Traditionally, the way I would acquire my software was to purchase it outright, usually as shiny disc in a big box, as a tangible, quantifiable product. This is certainly the way I prefer to shop in general, by which I mean buy something and have it – no strings attached.When it comes to Adobe products, and in particular Photoshop that has been how I have operated, right back to version 5. (Yes, I did say Photoshop 5, not CS5 which was in fact version 12. My experience with Photoshop goes right back to version 3.) The issue is that Adobe, like a number of other key software developers, has now moved over to a subscription model, dispensing with traditional version numbering and referring to the package as ‘CC’, or “Creative Cloud’. The requires subscribers pay a fee to license the software on a monthly basis, with unlimited upgrades as and when they are released and is now the only way of purchasing Photoshop. It is rumoured that the other application of special significance to photographers, namely ‘Lightroom’, will shortly go the same way.
For many, myself included, the idea of subscribing as opposed to outright purchase may at first seem unattractive and there are a number of concerns and misconceptions that are raised. Questions that come to light including “does this mean that it will only work if I am connected to the internet?”, ‘is Photoshop now a cloud based app, requiring substantial bandwidth to work efficiently?” and “isn’t this a bit like a gym membership that sits malevolently syphoning off cash from my bank account without me really noticing that I have spent far more than a single outright purchase might represent?”
I have until recently been in a relatively fortunate position in relation to purchasing software in that as a college lecturer I have been eligible for education pricing, representing a not insignificant discount. In fact, back in the pre-recession days of a well funded education system there was a time when my employer purchased licences for me on the premise that I should learn how to use the software in order to teach it to others, or some such ridiculous notion. Sadly, this is no longer the case, and anyhow this probably doesn’t address your particular problem, that is “why should you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud?”
Subscription to the whole Adobe CC suite is a significant expense, but let’s be honest, how many of us really need all those applications. If you are regularly using Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, InDesign, Flash, Contribute, Dreamweaver…… the chances are that you are either a student (education licensing still exists and is relatively economic) or you are working as a professional. As a keen photographer perhaps it is only really the photo specific applications (Photoshop and Lightroom) that you really need. The good news is that Adobe offers a specific Creative Cloud Photography solution, a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom at what I am going to argue is a bit of a bargain rate. We can now access the latest versions for approximately £2 per week.
I’ve done a bit of maths. To purchase Lightroom and Photoshop under the old system you would have had to part with something in excess of £600 (€850 or $950), perhaps half that if you were a teacher or a student. Whilst upgrades within a release are there after free, each full edition requires an additional purchase. True, it is not necessary to always have the latest and greatest versions, much of what I do with Photoshop today can easily be achieved with CS3 or even earlier, but let us assume that on average we would want to upgrade every 3 years or so. A subscription to the Photography package in that same 3 year period would cost something in the order of £300. (Incidentally, there is no education price reduction for the CC Photography package.) Therefore it would seem that there is no real financial advantage in outright purchase even if it were possible, and it isn’t. My point here is that the cost of subscribing to Adobe CC Photography is no more expensive than purchasing under the old system, in fact it is arguably cheaper, and you are always going to be bang up to date with your software.
Right, I need to make something clear here. I am not sponsored by Adobe. I do not work for Adobe, I am not affiliated to them in any way and I have no particular interest in promoting their products. I strongly suspect that they don’t even know (or care) that I exist. I would also like to state that I am not advocating that Photoshop and Lightroom are perfect. In point of fact there are many things about recent versions of Photoshop and Lightroom that I dislike, and somethings that quite frankly drive me nuts, but that is almost certainly a topic for a different post. Suffice to say I believe that these applications are probably still the best overall solutions out there.
There are alternatives. Historically, Photoshop Elements (Photoshop ‘Light’, if you like) has proved popular and much of the architecture from the full version underpins Elements. However, the interface is aimed very squarely at the home user and if you have any experience of using Photoshop proper, you might well find that Elements frustrates and feels like a step backwards. As your skills and image editing ambitions progress you will reach a point when its limitations become apparent. Other players include the new Serif product ‘Affinity Photo’ and this looks to be a good option which although a newly developed application is attracting quite a following. It is my intention to evaluate Affinity Photo and review accordingly in a future post… but we digress. The purpose of this article is to ascertain whether Adobe’s subscription model is viable, is good value for money and I am coming to the conclusion that it probably is. Yes it is another expense to add to your monthly budget, and yes it would be better if it could be purchased outright for not much money, but make no mistake, Photoshop and Lightroom for approximately 30p (50c) per day is a bargain. The more you explore Photoshop’s capabilities, the more you will come to realise that it is actually excellent value for money and remember, if ever you do consider moving into the commercial/professional environment, the reality is that a prospective employer will more likely be interested in your Photoshop skills than command of Affinity or Elements.
Lightroom is perhaps for photographers an even more important application than Photoshop itself. The ability to organise your image library and carry out many of the everyday processing actions on your images non-destructively, often without the need to open in Photoshop, along with the ability to batch process a number of images simultaneously offers an efficient workflow. The real power of Lightroom though is as a ‘raw’ processor and once you adopt this way of working you will wonder how you ever coped before.
Returning to our earlier concerns, lets me assure you that there is little to worry about. Using Photoshop and Lightroom CC is just like using any previous version in that the software is installed on your host computer and does not need to be constantly connected to the internet to function. It simply requires access to the web once per month to validate the licence. Even then, if this is not possible Adobe can negate this (read more about Adobe’s licensing here).
So my advice is this; download the trial version, have a go and give serious consideration to signing up. I think that if your are a ‘raw’ shooter, and you are serious about taking your photography onto the next level, you may well share my own conclusions and sign up. Still not convinced that it is a legitimate expense? Well, imagine how much money you would be spending on processing if you were still shooting film. I bet it would be more than £2 a week.