encore?  It’s hard to say unless you have an PhD in the Adobe marketspace – I don’t.

But You Haven’t Mentioned Lightroom!

You noticed that, eh? I own it, but I don’t like Lightroom. The photo editing interface for Lightroom is much more intuitive than the one in Photoshop, and Lightroom lets you sort, tag, organize and catalog photos with some really great features. My pet peeve is that Lightroom is slower than a frozen slug in a snowstorm and it forces me to “Import” everything I want to work on. Lightroom doesn’t do layering which is the key thing I need for optimum photo results.  The free Picasa tool (from Google) does the cataloging, sorting and keywording I want along with less impressive, but passable photo editing.  The Picasa method for straightening photos is awesome, quick and dead simple. Besides, most everything Lightroom can do Photoshop or Photoshop plus Bridge (or Adobe Camera Raw) can do more powerfully – if you can figure it out, that is.

Still, Lightroom does provide some pretty powerful features and allows non-destructive editing. But at a cost both in $ and time.

Bottom Line?

Photoshop is powerful. You can go farther with it than without it, and best of all there are a LOT of resources around to help you learn Photoshop – like StarCircleAcademy.com and books by Harold Davis (and many others).  Unfortunately lots of resources are needed because while Photoshop is a powerful weapon it is also a many-headed monster that requires developing some good wrestling skills.


4 thoughts on “What Photoshop?

  1. Harold Davis

    Thanks Steven for your clear points cutting through the “cloud” of confusion. And also thanks for mentioning my books.

    You might want to add the following point that increases the branding confusion: the official name for Lightroom is “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom”—although, of course, it is not Photoshop at all.

    1. Steven Christenson

      Come to think of it, that means that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Touch is not far behind 🙂
      Adobe Photoshop Touch is the iPad version of Photoshop.

      Looks like they have also stopped bundling Photoshop with Lightroom, I mean “Photoshop Lightroom”. For the premium price it would make more sense to get EVERYTHING called “Photoshop” when you buy Photoshop. But I’m no marketing genius.

  2. Mike Lewinski

    It’s funny how in some contexts “photoshopped” has become a term of derision, meaning “this image has been manipulated to fool you”, even thought most images we see have been photoshopped in some way. I wonder what Adobe does to counter their trademark dilution.

    I’ve stayed with GIMP for my needs, which haven’t included printing much yet. I do prefer more time in the field photographing to editing anyway.


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