With Apple’s latest release to its ever-popular line of MacBook Pro notebooks, the tech giant has brought a new physical update to the 13.3" and 15.4" models, with the Touch Bar. Replacing the traditional, physical Function keys of all previous models, the Touch Bar presents itself as a customizable, adaptable Function bar, as opposed to keys, which can be tailored to individual apps. Since MacBook Pros are certainly the standard in portable, on-location computing for the professional photography industry, it only makes sense that one of the first applications to adopt rich support for the Touch Bar was Adobe Photoshop.
Photoshop has always made use of the keyboard to work with the application efficiently and quickly. Nearly every key serves a purpose within the application, and functions as a one-touch alternative to solely using the mouse to navigate through menus and individually select tools or to adjust the way tools function. With many photographers accustomed to this method of navigating Photoshop, it is a seamless experience to expand your touch-based tool set to the now-included Touch Bar. The difference, of course, is that the Touch Bar is adaptive, and does not have the physically recognizable keys of the past. Herein lie the positives and negatives I found when initially spending some time editing in Photoshop CC 2017 with a new 15.4" MacBook Pro.
To begin, I learned that there are three main modes in which to use the Touch Bar: Layer Properties, Brushes, and Favorites; and then there is a shortcut to a History Scrubber, which allows you to jump back steps using small visual snippets of the image stages, rather than use a dedicated history palette that is organized by the names of specific tools you used. This visual layout proves to be helpful since you can quickly glance to see how the image has changed rather than guess which of 20 consecutive Clone Stamp actions is the right one to skip back to. On the other hand, the image previews are quite focused and do not encompass the entire image, so it’s difficult to recognize changes that occur around the edges of the image. I found myself bouncing back and forth between this Touch Bar palette and the traditional History palette when undoing steps, depending on the tool in use or how far back I needed to go.
In terms of the three separate modes, the one I found most useful for my purposes was Layer Properties. This seemed to contain the richest set of features, including some that do not have standard keyboard shortcuts. This mode gives you one-touch access to place a file into the open document, use blend modes for compositing images, create a clipping mask, and launch the Select and Mask workspace. These tools are especially useful for those who work with multiple files in an image, such as for creating new compositions or blending images for HDR or other stacked image types, so having a quick way to get into these main workspaces was quite helpful.
The second, possibly most natural mode for the Touch Bar, was the Brushes mode. This mode makes use of the multi-touch capabilities of the bar, and provides you with a series of sliders to adjust brush size, hardness, opacity, and flow, as well as access a color picker. I was impressed at first with the ability to choose a color from the entire color palette using just this tiny Touch Bar and a series of sliders to move the picker around, from warm to cool, dark to light, but after trying to move from a dark blue to a faint pink, I realized it was a lot easier to simply use the humongous trackpad. The brush tools, while convenient, didn’t come as naturally to me since many of these brush adjustments are already accessible using keyboard shortcuts and the Control+Click menu with the brush tool.
Finally, there is also the Favorites mode, which simply provides access to switching between screen modes, creating a new layer, and flipping the canvas horizontally or vertically. I didn’t spend too much time in this mode, since I already often use the keyboard-based shortcuts for switching screen modes and making new layers, and I don’t often need to flip my canvas (I would have preferred if the shortcut was for rotating the canvas, for example). The Touch Bar can also be fully customized for you to add or remove specific functions from each of these modes to better suit your own needs.
After spending a while working with and trying to integrate the Touch Bar into my Photoshop workflow, I can say it isn’t making me rush to upgrade my one year-old MacBook Pro for a new, Touch Bar-enabled version. While I do appreciate the direct access to the features and controls the bar provides, I also have spent years honing my knowledge of Photoshop’s array of keyboard shortcuts. While I’ll stick to my keyboard for the time being, I can say that working with the Touch Bar has certainly intrigued me, and piqued my interest to follow any future updates to functionality that are sure to come over time. Being such a new technology, it’s exciting to spend some time with it at the beginning, and I can’t wait to see what future updates bring.
To read more, see the B&H Explora articles, Apple Raises the Bar a Touch, and Navigating Final Cut Pro X with the New Touch Bar-Enabled MacBook Pro.
Have you had any experiences with the Touch Bar? What do you think? Leave your comments or questions below.
I still think Apple made a huge step in the wrong direction, keeping the ports you would need to buy dongles to get back on this one and adding a touch screen instead would have been a better idea.