Jay Sousa: Photography

May 5, 2012

Jay Sousa: The right software has a dramatic effect

Back in the day, photo gear meant, well, photo gear -- things like cameras, lenses and tripods. Now in the digital age, photo gear also refers to photography software programs.

Digital photography today for professionals and serious amateurs is as dependent on various software programs as it is the cameras that create our photographs.

When we first download images from our cameras, we need some type of program that will let us view and edit our images. Since I shoot in RAW format I need a program that is capable of reading RAW data from my Canon cameras. You might recall from my earlier column on shooting in RAW that this format is not universal, like a JPG image.

Each camera manufacturer's RAW files are proprietary, meaning that if you shoot with a Canon camera, you will have to use Canon software to see the RAW images. The same goes for Nikon or any other brand of camera. Adobe software products such as Photoshop, Elements or Lightroom have RAW built in, allowing the programs to read almost all cameras' RAW files.

I use Digital Photo Professional, which is the Canon software that came with my camera, and Adobe Lightroom for editing and converting my RAW files to JPGs after making white balance and exposure corrections.

Lightroom is a powerful program, for editing, correcting and making the most out of your photos. At around $200, this is a good choice for both the professional and amateur shooter.

Lightroom allows you to retouch photos, but I am not crazy about this tool, so I do all of my portrait retouching on Adobe Photoshop CS5. I do a lot of old photo restoration and prefer CS5 for that job, as well.

Adobe Elements 10 is a great program if you are a home user or hobbyist. It has all the features of Photoshop CS5 that you are likely to ever need, and it comes at a price of around $70, compared with a price tag of around $700 for the new CS6, which will be released on Monday.

A couple of other programs that I use on occasion are Photomatix for high-dynamic range (HDR) photography, Noise Ninja for noise reduction and Roxio Creator for slide shows.

HDR imaging is a special technique that enables photographers to blend many different exposure values within an image. This is particularly useful if you have a scene that contains very deep shadows and strong highlights. I don't do a lot of HDR photography, but when I do, I use Photomatix Pro. This program lets you combine up to nine different exposures from one image.

A little HDR goes a long way as most HDR images look kind of fake, but if done subtly it can be a good program to have in your arsenal. Photomatix Pro is around $99 and can be downloaded from hdrsoft.com. They also have free trial download to help you get started with HDR photography.

Noise Ninja is a program that helps reduce noise or digital artifacts from your images. Noise is normally caused by long exposures, a high ISO or, in some cases, underexposure.

In my landscape photography I do a lot of long nighttime exposures, some up to 20 minutes, and these long exposures will generate a lot of noise. Noise Ninja does a very good job of removing most of it. Photoshop CS5, Lightroom and Elements 10 all have noise reducing capabilities, but I think that Noise Ninja does a little bit better job. Download it from picturecode.com. It starts at $34.95, and the pro bundle costs $79.95.

Check out my website, www.jaysousaphotography.com to see some HDR samples.

Contact Jay Sousa at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net.

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