By the time you read this, Adobe already will be shipping Photoshop CS4. If you have not downloaded a demo version yet, I strongly suggest doing so; the enhancements to workflow, along with improved stability, definitely make it worth investigating. The Bridge CS4 component has become a much more robust application with a redesigned user interface that I find makes navigation and use easier. Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) have also had some significant user-interface updates. I will go over features and changes that directly affect the way a commercial shooter may choose to work with it.
One significant change is Adobe’s move to make CS4 a 64-bit application. Currently, this only applies to the Windows Vista 64-bit version. Before complaints begin from Mac users, this is not an oversight on Adobe’s part. A 64-bit version of CS4 for Mac was in progress, but Apple changed its 64-bit protocols, forcing Adobe to rewrite the 64-bit Mac version.
The relevance of 64-bit OS compatibility will become obvious in the near future; with Microsoft pushing very hard to get 64-bit Windows acceptance, the tipping point may come before another version of Photoshop is released. Adobe realized the 3GB memory limitation imposed by a 32-bit system was a major obstacle as resolution, and consequently, size of image files constantly keeps increasing. Deciding to utilize virtually unlimited RAM access with 64-bit applications and operating systems was a necessary move. If you are not ready to embrace 64-bit computing just yet, relax—CS4 will ship with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions in the box.
The other important new feature is support of Open GL. This allows a video card’s GPU to accelerate screen redraws, zooming, rotation, and other background tasks previously handled by your computer’s processor. Not all video cards support Open GL yet, but many recent ones do. While Photoshop CS4 will work using a card without hardware graphics acceleration—trust me—you will want a card that supports Open GL.
Making the Bridge connection
Bridge CS4’s most critical improvement for me is stability. I work with many large Raw, TIFF, and PSD (Photoshop’s native format) files that are often in the 500MB– 2GB range. In the past, this resulted in slowing down Bridge, with frequent application hangs due to memory issues. Granted, I push the systems’ limits, but that is what my work demands. Bridge CS4 is not only much faster than previous versions, but large multilayered files that normally created a meltdown in the past no longer do so.
My workf low usually begins with uploading Raw image files into my notebook computer or graphics workstation after a shoot. I use the Photo Downloader in Bridge, which is set in the preferences to launch when I insert a flash card in either machine. This allows me to upload an entire card quickly, with options to select or create a new folder, convert the files to DNG, keep or delete the files on the card after transfer, and add metadata templates created earlier or a basic copyright notice and “creator” name. Once the card uploads, Bridge displays the folder of files.
Given that Bridge is the digital equivalent of a light table for viewing and sorting images, any enhancement in the user interface is significant. One issue with previous versions of Bridge involved viewing multiple selected files in the Preview window (Figure 1). Even using the Light Table mode, anything approaching 50-plus images became difficult to work with since they all have to share the same amount of screen space. Editing a folder with 100 or so images was extremely tedious work.
The new Bridge added something I like more every time I use it: with up to four thumbnails selected, pressing Control+B (Command+B for Mac) opens the full-screen Review mode with the images tiled to fill the screen. However, if you select five or more thumbnails, the Review mode goes into a carousel-like display where the images rotate in either direction using the left/right arrow keys or buttons displayed in full-screen mode (Figure 2). This requires Open GL support, and is just one of the reasons you want to upgrade your current video card if it does not. The images recede and fade as they move behind the largest, center image. If the folder you are editing has more than five images with none selected, the Control+B command automatically selects all the thumbnails and goes into the carousel Review mode. The center image is large enough to evaluate without straining; when placed inside the main center image, the cursor turns into the “+” magnifier that, when clicked, brings up the Loupe function. The Loupe tool still zooms from 100%–800% when you click on the image and, if you enabled it in preferences, will zoom with your mouse scroll wheel. If you must edit a shoot with hundreds of images, this is a major boost to your workflow. In Review mode, you can give images ratings and/or open them in ACR for the next step in post- processing. Clicking the down arrow next to the left/right arrows in the lower left corner removes the center image from the selection.
Review mode may initially seem like a gratuitous showcase for Open GL, but I find editing much faster, and I can churn through many more images before I get tired with this user interface than with the previous one. While in the standard Bridge mode with a thumbnail selected, tapping the space bar opens the image in full-screen view, tapping again returns you to thumbnail view. In the full-screen mode, you can use the scroll wheel to zoom the image again 100%–800% or simply click on the image for 100% view.
Bridge also has a very efficient search function that finds f iles with the criteria you entered into the search fields; it creates a temporary folder that contains all the images it found. It offers the option of searching through Bridge’s file browser or the OS f ile browser (Windows Desktop Search or Spotlight). The new search folder can then be viewed in the carousel Review mode and the images you found in the search can be saved in virtual Collections folders found in the Collections panel. This saves the locations of the found images rather than duplicating the images themselves. There is much more to discuss about Bridge, but I must move on to the next step in my workflow—Adobe CameraRAW, the Raw-file processor shared by Photoshop and Bridge.
