Adobe talks: Photoshop

With the release of their flagship product Photoshop in late April, Adobe Systems Inc. went back to the drawing board to develop an application that appealed to a wider audience, while maintaining the high-end functionality expected from its customers. In doing this the Adobe team took a hard look at the markets it serves, specifically digital versus print.

“We wanted to revisit some of the fundamentals in Photoshop to make it more affordable and approachable,” John Nack, Adobe Photoshop product manager, told MacCentral.

Adobe says that the Photoshop market is expanding to include the prosumer – amateur photographers that expect the best and are willing to pay for it. With approximately 3.2 million digital SLR cameras expected to be sold this year alone, it was clear where the company’s focus needed to be.

“The people that are willing to drop $1,000-$1,500 on a camera are the same people that are interested in getting the best possible images,” said Nack. “Even though Photoshop was designed to be a high-end creative pro product, a lot of our growth and a lot of our market is now represented by people using Photoshop at home.”

Of course, Adobe makes a product specifically for home users — Photoshop Elements. Elements is an easy to use application that includes much more automation than its big brother, giving first-time users a place to start manipulating images.

Even with the two products on the market, Adobe said there is little or no confusion with consumers on what each version does. More people are moving to the full version of Photoshop for the same reason they are buying SLRs.

“Even though we make Photoshop Elements, and that’s done really well, there are a lot of people that just want the absolute best,” said Nack.

Starting with the basics

Photoshop is a large complex application that creative professionals have lauded for years. However, as the company’s customer base grows to include more prosumers, Adobe wanted to make sure everything was as easy to find as possible.

In doing this, Adobe didn’t just look at new features to add or things that needed to be enhanced, they started from the very beginning. Nack said he sat down and counted the menu items in Photoshop CS(1). A total of 494 menu items, not including the help menu, is what he came up with.

Recognizing that new users may find navigating the application a bit daunting, the Photoshop team setup a customizable menu system, that even includes the ability to highlight menus with colors. The new system is beneficial for both new and experienced users, Nack said.

“Make it everything you want and nothing you don’t,” is the mantra that the team lived by when building the product, said Nack.

File Browser replaced with Bridge

One big change users of Photoshop noticed was that the File Browser was replaced with a new application called Bridge. While the File Browser featured integration with Photoshop, Bridge is integrated into the entire Creative Suite, making it more valuable to users, according to Adobe.

“Photoshop users asked why would you want to take the file browser out of the application,” said Nack. “The biggest reason is that it unlocks a lot of workflow power that wouldn’t otherwise be there.”

Adobe said that they worked very hard to make sure that the experience people had with Bridge was similar to the File Browser, but with much more functionality. Keystrokes are the same and basic navigation functions are also similar.

“This is an area where we spent a lot of time. People realize they are getting a lot of upside with very little downside,” said Nack.

We will have more detailed information on Adobe Bridge later this week.

Film, negatives and digital negatives

As more users move from traditional film cameras to digital, there are trade-offs that must be made. More importantly for some, the ability to reprint photos from conventional film negatives is gone.

“People are recognizing that as they go digital, they get rid of a bunch of limitations, but there are also some new challenges,” said Nack.

Currently there are many types of raw formats and the specifications for these formats are not all publicly available, which means that not all raw files can be read by all software applications.

The ability to save film negatives and reprint years down the road led Adobe to work with standards organizations to produce the Digital Negative format. By making the format a standard, and if adopted by manufacturers, raw files from any camera could be opened by any application.

It’s the technology

Photography certainly played a large role in the development of the newest version of Photoshop, but bigger than that one market is the shift in technology that lead the way for the Photoshop team.

“Photography is certainly not the only driving force in this release, but that’s really where the technology has had a disruptive influence in the past couple of years,” said Nack. “When that happens the tools need to evolve to address those needs.”

This release of Photoshop has many cool features that new and experienced users will find useful. While cool tools are fun to work on and show users, Adobe said that isn’t their focus when developing software.

“We do want to put in really cool stuff like Vanishing Point, but our job is to get out of the way,” said Nack. “We want to make everything so simple and transparent that you don’t even have to think about it.”

This story, "Adobe talks: Photoshop" was originally published by PCWorld.

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