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AECbytes Product Review (April 21, 2005)

Adobe Photoshop CS2

Product Summary

Adobe Photoshop is a professional image editing and compositing application for rasterized (pixel-based) content that is dominant across a wide variety of design fields across many industries, including architecture.

Pros: Comprehensive set of tools and filters for achieving any kind of desired effect; easy to use interface that has maintained its overall look and feel despite the addition of several new tools and features, providing continuity and familiarity; several new features that should make architectural imaging easier, including Vanishing Point, Image Warp, Spot Healing, Lens Correction, and Smart Objects; comes with new Adobe Bridge application for organizing, searching, and accessing digital content; reasonably priced; cross platform, available for both Windows and Macintosh.

Cons: No significant limitations, apart from the inability of the new smart vector objects to remain resolution-independent and maintain full fidelity while printing.

Price: $599; $149 for upgrade from any previous version of Photoshop.

To date, I haven't come across a single architectural practice in the U.S. that doesn't use Adobe Photoshop, granting it a ubiquity equivalent to that of Microsoft Word or Excel. Even no single CAD or BIM application has such a monopoly—while some applications such as AutoCAD do dominate, there are many firms who use alternative applications for building design and documentation. But Adobe Photoshop literally rules the roost when it comes to image editing and compositing in architectural firms; competing applications do exist, but they are rarely heard of. Even when architecture-specific rendering applications such as Piranesi (see my recent review of this application) are deployed, they do not fully replace the use of Photoshop.

Given the persistent reliance of architectural practice on this application, it is timely to look at the new version of Photoshop CS2 that was announced two weeks ago and is expected to be released at the end of the month. This AECbytes review explores the features of the new release, particularly those that would be of significance to architectural design. After a steady stream of reviews of specialized design, modeling, and drafting applications, most of which are complex and take effort to master, it comes as a refreshing change to be reviewing an application that is more general-purpose and so much fun to use.

On a separate but related note, Adobe has just announced its acquisition of Macromedia, best known for its Flash, Dreamweaver, and Freehand products. This adds additional graphic design and web development capabilities to Adobe's already extensive product repertoire, and expands its stature as a company to rival the likes of Microsoft. For more details about the acquisition, see the announcement on Adobe's website.

Overview of Adobe Creative Suite 2

Adobe Photoshop is available as a standalone application as well as part of the Adobe Creative Suite, a comprehensive graphic design and publishing solution that also includes Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign and Version Cue in the Standard Edition, as well as Adobe GoLive and Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional in the Premium Edition. While Photoshop is geared towards digital creation and editing of rasterized (pixel-based) images, Illustrator is best suited for creating and manipulating resolution-independent vector graphics, and is frequently used in architectural firms for working with line drawings. Of the remaining applications, Adobe InDesign is a page layout application for traditional print media, Adobe GoLive is an authoring tool for Web and mobile content, and Version Cue is a management and collaboration utility that is used for tracking all versions of a file, including historical versions generated in a sequential workflow and alternates generated in a parallel workflow. Acrobat is, of course, well-known for working with the PDF file format, and is the most commonly deployed Adobe application. The latest version, Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional, was recently reviewed in AECbytes.

As a standalone application, Photoshop leads the family of Adobe's digital imaging products, which also includes Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Photoshop Album. While Photoshop can be best described as a professional image-editing application, Photoshop Elements is an advanced photo-editing software that is more oriented towards the consumer market, providing the ability to edit, organize, and share photos. Photoshop Album is a more basic application targeted towards the mass market for finding, fixing, and sharing digital photos.

Let us now move on to explore the new features in the latest release of Adobe Photoshop.

Support for HDR and Multi-Image Camera RAW

The future of digital photography is HDR, short for High Dynamic Range, which expands the dynamic range of lighting in traditional photography, currently limited to about 300:1, closer to real-world scenes that that exceed 50,000:1. Increasing the dynamic range will allow a photograph to capture both the highlights as well as the shadows in a scene, without sacrificing one for the other. HDR cameras are starting to make an appearance, which will allow rich and detailed HDR images to be captured; for those using non-HDR cameras, it is still possible to create an HDR image by taking multiple photographs at different exposures and merging them together to create a single one. Specific file formats are being developed for HDR images, including OpenEXR by Industrial Light & Magic, SGI's TIFF LogLuv format, Floating Point TIFF format, Radiance's RGBE format, and so on. (For a good overview of HDR photography, see this article). The new release of Photoshop allows 32-bit, floating point, HDR editing, which enables HDR images to be manipulated while maintaining their fidelity, range, and detail. It also introduces a Merge to HDR feature, shown in Figure 1, which allows a 32-bit HDR image to be created by automatically combining a series of regular exposures taken with a regular non-HDR digital camera.


Figure 1. Using the Merge to HDR feature to create a combined 32-bit HDR image from seven different regular exposures.

