Should I learn Photoshop/Elements or GIMP?

Starting to get a little more into advanced processing on images. I’m pretty much a clean slate - I barely know what I’m doing in image editing programs. But I realize they take a decent bit of effort to learn all that you can do, so I want to make sure I’m going down the right path.

I’ve heard most of the stuff that you get out of the full photoshop over elements is stuff casual/hobbyist users don’t really need. Right now I just want to touch up pictures I take - exposure, colors, etc. In the future I might expand out into experimenting with artsy type effects. But I assume there’s not really anything I’d be missing out on by using elements over the full photoshop package? Actually - I want to be able to edit RAW images too - how do I go about that with adobe products?

On the other hand, there’s GIMP, which is free, and I’ve heard quite capable in its own right. If it’s just about as good, I’d obviously just prefer to go with the free one. I’m fine with open source software. Does it lack capabilities compared to photoshop? Is it an ease of use issue? Can GIMP edit raw files?

I’ve never tried it, but I think GIMP does not have native RAW support, but it can be added with plugins. Here is one.

Ease of use? Both can be pretty clunky initially.

Well, just get GIMP and see if you like it. I am all for not giving a single cent to damnable Adobe. If you are fairly new with editing, I would start with GIMP and if you run into a wall then you can consider paying for PS. They are a bit different, but the similarities are enough to transfer easily.

Frankly, my formal training was in PS and I had little trouble transitioning to GIMP. You have to learn a different clunky interface, but that’s true no matter which direction you go. If you’re learning for your own use, GIMP is probably fine. However, in any professional setting, you should expect to use PS.

I took a local class on Elements and enjoyed it. The program is very powerful, but it takes practice to master it (which I haven’t done). It’s a bit clunky, alright, but I really like the tools it has. Forget about Adobe support, however. It’s some of the worst out there.

I’ve never used GIMP, but I’d be inclined to recommend Photoshop Elements for a novice used just because it’s very easy to find books that will teach you how to use the program and various tips and tricks. You can probably find some at your local library. There may also be free or cheap classes available through the library or local colleges.

I used to work at a digital archive where we used the professional version of Photoshop, but due to the price I’ve always had Elements on my home computer. So I have experience with both (although not the latest version of either) and I can’t think of anything you’d be likely to want to do that you couldn’t do in Elements. There are only two or three features I got used to in Photoshop that I wish I had in Elements, but they’re not the kind of thing you’d miss if you’d never used them. At least one of them is included in the more recent versions of Elements anyway. Elements can handle plenty of artsy effects, probably far more than you’ll ever want to use.

I’ve used GIMP a lot. Probably was lead there by someone here recommending it.

It’s OK, but I find it crashes a lot. It seems to have a lot of problems importing some PDFs, too.

I’m surprised to hear that GIMP was crashing for you, John Mace. I haven’t had a large amount of crashes other than on my work computer using it, and I contributed those crashes to other programs (for example, editing timecards and reports while I still had GIMP open). I’ve used it and Photoshop a good bit, but that was more of when I still used Windows. Now that I’m all Linux, I use GIMP on a daily basis. I figure it isn’t too hard for a novice to get the hang of, and if there are questions, the answer is always on the internet. I’ve found a large number of filters and such that do basic functions for editing. For me, the free option is always worth a shot, so I’d keep trying it for a while until I absolutely have to pay for something…

Brendon Small

For home use, just casually, I say go ahead with GIMP. Of you think you’re ever going to need it for your job, getting started with Photoshop is probably a good idea. On the other hand, I’ve used GIMP a little after using Photoshop for maybe 10 years and it wasn’t that hard to transition for the easy stuff (and that’s all I needed to do).

I found Photshop Elements pretty easy to use unless yoo want to do really complex things. I have GIMP now and don’t like it nearly as much. OTOH, I had the full blown Photoshop for quite a while and it was far better than either.

I’m odd. I actually prefer the GIMP to Photoshop. I learned on the latter, but everything I learned had to come from a book. The GIMP just seems to make sense. Granted, many features are missing, but those are often found in plugins.

The only real downside of the GIMP is that it uses sRGB internally, which means that you occasionally run into some color errors, and you cannot use 16-bit or higher color to fix them. Depending on your usage, this can be a big deal. Fortunately, version 3.0 is supposed to improve all this. But expect that to be 4 more years in the future.

