Monday, January 8, 2007

My Dirty Little Secret

I have a dirty little secret. Shhh! I use—gasp!—Adobe® Photoshop®! I used to be a closet Photoshop user, but I’ve decided to come out and publicly admit it. As good a tool as Corel® Painter™ is, there are some things that I prefer to use Photoshop for. First, let’s look at each application’s strengths.

Photoshop is at its best when given an existing image to process. Note that the word “photo” is in its title. For many tasks, Photoshop emulates the step-by-step workflow of a darkroom. This methodology is formulaic in nature—repeat the same steps, get the same results.

Painter excels at starting with a blank canvas and building up an image. “Paint” is what Painter is all about. The artist’s studio is a birthplace of visual ideas. Quite often, an artist in the heat of creativity will arrive at a result with no idea of the exact steps taken to get there. This methodology is intuitive—from here to there is not always a straight line.

These two tools' uses can and do get blurred. There are users that paint great images in Photoshop, just as there are users that perform retouching magic in Painter. So why use Photoshop in addition to Painter? I often use a photograph as a starting point. I prefer to shoot my photos in the RAW format. Photoshop’s ancillary application, Adobe® Bridge®, handily processes these files then transfers them to Photoshop for further enhancement in a 16-bit color format. I then employ Photoshop to make color corrections and contrast adjustments. When I’m finished, I convert the image to 8-bit color format and save it in the Photoshop PSD file format.

The PSD file format is the portal through which Photoshop and Painter speak the same language. Layer masks, alpha channels, and layer groups are maintained in the PSD format. Painter reads PSD files and retains the majority of crucial data. Both Photoshop and Painter have specific features that are not translatable by the other.

For example, Photoshop cannot interpret Painter’s unique Watercolor and Impasto layers. These layer types will lose their unique characteristics when saved in the PSD format. However, they will visually remain the same when opened Photoshop. Equally, Painter cannot interpret Photoshop’s Adjustment Layers, they will be ignored. With these caveats in mind, it is a simple matter to save backup files that retain each application’s unique characteristics.

I also like to finalize and print my images from Photoshop. Any last minute color and tone adjustments are done here prior to printing. I call this workflow a PS/Painter/PS sandwich—Photoshop on the outside and Painter in the middle. Together, Photoshop and Painter make great collaborative partners. The Photoshop-Painter relationship is getting so well-known that Painter is regularly featured in the courses offered at Photoshop World.

Even if you are not a Photoshop devotee, you’re still in luck. Corel Paint Shop Pro XI (Windows® version only) and Painter IX.5 can interchange imagery via the RIFF format, providing users with a similar PSP/Painter/PSP workflow.

In this topsy-turvy digital imaging world, photographs and bare canvas co-exist effortlessly in the same space. The playing field has been leveled. It all comes down to using the right tool for the right job. Photoshop and Painter have tools designed to support their strengths. By having and utilizing both, my creative range is expanded to encompass photographic realism and expressive mark-making.

Now that my dirty little secret is out of the bag, I think I’ll clone my mother-in-law out of that family vacation photo before I turn it into a painting.

1 comment:

  1. Heh, nice to hear that particular confession from you. I do all my raster post-production in Photoshop myself. Both Painter and Photoshop, though sometimes overlapping, havie very different usage ranges in my creative experience. Viva la Painter and vive la différence!