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02-24-2016, 11:54 PM   #1
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Best Layers Program?

I am already enjoying the wonders of LR 6, specifically the part where I paid $142 for a program that doesn't even allow me to layer photos on each other(The regret is real). But despite that I'm having a lot of fun learning LR and since I'm stuck with it I do need another program specifically for layering astrophotography photos to get those star trails/long night shots that I've always wanted.

So now I'm looking between Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop Pro X8, and random freeware that I know I'm not going to get. I would prefer a solid program where I can layer the photos in RAW and then port them back into LR for a final adjustment but I don't know enough about either of the latest versions to choose and 3 hours of googling hasn't helped.

02-25-2016, 02:20 AM   #2
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Paint.Net is a freeware image editor that does layers.
Paint.NET - Free Software for Digital Photo Editing
Just set it as an external editor in LR

If you want to spend some $, On1Photo 10 can do layers and work as a LR plugin (and stand-alone), plus has lots of other fancy tricks.

If you want a RAW editor that does layers, Capture One has layers support.
02-25-2016, 04:28 AM   #3
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Photoshop Elements has layers. It is a reasonable price but I don't think it has any capability for matching up and aligning star trails. Check this forum for asto specific software and techniques. Many members have done significant work on this topic.
02-25-2016, 04:32 AM   #4
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Affinity Photo was released early last year and is built up to be a major Photoshop competitor. Apparently does 95% of what PS does (including layers, of course), keeps receiving major updates, there are tons of tutorials and a forum etc. I am pretty sure it can layer star trails. Costs $49.99, no subscription model

I am currently checking out a trial and will buy it some time in the next couple of days. It's great.

Edit: Forgot to mention Affinity is Mac only.

Also, your judgement of Lightroom is a little harsh. No one pretended it does layers and you could have known that before you bought it. It's a RAW converter, and a very good one at that, and does most of what many photographers need.


Last edited by FantasticMrFox; 02-25-2016 at 11:18 AM.
02-25-2016, 04:53 AM - 1 Like   #5
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Paint Shop Pro does a nice job with layers. Here are a couple of examples using PSP X4.




Each puppy in this shot was a separate image.


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02-25-2016, 05:01 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Rai93 Quote
I am already enjoying the wonders of LR 6, specifically the part where I paid $142 for a program that doesn't even allow me to layer photos on each other(The regret is real). But despite that I'm having a lot of fun learning LR and since I'm stuck with it I do need another program specifically for layering astrophotography photos to get those star trails/long night shots that I've always wanted.
Andrew - I think a lot of people make this mistake with Lightroom. It isn't an image editing tool, it's a library management and image development tool (which is why Adobe refers to the modules in LR as "Library" and "Develop"). Development and editing tools are complementary, although there is inevitably some cross-over.

QuoteOriginally posted by Rai93 Quote
So now I'm looking between Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop Pro X8, and random freeware that I know I'm not going to get. I would prefer a solid program where I can layer the photos in RAW and then port them back into LR for a final adjustment but I don't know enough about either of the latest versions to choose and 3 hours of googling hasn't helped.
I use Photoshop Elements 14 for this. It's OK and suits my needs - but, be aware that it works with 8 bit rather than 16 bit images if you want to use many of the editing features. So, when exporting from Lightroom into Elements, your images are converted to 8-bit. This can lead to some posterization where tones change gradually (I notice it most in sunset tones and shadow areas). It's not bad by any means, but it is noticeable sometimes. Since there is this degradation of image quality, you really want to do the basic RAW development (you're shooting RAW, yes?) in Lightroom *first*, then layering / editing / final tweaking in Elements. Elements will save the final image to your Lightroom library so that all versions of your image(s) are kept together.
02-25-2016, 05:37 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by FantasticMrFox Quote
Affinity Photo was released early last year and is built up to be a major Photoshop competitor. Apparently does 95% of what PS does (including layers, of course), keeps receiving major updates, there are tons of tutorials and a forum etc. I am pretty sure it can layer star trails. Costs $49.99, no subscription model

I am currently checking out a trial and will buy it some time in the next couple of days. It's great.

Also, your judgement of Lightroom is a little harsh. No one pretended it does layers and you could have known that before you bought it. It's a RAW converter, and a very good one at that, and does most of what many photographers need.
You are correct, I could've known that it didn't have layers when I bought it, my mistake and I admit it. But that doesn't mean that I'm wrong, for $142 I should be able to at least have the ability to layer photos on each other even if the feature was really fiddly and difficult to use I would rather at least have it so I could learn how to use it in one program along with all the other wonderful features of LR rather than having to go find another program and learn how to adequately use that one too. Honestly I'll probably end up going to Photoshop Elements just for the convenience, I'm already using LR and programs created by the same company are usually streamlined to work with each other.

