The Photo (Vendor) Wars Have Heated Up

Yes, it’s been a month and a half since I threatened promised a post with photos.  That’s longer than I anticipated, largely because trying to combine a work schedule with the time needed to catalog and edit some 1,100 photos takes longer than I’d hoped.  My full-time work schedule isn’t 24 hours a day, and neither is my photo editing.  I’m also playing a lot of guitar of late.  😄

I did manage to make a first pass through the entire batch and uploaded the majority of them to my Smugmug account.  I created a gallery named Greek Island Easter Odyssey 2022. It’s still a first pass, as I expect to be adding/updating it further.

So, what is this post all about?  It’s a revisit to the photo tools I’ve used over the years.  I’m a bit of a hoarder collector, and the photo processing software companies are in business to capture dollars like any other business.  I’ve collected a bit of freeware as well as commercial products, and that’s likely where my troubles lie.

Every photo editing tool has a set of core features and its own user interface which attempts to make the program easy to use.  The first problem I have is that they all include capabilities that I either don’t understand, or behave the same way.  For example, I have Photoshop, the granddaddy of all photo tools, but the program baffles me with its use of layers and masks.  And since these feature intimidate me, I tend to shy away from them.  Some are feature-specific, such as easyHDR, which does a terrific job on single photos, turning them into high-dynamic resolution images.  It’s apparently a one-man labor of love which has been around since 2006.  There is a single cost (about $33US) for lifetime upgrades, which makes it a terrific value, in my opinion.

But where my frustration (or anxiety, perhaps) occurs is trying to determine which of the “big three” are the best tools for the job.  For purposes of this article, the Big Three are the various products offered by Adobe, Skylum, and ON1.

Adobe is the market leader and is the target for all competitors.  However, it takes a master craftsman to produce usable photos in Photoshop, so I’ll limit my discussion to its companion program, Lightroom.  Adobe positions Lightroom as a photo cataloging tool, but it has a superb set of editing tools in its own right.  Skylum’s flagship product is Luminar, the latest iteration now called Luminar Neo.  ON1’s premier program is ON1 Photo RAW 2022.5 (as of this writing).  I own all but the Neo program, but I might fork over the money to upgrade to it, as well.

Luminar advertises its Neo program as working as a standalone program, or as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Photos.  ON1 provides a means to “pass off” editing to Lightroom, and Lightroom reciprocates by incorporating other programs into its capabilities.

I’ve never found using one program as a plug-in for another useful.  I pretty much get the results I want by using features of one program.  And this is where the real difficult issue comes in for me.  Both Luminar and ON1 are now offering “AI” (artificial intelligence) features, which purport to automate certain tasks.  Luminar is boasting portrait background removal.  ON1 has noise filtering and sky swapping that are quite impressive, as well as an “intelligent” resize capability that allows one to enlarge an older or smaller digital image.  Pretty nifty!

I might not have shaken the tree had it not been for the fact that some of the images I took in Greece appeared a bit lackluster due to the clear skies everywhere.  I started to play with the Sky Swap AI feature in ON1 and it changed my whole perspective on photo editing!  This is the first photo I shot that I tinkered with.  No, it’s not realistic in a very critical sense, but it has a dramatic effect that can’t be denied:

Temple of Athena Nike

The original image, which is yet unpublished, was a bit underexposed and the sky was an even blue.  The second photo I modified was a bit more realistic appearing.

Dusk at the Acropolis

So, now my juices are running and the vendors have done their job:  They have found another way to separate me from my money. Sigh.

But if I can improve even more than above, it will be worth it!

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