My top 5 pieces of photography software by Neil Alexander

This week I thought I’d pen a few words on software. Back in the day, before the advent of the digital camera sensor, when men were men,  the term PC was used to refer to an officer of the law and  there was no such thing as a corrupt FIFA official, the only way a photographer could “manipulate” a photograph after it had been captured was in the darkroom. To this end, he or she would have an arsenal of chemicals and techniques honed over years of practice in complete darkness available to them to use to tweak their image. In addition to the plethora of film and paper types, developers, fixers, clearing agents, wetting agents and stop baths available, there were lithographic processes, selenium toning, chromium intensifying, E6 & C41 cross-processing, nitrates, carbonates, chlorides and citrates, monohydrate, and acids, even coffee has been used to develop film. And I’ve not even mentioned camera obscure or glass plates. 

Darkroom today by Tom Hart, on Flickr

Darkroom today by Tom Hart, on Flickr

Most photographers would print the same negative over and over again employing careful dodging and burning techniques in an attempt to try and perfect the final print, often making hundreds of test prints in the process.


Anyway, the point is that whether they wanted to portray an accurate representation of what was in front of them at the time or whether they wanted to create some art, or a combination of both, there was some serious manipulation possible. Digital photography is exactly the same. Fortunately though there are no smelly chemicals required. It’s cleaner, safer and significantly cheaper and quicker to experiment.

And so now the user of the “digital darkroom” has a veritable plethora of different software plugins and applications that can help them perform similar tasks to the analog darkroom user and a whole heap more.

Sandbach Services by Neil Alexander © 2008

I often see photographers on the internet who pride themselves on producing digital work “straight from the camera”  and I can’t help but laugh. Do these people really think that the masters of photography over the years didn’t tinker and tweak their images in the darkroom until they were overcome with chemical fumes? It’s a documented fact that Ansel Adams, one of the pioneers of landscape photography spent days, weeks and sometimes months trying to perfect a print of a single image. 


Without any editing whatsoever, digital negative files (or RAW files) will usually come off the camera looking a little flat and in need of a little boost to the contrast and saturation. For a lot of photographers that’s often enough, but I consider myself to be an artist also. For me accurately capturing the image is only half the story. My end goal is not to produce an accurate representation of the scene in front of me but to create a piece of art.

So what do I use then?

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 14.12.57.png

Well, for me, everything starts in and revolves around Adobe Lightroom. I’ve talked about this program many times over the years. (In fact running a search on my blog turned up more than 70 posts!)

There is nothing more that can be said other than if you want a single program to organise, develop and print your photographs there is no better one out there.

You can get Lightroom (Desktop & Mobile) and the latest version Photoshop as part of Adobe’s new creative suite for photographers for only £8.78/month. Not bad when they used to be over £800 combined. More here.

Adobe Lightroom screen shot

Adobe Lightroom screen shot

Photoshop - unfortunately there’s only so much one can do in Lightroom. I probably manage to do about 80% of my work there but there are occasions when only Photoshop’s extra grunt will do; merging exposures, stitching panos, layering or serious retouching are a few that immediately spring to mind.


A particular plugin for both Lightroom and Photoshop that I am really rather partial to is Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2. It offers a far greater range of options for a black and white conversion than the basic ones offered in most image editing applications; there are film types one can simulate, adding of coloured filters and total control over “film grain” in addition to the creation of “control points” whereby one can tweak  specific areas further for brightness, contrast, structure etc.  

Pat by Neil Alexander, processed in SIlver Efex Pro 2

Now owned by Google, you can get the software here for £95

My friend Ken Kaminesky has a great review and a coupon to get you 75% off here



The lake house at the Gilpin Hotel, Lake District by Neil Alexander, processed in Lightroom Enfuse

LR Enfuse

I’ve also written about this little gem a few times. One of the flaws of all cameras is that the human eye is able to see a far greater range of lights and darks than the film or camera sensor can. They can also adjust incredibly quickly. They really are a wonderful creation if you really start to think about it but the single photograph is nothing in comparison. In a high lights and darks (or dynamic range) situation the only way to get anything that remotely resembles what the human eye can take in is to merge exposures. The minimum you need is one exposure for the darkest shadows and one for the brightest highlights. Using software you would then merge these two together. For extreme control I often use Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Masking plugin and techniques here but if I’ve a bulk edit to do or just a solitary image that I want to do a quick edit on, then LR enfuse (which is a plugin for Lightroom) provides by far the most accurate and realistic results.

The product is donation-ware and can be found here and there’s a really good review here.

