Photoshop CS3: If You Have Not Already, Now Is The Time to Upgrade

Full Size Preview in Bridge to Review an Image for Dust or Blemishes
Full Size Preview in Bridge to Review an Image for Dust or Blemishes

You can purchase Adobe Photoshop for the Mac directly through B&H; Photo here. You can puchase Adobe Photoshop for Windows directly here. You can purchase an upgrade from Adobe Photoshop CS2 to CS3 for the Mac here. You can purchase an upgrade from Adoble Photoshop CS2 to CS3 for Windows here. The links above are to B&H; Photo which is my top recommendation for where people ought to buy their camera and photographic gear online. B&H; has some of the best prices and best service in the business and is where I buy all my own camera gear personally.

One of the requests that I get a lot from people is for me to talk about how I process my photos. I’m going to use this post to talk a bit about that and also to talk about how extremely happy I’ve been with the new Photoshop CS3.

First a little bit about processing digital photos. My photos definitely *do not* come out of the camera looking like the finished shots that I publish. While certain elements cannot be improved with post processing (original composition for example) lots and lots of things can improve a photo after you have already taken it.

I’ve used Adobe’s Bridge software for about a year and Photoshop for 10 years with my photography. Both of these applications are instrumental in my achieving the look and feel of my photographs.

Use the Image Size Slider in Bridge to Adjust the Preview Size of Your Images
Use the Image Size Slider in Bridge to Adjust the Preview Size of Your Images.

So lets talk about why you might want to buy Photoshop CS3 or upgrade from CS2. If for no other reason there is one simple reason. Photoshop CS3 and it’s companion Bridge (Bridge comes with CS3 and cannot be purchased on a standalone basis) is lightening fast. Wicked fast. Infinitely faster than CS2. For years my biggest gripe with Photoshop has been speed issues. Especially when processing memory intensive RAW files both Photoshop CS2 and Bridge just crawled. They were so slow. But CS3 is so much faster. I’ve heard that this speed difference is especially evident on dual processor Intel Macs — which is what I’m using. But man, CS3 just flies.

For me this speed is super important. I try to shoot 100-300 photos a day and process about 30 a day from these shoots. This speed difference has dramatically increased my productivity. Upgrade or buy CS3 if only for this reason alone.

The second major reason that you will want to buy CS3 is the new and improved slider bars in “Camera RAW.” For those of you who follow my blog you know that I have been a huge proponent of shooting in RAW for a long time.

CS3's New Camera RAW Sliders ROCK
CS3’s New Camera RAW Sliders ROCK!

A lot of people ask me the difference between shooting in JPG and RAW. This is an oversimplification, but basically when you shoot in JPG your camera takes a photo and then processes it to a JPG file. It uses automatic settings for things like contrast and color temperature (why some white lights in a photo are bluish and some are yellowish), brightness, etc. Sometimes these automatic settings are perfect. But most of the time they are not. When you shoot in RAW, your camera saves the equivalent of a digital negative that you can later process in Bridge/Photoshop’s “Camera RAW” feature. Here, rather than use the default settings of your digital camera, you have a much wider range of possibilities. Is the photo’s contrast sort of dull? Then you can bump it up. Is the night sky too yellowish or sulfuric? Then cool the image down and get a better blue tone to your sky by lowering the photo’s color temperature. You can read more about RAW here.

For those you use Bridge and Photoshop CS2 and shoot in RAW, you are familiar with these sliders and controls. And here is where CS3 just shines. They’ve added much better sliders to get even *better* final images. In addition to the basic sliders in CS2 (things like contrast, brightness, shadows, saturation), CS3 adds some killer new sliders. Clarity, Vibrance, Recovery, and Fill Light have all been added as new Camera Raw processors and they make a ton of difference. All four of these sliders process your shots in new ways and give you significantly more flexibility in finishing your images than you had in CS2.

Another improvement of CS3 is also that my finished JPG files can now use the same Camera RAW sliders if I want to go back and re-tweak.

The third major reason to upgrade to CS3 is the size slider in Bridge. The size slider is at the bottom of the main window in Bridge and allows you to total control over the size of your images for working with them. Sometimes when you are batch keywording you want your images as thumbnails, other times when you are examining the photos for dust or blemishes you want full sized. Simply slide the slider back and forth in Bridge and it *quickly* resizes your photos to exactly the size you want to use to work with them.

Keywording your images is also a snap in CS3, the layout design of Bridge is just perfect (I probably spend about 90% of my time in Bridge and only 10% of my time actually in Photoshop). You can create commonly used keywords and then apply them as checkmarks. This is really valuable as it helps you organize your large digital library for search. Keywording is also smart because most online photo sites will recognize these keyworded images and automatically apply the tags to your images online.

