You probably saw that Apple released a new version of Mac OS X, Leopard, about a month ago. Yet one announcement that didn’t get too much attention was about a public beta of a new, Leopard-only image editing tool called Naked Light. If you’re like me, you might be groaning a bit, going “enough of the new tools; I’ve got a system that works.” Hold on a second, though, as there are two great reasons you should care about Naked Light.
One of the first reasons you should care is the interface–unlike most other editors, Naked Light is node-based (like another Apple pro tool, Shake). As you can see in the screenshot, a node-based UI means that there are small boxes representing each image processing step, and your image flows from the input (in this case, on the bottom left) through a set of steps and out on the top-right. Unlike a layer-based UI (like Photoshop), it is very easy to see how a complex image is getting pieced together from multiple filters, and unlike Aperture’s adjustment panel, Naked Light’s interface makes it possible to see the order of adjustments (there can be a difference between tweaking color balance and then applying curves and applying curves and then tweaking the color balance). Additionally, when you start working with masked areas of an image, a node-based UI makes it easy to see (and change) what set of adjustments are being applied to the global image vs. just the masked area.
What’s even cooler, though, is that Naked Light’s taken a concept revolutionized by Aperture, non-destructive image editing, and applied it to more complicated actions. Although Photoshop supports more complex actions to some extent with smart objects, you have to convert a smart object back to a normal image for tools like dodging. In Naked Light, there’s no need for these conversions–everything is non-destructive. There are some interesting future possibilities, too. For instance, you can paint on top of an image in Naked Light, and no matter what resolution you resize your image to, it’ll adjust your brush stokes to match perfectly. While painting in bright pink might not be very useful for a photograph, imagine if the same brush technology were adapted to create a non-destructive Photoshop-like healing and clone brush.
All this being said, keep in mind that the available version of Naked Light is still a very early, pre-release public beta. There are funky notions, e.g. you can’t just open an image, you have to import it, as well as annoying parts in the interface (the “dock” of tools don’t stick open when you click on them–you have to hold your mouse button down to keep the menu open). The toolbar even warns you that some commands are slow and/or crash-prone. But again, it is just a very early version, and I’m sure this will all get better.
Why am I spending time on an Aperture blog talking about this product? Well, quite simply, I think that the feature set that Naked Light is developing should one day, when it’s mature enough, end up inside of a future version of Aperture (I am not saying I think Apple should buy these guys, but rather I believe something like Naked Light is a natural evolution of the image editing tools you see in Aperture). I really like the idea that I could one day just use one program with a node-based UI for all of my adjustments, especially if I am non-destructively modifying a RAW file. Hey, I can dream, can’t I? :)