Photo Editing for Amateurs – Part I: Software

Photo editing – improving images after they come out of the camera – can be a daunting proposition for new and amateur photographers.  Digital cameras make great pictures and have incredible capabilities.  Whether high-end DSLR or point-and-shoot or even on a phone, cameras can do things that just a decade ago we only dreamed possible.  So why would you bother doing anything with the pictures after the fact?  In many cases you probably won’t.  If you’re just grabbing shots of a group of friends at a party or your dog drooling over a treat there’s no need to take the time to try to turn those images into masterpieces.  They captured a moment in time and that’s good enough.  But what about special pictures – the beautiful portrait of your child or the gorgeous sunrise you caught on your beach vacation?  Or, if you run a business, pictures of your people or products that will excite your customers?  With a few minor tweaks you can take those photographs from good to great.

photo editing

Where Do You Start?  Find Your Favorite Photo Editing Software!

Traditionally, if you wanted to get into the “digital darkroom” the gateway was Adobe’s Photoshop.  While it’s an amazing beast, learning to edit photos in Photoshop is like learning to drive in a Formula 1 car.  It can be a little overwhelming to say the least.  And most people don’t need the power and full array of tools that Photoshop has to offer.  Fortunately, now there is an abundance of lower-priced and easier-to-use editing programs that are available.  Many of these apps also serve as image organizers as well, which is a critical function when you’re shooting a lot of pics.  All of the titles listed below offer the basic tools you need and range in price from FREE to around $120 for an annual subscription.

Apple iPhoto and Windows Photo Gallery: iPhoto (for Mac) and Windows Photo Gallery (for PC) are FREE apps that do both image cataloging and editing.  Both programs are easy to learn and offer all of the important adjustments like exposure, contrast, color and cropping.  If your photo editing needs are limited to the basics, these programs will deliver outstanding results.

Google’s Picasa 3.9:  Picasa has had a great reputation since it came on the scene.  It is easy to learn and use and has a lot of great editing features.  Picasa also does a good job of organizing images and makes it easy to share your work via Picassa Web Albums.  You can download Picassa for FREE.

Photoshop Elements 13: When digital photography became mainstream Adobe recognized the need for a “baby” version of Photoshop, and so they launched Photoshop Elements.  The $79 program has all the critical basic adjustments of the mother program as well as a lot of advanced capabilities like adding text, converting photos to B&W, etc.  You may have to log some time in front of your screen learning what it can do, but once you’re familiar with Elements you won’t be disappointed.  One down side: it does not have a cataloging function so you’ll need a separate image organizer.  I used Elements before I graduated to Photoshop and I highly recommend it.

photo editing PicMonkeyPicMonkey: PicMonkey burst on the scene a few years ago and has become very popular.  The app is browser-based, which means you don’t need to download or install anything to your computer.  Basic functions of PicMonkey, like exposure, cropping, and color adjustment are FREE.  PicMonkey has a lot of easy-to-use features and filters, and its functionality has earned it a lot of kudos.  The advanced features costs a little bit, but with an annual payment plan it’s only $2.75/month for some great software.  Here again, the service doesn’t include a library component.  But with a simple interface and great functionality PicMonkey is the ideal program for many photogs.

photo editingAdobe Lightroom: In the beginning of the change from film to digital photography there was a lot of focus on image editing.  Then, as more photographers created more photos, software was introduced to organized all those images.  The problem was you had to use two different programs in your workflow – one to catalog your collection and then a separate program to adjust each image.  A while back Adobe introduced Lightroom to merge those jobs, and it has become the gold standard for pro photographers.  Lightroom has a robust cataloging feature that makes it easy to find that photo of a needle in a haystack of digital files.  And Lightroom offers the ability to easily make adjustments to your images right in the catalog.  Certainly, Lightroom is more than many casual photographers need, but for anyone who shoots more than a few hundred images in a year this is a great solution.  The app is available via Adobe’s Creative Cloud which ensures constant updates and upgrades and costs $9.99/month.  I use Lightroom daily and don’t know what I would do without it!!

To be sure, this is not an exhaustive list – there are a lot of other options available that do a great job.  The programs listed above represent those with which I am most familiar.  Other apps you may want to check out include GIMP and Corel Paint Shop Pro.  A quick search of the web will yield a number of additional options.

So Now What Do I Now?

In my next post in this series I will discuss how to use your photo editing software to adjust exposure.  You can read that here.

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