So many programs so little time…

Photoshop, Lightroom, PaintShop Pro, Gimp, Aperture, Phase One, DXO Optics, Tiffen Dfx, Photomatix, Oloneo, Topaz Labs, On1, Nik Software, Picassa, MS Paint…

Did I miss any?  Of course I did, there are so many to choose from how could I have listed them all?

Just like Photography gear (read the article on Squashing Gear Lustthere are many options for editing your photographs.  Quite frankly it is a mess when you think about it.  You can actually own too much Post Processing Software.  While many believe the more the better, this thought process could lead you to a life of post processing Anguish.

After a reader subscribes to my HDR Family email list, they receive an email.  It asks them a series of questions, one of them asks what their most urgent question is about Photography or Post Processing.  Do you know the number one response?  Workflow.  Photographic Workflow and how to make the best image in the sea of programs that exist.

I do a lot of Webinars with Topaz Labs because I really do enjoy their software.  I also do a bit of work with On1 because I like Perfect Effects a lot!  However, I will go on record saying you don’t need every piece of software every company creates to make great photos.  You don’t need the latest and greatest and quite frankly, owning them and using them will not make you a better photographer, period!

What will make you a better photographer is understanding what fits where in the puzzle of Workflow.  Understanding this will save you a ton of time and money! So how exactly do you do that?

1.  Build a Workflow Road Map

This is the most critical element to draft out in its entirety before you get any new software.  I have a very specific workflow Road Map that I follow on every image I process.  Below you will find a very rough version of the more elaborate Road Map that I have put together in the upcoming Zone Systems Master Class.  The idea behind the Workflow Road Map, Blue Print, or Theory is to structure a system that outlines the important steps every photo should go through.  Here is a look at mine:

I don’t want to get too technical with what happens where, because that is a whole blog post of its own!  However, look at each step and look at how I have placed an emphasis on where certain programs fit in.  I know for a fact where every program fits in my puzzle and 9 out of ten times I follow this structure to a T.  The other 1/10 of the time is when a Plugin like DeNoise will work its way into the Pre-Processing on a stubbornly noisy image.

 2.  Delve Deep into the Programs

One thing I am often asked after a Topaz webinar is how I know the programs so well and use them so creatively.  I don’t really know how to answer this any other way than say, I spend a great deal of time in them, dissecting them, experimenting with them and seeing how well my brain will connect with them.  I don’t watch other peoples YouTube Tutorials on Topaz or On1 Plugins.  I don’t do this to be vein by any stretch of the imagination.

It is kind of like the music I listen to when I am working.  I only listen to music with no lyrics.  My favorite artist is Brunuhville.  The problem with lyrics is they start to make their way into my thought process.  While I am writing posts or creating email content if I hear lyrics I will start typing them.

The same thing happens if I watch others YouTube Tutorials on post processing software.  Their impression and workflow with the software will get permanently embedded in my brain and I may only use the software like they do.

The other problem with watching others workflow tutorials is that it does not allow me to personally connect with the software.  I know this sounds odd, but I am a firm believer that our brains will connect with the way certain plugins are structured over others.

Perfect example…  I really enjoy the way Topaz Plugins are laid out.  Every Plugin is structured the same and you know what to expect going into them.  On the flip side, I had to take an entire month of just using On1’s Perfect Effects to see how I could fit it into my workflow, map it to my brain, and then teach someone else how to fit it into theirs in HDR & Perfect Effects 9.  

You need to take the time the plugin deserves to see if it will fit 2 things.  One your brain structure and two, into your Workflow Road Map.  Every reputable company offers a free trial… try BEFORE you buy!


 3.  Plugins Are a Means to An End…

The one thing I despise most about Plugins and their marketing tactics are… One Click fixes.  In photography post processing there is no such thing as a one click fix and any preset that has been created has been made with only a couple of images in mind.  No two images contain the EXACT dynamic range so no plugins will ever be perfect for the image you are using.  This is where artistry comes in.

I want you to stop thinking of yourself as just a photographer, you are now an artist.  Just a photographer would be one who knows the trade technically and can create technically perfect images, a mechanic of sorts.  If you are reading this you are well beyond the title photographer and well into the title artist.  It looks like this:

  • Main Title:       Artist
  • Sub Category:  Photographer

Accepting this will allow you to accept that all plugins are, are a means to an end.  They are not the end all be all… you, the artist, are!  You make the artistic decisions, not a preset.  If you ever buy a software plugin because you want it to create one click fixes, you are in the artistry for the wrong reasons.

Presets are great when you use them as a base and build upon them.  Next time you click a preset, look at the adjustments and modify them to match your image, create your own preset from there and apply them to like images in your series of photos.

4.  Get On Without Them

When all else fails, thinking minimally will be your best asset when you approach photo post processing.  I have a strong feeling that I could unplug myself again because of my familiarity with Photoshop.  It is the most powerful editing tool on the planet and, for the most part, pretty much anything a plugin can do, Photoshop can do.  Plugins just make it more convenient and a bit easier.  You can get on without them.

One thing a lot of people tell me via email and social media is that they refuse to purchase Photoshop CC for the Cloud aspect.  On the flip side, they would be willing to spend $100-200 on the next Plugin suite.  That purchase is close to 2 years of Photoshop CC, the program with endless possibilities.  So inevitably you could just be buying yourself a very expensive crutch!

I don’t say this to promote Adobe, they don’t pay me for that.  I have the liberty of being free from all companies as I am not bound by a contract with any one of them.  This gives me the luxury to support whatever program or Plugin company that I think is really beneficial to the artist.

When it really comes down to it the most important editing tool you need is Photoshop.  I know Lightroom has a ton of capabilities, but it is still a crutch.  It does not have the limitless potential that Photoshop allows you.

Photo post processing is a lot like Manpower Assessment.  It is not about the Manpower you have available to complete a task it is about the Power behind the men (and women).  You can have all the valuable plugins in the world, but if you don’t know how, and most importantly when, to use them they are worthless.

Your homework, if you don’t already have one… Build a Workflow Roadmap!


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Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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