anything but adobe – the free photo lab

Everyone wants to get the best from their photos, but not everyone wants to spend large amounts of cash supporting Adobe in their quest for domination. All the software below is free to use. Some are simple, some more complex, but all can be used to help take your photography to the next level by making the most of the image using digital image editing.

The all in one solution for the busy or the bemused -Picassa Google seems to be taking over everything at the moment, and doing a pretty good job of it. Picasa will organise your photo collections, do basic image editing (colour, contrast, retouching, redeye etc). It is also capable of creating collages and videos and integrates with a free 2 gigabyte online storage area, so you can share the fantastic photos with the world. Not all the things it does are good, but if you are just starting out or short on time, this can be an ideal way of beginning to edit your photos. One important thing to know is that it always saves a copy of the original image, so you can always go back to the original if you are not happy.

Creating Panoramas from more than one photo – AutoStitch How often do you see a fantastic view that you cannot fit into one photo? Panorama software will let you take several photos to fit it all in and then join them all together. This software is free, but the engine from this is used in Autopano Pro (see below) and the Serif Panorama maker. Very simple, you load in images and it will stitch them together and blend the joins. Check the menus to change setting such as the size of the output image. Un-zip and copy to your computer.

Dynamic Range & Tonemapping – PictureNaut High dynamic range is a way of showing detail in both the shadow and highlight areas of a photo. Normally, a camera will be able to cope with one, but not both. High dynamic range is the process of capturing and combining all that information into one image. Tone mapping is the process of making all that range visible on a screen or in a printout. Tone mapped images are often charecterised by vivid colours and dramatic skys.

Dust & Scratch Removal from Polaroid Pretty effective, I use it to clear up old slide & photo scans.

General image editing programme – The Gimp Full featured image editing, not quite Photoshop, but a good range of add-ons and filters available. All the usual filters and tools you would expect. Add-on needed to open raw files.


RAW image processing –

RawTherapee A jewel. RAW image editor, free, fantastic and fun. Easier to say what it doesn’t do, as it provides all the expected sharpening, levels, curves, noise reduction, white balance, colour boost & shifting, shadow and highlight recovery. Also does Chromatic Aberration correction (the purple fringes you sometimes see at the edge of photos), distortion, vignetting, resizing, colour profiles etc etc. Only lacks a healing or clone tool, so virtually perfect. Will save user processing profiles and also allows you to step back through changes

Undelete lost photos – Recuva or Undelete Plus Image and file recovery tool. Does a good job for recovering accidentally deleted photos from memory cards. Another image and file recovery tool, often picks up more files that Recuva can miss.

I want it Free – and PORTABLE

We all have a USB stick for moving and sharing files. How cool would it be to be able to take your photo editing software on one of these so you can use them where ever you can borrow a computer? Pretty cool, and you can do it for free! I have been playing about with Portable Apps and I love the flexibility of being able to move programs and settings between PCs and use favourite image editing software on borrowed PCs. All of the software listed above will run from a USB stick as well.

Portable Apps is a menu system that starts when you insert your USB stick, giving you a menu of all the software in the Portable Apps folder on your stick. For the programs above, there are either portable versions from the Portable Apps site, or install as normal and then copy the program folder to the USB Portable Apps folder to make it portable Other photo software.

Not Free, but worth a look

These are the software that I think you just might pull out the wallet for. All have particular strengths, and all have a trial version so you can see how they suit your needs.

High End Panorama creation – AutoPano Pro If you are seriously interested in fantastic results from your panoramas with minimal effort, this is the program to try. This software does a superb job of handling large panoramas and creating seamless blending of skies etc. At this level you should be using a proper camera rotator as well, such as

Pano2QTVR The new version of AutoPano will create Flash interactive panoramas, but this software will convert a equirectangular image (ie one that covers a full 360×180 degree image) into a mov movie file that can be zoomed and panned. This is actually free, but fits in better with Autopano than on the free list.

Creating High Dynamic Range images – Dynamic Photo HDR See PictureNaut above for what HDR is. This software is easy to use and gives much more exciting results than other HDR solutions, so worth a look at the trial version.