Concerns about Photoshop Upgrades in General
I’ve heard photographers complain, as Photoshop updates appear, that the newer versions are really not about photography, or the at least not the features they use for photo editing, and that some of the new features actually get in the way of the things they need to do. I can certainly understand this point of view, and when I see a photographer decide to “freeze” at one version of Photoshop or another, to avoid having to learn new techniques, or pay for another upgrade, or to avoid breaking older filters, plugins, and scripts that are important to their workflow, I don’t object. But I do warn them that such a choice may eventually effect their ability to upgrade to new computers with newer operating systems, or use new plugins from their favorite plugin providers, and may require developing a different workflow for getting RAW files from new cameras into their older version of Photoshop. And that the leap forward will only be more painful, the longer they avoid it.
So while we all may feel some frustration when our favorite key command no longer does what we want it to, or a rectangular box interferes with our view of what we are doing, learning the tricks to make the newer versions of Photoshop work is part of the effort of remaining up-to-date in the world of photography.
However, Photoshop CS6 appears to be a more dramatic jump forward than previous updates. This may be intimidating, and it may cause photographers to search their souls, and their wallets, before deciding to migrate to Photoshop CS6. Fortunately Adobe has a free public beta of the application available, so that a much wider range of users can try the application in advance of release than with previous Photoshop updates. While you are at Adobe Labs to download the Photoshop Public Beta, remember to download the latest Adobe Camera Raw Release Candidate as well. This version 6.7 is not compatible with the latest cameras, but it does offer other improvements for anyone opening RAW files into Photoshop CS6 PB.
The Biggest Change in CS6: The Interface
Ever since Photoshop 1 (and thats not CS1, but the actual PS1) the interface to Photoshop, with some changes for the OS and OS version, has been similar: menu bar on the top, a tool palette, typically vertically formatted on the left, and as time went on, more and more floating palettes that can be added on the right. These elements floated in free space, with your desktop showing behind them. Options to run Photoshop full screen were available, but were usually limited to displaying images to clients and other such special occasions. The Photoshop interface shown below doesn’t go back to the depths of time; its from the current release version of the product.
Photoshop CS6 breaks with this tradition. It now has its own window, with its own background. The look is darker, and the text, in some areas, is smaller, and inverted to show on the darker backgrounds. Those who use Adobe Lightroom will recognize this look, as will those who use Adobe video editing apps like Premier and After Effects. In that sense Photoshop is late to the party, and its change of interface is less revolutionary than evolutionary; evolving to follow the general trend of the Adobe line. Here’s what that the default interface in Photoshop CS6 looks like,compared to CS5 above.
Beyond any initial shock at a version of Photoshop that doesn’t look like Photoshop, you may notice that very little else has actually changed. The same menu items, tools, and palettes are here, even if the look and feel has changed. This is not to say you won’t find yourself wandering the corridors of Photoshop CS6 searching for something you knew perfectly well how to find in CS5. But it won’t be that much more frequent an experience than it was with earlier updates. The most common questions I hear from people seeing this “bounded window” interface is whether, like Lightroom, it will limit their flexibility in moving images, using multiple displays, moving between applications, etc. I’ll address these concerns below.
The New Features, which I’m NOT going to Review
I could include a description of interesting new features in Photoshop CS6, but it would not actually be that much different than the run-though in Russell Brown’s video on that topic. So please take a look at Russell’s video if you are curious about the cool new tools. I’ll just note that some of them extend on recent additions, like content aware fill, and may work well sometimes, and not others, so they can speed up your process, but won’t necessarily eliminate the need for classic Photoshop skills. They also include what I’m tempted to call “Feature Creep” with actual video editing, transitioning, and font abilities moving inside Photoshop. This may seem counterintuitive, after all, there are other apps for that. But as we shoot and edit more video with the same cameras we use for our still photography, being able to library video along side stills in Lightroom, and process clips in Photoshop along side stills may eventually seem not just reasonable, but obvious.
The Color and Workflow Related Items which I AM Going to Cover
Those of you who know me will already realize where my focus with any Photoshop Beta is going to be: the features and changes that effect Color Management, and the Digital Workflow. Lets start with issues of the new Photoshop workspace window, and image location.
