This week, Adobe announced the latest iteration of its leading creative software, aptly named Creative Cloud.
As a relatively new user of the creative suite of tools, particularly those tools devoted to photography, I’ve had to adjust the way I learn and adapt to new software in order to get comfortable with these products. Here’s why.
I’ve come to understand that Adobe’s design philosophy is an interesting one: it recognizes that early versions of their software were complex, affected mostly by the limitations of technology at the time. Those who did learn their products early have established workflows and methods of doing things over years that would be troublesome, or at least very inconvenient, to alter now. As such, Adobe’s approach seems to be to retain traditional ways of completing a task (softening skin in a portrait or removing unwanted objects from a photograph) while introducing more automation and more, frankly, logical workflows for those just coming to the products now.
One complication this design philosophy introduces to a new user like myself is that when I ask the question “how do I do this?”, I get 15 different replies, all of which reflect the experiences and trial/error of the person responding. Even more complicated is the question “why do I do this?”, which I have had to ask several times when being introduced to methods that seem to take 20 steps, only to discover later that there is a method that is much shorter.
One simple example of evolving complexity is just the number of filters available to blur some or all of an image in Photoshop. Do we really need that many choices?
I appreciate that creativity is not programmed, and that there is no one single way to deliver a quality product or an artistic representation. I get that. But learning shouldn’t be this complicated, I think. Or maybe that’s part of the cachet – if you can become an expert in these tools, you are part of a relatively small, but elite and marketable group of people.
There are financial pressures too – both on the makers and purchasers of these products. It’s why many tasks that once could only be performed in their costly Photoshop product can now be performed in their newer and less expensive Lightroom or even in Photoshop Elements. The danger, of course, is that purchases of the more expensive products might be reduced as a result, not only because of the availability of less expensive alternatives, but because new innovations mean the cost of the original products continues to rise.
And that led to another marketing innovation not started by Adobe, but successfully adopted: the use of subscription services that spread the costs out over time, and guarantee Adobe a steady revenue stream. Products are now bundled, although some can still be purchased individually as standalone items, without “free” upgrades. But with subscription bundles, users continue to get innovation and updates on a regular basis. All in all, subscriptions are a win for everyone it seems.
But there’s another perspective on the continuing evolution of these products. While some in the creative community (and some casual observers of it) applaud the innovation and ability to be even more creative with images, documents, graphics, videos, there are others, myself included, that wonder how far is too far in being able to manipulate an artistic asset. Ted Forbes recently commented on that in his introduction to the 2015 Adobe Creative Cloud updates. I agree with his message.
I recently took an online course provided by one of the premier Adobe instructional groups, and watched as an experienced “touch-up” professional took over an hour to clean up a relatively simple image of a wine bottle and glasses shot as a product shot in a studio setting. Prior to that, I had watched for another hour as the photographer set up the shot and carefully addressed lighting, reflections, colour, white balance, the visibility of background and foreground. He also provided several versions of the shot, each of which I found equally appealing and attractive to the product. Sadly, much of this careful setup was abandoned on final touch-up. Absolutely there was a benefit in tackling some blown-out highlights, removing a distorted duplicate label, or enhancing the edges of both bottle and glasses, but beyond that, I quickly saw diminishing returns in continuing to process the image. That surprised me.
Don’t get me wrong. Overall, this first year of being immersed in image taking and image processing has been magical. By far, I’ve said “wow” more times than I’ve said “why” in working with Adobe products. But I can see that this a question that every photographer must ask themselves eventually. How much of this should be me and how much should be the magic box that is Adobe. I guess that’s what the next year will teach me.
By the way, the latest releases from Adobe primarily expand their mobile capability. More and more editing can now be done as you shoot or as you travel. I think this is a fantastic addition to their creative suite, both to satisfy our growing propensity for instant gratification, and as we all struggle to use the available time time in the day more productively.
One of my “processed” images.