After seeing so much attention being drawn to the new mac app store I saw an opportunity to put my review/suggestion hat on and focus on an application I have been using more and more lately. That wonderful piece of indie code is called Pixelmator. Before jumping in it’s good, I feel, to offer a bit of background, and share my opinions on editing photos digitally.
I have been using computers to edit images and design for as long as I can remember. I know there are more and more of todays youth able to say that these days but digital imaging and me really do go way back. I remember clearly using photoshop THREE (even version one a small bit on an older computer in the corner of a computer lab) to create design in my first design course way back in high school. This is just before version four came along and changed everything with the introduction of layers. Before then things were so much more convoluted. It’s a bit hazy in my mind but something as simple as a drop shadow or embossing used to require an elaborate mess of alpha layer editing, selection masks, and effect trickery. It was no pleasant feat.
Needless to say we have come a long, long way in the past ten years or so and design programs have grown increasingly powerful and make it easier and easier to do some really crazy things that once took a true mastery of the applications being used. To stay focused within this review I am zeroing in on the elephant in the room, Adobe Photoshop. My how it has grown, and my oh my has it had an ever increasing ability to cannibalize a niche in the marketplace.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of alternatives around for your average digital photo maker but not many as stuffed full and as bloated as Photoshop. I am really not too sure what else they could add to it. But then again, I have been saying that for a while now yet they still manage to cram in some new tech that pushes photography more and more into a corner, leaving it’s humble roots hiding in the dark as it mangles the definition of a photograph to include any manner of heavy digital grooming. I have said it before, and I will say it again.
Photography is not a preset.
It makes me fear for the creativity within the medium. While some of you may feel as though digital tools amplify creativity I somehow feel as though it is stunting many young photographers growth and understanding of the art form. It’s an often debated subject and I have no real answers outside of my own personal opinions but I can admit to strongly believing in a less is more approach to photography digital or otherwise.
That said, I encourage those of you using Photoshop heavily in your post photo work to heavily offset average imagery before sharing it with the world should think seriously about the approach. After being in the field for so many years it gets really easy to spot those who abuse these new technologies as an easy way create something that contains any breath of emotion. Heavy photo manipulation is often cause of a trend or a gimmick and I rarely see it lead to images having any more truth or fulfilling narrative within them. This is not to discourage exploring, simply to raise awareness of a growing laziness attacking creativity.
This goes not only for Photoshop but for other applications such as Lightroom or Aperture as well which can be just as easily used and abused to lay it on too thick. Before you jump on the offense train of thought I would also like to mention that I am not at all ANTI post editing. I have done my fair share of tweaks to images I would have otherwise lost in post but I would like to stress the value of understanding photography starting with the basics. Let’s just leave the new wave of cell phone photography out of this one for now, feels like an entirely separate beast really.
SO at any rate, setting all that work flow philosophy aside, I started to notice something over time. There was a distinct decline in the amount of editing I would do within Photoshop. When I shoot digitally now I am using Aperture to manage and adjust images as they come into the computer. It simplified my whole workflow ten fold. The basic editing tools offered within Aperture (or Lightroom for that matter) have been more than enough since the introduction of such software. I realized the only thing I was doing within Photoshop was cropping images and tossing in that little pixel font wartermark for wallpaper images. On occasion I may go as far as to use the Smart Sharpen tool or add a couple subtle tweaks in the curves but for the most part, the tools and mess that I was surrounded by never ends up getting touched.
This made me think, surely there is an alternative. The simplification of my workflow has lead me to rely much less on something as elaborate as Photoshop and using a buggy, aging version of the program often lead to more frustration than it was worth. So I looked for another option out there that does not cost an arm and a leg, but also offers a substantial set of tools for image editing and takes the overall quality seriously. I was quickly reminded of Pixelmator. An application I shrugged off years ago with its earlier releases because I thought, rather smugly to be honest, there was no such thing as an alternative to Photoshop. It’s got to be in the dictionary by now right? It didn’t really even feel like a question worth asking, Photoshop wasn’t an option. It just WAS the option.
As I continued to think about it I came to imagine that only about 25 percent of Photoshop users actually even bought the app to begin with. Seems to me the high cost of the application has driven countless casual tinkerers and emerging professionals alike to accidentally find a copy of some pro Adobe software loaded on their computer.
After revisiting Pixelmator from an earlier purchase as part of one of those random bundles of apps I realized that it was more than enough for me. The basic toolset for any photographer, casual and often otherwise, can be found in Aperture or Lightroom, hell even iPhoto alone and for those with more specific needs like myself Pixelmator is more than enough.
The tools offered are right in line with the core Photoshop way of working with cloning, layers, a simple but effective set of filters, and more. Working in the app is simple, elegant and focused and many of you that may be used to a photoshop workflow will automatically have a fair idea of what is going on. The only thing that may take a little getting used to are a few shortcuts that are differ from what you may be used to. It’s truly a joy to use really. I feel lighter using an application without so much bloat clinging to every click and that simplification feels good.
The only real frustration I have come across thus far has been within the type tool, something which they have openly confessed to be lacking. This and a couple of tiny things about the workflow that I am adjusting to such as not being able to drag a layer form one file to another, which has not been much of a bother at all.
At risk of getting caught with my foot in my mouth in the future, I can admit that my trusty old copy of CS2 will not be deleted from my laptop just yet, Illustrator is still my go to app when starting a new design, but I have all but vowed to make a firm switch over to Pixelmator for my everyday photo and wallpaper creating needs. From what I have been reading it is still very much in active development and will continue to grow with time which I look forward to.
As an added bonus, Pixelmator is available on the new Mac App Store for the wonderful cost of $30 for a limited time (how limited has yet to be seen). If you are using a ghost copy of Photoshop or, like me, just feel frustrated with the bloat I would certainly suggest you have a gander over at what Pixelmator can offer you. At this price you don’t really have much to loose.
While I am at it, I could easily suggest you give Aperture a go. I know there are a lot of Lightroom users out there that went with Lightroom based on the assumption that its Adobe, surely thats the one to use without much consideration of what else was out there. I have used Aperture since version one, switched briefly to give Lightroom a go but missed the workflow of Aperture and am now a happy camper using Aperture 3. Now that it’s only $80 I can easily recommend it for anyone not already using something a bit more capable than iPhoto. Maybe, I will save this for another day ;)