Lightroom vs Photoshop: Do I need Both?

Photographers get pretty dogmatic about what processing software to use. We do that with camera brands too, but that’s a story for another day. Often these dogmatic positions are based on emotions rather than a thorough understanding of both the tool and the result we wish to achieve, and that stops us from growing as photographers.

I’m going to suggest that your toolkit shouldn’t be either Lightroom or Photoshop, but both. 

Most photographers I meet primarily use Lightroom for processing. That’s no surprise, because Lightroom took most of the things that were hard about Photoshop and made them easier to access and harder to mess up. So right from the start, Lightroom and Photoshop were designed to use different methods to achieve a satisfyingly processed photo. Different means different, that that means we’ll usually get different results too. 

If computers generally frustrate you, Lightroom is the better choice. It is going to hide a lot of the process from you so that you can’t mess up your files as easily, and with many photos it is possible to make pleasing results. 

But the more serious you get about your photography, the more time you spend at it, the more you should consider learning Photoshop and the added tools it gives you. You can do it…It’s just another tool like many you have mastered in your lifetime from driving a car in city traffic to the expertise that allow you to be successful in your profession. 

Photoshop has a reputation for being hard, and honestly there are way more ways to mess things up in Photoshop if you don’t have a solid workflow. But once you get a good foundation, Photoshop becomes easier to work in that Lightroom in many ways, and lets you achieve a higher level of precision and exert more control over the process. 

The thing is, all those things you need to learn to understand Photoshop, the things hidden in Lightroom, are things you need to learn to take more control over your photographs. There are a lot of ways Lightroom can bite you hard too. I know experienced photographers who have lost entire catalogs of photos because of one wrong click in Lightroom because they were lulled into a false sense of security. Lightroom isn’t perfect and neither is Photoshop. It’s always up to you to know how they work and make sure they are doing what you want them to do and not do things that are destructive to your photo archive. 

The fact is, if you want to grow as a photographer, you have to become more versed in all aspects of the process. It’s not about which software you use, but about how you think about the problems you need to solve, and understanding which tool lets you solve those problems to your satisfaction. 

The honeymoon phase of photography is when you like everything you do and it seems easy. But the real fun starts when you start to see beyond your current experience, and feel that drive to get more from your photos. That’s when the real learning starts, and when things get really rewarding. 

So I’d encourage you to make this the year you start using Lightroom AND Photoshop, and break through the barriers that are keeping you from using one or the other. In the process you’ll gain some new skills, and feel more confident in whatever processing choice you make.

RAM Upgrade from 16GB to 64GB

Photoshop loves RAM. Having too little can make your computer run slow, which can make image processing either frustrating or impossible. And the larger your file size, the more ram you need. 

For years now, I’ve been making 16GB work, because that is the limit of my Macbook Pro.  If I’m not running other apps, and I’m careful with not opening too many Photoshop files (My typical files are about 1GB in size) It works fine. But if I want to keep open all my productivity apps like mail, web browsers, spreadsheets, spotify, etc, it’s very easy to use up all my RAM and slow things down. 

This winter I transitioned to a 2018 MacMini with 16gb of RAM. I selected this model because it was one of only two mac models at the time that allows me to upgrade the RAM myself, and can hold the amount of RAM I need, all at a better price than apple’s top of the line models. This week I finally got a break in my production schedule that allowed me the time to take it apart and upgrade it to 64GB of RAM. And what a difference it has made. Even running only Photoshop, there is a noticeable difference in speed for several common functions, which has made it easier for the computer to keep up with me and the speed at which I apply processing changes. But the most noticeable difference is that I can now run all the other applications I need with no penalty. I can have several 1GB files open in Photoshop, have my Lightroom catalog accessible, along with all my productivity apps.  I’ve been using the mac “Activity Monitor” to see how much RAM that uses, and I’m usually using 32-38GB of RAM unless I really push things in Photoshop. 

