Few new versions of Adobe Photoshop were as highly anticipated by the visual arts community as CS5, released to the masses back in mid April 2010. With a seemingly magical repair tool called Content Aware, a revolutionary background-sensitive Mixer Brush, greatly enhanced RAW processing and 3D text processing, professionals and advanced amateurs alike consider Photoshop CS5 a mandatory upgrade.
Photoshop is a vast program serving the needs of everyone from professional photographers and publishing companies to proud grandparents who want to tweak their family Kodak moments. Some advanced features are irrelevant to many users, others a godsend. If you haven't upgraded long ago, see for yourself which advancements may improve the quality of your work or speed your post processing by sifting through the New Feature tutorials found on the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) website:
The bells and whistles are certainly included in Photoshop CS5, but what about real life functionality and bang for the buck? Can amateur users turn into pros overnight? Does CS5 turn good photos into great photos with a few clicks? After almost two years of using the latest Adobe product, the answers are yes, no and maybe! Following are my observations of a few of the added features that caught my attention:
Content Aware Fill & Healing: This feature was leaked to the public months before release and created an ominous stir in the photographic touch-up market. Was Adobe putting a magic tool into the hands of rank amateurs, thereby eliminating their need to employ professionals? Or would this new feature simply make the work flow much smoother for seasoned Photoshop professionals?
Content Aware Fill and Healing are extensions or enhancements to existing tools such as the copy & fill, the clone stamp and regular healing brushes. Working in conjunction with the Quick Mask or lasso tool and other selection devices, Adobe has greatly improved Photoshop's ability to isolate flaws and replace them more accurately with suitable background content without simply cloning sections of the image. CAFH is a major improvement that can save hours of work for the professional. It can also eliminate minor flaws with a couple of clicks. But Content Aware is not infallible. Selections must be performed very accurately before using this tool and rarely are the results perfect. When the tool works well, you'll marvel at your brilliance. When it doesn't, you may be inclined to prematurely resort back to the painstaking cloning and filling that most professionals dread.
To be clear, Content Aware does not perform anything that can't already be accomplished by an expert with plenty of time. To that extent it was not revolutionary, but it does offer a more accurate shortcut for those who only wish to make minor corrections to their images. It also offers a much-improved starting point for those who strive for perfection. Previous experience with all of Photoshop's masking, selection and editing tools is desirable in order to put Content Aware to full use.
Refine Selection Edges: After making a preliminary selection for editing, copying or removal, RSE incorporates a new Refine Edges dialog box complete with a number of tools to greatly improve the accuracy of your selection edges before processing. Typical examples are hairlines and frilly objects, basically any edge that is so detailed and varied that it is difficult to exclude some of the unwanted background along with your selection. In combination with a properly sized brush, users can simply trace over the troublesome edges to extract more of the wanted edge while discarding extraneous background. The tool is very smart and has the ability to learn what is and what is not required in the edges. Other filters adjust the edge contrast, remove color fringing and smooth your results. The results are placed on a separate mask layer and thus non-destructive. This is an excellent tool in the hands of patient, advanced users.
Mixer Brush: First the caveats; Photoshop has never been and still isn't a dedicated paint program but the background-aware mixing brush is a positive step in that direction. Second, the mixer brush is not only an external palette where dabs of digital paint can be pre-mixed before application.
In previous versions of Photoshop, applying a new color with a brush essentially involved painting on top of the image. The only method to have this paint layer blend into the background was to lower the opacity of the top layer. In order to build to the appropriate color, many layers were often necessary . . .and cumbersome. In CS5, the mixer brush reacts to the selected image layer by adding the new brush color directly into the existing colors on the layer with tone and hue being adjusted accordingly. Even more interesting is that the brush now reacts like a real artist's paintbrush. Previously, the selected color was infinitely selected and available to the brush in full strength at all times. In CS5, the paint is depleted as strokes are applied and eventually runs dry if not replenished. This provides a far more realistic stroking technique as the strength and quantity of the paint taper off at the end of the stroke. Mixer Brush is not for the faint of heart since it can easily mush the details of your image . (Copy a duplicate layer before playing with this tool!) Advanced brush manipulation in CS5 combined with a Wacom drawing tablet can provide excellent results for any digital artist.