Tree at dawn on golf course, Hale Golf Course, Altrincham, Cheshire, England by Neil Alexander processed in Topaz Simplify

Tree at dawn on golf course, Hale Golf Course, Altrincham, Cheshire, England by Neil Alexander processed in Topaz Simplify

Topaz Simplify 

This one I was turned on to by my Guild of Photographers mentor, Lesley Chalmers and I have since run many images through it and really like the results. Essentially it’s a way of using a photograph as a base from which to create a digital artwork resembling a water colour or a sketched drawing for example. As with all these applications you really can take your work to extremes - there are sliders aplenty but a little effort and experimentation can reap significant dividends. In fact I like it that much, that I’ve now a dedicated gallery in my print store titled “Artistic” (It’s a bit lame I know but I really couldn’t think of anything else at the time!) 

It’s priced at $40 and you can get a free trial here.

Keith Cooper has written quite an in-depth review over at Northlight


And so there you go, the 5 pieces of software I use most often for my photography, when I’m not sending emails, working on marketing, invoicing, accounts, chasing late payments, looking for copyright infringements, cooking, doing kids' homework, and all the other nuggets that go with working from home.

What are yours? I'd love to know.

Art? Or Not? You decide... by Neil Alexander

This image is an old one of mine that I've recently run through Topaz Simplify and achieved stunning results. This is a great little plugin. The effects don't work for me with most photos, but every now and then I've come across one where it's had a really wonderful effect. Get yourself a free trial here

Check it out along with a few others I've processed here. You could even buy a print here.

I'm a big fan of this effect. It's not a photograph any more, or is it? What do you think?

Why Photoshop is essential by Neil Alexander

Property Photography - Neil Alexander

This last week I was asked to shoot a property for a local estate agent. With this hopefully being the beginning of a fruitful relationship, I was determined to do everything within my powers to make sure the job ran smoothly. I try and go the extra mile as a matter of course, but for this I was prepared to go further! The job itself was straight forward enough and it was very useful to have the agent himself with me as he provided some very useful feedback there and then to better understand exactly what he wanted from the shoot.

Many layers with their layer masks went into making the resulting image

Many layers with their layer masks went into making the resulting image

There was one particular shot though which was a challenge. The property is fronted by a 7 foot hedge, and this hedge is probably no more than 6 or 7 feet from the front of the building itself. The main image of the front of the property needed to be in landscape format, give an overview of the property including the surrounding properties, the path leading up to the front door, and not have the enormous hedge obscuring the ground floor. After several test shots, it became quite apparent, that even with the use of step ladders to get above the hedge, it wasn't going to be optically possible to get in one single frame.

I use a pair of Nikon D300 bodies, which are probably into 5 figures actuations and are far from new. But they do me just fine. Occasionally low light causes me a problem and they can get noisy but for 95% of what I do, they're great. They do however have a cropped sensor. About a 1.5 crop I think. The widest glass I have is a Sigma 10-20, so at it's widest I'm probably getting about 15mm. That in itself is fine. Plenty wide, believe me. Much wider and you're going fish-eye and that's a complete no-no for real estate photography. A full-frame body with the 10-20mm may just have squeezed it in, but I doubt it. So for this particular frame, due to the constraints of the enormous hedge, the only way I could have got the photograph in one frame would have been to use a fish-eye.

After a rather substantial amount of head-scratching, I was left with the conclusion that the only way I could make this shot work was with Photoshop and a spot of layering and masking. After fixing the converging verticals, the next step was to layer in several adjacent photographs and mask them in. While not technically optically possible, the resultant image is still a very accurate reflection of the property itself, and one with which the client is very happy with. It took me a long time to get there, and left me a little stressed at times, but failure was not an option.

Incidentally, without a Wacom tablet, and only the use of a mouse, this masking process would have been a really arduous task. I've been using a large Wacom Intuos 4 tablet for some time now, and I have to say that it's been an absolute revelation for my workflow. I've seen that Wacom have just recently released version 5 of the tablets, but not yet had a chance to have a play with one. The reviews have been outstanding and if the previous model is anything to go by, then it's a tool that you really need to have in your workflow. Have a look here - Wacom Intuos5 Large Pen & Touch Tablet


Finally, some of you may have heard that I am exhibiting at the Greater Manchester Business Exhibition on the 29th May. I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all along.

- It’s INDEPENDENT (not affiliated with any others you may have seen before – it’s being run by 2 businessmen from Manchester)

- There will be over 60 EXHIBITORS that are non-conflicting (See flyer – no two offer the same service - )

- There will be  4 FREE seminars to all visitors from market leaders on management skills, networking skills, marketing skills and social media.

- There will be a VISITOR LITERATURE table (you can bring your own flyers and market your company)

- Its FREE!

- There will be a REDUCED RATE HEAD SHOT for your online profiles on the day by yours truly.

The buzz that has already created about this event has meant that places are going fast! If you want to reserve a place, the go to:

It is also being run as  a linkedin event. Some of the exhibitors and visitors have left messages. Feel free to go and have a browse, leave a comment.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch and if I don’t see you before, see you on the 29th. Bring plenty of business cards!