Free iPad Image Editing: Photoshop Express

Many people will see a guy with a nice camera sporting a lens so big it looks like he’s compensating for some …, um, inadequacy, and they think, “Gee - it must be great to be a photographer. You go around shooting this and that, and people see your shots and marvel at the detail, color, subject, composition…” and so on.

The ugly truth is that photographers with big lenses are trying to compensate for something, but it has little to do with the specs of their manhood (or lack thereof). In fact, all pro photogs do a lot of compensating to get that great shot. They compensate for the light, be it bright or dim. They adjust for composition ( Who put that stupid telephone pole there in the first place?). They fill in shadows with a flash or reflector, or decide if sharpness is more important to the shot than the foreground and background focus (depth of field). A lot goes through a pro photographer’s mind before he releases the shutter, and it’s all about compensating.

Another truth is that most of the magic of photography does not take place when the shutter button is pressed, but rather after the shots have been downloaded into your computer where the task is begun to make what was taken look like what was seen. This is called “post processing” and it is likely 80% of the time required to actually produce any given photo. While it is true that the better you are behind the viewfinder the less time you’ll spend post processing, all photos require post processing if they are to become anything worth looking at.

I hear you saying, “Wait a minute Vern! I take excellent pix with my Japan-O-Vision Electro 5000 DSLR that’s got a gazillion megapixel and a lens that lets me count the hairs of a fly’s butt at 300 feet. All I do is point and click and I got photo goodness worthy of a gallery. No post processing crap required.”

To that I say, “Bullocks!”

Unless you intend to store all your shot on your camera, never share them with anyone, and never get them printed, then you are possibly right, but few people will know how good your photos are because few people will see them. So what’s the point of shooting if no one sees your shots?

Post processing is more than tweaking photos. Pros and serious hobbyists develop a post processing routine, or workflow, that helps them insure that each shot has the basic post processing requirements addressed.

What are those requirements?

That depends on what you intend to do with your photos, but the routine usually includes archiving, labeling, keywording, and adjusting the photos. Some of these tasks are made easier by your camera or software on your computer, but the more you shoot, the more important these post processing tasks become.

What does all of this have to do with Free on iTunes? A lot, it turns out.

A while back in this column I mentioned Adobe’s Photoshop Express for the iPhone. It’s a free app that offers many nice features and can be included as the centerpiece of your iPhone post processing efforts. PS Express has recently been updated to version 1.5, and the update is a decent one. And, of course, it runs on the iPad.

PS Express

Photoshop Express on the iPad

The user interface (UI) has been changed to be more focused on establishing a post processing workflow. Now, when you open PS Express, you must decide whether to use the built in camera function or edit photos from your library. On the iPad, however, you don’t get the in-app camera option (yet).

The camera function is about as useful as the iPhone’s included Camera app, except where the Camera app will let you easily switch between its normal and High Dynamic Range options, the camera function in PS Express lets you zoom easily using an on-screen slider. This the weakest feature in PS Express. There’s no anti-shake, which is a must-have for zooming, in my opinion, and no timer, another needed feature.

Things get a bit more interesting if you select a photo from your library to edit. There you can crop, rotate, adjust exposure, saturation, tint, and contrast, or convert to black and white. You also have options to play with the sharpness and softness, or you can play around several built-in filters and borders.

If you’ve had any experience with Adobe’s browser based PS Express (which iPhone and iPad users can’t use because it’s Flash based) then you may be a bit disappointed with the iOS version, some features are missing including the often needed ability to do touch-ups.

Which brings to my next point; the core of PS Express for iOS isn’t the app, it’s the free cloud service behind the app. Adobe offers a free photo repository, one that you can get to anywhere you can get to the Internet. Uploading and viewing photo are a cinch, but, again, lack some much needed options, like the ability to bulk upload photos, or the capacity to alter the title.

PS Express

Limited functionality, but still useful

It’s my opinion that these features could be made available to iOS devices, but Adobe has chosen not to include them, perhaps as a swipe at Apple and it’s stance against Flash.

Ah well. As it is PS Express for iPhone and iPad does the job. There are plenty of amazingly good camera apps available that include all of the features missing from PS Express and the built in camera app, and then some. Camera+ (not to be confused with Camera Plus, a different app) is current my favorite and it has facilities that can help you produce photos that don’t look like the should have come from a phone at all, but you’ll have to pony up two bucks for the privilege. If you don’t want to spend any money on photo app at all, the PS Express and the built in camera app are your best, if somewhat feature bare, choices.

And that’s a wrap for this week.

Speaking of bare, I apologize for the meager volume of this week’s article, I am traveling and have had much of my article writing time preempted by more pressing concerns. More Free on iTunes next week.