Photoshop CS3 New Brightness Contrast Tools
New Brightness Contrast Slider in Photoshop CS3

In terms of other improvements in Photoshop, I didn’t notice all that much. The speed of course is huge and is more reason than anything to upgrade. There is a new tool called the Quick Selection Tool which helps select portions of images instead of using the magic wand or lasso tool. I *hated* the old magic wand in CS2. I could never get it to work right. The Quick Selection Tool seems to do a much better job and selecting parts of images to apply effects to. There is also a better brightness/contrast tool in PS3. But honestly, I spend very little time in PS3 itself, choosing to do 90% or so of my processing in the “Camera RAW” option in Bridge.

Photoshop CS3 Quick Selection Tool
Photoshop CS3 Quick Sele
ction Tool Makes Editing Specific Areas of a Photo Easier

What *do* I use Photoshop itself for? I use the healing brush a lot. If you have a spec of dust on your sensor or some sort of blemish on your photo, the healing brush helps you spec it out. It can also be used to blot out that tiny little speck of peanut butter that you somehow missed when you wiped your daughter’s face before heading out to the park. I use use the burn/dodge tools quite a bit. These tools allow you to darken or lighten certain areas of a photograph. The other day I took a photo of some Hell’s Angels headstones at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland. The headstones were nicely exposed but the background was all white and washed out. By running the burning brush over the background, I was able to bring it back in a bit to go better with the foreground of the headstones.

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23 Comments

  1. If CS3 is too expensive (which it is for a lot of people), then you can get a lot of the features above in Adobe Lightroom (for about half the price as CS3). It uses the same RAW converter as CS3, and also has some great tagging and organization tools. There’s even a simple healing brush and clone tool.

  2. Andy O. says:

    I’ll second the Lightroom recommendation. I’ve been using CS2/Bridge for a while but I find that Lightroom does everything I need – especially love the organizational features. Being a v1 product, it is a little slow, but I’d expect that to improve over time.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for the insight into your workflow. One thing that I am curious about is how you find photographs after you have edited and tagged them. I know you store the original and processed photos in directories by date, but lets say you want to find a photo of a specific location that you took sometime in the last year or so. How do you search your library for that photograph?
    One of the things I really like about Aperture is the ability to search all my photos tags and locate what I want quickly.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Marc and Andy. Thanks for the Lightroom recommendation. I played around with a beta version of Lightroom but haven’t spent much time there other than that. I’ll have to check it out sometime.

    Jeremy, when I keyword my photos this makes them searchable by my Mac. All I have to do is point my Mac to my finished photos folder on my drobo and I can search by tags. Bridge can also search by tags. This is especially why kewording is so important to me. I also dump each day’s RAW photos into a folder by that date and then put each month’s folders in a folder for that month. I can also search these folders as well.

  5. Todd says:

    Like the guys said above, you gotta checkout Lightroom. From the sounds of your workflow and your needs, you’ll really appreciate it and spend most of your time in it. Personally, I only spend 5 to 10% now in Photoshop.

    To get up to speed in Lightroom, I can’t recommend Chris Orwig’S Photoshop Lightroom Essential Training enough. It’s about 5.5 hours of video and the way he instructs, just by watching you’ll learn all the short-cut keys and be zipping through your images.

    http://movielibrary.lynda.com/html/modPage.asp?ID=364

    (You can join Lynda.com for as little as $25/month and get some good training.)

    I think to really appreciate LIghtroom, you gotta have a wizard show you the ropes with it.

  6. frank lazaro says:

    I use a combo of Lightroom and CS3, with 80% of my processing being done in Lightroom. It is a powerful combination. I never liked Bridge.

  7. LeggNet says:

    I agree. I love CS3 and especially the upgrades to Bridge. Not to mention the speed improvement on my Intel Mac.

  8. Andrew says:

    I really wish we’d see more support for some of the free tools out there. Photoshop CS is insanely expensive, especially for hobbyists. It’s ridiculous to expect us to drop that much money for a tool that so many of us will barely use.

    I work in a particularly cost-heavy environment – skydiving photography. My gear costs are astronomical, never mind that I have to rent or charter planes, or pay for my jumps at a commercial center. My costs are huge. I need to keep costs down whenever possible.

    I refuse to spend big dollars for software when free alternatives exist.

    One tool that I’ve found tremendously useful is Picasa from Google. It’s free, it does 99 % of what’s required, and fits my needs perfectly. It’s very easy to use.

    On the rare occasions that I need a bit more than Picasa, I turn to the combination of GIMP and the Canon RAW tools.