---------- Post added 02-25-16 at 06:43 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by BigMackCam Quote
Andrew - I think a lot of people make this mistake with Lightroom. It isn't an image editing tool, it's a library management and image development tool (which is why Adobe refers to the modules in LR as "Library" and "Develop"). Development and editing tools are complementary, although there is inevitably some cross-over.



I use Photoshop Elements 14 for this. It's OK and suits my needs - but, be aware that it works with 8 bit rather than 16 bit images if you want to use many of the editing features. So, when exporting from Lightroom into Elements, your images are converted to 8-bit. This can lead to some posterization where tones change gradually (I notice it most in sunset tones and shadow areas). It's not bad by any means, but it is noticeable sometimes. Since there is this degradation of image quality, you really want to do the basic RAW development (you're shooting RAW, yes?) in Lightroom *first*, then layering / editing / final tweaking in Elements. Elements will save the final image to your Lightroom library so that all versions of your image(s) are kept together.
I usually shoot in RAW+ however seeing as I never use the additional jpegs I'll probably drop that down to RAW to save space, not that my 128 gig is hurting for it :P. Is it only Photoshop ELEMENTS that suffers from the 8 bit degradation or does the full program offer 16 bit? Also what editing features specifically? The only thing I would really be using it for until I completely figure out LR is the layers function and maybe a few others if I can find my old photoshop textbooks from high school.
02-25-2016, 05:55 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Rai93 Quote
for $142 I should be able to at least have the ability to layer photos on each other
Well, perhaps just try the Photomerge features that are built-in to Lightroom for doing HDR images, or Panoramas. Either Photomerge option will quite happily merge a pile of RAW's or JPEG's together for you, and you could probably tweak the photomerge options to work how you want with astro:




02-25-2016, 06:22 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Rai93 Quote
You are correct, I could've known that it didn't have layers when I bought it, my mistake and I admit it. But that doesn't mean that I'm wrong, for $142 I should be able to at least have the ability to layer photos on each other
As I indicated, this is a key difference between image development, which is part of Lightroom's function, and image editing. Lightroom is actually very good value as a library management and image development tool. I can see why you'd be frustrated, though, if you were expecting it to do full image editing as well. Sadly, that's not what it was designed for.

QuoteOriginally posted by Rai93 Quote
I usually shoot in RAW+ however seeing as I never use the additional jpegs I'll probably drop that down to RAW to save space, not that my 128 gig is hurting for it :P.
I used to shoot in RAW+ too, and I do still occasionally, but most of the time I find myself shooting RAW only.

QuoteOriginally posted by Rai93 Quote
Is it only Photoshop ELEMENTS that suffers from the 8 bit degradation or does the full program offer 16 bit?
Full Photoshop supports 16-bit files for all editing functions, as far as I'm aware.

QuoteOriginally posted by Rai93 Quote
Also what editing features specifically?
In Elements, it is primarily the layers-related functionality that isn't supported for 16-bit images - also a number of the filters. So, for your purposes, you'd really be looking at exporting files from Lightroom as 8-bit TIFF or PSD...

Last edited by BigMackCam; 02-25-2016 at 06:28 AM.
02-25-2016, 09:10 AM   #10
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Nobody mentioned the GIMP? I use it for 99% of my "layers" work! It's 100% free and open source, you can't get better than that!
02-25-2016, 10:10 AM   #11
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You were opposed to freeware, but with the stated goal of star trails you might want to try something like StarStaX. It can take in tiff files (or jpegs of course) and output tiffs that you can continue to work on in lightroom. It has many different blending modes and features to help out with astro photography - like 'gap filling' of star trails, dark frame subtraction, etc. At a basic level it's fairly simple to use.
02-25-2016, 10:22 AM   #12
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Oops, I just realized that you were looking for a layers program compatible with RAW files. GIMP isn't quite that. Currently it's limited to 8-bit image files, but there's a beta out with 16-bit support.
02-25-2016, 11:17 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by 12345 Quote
Oops, I just realized that you were looking for a layers program compatible with RAW files. GIMP isn't quite that. Currently it's limited to 8-bit image files, but there's a beta out with 16-bit support.
Not only that, 8-bit applies to all formats. It's the main reason I stopped using GIMPS, I do basic editing in Lightroom, then would export the image as a 16-bit TIFF, but when I import it into GIMP it downgrades to 8-bit. Deal breaker for me. Plus, when I try to mask stuff it uses a lot of hardware resources and the wand tool is not exactly flawless. Other than that GIMP is absolutely great.
02-25-2016, 11:36 AM   #14
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Yep, it's a shame, but no worse than Photoshop Elements I guess. At least I'm not paying anything for GIMP! Plus, even the full version of PS doesn't have the wavelet decompose plugin...
02-25-2016, 12:46 PM   #15
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Any of you use RawTherapee? I'm new to RAW, and since I have zero budget for software I installed this free app. Fired it up a couple times just to see the interface. I don't know if it does layers/merging since I haven't used it proper yet. And I haven't yet read the 192 page manual.
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