The Essential Mac #3: Photo and Video

My Essential Mac series profiles those applications that I consider essential. What do I mean by this? Well for one thing I won’t upgrade my OS until after all of this software is certified to run on it. This episode covers photo and video software.

Photography is the reason why I bought my Mac in the first place, and there are a few apps that I cannot live without.


Aperture is Apple’s professional photo management and editing application. It allows me to categorize, tag, rate, and organize my photo collection. There is a complete built-in suite of editing tools that does just about everything you need short of layers and object compositing. 99% of the time I don’t need to open Photoshop. In fact, Photoshop Elements (the less-expensive version that I use) isn’t even on this list of essential apps.

Nik Plug-ins

One of reasons why I can get by without Photoshop is that Aperture has a framework for editor plug-ins. My favorite is the Complete Collection from Nik Software. The pinnacle of this set is Silver Efex Pro, that I’m convinced is the best black & white conversion software in the world, There are other plug-ins to provide color filters, sharpening, noise reduction, and the like. Their U-Point technology allows you to easily select areas based on the color and brightness of an object. Note that Nik does a brisk business selling the same plug-ins for Photoshop, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a just a poor man’s replacement for Photoshop.

One area of concern is that Nik was just purchased by Google, primarily for their outstanding Snapseed photo editing app for iOS and Mac. I’m more than a little afraid that Google will screw up the place.

Photomatix Pro

Those familiar with my work know that I enjoy HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. In HDR, different photos are taken of the same scene with varying exposures. Camera sensors can only read a fairly low range of light compared to the human eye. If you took a single picture you might have to choose between featureless shadows or blown-out highlights. HDR software allows you to compensate for this, but also allows you to overcompensate, making all kinds of bizarre color and light effects. There are cheaper and easier HDR packages out there, but Photomatix Pro is by far the best in this category.


I find video editing very time consuming, mostly because I’m rarely satisfied with just trimming a clip and posting it as-is. So while I take a lot of video, most of it never makes it online. I don’t consider this the fault of the software, Apple’s iMovie has plenty of easy-to-use features and is my video editing software of choice.

Coming up next: Document editing.

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