A question I get asked a lot is, “What software for post processing would you recommend if you were starting out in photography today?”
Don’t know which photo editor to choose, here are some free options worth considering.
My go-to software for editing photos is Adobe Photoshop. This doesn’t mean I am advocating that Photoshop is the only photo editor worth considering – far from it. I will be using Photoshop as a frame of reference only, and not as a direct comparison to other software products mentioned in this article.
However, it is the industry’s number one software for professionals. Prior to the new subscription model, Photoshop was a standalone piece of software and was expensive. But even with the subscription model, it’s a recurrent expense, which over time will amount considerably for your buck.
After doing some research, I was quite amazed at the plethora of photo editing software applications, on the market that are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Most of which equip the beginner with more than enough features and tools to get your images looking great.
Also, most of the applications can be downloaded free, for a limited trial period. This gives you a better idea what it’s like, and you’re able to test the software and its capabilities.
Other products can be downloaded for entirely free and some are even web based, so you don’t have to download any software onto your computer. The disadvantage is that you do need a reliable internet connection. Also, I did find the annoying ads that pop up alongside the interface distracting. An alternative to get rid of these ads is to pay for an upgrade.
Let’s take a look at some of the free options:
Pixlr is a web based, online editing tool. You can create a new image, upload an image, or grab one directly from a URL location. I found this product very intuitive and easy to use. The images load up fast in the web browser. The interface is quite similar to Photoshop. It has all the tools like: layers, lasso tool, brush controls, cloning, and filters.
Ok, so where do you start with your post-processing?
When you have your image open, duplicate it so that you keep the original intact. That way, if you completely mess up, don’t worry, you still have the original to begin again.
Post editing is a skill. It does take patience and time to master.
I would consider color correction an important area to begin your post-processing.
The Levels setting exists in many image editors. It is a powerful tool for adjusting the tones (contrast) in your image, and for making color adjustments. In Photoshop, you select Layer> New Adjustment Layer > Levels. In Photoshop Elements choose Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Levels. Other image editors place it differently, but essentially it does the same job. The Levels setting is a bit daunting and complex to begin with, but I do feel it is worth the time to get to know.
The Levels dialog box has an image histogram which is similar to the display on the back of your camera. A simple explanation of the histogram is: the shadows (blacks) are on the far left, mid-tones (grays) are in the middle and the highlights (whites) are on the far right. So by adjusting any of the sliders on the bottom, you will affect the contrast of your image.
Okay, but what about the color of the image?
An easy way to adjust color correction is by changing the color channels which are found in the Levels dialog box. The default setting is RGB in Pixlr.
Go to Adjustment Tab and select Levels. Click on the downward arrow next to RGB in Channel, this brings up a drop-down menu for the red, green and blue channels. Choose the first one, which is red. Look at the histogram graph and check for gaps in it.
For this image, as it is quite over-exposed a lot of the shadow detail is lost (overly gray and no black in the image), see left of the graph. Move the shadow slider to the right, in towards the middle, where the graph starts to go up.
You want your graph to represent a nice mountain shape starting from the shadows rising high in the midtones and back down to the highlights. See photo. Repeat this process for the other two channels. Click back to RGB.
To add some contrast, just move the middle slider (mid-tones) to the right, see photo below. There is a lot more to learn about the Levels adjustment, but this is just an easy way for beginners to start.
Some other alternative web based solutions are SumoPaint, which has a similar interface to Photoshop, and another called PicMonkey.
Similar to Pixlr, SumoPaint was very easy to use. I was able to adjust the color correction on this image using the Levels adjustment and modifying the color channels, as I did using Pixlr.
If you prefer to download software onto your computer. Again there is a wide choice of free products available.
- Paint.net, which is Windows based.
- Picasa is Google’s photo manager and editor. It plugs into Google+.
Here’s another one that you may or may not have come across, called Photoscape. This software is packed with excellent features for free. It has a built-in image viewer, which lets you see all your images quickly at a glance using thumbnails. It also has a Batch Editor, so if you apply an edit to one photo or resize it – using the Batch Editor will apply the same edit to multiple images. It even has a RAW Converter. For beginners, it offers image cropping, brightness and colour adjustment, red eye removal, and some great effects too. It does appear to more intuitive and offer a less steep learning curve for beginners.
Preview, which is Apple’s built-in image and document viewer for OS X, surprised me. It has the capability to crop, resize, and do color adjustment which was quite impressive.
In summing up, there is a vast range of post-processing image editors to choose from. In this article, I only hinted at a mere few. The list is endless!
As a guide for beginners, I would experiment with the free options and test them out for yourself. There is no financial investment only your time. The time invested will give you a better idea which application suits you best in the long run.
Post-processing does require time, no matter how skillful you become at it. Once you have established a certain level of skill at post editing, you can then graduate to purchasing a reasonable priced standalone image editor, if you prefer.
Example products are:
- ACDsee19 for $59.99
- Photoshop Elements 14 for $99.00
- Adobe Lightroom 6 for $149.00
- Affinity Photo for the Mac is only for $49.99
- PhotoPlusx8 for $99.99
Or you could simply download GIMP, (some equate this software as being powerful to Photoshop) which is an open source image editor with versions available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. There are lots of tutorials and resources already on the web to help you further with this software.
In fact, if I was new to photography and I had to decide which photo editor to pick, I would feel spoilt for choice!
Disclaimer: I was not contacted or sponsored to test any of the above software applications. Opinions are purely by the author only.