I wanted to know how much RAM lets me run smoothly because the current generation of macs does not allow you to upgrade your RAM or storage. What it comes with is what you are stuck with till you upgrade. And Apple charges a premium for extra RAM and storage, so over provisioning will cost you. So if I were buying a new mac today for Photoshop use, how much RAM would I want? First of all, the new macs use RAM a little differently, so the theory is you can get by with less. For a hobbyist, I think 8GB is too little, as it will cause some slowdowns based on my limited observation. 16GB should be functional, but may have some some slowdowns if you try and have too many apps open while Photoshopping. 32GB would make it easier if you are spending more time processing and will let you keep more apps open. I think that would get you 80% of the benefit of going up to 64GB. And based on what I’ve experienced this week processing for an upcoming exhibit, I haven’t been able to use all 64GB I installed. 

So some takeaways. If your mac can be upgraded, and you use Photoshop, I’d recommend going up to at least 16GB. Depending on your mac, you might be able to upgrade to 24GB or 40GB, which are really good break points. How much just depends on cost. Check out Other World Computing macsales.com to see what RAM your mac uses and how much it costs. They also have install videos that can show you if it’s easy to install, like on a 27 inch iMac, or if it requires taking out the motherboard like it did on my 2018 macmini. I have bough all my RAM from OWC for nearly twenty years, both for all the computers at West Coast Imaging, Aspen Creek Photo, and my personal computers. They offer a lifetime warranty and have never let me down. 

One final question, why did I go with the Intel based MacMini instead of the new Apple Silicon Macs? In November, there were only two mac options if I wanted more than 16GB or ram, the 27inch iMAc and the 2018 Mac Mini. Based on raw specs, the new macs are faster, but Photoshop is more RAM dependent, and would have far more effect for how I use it than a faster processor. So I saved a good chunk of money with the MacMini and still exceeded my performance expectations. The computer is waiting on me to make decisions more than I am waiting on it, so there was no ROI on a faster model. If I was doing video day in day out or other extremely processor intensive work, then I’d want something faster, but as it is, I think I’m able to work about 95% of optimum, and that last 5% would cost me a lot more for minimal gain. My photography would get more out of another trip than it would processing a couple percent faster. 

Life, and photography are full of tradeoffs. This is how I made the tradeoffs for my computer system. I hope it gives you some ideas for upgrades for your system, and just how far you do (or don’t) need to go. 

Maine Coast Workshop – January 2023

“Without question, maritime Maine is the most ruggedly beautiful stretch of the United States east coast. It’s one of those special places that hooks you, and keeps calling you back. Most of us fortunate enough to visit here do so in summer or autumn, though the Maine coast in winter – serene and free of summer’s crowds – yields remarkably intimate and evocative photographs, making a compelling case that this sublime landscape, and the charming Down East culture that inhabits it, are well worth experiencing during the colder months.”

Maine Winter Coast Workshop with Visionary Wild – January 23-27, 2023

New richseiling.com Website

What can you do with a couple free hours on a snowy Saturday morning? How about create a new website! And yes, I really put this together in under four hours.

I’ve been wanting to redo my website for some time, and have been trying to find a platform that would best fit my needs. After bugging all my friends asking what they use, and researching a few of my own options, I finally settled on Squarespace.

Squarespace has always had an excellent design aesthetic, geared towards the professional photography/design/publishing world. So their built in tools made it effortless to put together galleries that had the look I want but I’m not good enough at graphic design or CSS to create it without a good template.

The online sales features we the other driving factor. There are several really good photo website companies that charge exorbitant transaction fees, but that was a deal killer for me. With squarespace, I can choose a plan where I only pay the credit card processing fees. They don’t take a cut, and I like that business model a lot better.

A couple things helped bring the site together so fast. First of all, I had a clear objective in mind. That helped me at the many decision points and as I learned to think like the Squarespace platform.

Having an existing website also helped, as I could use that as a template and copy test from it for the new site. And building the galleries was easy as I already have my favorite photos exported as web ready jpegs.

So there you go, that is how you get a new website in about four hours. Click on over to richseiling.com and have a look. I’ve never had this much work online before, and I’m excited to be able to share it.

Are your RAW Files Safe?

Can you tell me exactly where all your RAW files are, right now,  and can you access every one of them without having to think about it or ask a search engine how? If the answer is no, then we need to add some skills to your toolbox to make sure they are safe and useable.

