Jon Ayres

Moscow, Russian Federation

I’m an American who has been living in Moscow since 2003. I enjoy discovering and photographing the many new things unheard of in...

How to Setup Your Digital Darkroom Some things to take into Consideration

How to Setup Your Digital Darkroom

A photographer’s or digital artist’s darkroom is one of the major considerations that are sometimes overlooked by photographers and digital artists. Because there are so many different post processing programs, the new photographer or digital artist sometimes gets confused by what they need. One of the biggest mistakes the new photographer or digital artist can make is believing that, “Since the pros all use Photoshop, so I will use Photoshop too.” That is about as silly as some photographers believe that they have to use a dslr camera because the pros do, as if using a dslr camera and Photoshop will by magic make their work good and professional. It is attitudes like this that separate the professional photographers and digital artists from the amateurs who only dream. Even though Photoshop is the top dog of the Photo post processing world, it is not always the best choice for the digital artist or photographer. It makes no sense to buy the expensive Photoshop unless you are willing to put in the time and expense to learn how to use it, most amateurs are not willing to do this. You can see from the posts on various photography forums that many do not even bother reading the manual that comes with their camera or software. Photoshop has features that are only useful for publications (newspapers, magazines, ect…) That is not to say that Photoshop is not good for the home digital photographer and artist, it is very good, I use it myself, but then I have been using it since the first version which operated by dos and fit on a single floppy disk. I took classes in using Photoshop in college, so I know my way around the program fairly well. But there are other programs that can be better suited for the photographer and digital artist. Nothing kills an interest or hobby faster than thinking because the pros use something, I will also and then find out that you’ve spent all this money on a fancy dslr camera and Photoshop and can not use it because it is too hard, especially if you do not bother to read the manual. I remember a post on a forum I will not name where a person was using Photoshop and did not know how to save te file as a jpg. Do they not know what help is for? Sometimes I wonder if anybody bothers to read a manual anymore from some of the posts I see on various forums. That person will not be using Photoshop for very long, hopefully they only download the trail to try out instead of throwing away a lot of money. Know yourself and be true to yourself if you want to succeed.

General Photo Editing

The first thing the new photographer and digital artist must decide when setting up their digital darkroom is decide just what is it they want to do with their photos and art work and what they will need to accomplish their goal. A good photographer knows their weaknesses in taking photos and what they need to correct these weaknesses in post processing. Are you interested in keeping your photos as photos or using them as digital art? Sometimes a person only wants to correct mistakes in their photos, things like exposure, color, changing them to B&W ect… Here you really only need a good photo editor. Here of course Photoshop is the best, but as I said before you have to be willing to put in the time and money to learn how to use it. Photoshop is not a program that you can just start using and expect good results. This is why Photoshop Elements was made for, a simple to use version of Photoshop made for the home user who does not need all the professional publishing additions of Photoshop or have the desire to learn how to use Photoshop. Photoshop Elements is the home user’s professional software.

Adobe has just come out with a new very good digital editing and dam (digital assets management) program called Lightroom. Lightroom is more of an image management program with strong editing functions and a very good raw conversion and editing program. Though Lightroom’s photo editing is not as strong as its older brother Photoshop, but Lightroom does offer a lot in its editing and for many it will be all they ever need. I also use Lightroom along with CS3 as part of my digital darkroom suite. If you look at one of the top retouching forums on the internet, you’ll find that a lot of the more experienced users have stopped using Photoshop and now only use Lightroom, why? Because Photoshop is not really a photographers program, it is a professional image editing program for publishers, where as Lightroom is a program for photographers and provides the tools a photographer needs to edit their photos and keep them as photos. Before you hardcore Photoshop users get your panties in a wad, remember I said photographers, not graphic arts, if you’re looking to do more with your photos, then Photoshop maybe what you need. But for photo only editing and correction, Lightroom is the way to go and of course you can be like me and use both.

But there are other good choices for the digital artist’s post processing, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo probably comes right behind Photoshop in popularity among photographers and digital artists. It has most of the features of Photoshop, even can use a lot of the same Photoshop plugins.

