In the last post I declared that Photoshop is essential to effective photo editing. Let's now explore why this is true. While parametric editing with applications like Lightroom and Aperture are efficient, convenient, and non-destructive, we often need access to the tools and capabilities of Photoshop. In fact, I'd argue that we always need them—as long as we have the time and resources to do so.

It should be noted that more and more plugins are available to be used with Lightroom and Aperture without the intervention or support of Photoshop. This drastically extends capabilities. But, it also creates a new image file, much like what we get with the roundtrip to Photoshop. So, I'd argue that we might use these plugins with Photoshop instead as it ultimately gives us much more control.

Let's get back to listing the advantages of Photoshop editing. This is a huge topic about which volumes have been written. It's just that way with Photoshop. Approaching even the simplest of subjects feels like going down the rabbit hole into strange and expansive worlds. The topics, discussions, variations, and possibilities just never seem to end. But, let's try to keep this succinct for now and distill it down to the essentials. I'll list here the most important capabilities that Photoshop has that I need on my important images. They are:

  1. Channels Editing & Utilization: Channels are probably the most important source of image information and editing that you have. No matter what you are doing with an image one or more of the channels are waiting to help you. Access to them is essential. Applying them is critical.

  2. Color Spaces: RGB is the standard color space (or mode) most of the time these days, but LAB and CMYK are absolutely necessary for many kinds of edits. LAB is particularly useful for color separation and enhancement, sharpening and noise reduction—and a thousand other things. You'll also need CMYK if you are dealing with commercial printing but it's tremendously useful for many other kinds of edits and moves as well.

  3. Masks and Alpha Channels: While both Lightroom and Aperture do allow selective editing and even provide on-the-fly masks (in truly innovative ways) we often need real masking and alpha channels for effective edits and compositing. Alpha channels are the way we save complex selections for future use.

  4. Cloning: Yes, you can clone and heal with other applications—that is if your needs are simple. But extensive healing and cloning are best done with Photoshop.

  5. Advanced Retouching and Repair: This is akin to # 4 but goes way beyond it. Sometimes you need to do major repair work or retouching on images. You simply need Photoshop for this kind of work. Accept no substitutions.

  6. Fine-Tune Color Correction: Yes, you can have remarkable control with other image editors when it comes to essential color correction. But, you do not have the granularity, fineness of control, or the necessary data that Photoshop provides. Color correction is finicky stuff and bunch of sliders and hidden algorithms are often not enough. Photoshop gives you everything you need and more.

  7. Compositing: Here's where the magic lives. Your imagination can combine various image files in infinite ways. Images can be combined to create your own worlds and to realize your own vision. Only Photoshop does this.

  8. Layers: Layers are the most important and effective way to build up the edits of an image and to keep track of them in a graphical way. Layers also give one the ability to add styles, blend modes and advanced blend modes. Editing an image without layers gives me a headache. I can't keep track of my work and that is never a good thing.

  9. Blend Modes: In a nutshell, blend modes are mathematical ways of combining layers. Photoshop has twenty seven of them. Some are rather esoteric. More than a few are simply and utterly essential. I can't live without them. They provide capability, control, compositing wizardry, and editing horsepower.

So, there you have it: nine essential reasons why Photoshop remains at the top of the mountain and the king of photographic editing. But, we've only just begun. Now we'll explore each of the nine reason in considerable depth. And we'll start with #1 in the very next post.