I participate in a photographic community where new people often ask about editing software and quickly get discouraged by the steep learning curve industry-standard apps require. Another thing is some people get in trouble with the hardware requirements. I’ve decided to have a look around and see if any editors could help these people start their photography journey. So, today we’ll have a look at the PhotoWorks image enhancer.
Who is it for?
In my opinion, this photo enhancer software is suitable for whoever is starting in photography and can’t handle the standard editing process. In my experience, PhotoWorks capabilities as an image enhancer will satisfy the majority of beginners. Also, for those who have weak hardware and can’t run resource-demanding apps as PhotoWorks has minimal requirements. Another category of users is those who love one-click photo enhancer type of software as it has a ton of presets and smart AI algorithms. And the last bit of users who would like it are those who photograph people as this software has many features on the face sculpt and such.
The workflow is straightforward – you open an image (it reads raw files too) and then process it applying various effects. There are two ways on how you can use this app – in an Adobe way, i.e. pulling the sliders back and forth or by applying one of the many instant effects.
There are five tabs, and we will briefly overview each one of them. In the end, you can save the photo as a jpg file or save your edits as another preset for future use. However, even if you don’t save and close the app, next time you open the same photo, it will suggest continuing editing rather than starting from scratch.
This tab is for all the familiar sliders. The same sliders exist in Adobe products. But here they work a bit differently. For instance, Shadows slider when pulled into the negative space significantly increases Saturation, which is unexpected. Likewise, Highlights slider washes out the colours when moved to the right. Another thing I noticed, it feels like I’m editing an 8-bit jpg file rather than the raw file. Which means, the data gets instantly converted.
Enhancements tab has three sub-tabs – Main, Colour and Sharpness. The Colour one contains the well-known HSL with the addition of the Colour Balance tab, which is nice to have.
The Sharpness settings are intuitive and work really well.
Overall, a good set of setting lacking bitness to use camera’s dynamic range in full.
This is where it gets heated. Tools tab contains an unprecedented amount of features and cool things. Crop tool has built-in composition overlays – a handy feature. Geometry helps your architecture photos. Being a picture quality enhancer, PhotoWorks has 3D LUT and Tone Mapping tools for creative effects. 3D LUT allows you to re-map colours using specific tables. You don’t have to know how to build them – download some presets. In the real world, it is used in movies. Tone Mapping allows you to colourise the photo with a colour + blending mode. It seems, you can only have one Tone Mapping layer, which is a bit odd, but helps nevertheless. The same goes for Curves – it’s a standard feature, and you can have only one.
For instance, the Crop tool has a handy set of composition layouts to help you with cropping.
One tool I wanted to stop by is the Tone Mapping. I’ve never seen such an adjustment in similar one-click photo enhancer apps. It allows you to pick a colour and then apply it to the image using blending modes just like in Photoshop. It’s not a tone mapping you might know from hdr software. Instead, it’s a quick and easy way to add some toning.
Also, it allows you to apply a whole bunch of overlay textures for creative effects.
Retouch module is the most developed module in the whole app. It dramatically helps to edit portraits, change faces, do face sculpt and many other things. I don’t usually shoot or edit portraits, so it’s a bit hard for me to assess the power of it. But as for the casual user, it’s more than enough. I’ll edit my self-portrait to see what I can do in 5-10 minutes.
Also, Retouch tab has an Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter and Radial Filter. Within them, you can make all the same settings as in Enhancement and apply them locally to the parts of the image. These are very useful for editing landscapes, and every image enhancer app should have them. The graduated filter is typically used to fix up the sky, the radial filter is used to apply some effect to the area and brush is used to paint in some adjustment.
Effects tab is the best bet of Instagrammers and people who just don’t want to get too much into editing. It contains tons of presets made for any taste. These presets are quite good and in most situations of daily life that’s all some people would need. Once you apply a preset, you can go back to the Enhancement tab to keep playing with the settings to fine-tune the desired effect. A great function is that preset previews show what the photo will look like, which saves time choosing. You can also save your edits as presets.
There is one thing, however, which differs this preset collection from the others. There’s a slider, which allows you to control how much of the effect you want to be applied. It’s in a way resembles an opacity slider in Photoshop but applies to the whole set of edits at once.
Again, fast and robust feature to add captions and stickers without much knowledge in editing. There’s a whole bunch of styles and custom settings for the text and also a set of stickers. Although, I’d love to see more stickers and an option to upload mine. Because currently, all of them are the talk balloons and that’s obviously not enough.
PhotoWorks best features listed in no particular order:
- The application has a 3D LUT support – great function with lots of possibilities.
- The app has very reasonable system requirements – a killer feature for those low on budget. It also includes GPU (if the system allows) and CPU modes.
- There’s an abundance of everything in PhotoWorks – presets, LUTs, tutorials (built-in). Install and enjoy.
- Also, PhotoWorks has a powerful portrait retouch module, including the face sculpt.
- Last but not least, there is an auto-correction (when it works) button. Could be useful for those with no clue what to do.
What is missing?
Now let’s get to the bitter part of the story. Photo Works is good but requires some additional features to be considered by seasoned veterans. Some of the functions are critical for me, and some are less of a concern.
- It can’t remove chromatic aberrations and distortion control. Photo Works doesn’t have it at all. The severity of this issue for me is insignificant if the photo is only for social media.
- HDR – it stands for the high dynamic range. I shoot landscapes and real estate photos. The contrast between lights and darks if often quite large and I do several shots (brackets) to blend them later. I can’t do such blending with Photo Works. I mean, they have an overlay function, where you overlay one photo on top of another, but it’s cumbersome – you have to edit the other one first, save it as jpg, then overlay. All these manipulations come at the cost of quality decrease (jpg files are 8 bit) and waste of time – you have to edit photos twice. For me, such an approach is a big deal.
- Photo Works is a pixel editor, i.e. it converts raw files to jpg right away, and you lose all the beauty of the raw data. This lack of bitness is easy to see when you pull Blacks or Shadows sliders – the shadows get pixelated. I would love to edit in 16 bit raw – another big deal for me.
- It cannot merge photos into panoramas. To me, this is minor. I rarely shoot panoramic images, and there are some specialised apps for that anyways.
PhotoWorks is an excellent image quality enhancer for a specific target audience. It may suit people low on budget or those who don’t want to spend a lot of time editing. Amateur portrait photographers will enjoy the power of the face sculpt and all related features. With landscape photography, however, it has some significant drawbacks that are impossible to workaround. In sunrise/sunset landscape photography, the dynamic range is vast, and you have to do multiple brackets, which PhotoWorks can’t combine. On top of that, it first converts to jpg, and you work with an even narrower dynamic range than your single raw file can produce. As a result, you can nicely edit low-to-medium contrast scenes (typical travel photography) but get ready to lose the shadows or the highlights completely. With all that said, I have a good number of photographers that I know, who would love the portrait retouch module. Well, what can I say? I’ll use it myself for family portraits and selfies. I will also use it for various quick overlay effects for my social media.