Chasing the Home Photographer

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When Steve Jobs introduced iPhoto 5 as part the iLife ’05 update, many people saw it as an aggressive move on Adobe’s consumer image editor, Photoshop Elements 3. Like the $90 Elements, iPhoto 5 includes a palette of sliders that lets you quickly correct some of the most common image problems—including color casts, fuzzy detail, and incorrect exposure. It’s a slick addition to iPhoto’s otherwise meager editing tools, and I was impressed by my first experience with it in Apple’s booth. (We won’t get a chance for a more in-depth look until the latest version of iLife ships in a week.)

That said, there is still much that separates the two programs. For example, Elements lets you easily erase unsightly telephone wires —and annoying ex-boyfriends—from otherwise perfect photos. And its photographic filters provide almost unlimited creative options for stylizing your images. Want to create a panorama or add text to your images? iPhoto 5 won’t help. On the other hand, iPhoto offers an image-management system that Elements doesn’t even bother trying to compete with.

But the interesting story here isn’t about the competition. It’s about the customer. If anything, the addition of advanced image-correction tools to iPhoto reflects a larger change in the digital photography market—the rise of the advanced consumer.

In the film world, these point-and-shoot photographers resigned themselves to whatever images came out of their cameras. If it couldn’t be fixed at the photo lab, it just couldn’t be fixed. Image-editing tools belonged to the pros. But with the growth of digital photography, many of these casual photographers suddenly found themselves wanting more from their photos—and Apple showed them that they didn’t need to spend a lot of time or money to get more.

From publishing photos online to creating photo slide shows that could then be burned on a DVD, Apple has helped make photography less intimidating. As a result, people who once felt they couldn’t do any better now want to know the best way to get rid of that ugly yellow color in their Thanksgiving photos or how to bring out the blue in their grandson’s eyes.

Far from killing Photoshop Elements, iPhoto 5 may end up being a boon for Adobe’s image editor. Easy-to-use image-correction features in iPhoto will likely help many consumers become more comfortable with image-editing concepts such as color temperature, saturation, and histograms. Once they reach the limitations of what iPhoto can accomplish, some of these users will undoubtedly decide they want to do more. And when they do, Photoshop Elements will be there for them—offering the same simplified tools they’re accustomed to, as well as a wealth of new creative options.

So bring it on, Apple. In this financial windfall that is the digital photography market, I say the more the merrier.

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