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Photoshop CS5 Hand On Preview for Photographers

Well, it's officially out now. The final build of Adobe Photoshop CS5 is now available for purchase or download as a trial. I've been using the beta of CS5 for some while now and wanted to offer some thoughts on what all this means for photographers.

If you read the marketing materials, the standout features in Photoshop CS5 are probably the Puppet Warp and the Content Aware Fill, but there are plenty of others. Puppet Warp allows you to place control points on an object and then bend and move that object in a remarkably lifelike fashion. I can see this being quite useful for party games and circus funhouses. I'm hard pressed to think of a practical use for it in my work, but I must admit it is a lot of fun.

You can think of Content Aware Fill as being what you wished the Patch tool were. At least if you wished for a patch tool that could remove people, whole buildings and other large objects from your images. Playing with it can be really fun, but in practical terms I really don't need to remove people, whole buildings and other large objects. I'd rather shoot better composed images to begin with, or at least present reality as it actually is in my photography. But if this is something you need to do, Photoshop CS5 does it quite well indeed.

Selection tools get some cool enhancements in CS5 as well that will be right up your alley if you do image compositing. Photoshop CS5 can do an excellent job of decontaminating the edges of your selection based on color and content, making formerly complex selections now almost simple. This sort of sophisticated selection capability used to be the exclusive domain of expensive third-party filters, but with this include in CS5 I can see things getting interesting in the future.

Photoshop CS5 comes with Adobe Camera Raw 6 that features some of the improved noise reduction capability already available in the beta releases of Lightroom 3. If you haven't seen the results possible in the Adobe Lightroom 3 beta, you're in for a surprise. Camera Raw 6 is an excellent raw converter and clearly the best one Adobe has come out with yet.

One of my favorite features in the new release is the improved High Dynamic Range (HDR) handling. For those not familiar with HDR, by taking multiple shots of a subject at different exposures and then blending them, you can overcome the limited dynamic range your camera and traditional image formats are capable of. What you end up with is an image in a 32-bit per pixel floating point format that is capable of fully describing in complete detail objects in total shadow as well as those in blazingly intense light, all in the same image. The problem though is that there's not much you can do with such an image since no monitor or printer today can come close to rendering it in its native format. In order to actually do something with an HDR image you have to "tone map" it to fit within the traditional 8- or 16-bit brightness range we all have been working with. This might seem to defeat the whole purpose of HDR, but there are ways to compress the dynamic range so as to trick the eye into seeing what appears to be a real image that would otherwise have been impossible to capture. A lot of people have taken tone mapping HDR to the extreme and turned this whole subject into a tool for creating "hyper-real" works of art. But if you want to use HDR to create images that fit within what could be considered realistic photography, the Merge to HDR dialog of Photoshop CS5 is very useful tool indeed. It features dramatically improved tone mapping functions that make getting natural looking results much easier and also does a great job of auto-aligning the source images to prevent artifacts where objects or your camera moved slightly between exposures.

Another great feature for photographers is the Lens Correction filter that makes use of the EXIF data embedded in modern digital images to automatically fix pincushion, barrel and other lens distortions based on the particular lens being used. DxO Optic Pro still does a better job of this in my opinion, but it's great to have this feature right there in Photoshop so I can do everything I need in one tool. If it doesn't seem like Photoshop CS5 can fix the problems created by your lens, Adobe Labs provides a utility to create your own camera and lens profiles for use with the Lens Correction filter. Users can share profiles they create too.

Unlike CS4 that supported 64-bit processing on Windows only, Photoshop CS5 supports it on both Windows and Mac OS. I know a number of Mac users that have long been waiting for this day. Driver support for scanners has been upgraded to TWAIN 64 on both platforms too. Hopefully now that Adobe has fully embraced 64-bit on both platforms the remaining third-party plug-in makers will finally be convinced to release 64-bit versions. Up till now, I find myself switching back to the 32-bit version far too often, just to work in an environment that has everything available. The Windows 64-bit version of CS4 is slightly faster than the 32-bit, but that has generally been outweighed by the lack of support available for 64-bit. In testing so far, the 64-bit CS5 version is even faster compared with the 32-bit than was CS4. Here's to hoping that the future truly is 64-bit and that I can leave 32-bit behind some day. GPU acceleration features have been enhanced in CS5 as well.

Oh, and one of the all time puzzlers for new users in Photoshop has finally been resolved in CS5. In the past, if you were working in 16-bits per pixel the Save dialog only presented you with formats that supported 16-bit images. This meant that when you went to save a 16-bit image as a jpeg, you couldn't since jpegs only support 8 bits per pixel. As of Photoshop CS5, the conversion from 16-bit to 8-bit can quietly happen as part of the Save action. Adobe fixed this same issue in the Save for Web dialog a few versions back, but now the regular Save command gains this capability too.

There are numerous smaller features throughout CS5 as well including the Mixer brush that simulates natural bristles and on-canvas paint mixing, a nice "rule of thirds" overlay feature, easier black and white conversion, various user interface enhancements, and a new version of Bridge too that is now available directly in Photoshop as a "mini" Bridge.

Upgrades to the new version are only available to licensed users of Photoshop CS2 and above, or Photoshop Elements 6 and above. Gone are the days when Adobe would let you upgrade from any old version. If you don't qualify you'll get to pay full price. You can try buying a qualifying version used and upgrading it, but you'll find little available right now since plenty of other folks are trying to do the same thing. If you're considering upgrading, keep in mind that upgrades are also available for the CS5 suite options too.

If you can afford it, Photoshop is an amazing tool, and CS5 is the most amazing yet. If you're a photographer though and already have CS4, You may be wondering if it's worth it to upgrade. The improved HDR processing capability and Camera Raw 6 noise reduction are probably what interest me most, but there are plenty of changes from big features to small tweaks that are of at least some interest. I doubt I'll use the Puppet Warp for much. The content aware fill makes for the best way yet to remove dust spots and blemishes but I rarely remove actual objects so I'm not salivating over this feature as much as others may be. All in all, Adobe is very good at including just enough in each new release to tempt serious users. If you use Photoshop to manipulate images to create composite works then Photoshop CS5 is filled with great features you can make use of. For photographers the decision will probably require more thought but still seems worth it for many. Recommended, depending on your needs and budget.

Date posted: May 2, 2010


Copyright © 2010 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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