There are also many free post processing programs that are very good and easy to use. Gimp is by many considered the best free post processing program, that comes as close to Photoshop as can be had, even using some of the same plugins as Photoshop. If you are interested in using Photoshop, I would highly recommend downloading Gimp first and using it because it is so much like Photoshop. Then if you’re determined to spend the big bucks for Photoshop, go for it, but why not try out what is known as the “Free Photoshop” first.

Another nice image editor is Lightzone. Not only is Lightzone a nice image editor, but also a nice raw converter and editor. I used to use it, but I just did not care for its java operating system and finally switched to something else, maybe the current version has addressed the java problems I experiences, but over all Lightzone is a pretty nice image and raw editing program.

A pretty nice program is Zoner Photo Studio, Zoner Photo Studio is a pretty nice editing program and it also has some interesting art effects. Somebody who is looking for a beginning photo editing program, this might be worth checking out.

There are many different photo editing programs of different types, the best bet for you would be to download what looks interesting and try them out for yourself. What I like and works for me could very well be a nightmare for you, every program has its fans and those who do not like it, but here are a few links to some free photo software.
Many love Picasa
Irfanview is another free editing program loved by many

Raw Editing

Raw converters, there has been a lot of debate about whether raw is better than jpg. I will not go into detail about this foolishness, most pros shoot both, they know when to shoot raw and when not to. Since Photoshop and Lightroom both handle raw to my satisfaction, that is what I now use, but there are plenty of nice raw converters to choose from. If you’re looking for a free raw converter, may want to check these out, some I have use, some I have not, if I have used it, I will comment on it.
Stepok’s Raw Importer is a free and easy-to-use raw importing and converting tool, compatible with most camera models on markets. With the help of this tool, you can convert camera RAW files into best quality JPEG or TIFF format step by step. It supports batch converting!
The Unidentified Flying Raw (UFRaw) is a utility to read and manipulate raw images from digital cameras. It can be used on its own or as a Gimp plug-in. Everything I have read says very good things about this converter.
I have read that both Google’s Picasa app and Irfanview image editors both have Raw conversion capability, but since I never have used these programs I can not say how good they are.
Rawker is a free raw converter for Mac.
Raw Therapee is one of the nicest free raw editors I have used, very user friendly, easy to use and produces excellent results, I can verify all the good things said about this free converter.
I have heard some good things about SILKYPIX Developer Studio raw editor for both windows and Mac, but since it would not work with my camera I was unable to ever try it out, but for those who wish to give this free converter a try,

Digital Art Software

One of the secrets to great post processing work is of course a sense of art, but more important using a program you like and enjoy using and learning how to use it to its fullest. It makes no difference if you use Photoshop or Picasa, enjoy using the program and you will learn not only how to use it to its fullest, but create photos that you will not only be proud of, but impress others also. So forget about that myth fairytale that you have to use Photoshop, you do not! Take that from somebody who does use Photoshop.

Maybe you’re interested in doing a little more with your photos; maybe make some digital art masterpieces. This is what I mainly concentrate my work on now. Yes, I still sell a photo every now and then. Sometimes a person will see one of my artworks and ask me if they can buy the original photo, but my main concentration now is on digital art and I have put together a pretty nice digital darkroom which suites my purposes perfectly. I first started doing digital art using Photoshop, but even through Photoshop can do digital art, especially today with the many plugins available, digital art is not what Photoshop was made for and it still has its weaknesses. Mainly that it takes a long time to get the desired results, even using the new plugins available now. This is where programs made especially for painting are better than Photoshop, especially when used along with Photoshop.

Just like Photoshop is the top dog for photo post processing, Corel Painter is top dog in photo art conversions. Take a look at Corel Painter Magazine and you’ll understand why painter is top dog. I have only been using Corel Painter for about a week, I’m a teacher and can only afford to buy when I can. Before that I had been using Corel Painter Essentials which is a scaled down version of Painter like Photoshop Elements is a scaled down version of Photoshop. I still like Essentials and will continue to use it for some of my artwork, but Painter has really blown me away. The options, effects, paint styles, Painter is the Photoshop of Painting and if your really serious about photo painting or digital art painting, then Painter will be a program you will want to seriously consider adding to your digital darkroom.

If not Painter, I would seriously consider Corel Painter Essentials 4, which I have been using for awhile now; most of my art on Red Bubble was done using Essentials and then the finishing touches done in Photoshop. But if you’re interested in digital art, then Corel Painter Essentials 4 along with Photoshop Elements would make a good strong workable foundation to your digital darkroom.

