One thing about photographers: we love our tools. And we especially love shiny new ones. For the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be on the alpha testing team for one of my favorite tools: Adobe Lightroom. The alpha team are the folks that take the program for a test drive while the engineers are still duct-taping the engine together. It’s a photographer’s dream, not only playing and working with a brand new tool, but helping make it as good as it can be. But one unexpected side effect of helping make this new tool is how it has reinvigorated my appreciation and understanding of an old one — Photoshop.
For those who aren’t familiar with these tools, Lightroom was designed to let a photographer take a large number of photographs right off the camera, and quickly massage them into shape — sculpting their raw clay into your vision. This kind of work could be done in Photoshop, but since it was designed to work on one photograph at a time, it used to take forever. With its speed and flexibility, Lightroom has opened up new ways of working, and new ways of creating. Exciting stuff.
So, so much for Photoshop, right? Well, it is true that many people assume that Lightroom replaces the need to use Photoshop. But my experience has been different. I have found that this shiny new tool has actually reinvigorated my understanding and appreciation of this old, slightly rusty, but still powerful tool. It just requires that I relearn how to use it in my art. After using Lightroom for quite a while now, I don’t find that I am doing less work in Photoshop…. I find that I am doing different work in Photoshop. Since Lightroom has taken over the heavy lifting for getting a photograph into shape, this has freed Photoshop from those tasks, and allowed me to use it in more creative ways. Photoshop has begun to shift from its former role as a workhorse, into a subtle tool for quiet and detailed work. Freed from its production-level roots, I now use Photoshop to mediate on a single photograph, and carefully, stroke by stroke, help it achieve its full potential.
I love tools, and I love getting new tools. But sometimes, the best new tool is an old favorite.