Before we begin discussing nuts, bolts and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, let’s set some parameters so we know what we’re looking for. Why do we need software that processes images? Well, if you’re as old as I am, you know that photographers have always had to: ** 1. Store images somewhere you can find them again… ** 2. Develop them so they look good… ** 3. And provide the client with whatever they need. These days, it’s the same… we’ve just moved those processes to a computer. The good news is, it’s actually a lot easier these days than it used to be. After all, some software programs will do all of that for you. The two most robust programs used by pros today are Lightroom, by Adobe, and Aperture, by Apple. iPhoto and Picasa are less powerful and more consumer-oriented. Decent starting points, but not up to the full featured capabilities of Lightroom and Aperture. Let’s take a closer look… —————————- LIGHTROOM 4 —————————- Price – $149 new, upgrade $79 Bonus – Try it for free with a 30-day, fully-functioning trial version Adobe made Lightroom so that photographers would stop trying to get an MIF degree (Masters in Frustration) trying to master the complexities of Photoshop. Photoshop is a great name, but a more appropriate name is Graphicshop. “Graphicshop” was not really for photographers, but for designers. We just used it because there weren’t any other good alternatives. I liken it to a carpenter using a jackhammer to pound a nail – expensive, hard to control, and very hard to learn. Lightroom makes everything easier. It’s easier to learn, it includes an organization element, and the processing results are great. * Storage: A+ Lightroom imports and stores your images, allowing you to use keywords and rankings to pick your winners. It’s very full featured, permitting custom collections and more. This module is one of the most important. Since the invention of digital photography, the average shoot has gone from 36 shots to 17 trillion images! Your ability to sift through the grains of sand and find the best of the best is critical to your success and sanity. * Develop: A The ability to make changes to the photo anywhere from globally to the individual pixel level is almost magic. All this is done without ever damaging your original. You can always go back to square one, or step backwards at any point in the process. * Client Output: A+ I can’t think of anything a client would need that Lightroom can’t deliver quickly and easily. That includes digital files of any size and format, a print from your printer or one to be sent to an online printer, a custom slideshow to put up on a large monitor for the bride and parents, an e-mailed slideshow to grandma in Japan — whatever you need. The latest version of Lightroom will even do an amazing job of producing a book with a large variety of formats and send it to the printer for you. * Comments: While this program has everything you need from organization through sophisticated development and every kind of output imaginable, it can be used even by a beginner. Not unlike the Program setting on your camera. Until you get up to speed, or even if you never do, most of the auto settings will give great results. —————————— APERTURE —————————— Price – $79 This is Apple’s most sophisticated image processing software and a direct competitor to Lightroom. It works only on Macintosh. These programs are almost identical in organizing and development capability. * Storage: B+ It does all the keywording and ranking needed, but it loses a bit in simplicity. I find it harder to see where my photos are and more difficult to find the winners I’ve picked. But a B+ isn’t bad — sure beats my college days. * Develop: A Aperture does a fine job of doing all the developing tasks. I think it’s a little more difficult to master than Lightroom, but I like the brushes better and all the tools are there. Aperture has the lead in retouching. It allows you to retouch irregular shapes and areas, whereas Lightroom is stuck with the spot retouching brush. Aperture also lets you work on developing at any point in the process, even while you’re ranking photos. Kind of a “do whatever you want whenever you want to” approach. Lightroom has different modules. Organizing is done in the Library module, Develop is another module. I find the Lightroom approach helps me develop and organize workflow. With Aperture I tend to wander. And like Lightroom, Aperture is totally non-destructive. * Client Output: A+ Aperture will give you everything you need for clients. Prior to the most recent version of Lightroom, it was the only one that would allow you to produce books and have them printed. The new Lightroom now excels in that category as well. * Comments: Aperture is a memory hog. You’ll need a Mac with a fast processor and at least 4 gigabytes of memory. Lightroom will operate comfortably with less than half of that. A few years ago, this program was more expensive than Lightroom, but now it’s half the price. There is a lot of conversation that it’s being dumbed down and that it’s becoming a glorified iPhoto. That may be true, but it’s still an amazingly powerful program. ————————- IPHOTO ————————- Price – $14.99 iPhoto is a scaled-down version of Aperture. It’s meant more for the consumer than the pro. In general, it does a little less in all categories, particularly in development. It will work as a starting point, but as you progress, you’ll want the extra power in either Lightroom or Aperture. ———————— PICASA ———————— Price – Free A Google product, Picasa is again a scaled down version of photographic software. It’s definitely for the amateur/consumer market. Its skills are the integration with all the Google software on the web for sharing with friends and working with social media. I can’t recommend it for an aspiring pro. Final Word: Having used both Lightroom and Aperture extensively, and having drunk more than my share of the Apple “Kool-Aid,” I still prefer to use Lightroom. My guess is, no matter where you start, you’ll wind up using it sooner or later. It’s also the only one than comes in both Mac and Windows versions, so you can install it on either computer. If you begin with Windows and later switch to Mac, you won’t have to buy a new program. I think it’s the standard to beat. However, either of these two programs will do what you need to sell your photos. [Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]
Picasa, Lightroom, iPhoto and Aperture: What’s the Difference?
by Rich Wagner | Apr 11, 2012