Digital Darkroom Photo Editing Software Comparison

For the most part a photographer only needs a few software programs in order to have a fully functioning digital darkroom. While there are dozens of possibilities I have three software packages that I strongly recommend: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop Elements and Tiffen’s Df/x.


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Photo Editing Software Comparison (Click to Learn More)

I suggest starting with Photoshop Lightroom ($299). Lightroom is both an image manipulation program and one of the best image file archive managers on the planet. In every instance Lightroom is where I begin the moment I have images that I need to move from a memory card onto my computer.

Lightroom has an incredibly easy image download system that can be setup once and forgotten. In my case I have it setup to store images in “My Pictures” arranged in folders labeled with the image capture date. Further, Lightroom adds all sorts of data to the file during transfer; from my copyright notice to keywords and titles that I can add on the fly. Lightroom will also download and archive video files captured by your camera too.

Lightroom has several modules arranged in a standard digital workflow. After download the photographer is taken to the Library module where images can be culled and arranged, given ratings, more keywords or better titles, and even adjusted with some quick image quality edits (exposure, color balance and more).

The module after Library is Develop; this is where mild to intensive image corrections can be applied. Develop is also where any number of image presets can be used to enhance the image. Presets are one-button edits that add vignettes, change color to B&W, change tones and much more. And just like every other action performed in Lightroom Presets are nondestructive. In other words the original image file is kept whole and untouched so that it is always possible to revert to the original image.

However it is the right side panel of the Develop module where the power lies. The right side panel has all of the sliders, buttons and brushes that permit the photographer to apply dozens of exposure, color and detail enhancements either globally or locally. And once completed the series of actions taken can be saved as a “recipe” and applied to other images taken during the shoot. This ability to mass correct images alone makes Lightroom a highly valuable tool.

Lightroom rounds out its capability list with three key modules based on sharing your images: Slideshow, Print and Web. In Slideshow a collection of images is arranged, titled, set to music (if desired) and saved as a video presentation. Print module enables the photographer to visually crop images to popular print sizes, arrange multiple images onto a single sheet of paper and of course output the images to a printer. The Web module is really helpful. With the Web module image collections can be prepared for display on Flash or HTML web pages. If the photographer has a Flickr account Lightroom can upload the collection directly to Flickr without leaving the program.

While Lightroom is probably the single most used program in my digital workflow Adobe Photoshop Elements is a close second. Lightroom edits pictures in either localized or global ways, it can’t be used to edit pixels. If you want to take Uncle Ralph’s head and put it on Aunt Sally’s body you have to be able to edit pixels.

Adobe offers Photoshop in both a full blown professional version called CS5 at more than $700 and in a more photographer-oriented version called Elements which sells for under $100. Yes, there are things that CS5 is capable of that Elements simply can’t do, but for the most part the missing capabilities revolve around prepress work for magazines and newspapers and some very high level script writing features.

Photoshop Elements is a highly capable photo editor. Elements works with image editing using layers just like CS5 does. Layers make it possible to achieve some astounding effects and to move image elements around at will. There are dozens of books written about how to use Elements and they range from highly technical to grandma-friendly so I won’t spend time going over the hundreds (thousands?) of possible edits within Elements. However if you have editing needs beyond what Lightroom provides Elements is the ideal choice.

In fact Lightroom and Elements can work hand in hand. Begin in Lightroom adjusting color / tone / orientation, then send the image to Elements to remove stray hairs from the subject’s head, finally bring it back into Lightroom for sharing in print, on web or slideshows. The hand-off between programs is right in the menu of each.

The last software package I recommend is Tiffen’s Df/x, a wonderful tool that applies effects just like adding a filter in front of the camera’s lens. Unlike adding physical lens filters it’s possible to stack filter effects one on top of another in Df/x to achieve the look and style desired.

Df/x software is all about ‘look’. Df/x software can be the difference between ho-hum and Wow! It is not a pixel editor, Df/x works by applying effects either globally or locally to an image. By adding and stacking more effects entirely new looks are created.

There are many basic color enhancing and image correcting filters built-in but those functions are more controllable in either Lightroom or Elements. Tiffen’s Df/x software is where a photographer turns to style an image, to create a unique and repeatable look.

Df/x comes in three versions:

  1. Complete Edition which is my recommendation. Complete includes 113 filters and literally thousands of filter and adjustment combinations and sells for $150
  2. Df/x for Photoshop which adds the Tiffen filter capabilities into Photoshop CS5 and sells for $350
  3. Df/x Essentials which features 37 built-in filters with hundreds of presets.

Summary: A complete and very powerful software package for digital image workflow from downloading to final print or website. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop Elements and Tiffen’s Df/x can be purchased all at once or one piece at a time. Either way for less than $550.00 a photographer has a complete digital imaging workflow solution. Download, archive, adjust, edit, stylize and share for hundreds less than other less complete software solutions.

About the Author
Stu Eddins is blogger, instructor, merchandiser, and is generally in charge of a lot of things for Porter’s Digital Cameras and Imaging. Visit their site at Years of experience over the counter and in classrooms have turned Stu into an evangelist for image preservation, capturing and sharing memories, and helping people understand digital cameras, digital camera lenses.

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One response to “Digital Darkroom Photo Editing Software Comparison”

  1. mdrisser says:

    I’d also recommend The GIMP ( ), a wonderful, and free alternative to the packages mentioned here. The GIMP runs on Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, and other operating systems, and is quite capable. While it doesn’t have all of the features of Photoshop, it’s not as bloated either.

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