Extracting the image
ACR has a number of noteworthy enhancements and performance boosts. It currently recognizes most Raw formats and constantly adds new camera formats through downloadable updates. Any changes you make in ACR are only written to the file’s metadata without touching the original Raw file’s image data and are applied to the converted file as it is opened in Photoshop. Once in Photoshop, you cannot save the file as a Raw file again and must select one of the many formats offered under Format > List. (Note that Photoshop Raw in the list of formats is not the same as a Camera Raw file.)
Until recently, most changes in Photoshop were destructive, meaning that once they are saved, there is no going back to the original file data. The only exception is opening the Raw file in Photoshop as a Smart Object (which I will discuss later). This is very important since it means you can always go back and redo something later without losing any of the original Raw file’s image data.
Many adjustment options are carried over from the previous version (Figure 3), but two new features of ACR 5 located on the top menu bar are worth noting. Global image correction has been in ACR from the beginning, but until now, local correction escaped us. Local correction is a brilliant feature—one worth the upgrade by itself, in my opinion. Many users had hoped for the ability to correct individual areas using masks and have those corrections saved in the metadata rather than making changes to the file itself.
You can mask individual areas in the image file and correct Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Clarity, Sharpness, and Color using the new tool at the top menu bar called the Adjustment Brush (Figure 4). This brush includes sliders for controlling its Size, Feather, Flow, and Density. The beauty of this new tool is that once you have created a mask with the brush (you can create individual masks for different parts of the image), you use sliders to make the changes mentioned—as often as you want, without altering the original file.
The other new tool is the Graduated Filter (Figure 5), which uses a start point and a finish point that are dragged until the desired effect is achieved. This tool also can be used several times on the same image and has Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Clarity, Sharpness, and Color controls. Like the Adjustment Brush, these are adjusted with sliders except for Color, which has a Color Picker with a Saturation slider.
When finished with adjustments, you can open the file as a Smart Object in Photoshop by Shift-clicking Open Image, or simply clicking Open Object if ACR’s Workf low Options have Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects enabled (Figure 6). A Smart Object layer is a copy of the Raw image and cannot be edited or altered in Photoshop. You can always click the Smart Object image layer to open it in ACR if you wish to make more adjustments, but you must create duplicate rasterized layers to work on it in Photoshop.
Once all the corrections that can be made in ACR are made (and there are many), it is time to open the images in CS4. If you have an Open GL- supporting video card, you will notice things run faster, zooms are smoother, and you no longer have to zoom to levels like 25% or 50% to get a clean image rendering and avoid the jagged artifacts of the intermediate settings. All zoom levels are rendered smoothly and accurately with the zoom range now extended to 3200%. Once you reach 500% on the zoom, a grid overlay appears to help define the pixels. Furthermore, if you set the correct Screen Resolution for your display in the Edit > Preferences > Units & Rulers panel, your display will give an accurate representation of what a print will look like when you select View > Print Size. There are just a few more user-interface enhancements to mention before getting to the core of new Photoshop functions.
When zoomed in, a Bird’s Eye View function momentarily displays the entire image if you hold down the H-key with the zoomed area marked by a rectangle that you can move around (Figure 7). The rectangle’s last position before you release the key becomes the new zoomed area. This is a terrific time saver when working on image details. While zoomed in, you also can use Flick Panning, in which the image slides a little after you move it with the Hand tool (or use the spacebar). It is described as “sliding a print across the table.” The more vigorous the move, the further it slides.
You will notice a new feature called the On-Image Adjustment tool in the Curves panel. When selected, it places an Eyedropper tool on the image, which, when you click-drag it up or down, sets a point on the curve and adjusts it as you drag. You can repeat this for different points in your image.
The entire canvas can be rotated to make it easier to work on images with a pen tablet; this is accessed through the Hand tool’s secondary function or by pressing the R-key. Clicking the Reset View button restores the image to its original orientation. Pen-tablet users should appreciate this feature. The main work area window has added a Tabbed mode for open image f iles, in addition to the familiar Floating mode. This may excite some users, although I still prefer Floating mode.
Another great time saver is the spring-loaded-keys function. If you are using a tool and want to switch momentarily to another tool, just press and hold the other tool’s keyboard shortcut, apply the tool, then release its key to return to using the original tool. You can also now delete layers while tools are selected without having to first select the Move tool first.
Adobe renamed “palettes” to “panels,” and in the process added some vital panels. One of the most common and tedious tasks in Photoshop is masking areas of an image. The new Masks panel has consolidated both Pixel and Vector masks. It also added Density and Feather sliders to fine-tune your masks, which are editable.
The other important panel is Adjustments, which contains 15 of the 21 adjustments found in the Image > Adjustments menu. These are the most commonly used adjustments, and clicking on any of the 15 icons automatically creates an Adjustment layer for that modification. I have gotten to love this way of working on an image f ile—it is faster and more intuitive. One new adjustment-layer icon in the Adjustment panel is Vibrance, which functions like Vibrance in ACR. It differs from saturation because it protects image colors from clipping while adding color intensity by affecting the lowest-saturated colors more than highest-saturated colors.
This new release of Photoshop has so many new features and improvements that a single article can’t cover them all. I have tried to point out those I felt were the most important, that can make a difference in your workf low at the computer. I have found it well worth upgrading.