Everyone wants to get the best from their photos, but not everyone wants to spend lots of cash on the computer software for . 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 local photo club held the annual workshop day on Saturday, this is the revised version of my ‘free software’ handout.
Easy Solutions for JPG images
http://picasa.google.co.uk/ 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. Works with JPG and RAW files.
If you want a bit better control over what you can do with your pictures, there are some very good free image editing packages. Try Paint.net (http://www.getpaint.net/). It does not organise your photos, but it does have some very powerful functions such as curves, levels and even lets you add layers to build up effects in a picture. Only works for JPG images.
The other main contender for JPG imaging is the Gimp.
http://www.gimp.org It is a 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. It will open RAW files with an add on, you either love or hate the Gimp.
Stepping up – RAW image processing
http://www.rawtherapee.com/ A jewel. RAW image editor, free, fantastic and fun. Easier to say what it doesn’t do, as it provides sophisticated and multiple methods of 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), corrects perspective distortion, vignetting, resizing, colour profiles etc etc. Only lacks a healing or clone tool and does not have layers, but virtually perfect. Will save user processing profiles and also allows you to step back through changes.
Other Free software of interest:
http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~mbrown/autostitch/autostitch.html 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. 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. Not that intuitive but simple to use.
High Dynamic Range & Tonemapping –
PictureNaut (left): http://www.hdrlabs.com/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. Picturenaut is relatively simple. If you really want to explore HDR imaging, try LuminanceHDR (right) (http://qtpfsgui.sourceforge.net/) which has a range of different settings for a vast array of image variety. Not for the beginner!