This article sets out to explain some of the editing tools that are available to the amateur photographer in three photo editing suites. The modern amateur photographer is almost certainly using a digital camera to capture images of family festivities, celebrations and special events and needs photo editing software to edit and adjust photos that can then be stored digitally, added to online albums or printed off.
So, ease of use is an important consideration – ease of use of the editing tools and ease of the final production of an album that can be copied to CD/DVD or uploaded to Photobucket, Flickr or other social media sites.
1) Photoscape (free of charge)
There are a number of ‘open source’ photo editing tools available for free, either to download onto your computer like Gimp or Photoscape, or to use directly online, like Picasa and Pixlr. Let’s start with Photoscape. Don’t be put off by the fact that Photoscape is free – it is a comprehensive and powerful photo editing tool. Although the user interface is a little clunky – you choose your application from a ring of icons – the applications themselves are very easy to use.
A viewer – you can view photos in your albums and create a slideshow.
An editor – you can resize, adjust brightness and colour, adjust white balance, correct the backlight, add frames, balloons, mosaic, add text, draw pictures, crop photos, remove red-eye and repair with a cloning tool. Plus all of the above can be done in batch editing mode to edit the whole or part of an album quickly.
A printer – sized to your choice – to produce portrait shots or passport/wallet photos.
A combiner – lets you add photos together to make one, and resize to your liking.
A splitter – slices photos into several pieces.
An Animated Gif producer – you can add photos or images to make a final animated ‘cartoon’ quickly.
A RAW image converter – to convert RAW images to.jpg or.tif.
2) PhotoPlus (about £70 incl. VAT)
Available from many outlets, including the high street and online, PhotoPlus is from the Serif stable of software. It is a comprehensive software package, capable of producing professional looking results. Contained within it are tools that enable you to:
Convert RAW images – there are many types of raw image depending upon the make of your camera, but they can all be likened to photo negatives – not an image, but containing all the data needed to produce an image. Converting the data is like developing a positive print, adjusting colour grading and white real estate photo editing balance along the way.
Compose High Dynamic Range (HDR) images – more of this later.
Export images with their EXIF (exchangeable image file) information (date, time, exposure etc.) intact.
Adjust not only the image size and colour, hue and saturation of photos, but also the brightness, black point, temperature and more.
Open and edit 64bit images for true high definition results.
Apply filters to make your pictures sepia, black and white, pixillate, mosaic, neon effect or like a poster.
Repair and restore old photos, remove unwanted people and objects from your photos with the clone and patch tools, remove red-eye, whiten teeth, remove blemishes and smooth skin, or remove the background completely.
Upload photos to FaceBook and Flickr at the touch of a button.
Photoplus is easy to use with an intuitive interface, extensive help, animated ‘how tos’ and great tutorials.
3) Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 (about £70 incl. VAT)
Available from Adobe directly or from resellers such as Amazon and Play.com, Adobe Photoshop Elements is a powerful and comprehensive photo editing suite at a very reasonable price. The name Photoshop is like the name Google – it is becoming a verb in its own right. Whilst we might ‘google’ something in order to find it, if a photo has been altered it has been ‘photoshoped’.
If we assume that Photoshop can do just about any image manipulation you might think of (with some superb filters you probably didn’t think of), what sets it apart from the rest of the field?
No. 1 is ‘Content aware fill’. This is a fill tool which effectively removes people and objects from the background and fills the void with more background. Obviously, the more simple the background the more accurately this can be done – extracting people from complex backgrounds is less successful, but a lot easier than spending ages with the clone tool.
No. 2 is ‘Panorama stitching’, using ‘Content aware fill’ to fill in the gaps you left when you took those panoramic shots (you can never get them to overlap exactly!).
No. 3 is ‘Layer Masks’. Layer masks simplify the job of making non-destructive changes to layers in order to merge photos together or manually merge photos for High Dynamic Range (HDR) compositions. HDR is a method of producing jaw-dropping images by merging two or more identical images with different exposure settings.
No. 4 is ‘Out of Bounds’. One of the more fun styles that can make photographs appear to jump out of a frame, handing Photoshop users the kind of editing skills that were previously only dreamt of by magazine editors.
No. 5 is seamless integration with Facebook. Photoshop Elements can take your photos and resize them on the fly to FaceBook’s maximum resolution before uploading to avoid wasting bandwidth.