Another new term that is going to become increasingly common in digital photography is RAW. This is the digital equivalent of the film negative of a traditional camera—it is uncompressed data captured by the camera's image sensor with minimal in-camera processing applied. All other user-defined settings such as image quality and size, white balance, sharpening, contrast, saturation, digital zoom, and so on are saved separately and then applied to the RAW data to provide a processed and compressed JPEG image. Advanced digital cameras provide the option to save an image in RAW format, so that any desired post-processing can be done by the photographer with greater control over achieving the desired effect. While the previous version of Photoshop did provide the ability to work with RAW images in a dedicated Camera Raw interface, this ability has been greatly enhanced in Photoshop CS2. You can apply settings to multiple images simultaneously and process them directly in Camera Raw, while continuing to work in Photoshop. Many more options are now available for editing RAW images, including automatic adjustment of exposure, shadows, brightness and contrast; discrete display of shadow and highlight clipping while settings are being adjusted; precision tone curve adjustment with automatic contrast presets; custom or preset ratio cropping and image straightening for more efficient image processing; the ability to set up to four color samplers in each image; and the ability to save custom image settings to an external file for more efficient collaboration.

Image Editing Enhancements

Photoshop CS2 introduces a new Vanishing Point feature that will come in very handy for architectural renderings where it is very important to be consistent with the perspective in a scene while editing an image. It is available as a filter, and it lets you define perspective grids in your image, as shown in Figure 2-a. When you now applying editing actions such as painting, cloning, pasting selections, and so on to the image, the editing action will automatically be adjusted to the defined perspective. Figure 2-b shows how Vanishing Point is used to copy a window selection multiple times while maintaining its perspective. The selection even has the ability to be dragged from one wall to the other wall around the corners of the perspective grid, as in this example.


Figure 2 .(a) The perspective grid defined for the image in the Vanishing Point filter interface. (b) Using the grid to make multiple copies of the window in correct perspective by selecting it and dragging copies on the same wall as well as the adjoining wall.

Another new feature that might come in handy for architectural renderings is Image Warp. This allows you to select a flat image and interactively warp it, either by choosing one of the several predefined warp styles with customizable settings (see Figure 3) or by a custom option that allows you to drag controls points on a warp grid to shape the image as desired. For architectural renderings, you could use this tool to wrap textures around the surfaces of objects, both flat and curved.


Figure 3 . Applying the Rise preset option of the new Warp command, shown in (b), to transform the flat image of a texture, shown in (a), as required by adjusting the settings.

A new Spot Healing Brush in the tool palette is very useful for fast and efficient retouching of dust, scratches and other image flaws. It can be used to paint flaws away—literally with one click—and even remove entire objects, as shown in Figure 4, where it was applied to the garage image to completely erase the door in the wall. As you can see, it automatically paints the correct texture on the area that is erased. It works by analyzing the area around the tool as you use it, and automatically samples the best pixels to use for healing the clicked or painted area. The Spot Healing Brush doesn't always guarantee the result you need, particularly for textured surfaces in perspective, but it does come amazingly close. Sometimes, a repeat application is necessary to fine-tune the result.


Figure 4. Using the new Spot Healing Brush to quickly erase a door from a wall in the same image shown in Figure 2. (a) shows the tool in use, while (b) shows the result.

Other image editing enhancements in Photoshop CS2 include a new filter for advanced noise reduction and JPEG artifact reduction, especially important for high fidelity printing of images; another new filter called Smart Sharpen which corrects common photo blurring while preserving edge details and includes advanced options for discretely adjusting shadows and highlights; a Lens Correction filter for easily correcting a wide range of common camera lens distortion flaws, including barrel or pincushion distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting, and perspective flaws (see Figure 5); and a new one-click Red Eye tool for instantly correcting this common photo flaw.


Figure 5. Using the Lens Correction filter, shown in (b), for correcting the wide-angle lens distortion and perspective of an image, shown in (a).

Improvements in Speed and Ease of Use

Photoshop CS2 makes it much easier to work with graphics across multiple layers. The Auto Select Layer option of the Move tool now allows objects across multiple layers to be intuitively selected by simple drawing a marquee around them. You no longer have to individual select the required layers in the Layers palette. The Show Transform Controls option associated with the Move tool, which displays a transform box and selection handles around the selected object or objects allowing them to be quickly reshaped, also works across multiple layers now. Another new feature that speeds up transformations is Smart Guides, which are automatically displayed when an object is being moved or reshaped and allow snapping to guides, layers, boundaries of objects, and so on, making it easier to align objects as required (see Figure 6). This feature works across multiple layers as well.


Figure 6 .Automatic smart guides make it very easy to align objects with each other, even if they are on different layers.

