Switching to Mac Part 5: Finding a Photo Editor

This post is part of a series of posts about switching to a Mac – here are links to all the posts:

Latest Update: See the ‘Update’ section at the end – a useful extra feature in DoubleTake makes it even better.

One thing that struck me as a bit odd about the whole process of switching to the Mac was that there didn’t seem to be an obvious choice for photo editing. On Windows, I’d happily used The GIMP, and loved it. I didn’t see any reason to change, until I tried actually using The GIMP on the Mac. It doesn’t run as a native app, it runs under the X11 interface. That means it doesn’t get a real menu bar, and it doesn’t look or feel like a real native app.

Things that look and feel a bit crap aren’t so jarring on Windows. On the Mac, though, it’s a different matter. The machine is beautiful. Most of the software is beautiful. Running The GIMP under X11 in the midst of all that just didn’t feel right.

Photoshop is available, but it’s expensive. Really expensive. The vast majority of the editing I do is pretty simple, so there’s just no real need to spend that much. There’s Photoshop Elements. That’s a much more reasonable price. It’s a version out of date on the Mac, I’m not sure I like the direction it’s going anyway, so a step behind isn’t a problem. The feature set isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough for me.

A while ago, I ran a little test. I had trial versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, along with a couple of good Mac native photo editors – Pixelmator and Acorn. I took an image that wasn’t very good, but worked out a few steps that would make it usable. It was a mallard. I selected the duck, inversed the selection, and desaturated the background. I then reverted the selection to the duck, and over-sharpened it to make it pop.

  • In Acorn, the selection was really hard work. Feathering the selection seemed to be ineffective. The adjustments didn’t turn out well.
  • Pixelmator was better, but still not great. The results took some work still, but less, and looked ok in the end.
  • Photoshop was great – easy to make the selection, as if it was doing most of the work for me – and the result was nice and smooth.
  • Photoshop Elements was harder than Photoshop, but not much harder. The difference was probably due to it being based on an earlier version of Photoshop.

I concluded that Photoshop Elements was the one for me.

I didn’t get around to buying it.

This weekend, I started trying to work on photos again, and happened on an article that listed some useful Mac apps for photographers.

PhotoConstruction - Birmingham Crowne Plaza Car Park The main thing I like to do with my photos that requires anything beyond what Aperture can handle is making what I usually call ‘Photo Constructions‘. Think of panoramas, where you take several photos of a scene, with the camera setting locked, and then stitch them together to make one big image. The usual aim is to make the joins invisible. After seeing an article in Practical Photography magazine about Michael Hallett, though, I didn’t want to hide the joins. I loved his style of rough panoramas, or Constructions. I loved his habit of including his own shadow, or even a foot, in the final work. I’d always thought that the last thing I needed, then, was software designed to seamlessly stitch panoramas together.

Minehead Harbour Photo Construction The article mentioned DoubleTake, though, and I decided to give it a go. It was very quick and easy to use. I threw a pile of images at it, intended for one of my Constructions. It seemed to have a pretty good idea of what to do with them. It did try to stitch them together, but seamless stitching wasn’t possible with such a rough heap of photos. I rather liked what it did with them. I rearranged them a bit, and liked the result even more. I put a few images from the same set around the merged result, and liked it a lot.

Construction from DoubleTake

The only problem was that it tried to merge any image added to some extent. I couldn’t layer another image over an ‘empty’ part of the original (like an area of grey sky), which I like to do. I realised that I needed two things – one panorama maker, and one more general photo editor. Pixelmator was pretty good at the image editing, and DoubleTake was pretty good at making the base panorama.

I had some doubt, though. Photoshop Elements had a routine for making panoramas, and could certainly do the rest of the job perfectly well. I wanted to try it out again, but installing a new copy still knew my trial had expired. My gut feeling was that Photoshop Elements was the final version I’d get for the money, and it wasn’t a good well-written Mac app. Both Pixelmator and DoubleTake were nicely written, and felt very Mac. I installed the latest version of Pixelmator, and it gave me another chance to try it out.

DoubleTake did it’s job perfectly. Pixelmator is very fast and does it’s job well. It isn’t perfect, but a new version is due soon, free to owners of previous versions, with more features. And, it’s from a small independent developer, not from Adobe. It’s written from the start as a Mac app, not something derived from a bigger app, written primarily for Windows.

I bought licenses for Pixelmator and DoubleTake. Using the SmokingApples coupon code, I saved 20% on Pixelmator, which helped a little. DoubleTake was more expensive than I’d expected, as they seem to have decided that UK VAT is 25%, not 15%, and the Euro exchange isn’t as good as I’d remembered, but even at £20, it does a job that’s otherwise a lot of work, with ease.

I’ll know better when I’ve spent more time with them, but I’m pretty happy with my choice at the moment. They both work very nicely with Aperture, too. I can select the images I want in my basic panorama, and drag them straight from Aperture to DoubleTake on the dock. It attempts to fit them together, so I just need to tweak what it’s done. I then just click the Aperture button on DoubleTake’s toolbar to send the image back to Aperture at full resolution. From there, I can open that image in Pixelmator as the external editor, drag any further images to layer over it straight from Aperture, and save the result straight back. Aperture just shows the final image as a new version of DoubleTake’s original export.


It’s a week later, and I’ve learned a little more. The developer of DoubleTake, Henrik, contacted me to let me know that it actually can build constructions without merging at all – just hit ’0′, and it stops merging images. I’ve tried it out today, and it works. I’d hoped it would let you turn off merging, and drag another image or two into place, leaving the rest still merged. What it actually does is just turn off merging completely. All the merged images un-merge themselves. Hit 0 again, and they all go back to how they were.

For doing constructions the way I always have, it can do it very quickly and easily, so it’s an even better buy than I’d thought. I may well still play with its merging functions, though, as I do like the results.

Henrik also explained about the VAT calculation. As I really should have known, EU states collect VAT at their own rate, and Danish VAT is much higher than UK VAT. PayPal displays it badly as ‘UK VAT’, but it’s being collected correctly.

One thought on “Switching to Mac Part 5: Finding a Photo Editor

  1. Pingback: Switching to Mac Part 1: The Decision :: PigPog

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