Another nice painting program I like is called TwistedBrush
I call TwistedBrush the poorman’s Painter because it can do a lot of what Painter does. The only thing I find aggravating about TwistedBrush is the developer seems to update the program too much. I guess that is better than updating it too little, but his guy seems to have a mental problem about updating this program, at least once a week it seems, sometimes twice a week. But honestly, the developer does work hard to keep TwistedBrush up to date and fixing bugs and adding new brushes and other things. I’ve been using TwistedBrush for about a year and half and very impressed with all it can do.

Another nice digital paint program I like is Gertrudis Pro

This program makes some of the most realistic digital art paintings there is, I mean these digital art paintings look just like the real thing. There is both a stand alone program and Photoshop plugin version. Gertrudis Pro has several different paint effects, good brush strokes, textures, yet very few people seem to know about this program, but Gertrudis is really a nice paint program that is a part of my digital darkroom.

ArtStudioPro is another of my favorite digital art programs, I have been able to get some very good results using this program, though not as extensive as Painter or TwistedBrush, the results you can get from ArtStudioPro are very nice and pleasing to the eye. My first digital art sell was done with this program. What I like best about ArtStudioPro is that there is both a stand alone version and Photoshop plugin. ArtStudioPro has around 10 or 15 art effects, one reason I like this program so much is the realism effect you can choose, really gives a nice real effect to your digital art.

HDR Software

HDR photography seems to be the new rage in digital arts today and something you may wish to include in your digital darkroom. So much so that now a lot of the major post processing programs such as Photoshop now includes HDR processing in the program.

The top HDR program seems to be Photomatix. I personally do not care for this program, just seemed to restrictive to me, but many people really do love Photomatix and are able to get some very good results from it.

I have two HDR programs I like using, the first on is Artizen HDR.
I like Artizen HDR because it is something like a mini image editor, I can combine or edit my raw files from my Fuji camera, easy to combine as many photos taken at different exposures as I wish, undo, edit, everything is easy to use and what I like is Artizen HDR just gives me more control than Photomatix, Photomatix fans may disagree, but for me Artizen is the better HDR program. By the way, Artizen does have afreeware version, its an older version, but completely free,

Another HDR program I have and use is Dynamic-Photo HDR, Dynamic-Photo HDR is a pretty new HDR program, but it can do quiet a few things with a few nice features that other HDR programs do not have like, Easy to understand software with fast results, Powerful Auto-Aligning, Manual or Auto-Assist Aligning of images with an innovative Pin Warping that can correct all types of misalignment, including camera roll, pitch or yaw, Anti-ghosting mask that can completely eliminate ghosting of moving objects, Various tone mapping procedures that can create a whole range of images – from smooth photographic tone mapping to very dramatic images, Works with most RAW camera formats, Live HDR preview during various steps, you can see tonemapped image preview even before you create HDR! To me Photomatix just can not compare to Dynamic-Photo HDR or Artizen.
I have not tried Easyhdr yet, but it does look to be very promising, especially if it can outdo Artizen as it claims to, so I will be trying this program out pretty soon.

And there are other HDR programs such as PFSTools and FDRTools. Picturenaut is another free HDR program I want to try, the web page is in German, but from what I have read the program can be installed in English

Panorama Software

Panorama software is software that combines several photos into a single wide angle view. There are many options in this category, both paid and free software.

PTgui and Panorama Tools are most likely the most popular panorama program and one of the oldest. They have both a paid version and freeware version. I tried it once and did not get the results I wanted so I moved on to something I liked better. But PTgui has been around quiet awhile and many people love it.

Panorama Factory is a Panorama program I like, it works on both windows and Mac and is pretty nice and easy to use, it’s not the best pano program I have used, but it is a good and easy to use program. I no longer have it as part of my digital darkroom, but do have it on cd so if I ever need it, I have it.

Autopano Pro is another pano program I liked a lot, easy to use, Automatic pictures finding, Automatic stitching, Advanced color correction, HDR workflow, this is one of the few pano stitching programs that works with HDR photos. I still have this as part of my digital darkroom and like it a lot.