The Main Photoshop window, which is now a dark rectangle, can be run in full screen mode, where it is quite reminiscent of Lightroom. This means that the most common method of moving to other apps will be by using the “Hide Photoshop” command from the Photoshop menu list. This window can also be reduced in size, and will act like a typical floating window, capable of being moved around the screen, or to other screens, as desired. In this mode moving to other applications may occur by clicking on windows in the various apps to bring them to the front, the more traditional method of navigating.
Images open in Photoshop CS6 also have two possible modes. Depending on whether the “Open Documents as Tabs” option in the Interface tab of Photoshop Preferences is checked, or unchecked, you images will open as fixed tabs in the Photoshop window, and further images opened will tab with them. This method can be very convenient for checking “before and after” differences between files, and others such uses, but for many long-time Photoshop users it feels like a straight-jacket, and unchecking this box is the first thing some users do. In the unchecked mode your images are free floating windows… unless you drag them too near the top bar, or the top bar of other images, in which case they will nest in the main window, or with the other image window, forming tabs. They can be removed using the “rip a sheet off the tablet” effect, by dragging them away from the top bar of the window to free them. This tabbing behavior is not new to CS6, but has been increased by the option to nest images as tabs in the new Photoshop window; a natural extension of the previous option… or an added aggravation depending on how comfortable you become with this mechanism.
Images freed from the new Photoshop Window, can be moved off the new Photoshop background; something that is not necessarily obvious to first time users. While the background appears to define the limits of the Photoshop application, in fact its a recommendation, not an enforced rule. So if the Photoshop workspace window is reduced to cover only part of a large screen, images can be moved off the background and stored elsewhere for later use (though fans of the tabbed interface would point out that tabs offer a much cleaner method of doing the same thing).
From a color management point of view, the new interface has its advantages; a controlled color background only makes sense. It helps assure consistent viewing conditions, and reduces variation in editing results. And for those of you who have been ignoring us Color Geeks for years, and are using color, not grayscale, images as your desktop image, the enforced backdrop is even more critical.
On the other hand, there is the question of color management for images removed from this new controlled environment. Even though the Photoshop workspace and its backdrop are limited to one of your displays, moving a free floating image to another screen triggers the correct change in display profile that has always been necessary to provide multiple display matching. So one key color concern about the CS6 is eliminated.
In fact, it is possible to stretch the Photoshop workspace to cover more than one display, though this is limited by how well the geometry of the displays in question match. Another interesting function is that moving the Photoshop workspace to another location or display will move any images tabbed to the workspace window with it, but will leave floating images behind, now displayed against your desktop or other apps that happen to be open in the background. This behavior is logical, but may take a few tries to get accustomed to.
Next; The Color Settings
The Edit menu is where the Color Settings have resided for several generations of Photoshop. This has not changed with CS6, all three of the Color Settings Commands are located in their usual places.
The Three Color Settings Windows accessed from this menu, shown below, are also unchanged. So color management, as we know it, has not been reshaped, as happened in the case of one or two previous Photoshop updates.
Next we will look at the Soft-proofing options in CS6. This is an important color management function for many users. Here, too, we find everything looking just as we last saw it in CS5.
The remaining areas of concern are the Photoshop’s Printing options. Below is the CS6 Main Print Dialog. Reassuringly familiar.
The Print Settings Options are also unchanged, as shown below. This does not guarantee that color managed printing using a custom profile will be possible with all printer drivers; as some older drivers are not updated to the newer Print Path. But it does mean that any printer/driver combination that printed correctly from Photoshop CS5 should do the same from CS6.
So while testing will continue, and the final word on Photoshop CS6 is yet to be written, it appears that standard color managed functions of viewing images on multiple displays using display profiles, opening and saving images with appropriate tags, and printing using output profiles are all available and unchanged in CS6, so that Color Management should not be the deciding factor on your decision on whether or not to update to the new version. I will warn you that a few weeks of working with CS6 Beta will make it difficult to consider moving back to CS5 when the Beta period expires.