LightZone and Photoshop... my findings, so far

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Aaron801
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LightZone and Photoshop... my findings, so far
4 months ago

Up until fairly recently I'd only used Photoshop for processing images. I'm a graphic designer and so I know the program quite well and owed a camera that only shot JPEGs (so no option to use a lot of software that's meant for RAW). I had no complaints with Photoshop for doing photo related stuff or graphics, but since I recently bought a better camera that shoots RAW I downloaded LightZone and have been really getting into using that. LightZone is indeed a really nice tool. I like the more complex, more complete way that it deals with contrast and tone (I think that the fancy word is "tone mapping") and the "relight" tool as really nice as it can add a whole extra sense of dimensionally to a photo... not to mention the white balance controls that make it much easier for me to get a pleasing color balance than the color balance controls in Photoshop. Overall, editing in RAW seems to give my a lot more control over the fine tuning of an image and LightZone has some really great (and I'd say much better) tools for straight photography (as opposed to effects and graphics) than Photoshop has.

Here's the rub though... I was processing some photos that I took in very low light at a high ISO and I realized that no matter what I seemed to do, the photos where noisier (much noisier) than the previews of the very same photos in iPhoto (what I use for organizing my photos). No matter how I adjusted the noise controls in LightZone the photos were still pretty noisy and if the adjustments there are too radical, the photo starts to loose some detail. Also, the color balance was quite different than the way that the photo looked in iPhoto and not nearly as attractive to my eyes. I think that partially because dealing with color balance isn't one of my strong points, I was having a lot of difficulty in getting the color balance the way that I wanted... which was really a process of restoring it to the way that that iPhoto preview - which looked pretty much perfect to me.

Finally, after struggling with the noise and the color balance issues in LightZone a for a while, it occurred to me to try the old program and see what that would do to these images. In iPhoto I'm able to output photos (even RAW ones) as TIFFs (a nice lossless format!) and these TIFFs look exactly like the iPhoto preview which is a great starting point as these were looking pretty good to me. Then I opened up these TIFFs in Photoshop. Photoshop certainly doesn't have the level of control over contrasts and tones that LightZone has, but for these photos using just the levels control proved to be sufficient for what I was going for and the best part was that the resulting photos had far less noise than the versions that I made with LightZone.

I really dig the LightZone program and will continue to use it for most of my stuff. I've come to realize though that for some reason Photoshop works much better on photos that are shot at high ISOs... Go figure...?

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