The current pano program I have in my digital darkroom is PanoramaStudio, I like this program because it gives me the most control over making my panoramas. Some of its features are Clear and easy user interface, large work space, Automatic stitching, enhancing and blending of your photos, Uses the Exif data of digital cameras, Manual post processing of all steps possible, this program offers me complete control over every step or I can use auto mode and that is what I like.

Miscellaneous Software
Watermarking is probably the best way to protect your photos and work. Some mistakenly believe that disabling right clicks is the way to go. Not long ago a lady on the Red Bubble bragged about disabling right click saving on her web gallery. Another member showed how wrong she was and I myself copied every photo she had on her web site in less than 30 seconds by saving her web pages. Plus I’m against disabling right clicking because many of my clients are interior decorators and they right click and save my images they think a client maybe interested in to show their clients, so right click saving results in sales for me. I watermark all my work so right clicking is not an issue for me. Yes, I know watermarks can be removed, but if you find out about it, it is a stronger case for you in court. Watermarking still remains the strongest safe guard in protecting your work.
Most post processing programs will allow you to watermark your photos and work, but sometimes its best to have a separate program to do it for you. A couple I like and use is Watermark Factory and 1 More Watermarker which is what I now have as part of my digital darkroom again is a program that offers a lot of options and gives me more control over the watermarking process.
Depending on your editing software, you may need a program to resize your work, making your work smaller is really not a problem, there are many programs to do this, the following are a few free programs for making your photos smaller.
Visualizer Photo Resize is a free resize program
FastStone Photo Resizer is another free resizer
PIXresizer another free resizer

Making photos bigger is a little more serious, called photo interpolation, has to be done very carefully or you’ll end up with a useless piece of garbage. There are many Photoshop plugins to handle this, which is one of Photoshop’s weaknesses. Photoshop can do a good job with interpolation and making files bigger, but it is not as good as what you can get using Genuine Fractals or Stair Interpolation. Here’s a link for you Photoshop die hards.

If you do not use Photoshop, then the two best stand alone photo interpolation programs are QImage and Photozoom Pro Photozoom Pro is part of my digital darkroom and I use it quiet often

Final words

Your digital darkroom should suite your needs perfectly, it should have programs and software you enjoy using. It makes no sense to invest in Photoshop because it is what the pros use (or do they, you’ll be surprised at how many professional photographers and digital artists do not use photoshop) and then find out it is too had for you or you do not have time to learn how to use it. Just about every program made has free trials to download and try the software out. Download the free trails and try out the software before you throw away your money. I’m a teacher who has to watch his expenses, I have been involved in photography since the mid 70s and involved in digital arts since the early 80s when personal computers became popular. I have a degree in photojournalism and graphic arts among other things. I’m able to make enough sells to keep my hobby supplied with what I need I have been using Photoshop since the first version was released, small enough to fit on a 1.4 meg floppy disk. I am always trying out new programs as I find them and adding things to my digital darkroom. I have tailored my digital darkroom to fit my needs and my enjoyment. Yes Photoshop is the best photo editing software period, but unless you are willing to devote the time needed to learn how to use it and at least download and read the manual about using it, you’ll be better of using Elements or another post processing program.
At present my digital darkroom consists of Photoshop CS3, Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe Acrobat, Corel Painter, Corel Painter Essentials 4, Gertrudis Pro, ArtStudioPro, PanoramaStudio, Dynamic-Photo HDR, Artizen HDR, TwistedBrush and quiet a few nic nat software programs fonts ect… I am mainly involved with digital art so I have the software I need to do what I need and like to do. Of course you may have completely different ideas about what you want to do and accomplish, you have to find the software that will do what you want, try it out, if it does what you want and you enjoy using it, then buy it and add it to your digital darkroom. One thing that pisses me off are the self proclaimed experts that try and tell you that you have to have this and you have to do this, hogwash! You only need what you are comfortable using and like using. There are many photo and digital art pros that use only p&s cameras and simple editing tools. Those who try and tell you that you have to have this and have to do that are only dreamers who think it is the camera you use and Photoshop that makes them a pro. True professionals know better than that foolishness. There are a few thousand post processing programs and out of that, you can find something you need and like, find it and enjoy it.

Jon D. Ayres

Journal Comments

  • Loredana Crupi
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait