Saturday, November 17, 2007

Photoshop CS3: Looking Back vs. Charging Ahead

I just had my first in-person Russell Brown seminar, where he demonstrated some of the nifty features in Photoshop CS3. CS3 is the first release in a while that's tempted me, since CS2 is so unusably slow running emulated on an Intel iMac. With CS3, the Bridge + Photoshop combo is actually fast enough to make sense to make them separate programs, and some of the processor-intensive features like HDR and Photo Merge run in reasonable time.

I was struck by the way several of the features have to do with that scary 4th dimension -- time! That's a trend I'm seeing a lot lately across many types of software (cf. "Time Machine" in Leopard, "flashback query" in Oracle).

On the one hand, CS3 will make you want to go back and re-examine pictures you thought you were finished with. The enhanced Photo Merge makes doing panoramas a snap, with very good auto-aligning and even auto-blending to match colours across the different pictures. If you're like me, you have tons of photos filed or tagged with the intent to turn them into panoramas later, but the process was tedious and error-prone enough that it never seemed worth the trouble.

Also, you can bring JPEGs into the Camera Raw editor and apply some of the settings (sharpening, white balance, chromatic aberration, etc.) in there. The information gets stored as metadata inside the JPEG, and applied only when the file is opened in Photoshop. I expect it will be a big space-saver vs. taking every halfway decent JPEG and turning it into a 20+ MB PSD file just to improve levels and saturation.

If those were the only features, you might say CS3 is a time sink, because you're just going to go back over your old pictures. But with the ability of the Bridge to group pictures into "stacks" (similar to the feature by the same name in Aperture), you can display a folder full of images and see just the unique shots -- all 50 shots of the same waterfall, bird, etc. can be condensed into one thumbnail in the Bridge, and you can work preview the pictures in a stack together and pick the best one. This should prove especially useful for:

* Auto-exposure bracketing where you have 3 copies of every shot.
* Portrait and landscape versions of the same scene.
* Wildlife shots with many close-together pictures of the same animal.
* Individual frames from panoramas, which can be collapsed into one thumbnail entry.

With stacks, you can do your ranking in 2 stages. First, pick which compositions and subjects deserve a place in the final portfolio, then pick which exposure, orientation, or moment in time is the best for each stack. If that faraway bird was just a speck in all 50 photos, just disregard that stack; the individual pictures won't get in the way of critiquing the rest of that folder.

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