The Complete Guide To Photography On Your Mac! (Part 3)

7/4/2013 9:14:49 AM

Image editing software

There’s a lot of choice when it comes to apps, so which is best for you?

One name dominates digital photo editing, and that’s Adobe. Its flagship Photoshop software is the professional industry standard – it’s used to help make the magazine you’re reading now, and it costs more than $900. Happily, there are alternative applications that won’t break the bank and that can do everything the photography enthusiast could ever need. The following is an overview of your top options.


Aperture is Apple’s pro-level raw image editing and organization tool, but it doesn’t come in at a pro-level price. It’s $82.5 on the Mac App Store, and although it’s tailored for dealing with raw images, it will happily edit your JPEGs and TIFFs too. Editing is completely non-destructive and the sheer number of sliders and variables means every aspect of your image is under your control.

When it comes to the high-end photo editing market, Apple’s Aperture regularly tussles with Adobe’s Lightroom for top spot.

When it comes to the high-end photo editing market, Apple’s Aperture regularly tussles with Adobe’s Lightroom for top spot.


a part of the iLife suite, iPhoto has been through many incarnations over the years but has settled into a comfortable niche as the Mac’s do-it-all, easy-to-use photo editor. iPhoto hides its complexity behind a host of one-click processes and an auto-enhance tool that will do all the work for you, even if you may not be 100% happy with the final result. That’s where its Adjust palette comes in – allowing you to deconstruct iPhoto’s editing choices and use only the ones you like, while adding your own until you’ve got a final image everyone will want to see. Apple’s new unified libraries mean that your iPhoto library is now the same as your Aperture library, so as long as you don’t have them both open at once, you can use the strengths of each to complement each other as you work.


Lightroom, from Adobe, can be seen as roughly analogous to Aperture. They both import and organize your photos, they will both edit your raw images as well as JPEGs, and they both represent a step up from iPhoto. In many reviews, Lightroom just edges Aperture in terms of final image quality, but it’s a close thing, and the choice between them generally comes down to your personal workflow preferences. Aperture will let you edit a thumbnail in your library if you want, while Lightroom separates itself into modules: you select an image in eth Library module, and take it into the Develop module to work on it. Like Aperture, Lightroom’s editing is non-destructive, and the price of about $13.5 isn’t too steep.

Image editing terms explained


In an image editing program, or on the back of your camera, the histogram is a graphical representation of the tines in your image. Brighter colors are to the right, and anything that falls off the right edge becomes pure white. These are called clipped highlights, and are usually undesirable. The same can happen with black shadows on eth left-hand side.

The histogram is a graphical representation of the color tones that comprise the image you are viewing/editing.

The histogram is a graphical representation of the color tones that comprise the image you are viewing/editing.


An editor’s Levels window allows you to manipulate the histogram. Moving the central midtone slider will brighten or darken the image, while moving the outer sliders in will alter contrast by spreading the tones more evenly between pure black and pure white. You can also clip highlights this way if any part of your image needs to be white. The Curves palette does a similar job, but is represented in a different way.


Skilled use of sharpening tools can improve an image greatly, most sharpening works by finding edges in your image and exaggerating the contrast between them. This makes the image appear more clearly defined to the human eye, but if taken too far can make a photo look harsh and unnatural. Use the Radius control to affect how sensitive the edge detection is.

Non-destructive editing

Many image editors keep your original image separate from the list of edits you make, which are only finally applied to the file you export from the editor. This means you can go back to the original photo you shot at any time and begin from scratch, or undo edits you made earlier but are no longer happy with. In Aperture, this is a simple case of unticking a box.

There’s an unalloyed freedom involved in non-destructive editing – you can revert to the original image at any time.

There’s an unalloyed freedom involved in non-destructive editing – you can revert to the original image at any time.

Photoshop Elements

Elements is Photoshop’s little brother, but punches far above its weight. Smart sharpening, content-aware fill, layer masks – all the headline Photoshop photo editing features are present. What Elements lacks are the professional printing, color management, vector drawing and 3D tools of the full-fat edition? It’s about a tenth of the price, though.

Elements also includes basic organization tools, as well as Quick and Guided modes that work rather like the automated features of iPhoto and allow simple color correction, blemish and red-eye removal plus a host of other commonly used tools. Expert mode, however, unleashes the full power of the software, although it leaves you on your own to experiment and, maybe, make mistakes. Judicious use of the Save As command is particularly important, as unlike the other apps we’ve mentioned, Elements does not offer non-destructive editing. However, switching into Expert mode will allow you to see all the edits made in Guided or Quick mode as a series of layers, allowing you to learn exactly how the software works.

Photoshop Elements also comes with the Adobe Camera Raw plugin, so if you’re shooting that way, you won’t need to convert your images in another application first.

Adobe Elements is the younger, leaner brother of Photoshop, but is still a powerful image-editing application in its own right.

Adobe Elements is the younger, leaner brother of Photoshop, but is still a powerful image-editing application in its own right.


Many camera manufacturers bundle editing software with their cameras. Nikon DSLRs come with View NX2, with an option to upgrade to its paid-for Capture NX2; Canon puts a Digital Photo Professional CD in with every DSLR; and Sony bundles a raw image converter too. Leica cameras often bundle Adobe Lightroom 4, and similar offers can be found from manufactures such as Samsung and Panasonic if you shop around.

Capture One is the offering from Phase One, a manufacturer of remarkably expensive medium-format digital cameras. Its software still works with consumer models though, and the cheaper Capture One Express comes in at a wallet-friendly $90. It claims to have a particularly fast workflow coupled with the best image quality of all editing software, but Aperture and Lightroom don’t trail too far behind.

DxO Optics Pro, which has a rather scientific approach to image editing, will set you back around $112.5, and its selling point is that it claims to correct the flaws introduced to images by camera lenses better than other software. Free trials of all these programs, except Aperture, are available online, and iPhoto may have come with your Mac, so it’s easy to decide which one suits you best, and if they live up to their claims.

The Gimp is completely free, and more like Photoshop Elements in Expert mode than any of the others. It has in eth past suffered from poor documentation and an unintuitive layout, but it now has built-in help, a downloadable manual, online tutorials and a customizable interface. The Mac version of the app even comes bundled with a raw image processing plugin.

Don’t forget Preview

Every Mac since the dawn of OS X has come with an application called Preview. It doesn’t get much attention, but it contains image editing tools that shouldn’t be ignored, especially as they come for free.

For a start, it can import form cameras and scanners directly from its File menu. Once your picture is open, drop down the Tools menu to find options to resize your image rotate and flip it and even make adjustments to exposure and color.

Choose the Adjust Color option from Tools and a palette will appear that looks very similar to those in Aperture or Lightroom. It has a histogram at the top to show your image’s levels, and sliders underneath to things like contrast, saturation and sharpness. Pushing the Saturation slider all the way left is a quick way to change an image to black and white, while the dedicated Sepia slider will give your picture a vintage look.

The Annotate option on the Tools menu lets you add a basic level of graphics to your image. Shapes and text can be overlaid on it and styled to your taste. It’s not Pages, but it’s reasonably easy to use.

The rectangular selection tool can be used to crop your images – drag out a selection and select crop from the Tools menu or press … + [K]. Remember that, in all cases, to preserve your original image you need to select Save As from the File menu rather than Save, and save your new image under a new name, as Preview does not offer non-destructive editing.

Be sure to investigate Automator too, which can do great batch-processing.

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