For those who have found it frustrating to be forced to work only with rasterized (i.e., pixel-based) graphics in Photoshop as opposed to the vector-based graphics of an application such as Illustrator, the new Smart Objects feature will be welcomed. This allows you to take a vector graphic from Illustrator—for example, a wireframe or hidden-line drawing created in a CAD application and subsequently exported to Illustrator—and place it into Photoshop as a "smart object." This part of the Photoshop image will maintain its original vector graphic behavior and quality while being manipulated and scaled (see Figure 7). If Illustrator is installed, you can also use it to edit the smart object by double-clicking on it in Photoshop. Smart objects can also be created from raster data, and work as symbols that can be copied multiple times—any change made to the original will automatically be reflected in all the copies.


Figure 7.(a) Placing a vector graphic from Illustrator as a smart object in Photoshop, which maintains its vector behavior when edited.

Other enhancements that improve efficiency and ease of use include WYSIWYG Font menus that allow you to preview typefaces visually before using them; new printing options for more efficient and consistent print output; a new PDF engine which allows you to use preset or custom settings for PDF creation and includes PDF 1.6/Acrobat 7.0 compatibility; and the ability to address more than 2 GB of RAM, when available, for enhancing performance.

Image Management and Customization

The traditional File Browser in Photoshop has now evolved into a separate application, Adobe Bridge, shown in Figure 8, so that you can now work in parallel with both applications for greater efficiency, for example, browsing through images in Adobe Bridge, while batch processing images in Photoshop. Adobe Bridge has several advanced capabilities that make it much more than just a browser. To start with, it has enhanced browsing capabilities such as a slider bar for interactively adjusting the size of the thumbnail previews from tiny to extra-large; a Filmstrip view mode for reviewing images more quickly and efficiently; and support for multiple file format allowing you to browse through multi-page PDFs, preview Illustrator CS2 files and InDesign CS2 templates, and view color and font usage in InDesign CS2 files. It displays an extensive list of metadata for an image, and allows you to assign creator and other information, keywords, a rating and a label to it, all of which can then be used as search criteria to retrieve and display specific images. Searches can be saved as collections for more efficient re-use. Other features include the ability to adjust, crop & process multiple RAW images simultaneously; support for multiple windows and multiple monitors; a built-in Slideshow mode; one-click synchronization of the color management settings of all Adobe Creative Suite 2 applications; integration with a new Adobe Stock Photos service that allows you to easily find, purchase, and download professional stock images from the Adobe library; and integration with another new utility called Version Cue for versioning & collaboration that is part of the Creative Suite. In short, Adobe Bridge has been designed to become the hub of all the user's digital design content.


Figure 8.The new Adobe Bridge is a convenient hub for a user's digital content, with many options for viewing, tagging, and searching.

Photoshop CS2 provides several new customization and assistance options for modifying the environment to match a user's personal preferences and the requirements of specific projects. The application menu can now be customized by enabling, disabling, and color-keying menu commands; different menu layouts can be created for different tasks and saved along with specified palette locations and keyboard shortcuts as workspaces for easy access. The creation of repetitive graphics using a specific data set can be streamlined by using variables to hold this data, which can be imported from spreadsheets or databases, or created directly in Photoshop. A new Help Center is available to provide task-based help and search in a separate floating window. Advanced features include the ability to automate repetitive tasks by writing new actions and scripts for batch image processing and film and video production, and the ability to trigger actions and scripts to run at specific points in the workflow.

Analysis and Conclusions

It is not hard to see why Photoshop continues to be the undisputed leader for any kind of professional image editing and compositing. It has an immense range of tools and filters for achieving any kind of desired effect, ranging from the basic to the most advanced. And what's more, all of these are available in an easy-to-use interface that hasn't changed dramatically since its early days, allowing users the ability to advance their skills within a familiar environment. The enhancements in the new release keep up with the general tradition of excellence that runs across all Adobe products, and will continue to make it easier to edit images in even more advanced ways. Features such as Vanishing Point, Image Warp, Spot Healing, and Lens Correction will be immediately useful to architects in their imaging tasks, and the ability to work with smart vector objects imported from Illustrator will make it easier to work with line drawings. And all this comes at a reduced price compared to previous versions: Adobe has actually dropped the price of the application from $649 to $599.

The only real limitation in Photoshop at this point from an architectural perspective is related to the newly introduced smart object feature. It would be great if these objects could be resolution independent, so that they maintain full fidelity while printing without needing to be placed in high resolution files. Unfortunately, that is not the case yet. So architects needing to work with line drawings in Photoshop will still have to contend with the large sizes of high resolution files.

Also, down the road, a conceivable wish-list item from an architectural and graphic design perspective is the merging of the capabilities of Photoshop and Illustrator, so that both raster images and vector graphics can be created and manipulated within the same application. I use both applications quite regularly and invariably have to export content from Illustrator into Photoshop. It would be very helpful to have both capabilities in the same application, and considering that the toolsets are also somewhat similar, the idea is not that far-fetched. It even has precedent in an application called Aldus Superpaint that used to be available on the Macintosh platform, which had separate "Draw" and "Paint" windows for vector and raster graphics respectively. It would be great to see a revival of that concept.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe plays out and how it enhances Adobe's already compelling position in the arena of digital imaging in the architectural field.

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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