22 Dec 2013

Clarity: Why I love Photoshop Elements 12

For far too long I relied on Canon's DPP and Serif's PhotoPlus 4 for my photo processing, using Canon's Zoombrowser to do an initial review of photos before deciding which ones to process (I always shoot in RAW, so there will always be some processing, even it if it isn't very much). A couple of months ago, however, I was forced to give up my usual methods, after purchasing my first ever Mac (the retina display was just too tempting). Neither Serif nor Zoombrowser are compatible with Macs, so I had to find an alternative. I managed to reinstall the newest version of DPP, but Canon's Zoombrowser equivalent for Macs (Imagebrowser) is absolutely horrible - you can't just open photos and review them, you have to separately import them first, which is not ideal when you save your photos on external hard drives that you're plugging in and unplugging all the time. Additionally, it kept crashing, and so I gave up.

I tried Gimp for a while, but it just didn't feel great to me. I read a few reviews and decided to give Elements 12 a go. I'd tried the most recent version of Lightroom back in April when the beta version came out but didn't like the way you had to import photos again - it just didn't suit my workflow. Elements, on the hand, allows you to open photos straight from the directory where they are saved. I played around with it for a while, making similar adjustments as I'd made in DPP with the exposure, photo style etc. but the thing I discovered that sold it to me is the Clarity controller. The shadow and highlight recovery sliders are also way better than on DPP, but it is the Clarity function that has made all the difference (and made me actually buy the programme once the free 30-day trial was up). It is also a great deal faster than DPP, which even on my brand new powerful Mac takes forever to process and save.

Once the RAW adjustments have been made there's the usual host of adjustments, masks and filters (the clone button is brilliant, adding copyright text is simple, correcting perspective is easy, etc.). I don't do a huge amount of processing, and now I've discovered the clarity function I need to do even less!

Here's a couple of examples of a long exposure photo I took underneath Bournemouth Pier just after sunset recently, shown after conversion to jpeg with no adjustments, and then shown processed in DPP and Elements.

This is the original just saved straight off from a jpeg (with copyright text added in Elements). There is very little detail in the dark shadows and the sky is overblown and the photo looks dull.
This one was processed using Canon's DPP - the shadows are still lacking any oomph and the highlights are overblown. If I turned up the contrast the shadows just got too dark and the highlights even more overblown.
Last but not least, this was processed in Photoshop Elements 12, which I think is the most pleasing of the three. There's more detail seen under the bridge than the eye would be able to discern, but I've tried not to overdo it and make it look like an HDR shot (it is easy to go a bit over-the-top with the clarity and make images look hyper-real (or rather, unreal)).
I'm looking forward to exploring the package even more (eg how do I get the thumbnails big enough to actually see the shot before opening it? etc.). But for now, DPP is going to take a backseat and Elements is the one for me.

More photos of my recent trip to Bournemouth Beach can be found on my website.

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