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Use the Right Software, Create the Right Image…

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In this blog post, I want to let you know a little about the software that I use to process my images for microstock sites, printing and the websites that I look after with a hope that this will help you produce great images.

I am sure that you will have seen some of the plethora of software available to help you process your pictures ready for submitting them to microstock sites. Rather than a review of all the software available, I will just cover the programs that I currently use and describe a little about how I use them. However, just because I have the program on my Mac does not mean it’s the best or that I am using the right software for the right job, it just happens to work for me. So first, the list of the software (by the way, some of the software is free)….

Adobe Lightroom

Nik Collection

Adobe Photoshop

Pixelmator & Pixelmator Pro (Mac & iOS versions only)

Let’s start by thinking about what we are trying to achieve by using this software – in short, the output I desire is a high-quality picture that will sell well on a number of chosen stock microstock sites (such as ShutterstockDreamstimePhotoWalkUK Stock, Adobe Stock and other stock sites). I also want images suitable for print (My Prints, Redbubble, Zazzle and other Print Sites) and third, have photos suitable for websites such as PhotoWalkUK.

To do this I want to be able to process the pictures to produce super results in a short period of time. Whilst I do quite enjoy learning about how best to use the software, I feel that I only need to learn enough to gain the outcome that I desire – some sustainable earnings from microstock sites whilst fulfilling the image needs for my websites and other business interests.

Bracknell stark
After Editing

I will start with Lightroom I have been using this program for many years now, having started off with Lightroom 3. It took me a while to commit to Lightroom because, at the time, I needed to choose between Lightroom, Apple Aperture (no longer available), Picasa (no longer available) and Nikon Capture. I am sure that Lightroom was then, and still is now, the right choice for me. To understand this choice, it’s probably best to explain what Lightroom is and then you will better understand why you may want it too. Lightroom is an image management and editing program. Using Lightroom, photographers are able to work through their images from import, to sorting and organisation, to processing, and finally all the way to export and sharing. One of the key elements is that it can manage RAW images (which contains the maximum amount of information) and all the processing is non-destructive, so you can always get back to your original unprocessed image. You can organise and catalogue all of your images. It is full of great features such as face recognition, geo-tagging, output to standalone web pages and a host of ways to help catalogue your images.

Here is a simple explanation of the Lightroom workflow that I use. First, I import the pictures I have taken from my camera (which is set for RAW) into Lightroom. I then carry out some simple processing (using an import preset) that enhances my images so that I get a good first view of what I have available. Then I use Lightroom to edit (including cropping) selected images so that I have the right pictures. I make the pictures bright with high contrast so that they stand-out on screens for my websites. Then, when I am happy, I can export the images suitable for my website using a preset to my hard drive.

The next stage is to think about whether the photos I have imported are good enough for microstock (in terms of composition, etc) or for other uses such as printed materials. If it shows potential, I then go through another process which depends a little on the picture. Lightroom can do a lot, and often Lightroom is all you need to get all the elements correct including exposure, contrast, clarity, vibrancy, noise reduction, lens correction, colour balance, sharpening and a lot more… Indeed there is probably everything you need to produce a great image. The photo can be exported via FTP to many of the sites without having to store a high-resolution copy on your computer. For example, you can use a plugin to export directly to SmugMug. But there’s more…. you can seamlessly edit your pictures using other software as part of the Lightroom process. This is done through plugins. I use two packages to do this.

The first is the Nik Collection – formally known as Google Nik Collection. There is not enough room in this blog to provide information on what this collection can do, but wow it is very powerful….

Second, on the list is Photoshop. I have mostly used Lightroom with the plugins mentioned above (and Pixelmator which I will cover next). As most people know, Photoshop is now often used as a verb (to photoshop an image) as well as being the name of Adobe’s best-known software, in the same vein as Hoover (are you going to hoover the house?), Google (I’m going to google that) and Skype (I’ll skype you later). Photoshop, as you might expect, is very powerful, but with this power comes complexity. Although I have found my way around Photoshop and already produced some images that have been ‘photoshopped’ and successfully uploaded to microstock sites, there is an awful lot to learn. My strategy is to ‘google’ want I want to do (and use the Adobe resources) – such as replace the sky on a picture – and then try it for real.

Image
After Editing

Why Photoshop now? Well, I did not invest in Photoshop in the past because of the cost, but a few years back I moved to Adobe’s Creative Cloud photography so that I get the latest version of Lightroom and Photoshop all in one package (Plus a number of other Adobe products thrown in to the mix including tablet versions of their software). I have found that Adobe’s Creative Cloud has a lot of advantages (not least that you always have the latest versions of the software, great training videos and software for a tablet if you need it). I am pleased with my Creative Cloud investment and don’t think I will go back to the stand-alone versions.

Last, I wanted to mention Pixelmator (only for the Mac), another very powerful package that is worth checking out if you want an all-round graphics package. It’s not for organising your images and I am not aware of a Lightroom plugin. For example, I use Pixelmator Pro to create the schematic maps for PDF leaflets when I owned iFootpath with my wife Claire. I also use it if I want to edit some short-lived images such as screen grabs, the odd icon and photos that guest authors want help with. As you don’t need to import the picture you can just grab it and start work. It’s a good (one-off) price with excellent support. If you have a Mac and don’t want to fork out for Photoshop, I would suggest you take a look.

So, there we have it, lots of great software to help you produce great, sellable pictures. All of the above have plenty of training videos and documentation and there are lots of books on Amazon that will help you up the learning curve. I have bought a few for Lightroom and I would recommend the author Scott Kelby – he certainly knows his way around Lightroom and always has up-to-date books available. There are also lots of photography courses out there that can help. And last please do check out YouTube for some great photography vloggers.

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