Storing your files is just one of the burdens digital has put on photographers, and one that will cause us problems if we don’t actively manage it.

In the film era, we could just put our processed negatives or slides in a box and they were easy to find and sort because it was a tactile, analog process. It was so easy! It didn’t require computer knowledge and it worked pretty well for most people. 

Digital changed that. Now our files are stored somewhere on our SSD or hard drives. Do you know where? Is the computer between you and your photos?

If your workflow was set up with you deciding where your RAWs are imported, then you are already on the right path. You challenges are making sure they keep importing to the right folder or directory, and that the drive they are on is being backed up with the 3-2-1 strategy

And if you aren’t backing up to the cloud, you should add it immediately as your offsite/alternate media. I recommend Backblaze for cloud backup based on years of following them, and as a user of their service. For a flat rate, you can do unlimited backup, even of external drives. (Disclaimer, I am an affiliate and may receive payment if you use the link.)

But if you haven’t made a conscious decision about where your photos are stored, and are relying on an app to do it for you, then it’s time to take more control. 

Your photo app might be part of the problem. If you are using an app like Apple Photos, it might be handling all the importing and storage for you. In that case, I bet you don’t know where your files are because you are just letting the app handle it. Sooner or later that will workflow will break, so it’s part of your workflow you should consider improving immediately before it breaks. 

First of all, Apple Photos imports your files onto your boot drive, which will eventually fill up and force you to take action to free up storage space. But  also makes your files hard to get to, which crops up on my workshops when I ask students to send in RAW files. Apple Photos hides the files inside your “Photo Library” and limits your access to them through the app which causes issues when you want to extract a RAW file to use in a different processing software. 

The approach Apple Photos uses is a good choice for the home user capturing family memories, but if you are embracing the RAW workflow, it’s going to limit you. And it will make a lot more work for you when you want to get at the RAW files. You need to learn how to access those files (heres a article to get you started on that https://www.macintoshhowto.com/software/how-to-access-your-iphoto-library-without-iphoto.html) But once you know where your RAWs are and how to access them, I think you’ll find it much easier if you upgrade to a package like Lightroom to import and manage your files. It will let you decide where photos are imported to, will give you easier access to your RAWs, and more powerful editing tools.

Knowing where your RAWs are, and that they are backed up is a foundational level skill for a digital photographer. If you don’t have it, you risk losing the photos you worked so hard to make. Don’t leave it to chance. Upgrade your knowledge and skill so you can preserve and access your photos for years to come.

March B&W Workshop with Looking Glass Photo

My next Black and White Processing class will be hosted by the fine folks at Looking Glass Photo starting March 21. The owners, Jon and Jen, have built an incredible photo community in Berkeley, and are one of the great local camera stores that we need to keep supporting for the value they bring us. Really looking forward to working with them and their customers again. Sign up today if you want to join us! This will be my last B&W workshop for several months as I have a few other classes in the works to announce soon. https://www.lookingglassphoto.com/intro-to-classic-black-white-photographs-complete.html

Color Processing Workshop Starts February 8

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/color-processing-fundamentals-tickets-258117716037

Want to learn the secrets that will make color processing easier? Join me for this four week zoom class and I’ll share the techniques and though process I developed for West Coast Imaging to make museum quality prints.

It’s easier than you think, and this is not a “experts only” class. It’s the foundation and fundamentals every photographer needs to know for processing, and it’s like no other class I know. Sign up today and get ready to take your photographs to new heights!

The Only Person Photographing In Yosemite

Imagine being the only person out photographing in Yosemite. That is the rare birthday gift I received twenty-five years ago today.

The flood of 1997 closed Yosemite for several months due to the damage. Only a few people were allowed to remain in the valley, and as the photographer documenting the damage for the National Park Service, I was very fortunate to be one of them.

My birthday that year happened to fall on a Sunday, and with no work going on to document, I had the day off. After working a burnout pace for most of January to capture the damage, and living under austere conditions (using a porta-potty in your drive way at 2am and 12 degree temps because the sewer line is broken gets old quick!), I decided to go celebrate my birthday by driving around the valley and making some personal work.

