What is Really the Best Post-processing Software?


Photography is so much more than just conceiving and shooting a frame. Post-production is now an integral part of photography. How you post process and in what software is a much heated debate –  along the lines of Canon vs. Nikon and Windows vs. Mac.  We'll take a look at the three most commonly used post-processing software programs so you can determine which is best for your needs.

Adobe Photoshop.  Considered to be the tool for photographers to edit their photos, each version offers more tools that enable us to do just that, while the RAW processor built into it handles tweaks to RAW files.  Photoshop offers a lot, but is also the most expensive of the three we're looking at.  From a photography production standpoint, it's also a bit clunky unless you build in a lot of custom actions to run in batch.  Out of the box, no creative anything is included either – you'll have to source others' actions (free or for a fee) and everything is left up to you.

Photoshop can also be somewhat intimidating if you've never used it before.  Who's best suited to use it?  Those who have experience in Photoshop, or for actual pixel editing.  Cloning, masking and advanced layered tasks along with several specific tools to help remove and add features make those who invest the time into it yield the best results.

Adobe Lightroom. Spawned nearly out of a complete need to beef up the somewhat watered down RAW processor in Photoshop, Lightroom brings a lot to the table.  It essentially operates as three pieces of software, in one product.

  • Photo library, with tagging, notes and search-ability thanks to the built in database
  • Photographic post-processing, with the same tool set and options available to JPG photos as RAW
  • Print and web-ready gallery maker, for displaying your final product.

Lightroom's post-processing piece, the core of the program, is extremely powerful and very fast, partly because it edits your photos in proxy.  The availability to use presets, similar to Photoshop plugins, is wonderful and lightning fast, again because you're working on the photos in proxy.  Photoshop seems somewhat bogged down with complex actions because it's editing the actual photo, so Lightroom wins this battle for sure.  The photo library is a great way to store and easily search all your photos and the galleries that Lightroom produces are visually appealing.

Apple Aperture. Only compatible on Mac computers, Apple's post processing software relies on a beefed up database for library functions above and beyond what iPhoto can do.  Similar to Lightroom, it too processes but doesn't pixel edit photographs, in proxy for blazing fast speed.

The chief complaint about Aperture is that the learning curve is somewhat high, unusual for an Apple product.  We think this is partly due to the different interface then that of Adobe products, which most photographers are used to editing in.  If you've never used Adobe products, Aperture will probably make total sense, but again, it will only work on Macs.

What's really the best?  There is no clear answer, but a combination of any two will get you great results.  Just like camera debates, it's not what you use to capture the photograph, it's how good it looks in the end.  For adjusting exposure, highlights, shadow detail and everything else in a true darkroom sense of editing, Lightroom and Aperture are a coin toss.  With that said, the market for 3rd party additions strongly favors Lightroom, so keep that in mind when shopping. For advanced pixel editing or for the most creative control nothing on the market beats Photoshop.  It can take months, or even years to master Photoshop but for nearly every photographer, it's the gold standard.

About Author

is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.

Great article! Having tried both Aperture and Lightroom, and giving them each their fair shake, I go with Lightroom. It just seems to make more “sense”, but both definitely do their job! And Photoshop just can’t be beat for the fine tuning to take an image that extra level.

Gotta agree with Chris though, left stranded on an island I too would go with Lightroom!

I’m with John, why no mention of the excellent (and the ONLY thing I use) GIMP? It delivers both from a cost point of view and a practical point of view… And is available on all three platforms…

I tried GIMP for a day, but the brush size wouldn’t get large enough so I stopped using it lol. It was really fast though, but I donno if it as professional and perfect as PS, what do you think?

I only use PS CS5 at the moment, I’m sort of a perfectionist when it comes to getting an image how I want it and require actual pixel editing. I’ve never used LR or Aperture.

I’m still doing my post production in Lightroom then creative actions, sharpening and skin smoothing in Photoshop. I don’t think any one tool will ever have it all.

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