An Adobe Free Workflow Guide for Photographers

In this blog post I will be looking at alternatives to the living inside the Abode bubble, which 4 programs should you be using for your photography workflow instead of floating on your “Creative Cloud”.

Here are a few suggestions of programs to try out.

Can I be done, really ?

Ever since I turner professional I have been running an Adobe free workflow which in the scheme of things doesn’t sound like a big deal. When in fact trying to resist the charms of an all inclusive system AND an excuse to head to Photoshop World every year is actually quite difficult.

The problem here is that the learning curve for other products is normally quite steep, not because the products are any more difficult to learn than Photoshop or Lightroom but because the information on them is less readily available. This can make life a little more bumpy when you have a quick “how to question” when there won’t be a YouTube video that covers that topic quickly or the possibility of finding one will be far less.

Then there is the issue of support, other companies may not have the support structure you have come to enjoy with an Adobe workflow making a jump away that extra bit more hesitant. While I agree with the fact that Adobe has the support issue well and truly covered it doesn’t mean you should overlook that point too easily either.  Saying that the amount of times I have needed specialist support when on a hot set are close to zero but that doesn’t mean others wont need it either.

Yes, it can be done, but with a few caveats.

Replacing Photoshop

The options for replacing Adobe Photoshop are few and far between especially for any professional capacity. Heaving editing comes at quite a cost which is why the only alternative, surprisingly, is actually free. GIMP has been around forever and the program has been at the heart of my editing heavy lifting for quite some time too. Just before you roll your eyes and say something rude under your breath hear me out. It can do around 90% of what Photoshop can do and while its short of a few of the newer features it does have a fantastic core which is completely functional and high performing.

Everything is here from brushes, layers etc and any photoshopper will feel right at home very quickly.

If you haven’t used it I would highly recommend giving it a go and while its not a fit for everyone it will surprise you with its fast processing and great plugin system. Remember its open source so support will be close to zero, however in my 10 years of using GIMP, I’ve never had an issue on Linux or Windows and there are a bundle of videos on the internet if you get stuck. Rocky Nook have a decent book on the topic of Gimp 2.8 which is worth investing in too.

Gimp is available for Linux, Windows and Mac.

Killing Lightroom

Lightroom is by far the easiest to replace with a dozen options available to everyone. Here we will find at least 4 good viable options, some have editing options included ces’ Lightroom with clone and heal. Some which are more just about changing colour etc without the bells and whistles.

capture one

For me and many others Capture One has been a complete Lightroom killer, it has everything and then some. However its really well known for its tethering skills which are just fantastic, the ability to edit on the fly with presets and import at lightning speed is how Capture One really shines. Plus with the recently added layers for clone and heal, colour select and replace it really has started to chip away at Lightrooms user base.

One of the best features for me is the way it can catalog and use sessions for quick processing even with using an external SAN of some-kind. Lightroom used to feel sluggish heavy, a bit like trying to run through quick sand, Capture One the complete opposite.

Support is generally through email only which can be a pain if you’re on a hot set but I have found everything I needed to do via their YouTube channel which covers pretty much all their topics and a great starter if you have just jumped.

There are a few ways to buy Capture One, through a monthly subscription or outright (which I prefer) and if you are using it for just Sony Alpha cameras you can get a generous discount by buying the “Only Sony” option. Available for Windows and Mac.

AfterShot Pro

Corel released the update to Aftershot Pro that made it much faster since version 2 and its a really worthy Lightroom replacement. While I think its a version or so in terms of features from Capture One and it’s lacking a little in the asset management department, what it does do well is image processing. Plus its a fraction of the price at under $100 for 2 years of support, it’s the thrifty workflow of choice.

Aftershot Pro 3 has some cool features like blemish removal which makes light work of retouching portraits without leaving the app. Processing is totally ‘pro grade’ and for the money its a superb option to start out or even if you are a low volume photographer.

There is even a Linux port as well as Windows and Mac.


Darktable has been around in the open source community forever, it’s been well developed and kept alive by an enthusiastic bunch but the updates are a little slow in coming. Cameras support is fairly limited too which you can check out if yours is supported here.

One of the great features of Darktable (other than being free) is that it does the basics very well, by that I mean non-destructive editing throughout the complete workflow. Fully color managed, supporting automatic display profile detection on most systems, including built-in ICC profile support for sRGB, Adobe RGB, XYZ and linear RGB color spaces. Darktable does have a catalog system for image management of sorts where you can search your image collections by tags, image rating (stars), color labels and many more, use flexible database queries on all metadata of your images; again it’s a little clunky in design but the function is certainly there.

It also supports tethering but don’t expect Capture One type performance. It has the basic curve, colour and all the usual aspects you would expect from a Lightroom replacement at a minimum.

Darktable is available on Linux, Windows and Mac

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