I remember clearly standing on the edge of Stoneman Meadow, looking up at the great granite faces of Half Dome, Royal Arches, and Glacier Point, all covered in layers of ice and snow, the crisp cold air in my nostrils as my booted feet stood on the cold snow below, and having it all to myself for a day.

A fresh snow had fallen, and the cold temperatures were making some beautiful conditions. As I drove around, I saw almost no one, which was typical for a Sunday during the flood closure. With about 250 people in the park, all park employees, everyone was enjoying a much-needed day of rest. And as a result, I had an experience I’ll likely never have again; being the only photographer out in Yosemite.

Of course, there were other photographers living in the valley at that time, but that day I didn’t see them, and hardly anyone else, so I had the illusion of having Yosemite all to myself. I’m not claiming a title but relating an experience. I knew at the time it was an amazing gift, but looking back, I didn’t really realize how rare that chance was.

The photos from that day are unremarkable. I decided to work in with color neg film in the Hasselblad Richard Newman had loaned me. I should have worked in B&W instead, but I was young and didn’t have the experience I do now. But I don’t care that I made no meaningful work. I had the chance to experience something even better than a great photograph, and it’s an experience I’ll likely never have again.

Which Brand Hard Drive Should I Buy?

Here’s another question I get a-lot. Some people hear they should buy Seagate drives because the competitors are junk. Others think they should buy Western Digital drives, because, you know, the other companies are junk and their brother’s cousin’s friend had one die on them and lost all their baby pictures, and their other friend works in IT and said so.

So what’s my answer? What should you buy?

Why not BOTH?!

That may seem too easy, but it’s the truth. Now you may be thinking there are more than two drive manufacturers out there, and you are correct. But only Seagate and Western Digital offer consumer-priced external drives.

I don’t see any real benefit to buying external drives in more expensive housings, as the aesthetics of an aluminum enclosure just don’t matter to me, and my experience says I don’t need the extra cooling they offer. Run of the mill external drives will do the job just as well, so for most photographers, Seagate and Western Digital are our two choices.

Drive Failure Rates

Current Seagate and Western Digital drives have similar failure rates based on the data from Backblaze. Most sizes and models of 8TB and larger have annual failure rates of 1% or less. That means if you had one hundred drives, about one of them would fail every year over the normal 4-5 year life of a drive. A difference of a percent or two either way are not going to be meaningful for you. Rough handling, dropping, and transport I suspect will have more effect on that rate than drive manufacturer. So put the brand issue aside. They are both “good enough.”

Most photographers problem isn’t a half percent difference in failure rates, it’s that they aren’t running a proper backup. And some only have one copy of their data. With a proper backup, even a couple percent difference in failure rate isn’t going to be a big issue for you.

Redundancy

In my backup plan, I like to alternate between brands for a little extra insurance. Every once in a while, a brand will have issues with a particular model. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket. It’s a safer approach to have your photos on both brands and on different models of those brands. (Hard drive models change all the time, so unless you bought all your drives at the same time, you’ll have enough redundancy of different models.)

Beware Bare Drives

I used to use a lot of bare drives for backup at West Coast Imaging because we had a never ending supply of them from server upgrades. Bare drives are fragile, and need to be stored and handled with care, and I customized a Pelican Case just to transport them safely. You’re not supposed to stack them, and even small shocks can damage them. It’s so much easier to just buy an external drive that is always in a case that offers a little more protection from shocks and other hazards.

RAID

RAID has a place, but few single user/single workstation still photographers need them, and they are a hassle unless you are a “computer person.” With the advent of 10TB drives and larger, the need to use a RAID to create a larger volume from several smaller volumes is gone for most users. 16TB consumer externals are shipping now, and 18-20TB are available in more expensive external lines. Roadmaps say we’ll have 30TB drives sometime in 2024. And RAIDs have their own issues. If you are on one, you should assess if you need to be and look at transitioning.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve reached a point where hard drives are reliable enough that we don’t have to worry about what brand is best. What most photographers need to solve is the issue of creating a good backup plan, with lots of drives, and maintaining that backup. Buying inexpensive external drives is ok. Being cheap and not buying enough of them for backup isn’t.