Advanced HDR and HDR Single Image: HDR is a popular method of merging multiple exposures of one image in order to increase the dynamic range of the final product. The HDR processor combines a set of layers exposed to retain highlight & shadow detail as well as numerous mid points. CS5 tweaks the settings and accuracy of their previous HDR processor. New to CS5 is an HDR Single Image processor that can extract different exposures from one original image and sandwich the best results from each exposure range into a photo that appears much closer to what your eye previously detected. HDR can produce unrealistic, contrived or overly-dramatic images if over used. When controlled effectively, it can create highly detailed photographs from corner to corner.
Camera RAW Import Processor: Are you shooting pictures in RAW mode? If you're serious about your digital photography, you should be. RAW mode image files saved in your camera are comprised of the exact pixels captured by the camera's CCD that are free from subjective camera processing or lossy compression. Adobe's Raw Import allows you to make significant adjustments to the image before importing it into Photoshop, thus maintaining the integrity of the unprocessed image data with zero degradation caused by file compression and sloppy Photoshop post-processing.
One major improvement is CS5 RAW Importer's ability to eliminate many types of digital flaws, in particular that awful grain-like noise in shadow areas caused when the camera fights to accurately depict images in insufficient light, as well as random color artifacts.
When I worked as a newspaper journalist back in the eighties and nineties, we rarely had time to fiddle with camera exposure settings when stories were unfolding quickly. The editor's infamous advice was to set your film camera on aperture F8 and just be there. As a median aperture, F8 gave you a reasonable chance with sufficient depth of field to capture something focused on the film, and with a little guidance regarding the ambient conditions of the shoot, photo lab techs back at the daily paper could push or pull the film to yield decent exposure results. At the time, none of us even dreamed of the power of RAW digital files.
In today's digital world, many people click away on auto-focused program or intelligent modes with little or no exposure planning. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When the camera's auto exposure is incorrect, Camera RAW allows you to alter the original native image pixels for tone, hue, saturation, contrast, density, sharpness, white balance, grain levels and other adjustments through a series of slide bars and graphs before committing the image to lossy compression or manipulation. This is a must feature for anyone using a camera that supports RAW image files. Try Raw Import, you'll love the results. Even beginners will see immediate improvements through this easy to use tool.
Puppet Wrap: Are you familiar with CS4's Transform Warp? The previous Warp tool created a grid of points over your selected image section that allowed you to push, pull and manipulate the section by grabbing the intersection points of the grid. This was very useful for distorting or shaping a portion of the image to match with the underlying image or to align objects to your liking in a montage. CS5's Puppet Wrap takes this technology to an entirely different level of sophistication by allowing you to place your own adjustment pin points rather than be constrained by the pre-determined grid. It also offers pseudo 3D by allowing you to move a point above or below another point, in essence creating simulated 3D wrapping. Puppet Warp is a very useful tool for graphic designers and artists who regularly merge objects drawn from multiple sources into a single image plane of a montage.
Summary: Adobe Photoshop CS5's list of features and enhancements of existing tools is far more extensive than the handful mentioned in this article. It is well worth the purchase or upgrade price for any serious photographer / graphic artist. As the industry standard, when purchased on a volume license it is also a viable option for schools to prepare students for real world positions. Students will LOVE their tech departments for recommeding powerful, creative software instead of free or cheap pretenders. Trust me, I've been there.
To find information for new users, visit the NAPP and Adobe sites, or better still download a 30 day trial version from Adobe.com and see for yourself. For existing Photoshop CS3 or CS4 users, shame on you. Don't think twice, upgrade now!