    For bloggers, amateur photographers, never mind those of us who just like to take some shots – Photoshop is just way too much tool.

  9. I think I must be doing something wrong, but for some reason my Bridge CS3 won’t save a copy of the index of all my photos. So when I want to search by keyword, I have to re-index ALL photos (takes forever), then search by keyword. It’s extremely frustrating.

    So the way I’ve been doing it is search by keyword on flickr (because I upload the best ones to my flickr account), see what date I posted it on, then drill down to that date’s folder in my photos.

    Anyone know how to fix this problem? I’ve tried tools > cache > build cache, but it never keeps it. After I find the photo, the cache disappears and it needs to reprocess it.

  10. +1 for Lightroom. 🙂 That’s the way to go 😉

  11. JohnnySewell says:

    I would also agree with all the comments on Lightroom. I’ve been using it along with Photoshop CS2 since the early beta’s and it has improved even more with 1.1 and 1.2.

    The Chris Orwig course on http://www.lynda.com is great as are the books by Scott Kelby and Martin Evening. I have not looked yet at the Tim Grey book on Lightroom but expect it to be good also. Scott goes through how he works with both Lightroom and Photoshop which is very helpful.

  12. Rick Pali says:

    Another Lightroom endorsement.

    All of the tools mentioned in the CS3 ACR appeared in Lightroom first. I also really appreciate the heal and clone tools because all of the work there is saved so if I ever have to adjust the exposure or other RAW conversion attributes, I don’t have to re-do all the heal and clone steps.

    Lightroom may not have the extreme polish (and speed) that Photoshop does, but it certainly saves me time when the whole workflow is considered. Heck, I’m still using Photoshop CS1 because Lightroom has taken care of all the changes I’ve required, like 30D support for example.

  13. Bushi says:

    Aperture seems to hav a lot of great features and manages libraries a lot better then light room does (which dose not seem to play nice with network storage at all).

  14. henryp says:

    The links above are to B&H; Photo which is my top recommendation for where people ought to buy their camera and photographic gear online. B&H; has some of the best prices and best service in the business and is where I buy all my own camera gear personally.

    Thank you. Kind of you to say so.
    Henry Posner
    B&H; Photo-Video, Inc.

  15. Thomas Hawk says:

    Aperture seems to hav a lot of great features and manages libraries a lot better then light room does (which dose not seem to play nice with network storage at all).

    Aperture can’t manage vignette which is a deal killer for me.

  16. Thomas says:

    Thanks for the glimpse into your workflow. I have used PhotoShop for quite a few years, but did not understand how to integrate Bridge into the flow.
    Now that I am starting to take more photographs, this information is very helpful.
    I would be interested in a post / video of you taking a RAW image and working your magic on it, and the system you use for applying keywords.

  17. Mike Downey says:

    Thomas, great write-up. If you’d like to give Lightroom a try, send me an email and I’ll give you a copy (mdowney –at– adobe.com).

    Mike Downey
    Group Manager, Platform Evangelism
    Adobe Systems

  18. kelco says:

    Thomas, I think for the style and volume of photos that you shoot, once you learn Lightroom, you’ll be writing a new evangelical workflow post. It’s the perfect app for you. Go get the 30-day trial of 1.2.

  19. Noel says:

    Thomas…

    I use both CS3 and Lightroom…and like others have mentioned, I too prefer Lightroom.

    As a matter of fact I do all my RAW processing in Lighroom and only use CS3 to apply pre-created actions.

    Checkout Lightroom…it is a Digital Photographers ultimate resource IMHO!

    noeltykay

  20. frank lazaro says:

    I think Noel hit the nail on the head:

    As a matter of fact I do all my RAW processing in Lighroom and only use CS3 to apply pre-created actions.

    Lightroom has the same vignette functionality as CS3, which I agree with you is a big part of my personal photography style.

  21. Anonymous says:

    If you spend 90% of your time in Bridge, then you _need_ to try Lightroom!

  22. Miguel says:

    This is funny. I just read your post today. Before I got to the comment section I thought, hmm, he hasn’t mentioned Lightroom and was going to post a comment in that regard. Oh, well, no need now. And I’m not even a Lightroom user. That is, yet. I’ve read a great number of good things about it so I’m waiting for an economically stable moment to pull my wallet out. Lightroom also looks like the perfect antidote to the high cost of Photoshop.

  23. id says:

    Lightroom is great. The lack of a burning and dodging tool is the only conspicuous oversight. I’ve been reading about dxo optics lately. Though their interface is less polished/intuitive, its results (particularly in the areas of noise reduction and correct lens distortion) are reputed to be outstanding.