So, my workflow goes something like this. First hire a good model or find a great landscape location. Take a card or two of bad pictures, get them home and pray I can make something out of them using a piece of software.
For the last couple of years now my software of choice has been Lightroom and I do pretty much 90% of my edits using it. I then pull some images into Photoshop to do final adjustments like skin retouching or more complex cloning and layer work. Lightroom does not support layers and the spot healing tool I find a little bit limiting.
Increasingly though I have been using ON1 Perfect Photo Suite 10 to add effects to my images (and very occasionally Nik Software). You can see this a lot in my fantasy/mystical work. Not only can you add individual effects such as a glow, vignette or colour enhancer but you can combine multiple effects into a preset. You can also download presets that others have made and modify them to suit your own requirements.
I like Lightroom because of the cataloguing and the fast way it allows me to edit a shoot. Typically a band shoot, model shoot or even some of the events I cover have 300-400 images and I can quickly go through them and select the ones I want to reject and keep before running them through the Develop module. I also like the way edits are non-destructive (not affecting the original raw or jpeg file) and stored in the catalogue. This keeps the numbers of different file types down to a minimum and I don't necessarily have a raw file, Photoshop file and multiple jpeg images depending on where the final image is going to end up. Unfortunately I do need to create those additional files if I want to do final edits in Photoshop and/or ON1. That may be about to change ...
ON1 have just release ON1 Photo RAW. They have completely re-engineered the software from the bottom up with some major improvements over the older version.
Firstly as the name implies it handles RAW files. Previously it created a Photoshop file for you to edit. Now you can access all the lovely goodness that the RAW file holds like shadow details and better colour depth. The next big thing is it too has become a non-destructive editor, storing any changes you make to the image in a sidecar file and a database.
It already has a browser application which looks directly at your hard drive filing structure so you don't have to import images before working on them.
The new version is so much faster than the older one as well. I used to have to wait for what seemed like ages for filters to take effect on the screen. This was especially true when you had a number of effects on a single preset. Testing out the new version today it was significantly faster.
One final thing that is a major improvement in my mind is the way it now processes a stack of filters in a preset. On previous versions, if you had several filters stacked together in a preset and wanted to work on one of the earlier filters in the stack, you had to disable filters above it. This meant you could not see the overall effect until you turned the higher filters back on. The game would continue, turning off some filters, adjust the one you want to adjust, turning the higher ones back on and checking the result until you were happy. You can now change filters lower down the stack live and see the effects straight away.
Time for a change? No probably not. I will continue to use Lightroom as my main cataloguing software and base editing tool because I like the interface. This is arguably just my resistance to change. There is nothing really wrong with the ON1 interface. I will continue to use ON1 to apply effects though and the improvements they have made are all things the really annoyed me with the old version. We should also not forget the other tools in the suite that include a resizing tool using fractals and the layers tool, allowing you to perform complex masking and make composites.
The example below was created using a downloaded preset with some personal modifications. You can apply a mask to any filter in the stack which I have done here to remove the texture layers the preset uses from the face.
If you are looking for an alternative to Adobe then ON1 is a strong contender. All photo editing suites that handle raw files do so with varying degrees of success - you should see the arguments about whether Lightroom handles the X-Trans Fuji RAW files well or not. I have not bothered to delve into the pixel peeping level yet (or ever likely to) but it seems to do the job.
At the time of writing ON1 were offering a 30 day free trial.