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Thursday, June 29, 2006

A summary of photo editing software


On a photography course I found myself describing photo-editing software to a number interested people who knew less on the matter than I.  Here is a summary of what I described to them.

Let's start by dividing software into three distinct groups.  There are software packages you get for free, consumer-based packages that cost roughly fifty to one-hundred dollars, and the professional editing packages that cost in the range of five hundred dollars.

"Free" would include whatever package is supplied with the digital camera/printer/scanner you buy, plus some others that can be downloaded at no cost or consumer-level give away in a computing or photography magazine, which is normally an older version of a current software package or a time-limited trial.

One notable free download is Picasa.  This piece of software has a rather unique approach to editing which I will explain.  When you first install Picasa it indexes all the pictures on your hard disk drive.  It will then let you apply a limited set of edits to each image, including cropping, white-balance, black and white conversion plus a decent selection of filters. Picasa stores these edits separately from the image file, the actual image is un-affected unless you specifically decide to overwrite it.

In the context of model photography, Picasa is a nice browsing tool that can produce a number of effects shots painlessly and without changing your original image.  Its excellent for experimentation. The major thing it lacks are decent cloning/blending tools which one would typically use to clean-up a models skin or remove objects from a uniform background.  For those kinds of functions you are going to have to look at other packages.

Paint Shop Pro
, now a Corel product, is one of the more mature consumer-level software packages.  The creator's intention was to supply a inexpensive image editing tool with a really comprehensive set of features.  Paint Shop Pro is joined by Abobe Photoshop Elements, now in its 4th version and Microsoft have released its Digital Imaging Suite which is similar in capability.

In the context of model photography, using these packages will get you cloning and blending tools.  You also get layering tools that allow you to create compositions from multiple photographs as well as perform a variety of special effects.  If you need to get an absolutely flat horizon, these kinds of packages have rotation tools that permit you to do correct this.  Exposure and colour balance can be very precisely adjusted by manipulating histograms. You probably also gain the ability to process RAW camera images, as long as your camera is one of the more popular models.  You may also get automation tools, that let you apply the same changes to a batch of photographs.

Whilst it is accurate to describe these packages as "consumer level" I know professional photographers who don't use anything more sophisticated. 

Adobe Photoshop is the gold standard of photo manipulation.  Available for the price of an entry-level Digital SLR or a high quality lens it has all the features of the consumer level packages and more besides.  Automation is improved and the package contains some really sophisticated image manipulation tools appropriate for graphic design/editorial and advertisting purposes.

Wikipedia has a nice comparison table of features in the major photo-editing packages :-

Comparison of bitmap graphics editors - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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