(Yes, you can use GEGL, which enables 32-bit linear color, but the bugs are enough that you’ll likely run into more problems than sticking with sRGB. And it’s slow as molasses, anyways.)

I’d go with PSE. The problem with open-source software is that it tends to be ugly, user-unfriendly, buggy (all software is buggy but open-source is largely buggier than closed-source), and bad.

What’s weird about PSE is that it’s supposedly designed more for Apple, but in my class the Mac users were having problems with it that I didn’t have with a Windows machine. One glitch was that with a Mac (IIRC) you had to manually change the save-as format in one of the operations. I know that sounds fuzzy, but I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying, since I don’t have a Mac. There were also problems with the program hanging up and having to be rebooted. One problem with the Windows format is that I can’t get an expanded drop-down menu across the top of the organizer screen, no matter what I try to do. The button to see the menu options is nearly invisible and it took me a half hour to finally see the damn thing.

I’ve done both Elements and GIMP, and there are advantages for both, but right now I have GIMP on my machine and not Elements, and in general prefer it.

-PS and GIMP have a different set of available plugins and templates. PS, I think, tends to have more available interesting templates (of course you often have to pay for them) – for example, I was doing a wedding album for my sister and I was too lazy to make my own templates, and there were some really pretty PS ones a site had up for sale that weren’t available in GIMP.

-GIMP will allow you to do some things Elements won’t. Also, it is free. Also, I don’t have to find a disk when my computer crashes and has to have its OS reloaded. (This is the reason I don’t have Elements on my computer right now – I am not sure where the Elements CD is.)

Both have a lot of learning materials on the web. I’ve never had a problem finding ways to do things in either.

I use RawTherapee (free) for RAW files. Does a pretty good job. Apparently you can plug it into GIMP but I haven’t done that yet.

If you’re looking to clean up photos, you can’t beat DXO Optics, in my experience.

Not only does it clean up high ISO digital noise, fix exposure, and clean up the colors & saturation, it also has data for most DSLR camera backs and lenses built in to correct the lens distortions as well.

It doesn’t let you modify the picture itself- you can’t add a mustache or anything, but it is a great photo cleanup/rescue tool.

I recommend Photoshop because, hey, it’s what the professionals use. If you have to learn one of those programs anyway, might as well go with the one that’s mainstream. I really don’t know all that GIMP is capable of, but I’m under the impression that Photoshop has a higher skill ceiling, so more room to grow.

I use Photoshop for casual image editing, and it’s the bee’s knees. I’ve never not been able to do something I wanted to do. And it’s pretty easy to find free third-party tutorials by just googling any question that comes up. Last week, I was messing around and found a pretty cool star-drawing brush. And another brush that makes a row of grass blades, teeny tiny grass or REALLY BIG GRASS! Then I saw terms “dodge” and “burn” and had no idea what they meant, so I looked them up. And I’ve learned how to use layer masking and change the color of my eyes… lots of cool stuff, even if it is exclusively for my own amusement and not for anything important.

The only reason I wouldn’t recommend using Photoshop is if you have to pay for it. I’m using an older version (7 or 8? I don’t remember the number exactly) because I got it back in college relatively cheaply through our campus’s software shop.

If GIMP won’t allow RAW photos, and you’re even semi-serious about photography, then you’re wasting your time with it.

Dodging and burning is easy with both programs.

Photoshop elements has very limited support for layer masking (which is a wonderful, powerful tool) and is one of the reasons I use GIMP, although I’ve heard that the later versions are better about it, and you can also download third-party apps to help with it. GIMP, to be honest, is slightly less well-designed for layer masks than (I’ve heard that) full PS is, but it’s also waaaaaaay cheaper. I’d never spend the bucks for full PS in a world with GIMP.

I have recently started using PS Elements 9 and am just learning about layers and masking. Are you referring to 9 or a previous version? It seems to me that whan I will eventually learn to do with PSE9 is all I could ever ask. (Of course not knowing what I’m missing, or might be missing, is the handicap I have to start with.)

You know, I haven’t messed with 9 (hey, I’m cheap, I have an older version), and a bit of googling shows that 9 has much better support for layer masking. I think it is not as much as full PS, but I don’t know how it compares to GIMP. So, er, take what I said above with a bunch of grains of salt.