Adobe Photoshop has a challenge. Since subscribing in 2013, users have become painfully aware of the money they spend each year, with the result that their demands for constant improvement and performance have become deafening.
The enormous advances made by challengers like Affinity Photo and Luminar and even Photoshop’s own colleague Lightroom are not helpful. With the industry’s Touchstone software updated in October 2020 and February 2021, is Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 up to the task?
The current version offers some features that are worth the headlines. This time, the software’s “neural filters” are at the top of the bill, as Adobe calls “machine learning”. These use the company’s Sensei technology to make certain changes in the cloud and automate changes that would previously have been tedious.
Photoshop is the first time you can adjust a photo of a person in one click to make them look happier, sadder, more surprised, angry, or older, depending on the slider you choose. Maybe the worst is “Be happy!” Filter; If you drag the slider enough, your subject’s mouth will open and teeth will be added. Frighteningly, it hardly begins to cover up.
Photoshop’s new neural filters for portrait photography follow a certain trend: yes, they are impressive at how much they can do without user intervention, but they almost always deliver that impressive technical feat with a side order of “what’s wrong with his face? “. Some of them are called beta for good reason.
There are some good ones – step lightly on the skin smoothing filter and you could save yourself a lot of time versus frequency separation, for example. We also like the light adjuster which allows you to make it look like you’re moving a light source around your subject.
These two work particularly well. Human photographers will also like a small but important addition to the selection and mask windows – “Refine Hair” is displayed so you can fine-tune your hair selection. None of these alone make catalog photographers newbies, but they all make a set of powerful tools that, when used carefully, can save valuable time editing.
If the neural filter selection feels a bit beta, then one of the other new features in Photoshop 2021 is definitely not. Go to Edit and choose Sky Replacement. You will be greeted with one of the most impressive technologies we’ve seen from an image editor in a long time.
Pick your favorite sky from a number of options – or choose your own – and Photoshop will detect the horizon of your image, mask it and drop the new sky. It also subtly adjusts the white balance of your original image to make sure everything matches. We tried a few different images and were impressed each time.
The only difficult image was one with snow-capped mountains against a light blue sky – Photoshop didn’t notice the slight difference in contrast between the two and the pasted sky over the foreground. It worked wonderfully for clearer images. There will be the fumes for photographic purists, of course, but for commercial photography it could be a huge time saver. Expect to find some real estate agents in your area.
There are tools elsewhere that haven’t got the same headlines but are likely to prove just as useful – if not more useful – each day. For example, if you want to open Photoshop on one screen and a YouTube tutorial on another screen (we’re not ashamed to admit we’re doing a lot) the new Discover feature is great.
Press CMD + F, type in a keyword and Photoshop will suggest a series of tutorials on the subject. For example, typing “masking” not only gives you a quick overview of masking, but also provides a number of downloadable tutorials to follow. It’s a really good resource for beginners and advanced users, or to get a quick overview of a tool before you get stuck.
The processing of cloud documents has also received a notification. You can invite other users to edit documents as soon as they are saved in the cloud. Cloud documents now also have version histories that you can use to save certain backup statuses. This lets you iterate files, keep track of where they’re from, and go back.
All of this means nothing if Adobe hasn’t managed to hold the wheels elsewhere, but fear not: Photoshop is incredibly powerful for professional users in every way it has been establishing since 1990.
Best-in-the-business color management, layer handling, selection tools – both automatic and manual – if you are semi-professional with images this should definitely be on the shortlist. If you are a professional with images, it probably is is the shortlist.
Better still, it stays pretty affordable if you don’t mind paying for a subscription. When you choose Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan, you spend a tenner a month getting both Lightroom and Photoshop.
Up to the challenge? This version suggests that the crowd of competitors in Photoshop’s rearview mirror has gotten a little smaller.
Should I Buy Adobe Photoshop CC 2021?
Buy it when …
You work professionally with images
All the tools you need (and some you don’t) in one powerful, stable application that everyone you work with will be familiar with. Photoshop remains the gold standard despite fierce competition.
You are a landscape photographer terribly lucky for the weather
The new Sky Replacement tool has to be seen to be believed – it’s better than similar tools from competitors like Luminar AI, and the automatic horizon masking is impressively accurate.
You work together with images
The new tools for inviting other users to work on your images and improved file iteration are very helpful.
Don’t buy it if …
You don’t like the idea of subscription software
Ten a month might not sound like much, but it adds up. If you’re a beginner, subscription-free alternatives like Affinity Photo are likely a better choice.
You don’t need any frills
Photoshop is complicated and there are many less powerful, more user-friendly applications out there. The best are Affinity Photo and Luminar AI.
You want to organize your pictures
This is where Photoshop differs from Lightroom. When you have a hard drive full of disorganized files and folders, Photoshop only helps make the images look better – the clutter remains. Lightroom helps you get organized. You can combine both programs in the Adobe Photography Plan subscription.
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