It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. —J. K. Rowling
Imagine walking into an ice cream parlor and there only being three choices of flavors, none of which you liked. Would you walk out? Perhaps we might imagine walking into a restaurant that advertised an all-you-can-eat buffet, but would only let you pick five items from which you could consume your fill; that wouldn’t be exactly what we expected from a buffet, would it? We like having choices and, a significant portion of the time, the more choices we have the more in control we feel of our situation. Yet, we do well to ask the question: how many choices is enough?
Yes, I know, the answer depends primarily upon the topic and perhaps even the circumstances, but in whatever the situation might be, it seems only logical that, at some point, the number of choices one has begins to deteriorate one’s ability to actually achieve anything. If for example, Baskin Robbins were to suddenly expand their selection to 438 flavors, one might very well spend such a long time deciding as to no longer be interested in ice cream at all and go elsewhere for a nice burger. There is in all things a point of diminishing returns where the number of choices becomes too many.
When talking about the post-processing of digital imagery, the list of potential choices seems endless. Even if one only uses Photoshop on its own, with no third-party plugins or filters, there are still more than a sufficient number of choices to address pretty much every situation imaginable. I’ve not yet found any critical artistic or necessary adjustment common to photography that couldn’t be performed in Photoshop in some way. With choices abounding what matters is whether one knows how to actually access and implement all the choices available. The preponderance of choices is so great, in fact, that a third-party industry has cropped up around creating Photoshop actions to help save on post-processing time by automating some basic choices.
Like most photographers, I have certain tools that are my favorites. I reach for them often and, at times, even shoot specifically for a given set of tools. I have what I need, or, at least, I thought so.
Last month, Google released it’s Nik Collection of Photoshop plugins. Free. I’m not sure how much the collection had cost previously, somewhere between $300-$400 I think, but now the collection is totally free and they’re even giving refunds to those who had recently purchased the set. I found the move interesting from a marketing perspective but didn’t think much of it beyond that because they didn’t sound like something I would need to use.
I take the same approach to the full Adobe Creative Suite. Are there some really valuable and incredible tools in the set? Yes. Can I see a potential use for those tools? Yes. But I don’t own all those tools because I don’t need them. They would just sit here and cost me money that could best be spent elsewhere.
Then, Friday evening, a colleague who had downloaded the Nik collection was telling me all it had in it and especially emphasized its ability to reduce noise. Noise is an issue for me because of the age of my camera. In low light situations, noise can ruin an otherwise good shot. He convinced me that the noise filters in the Nik Collection could fix my problem. So, first thing Saturday morning, I downloaded and installed the full collection.
When I next opened Photoshop, I groaned. There were so many choices I hardly knew where to start! I had watched the tutorial on eliminating noise, so I could find what I wanted, and it does work quite well. But what am I supposed to do with all this other … stuff? These tools expand my capabilities immensely or at least make a number of things easier. But with so very many choices how am I supposed to determine which ones are best for any given situation? Insert scream of panic here.
Take a look at the pictures at the top of this page. Both are composites of a photograph processed multiple different ways to demonstrate, I hope, just how confusing and complicated the number of choices can be, especially for someone who is already creative and always looking for something different. Which method I think is best is going to change based on what other art has influenced me lately, what kind of mood I’m in, and how much coffee I’ve had. I am sometimes criticized that my work lacks cohesiveness because I’m always moving on to try something new. Giving me these many choices hardly seems like a good thing! Consistency just flew out a window I didn’t have open.
Returning to our ice cream analogy, creatives are the type of people who walk into an ice cream parlor and, at least, consider all the options before making a choice. I know some who would have to actually taste all the options first. Given a certain budget, a specific amount of time, and sufficient desire, we run through all the options in our minds. Waffle cone or plain? One scoop or three? Or maybe a banana split? Or that brownie sundae looks good … Only when we have pondered all the choices do we make a decision, and even then we may spend the next three days second-guessing ourselves. If we do that with a limited number of ice cream choices, how do you think we respond when our creative choices number into the thousands? It’s a problem!
I understand why software developers put so much into a single package. How I use a piece of software is going to be different from how another person uses the same software. I’m not a product engineer so I’m not likely to use a lot of the 3D rendering tools available in Photoshop. My interest in graphic design is limited, so I don’t utilize the drawing tools as often or as proficiently as someone else would. Creative software has to be robust to speak to the myriad ways in which it can be used.
Still, it would be nice if there were a way to limit or perhaps turn off more of the choices so that they wouldn’t be sitting there looking at us, begging to be used. I don’t have time for this level of temptation. I’m four weeks behind on editing as it is! Too many choices are the bane of productivity.
Maybe we should all just go back to analog film.