You’ve taken your photographs and you are now in front of your computer – what next? One of the biggest misunderstandings is that you “need” Photoshop or Lightroom to make something of your pictures. It is accepted that this software is at the pinnacle of photo editing. However there is a cost – Photoshop is £640 for CS6 (or £8.50/month for CC) and Lightroom is approximately £100. For most this is a very heavy price for average home use. There are alternatives that are either free or reasonably priced that will achieve excellent results.
For most amateurs the level of editing may only extend to cropping, rotating, lightening/darkening and printing. The more serious photographer will, in addition, adjust white balance, adjust tone and hue, perhaps clone out items and dodge or burn areas of the image. Presented here are a few of the available tools that will get you going without huge expense.
Serious Image Editing
- GIMP (free): Probably the closest you will get to Photoshop for free. The name stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Although not the easiest software to learn, it is very powerful, sporting close to everything you will find in Photoshop, including layers, masks and the standard editing tools. There are a huge number of tutorials and examples available on the internet, as well as books. If you are serious about editing on a budget, this will do the trick, and over time it becomes easier to master. RAW conversion is also available via a plug-in. Windows, Mac, Linux. Web: www.gimp.org.
- Paint.NET (free): Simpler than Gimp with an easier interface, it also has layers and and standard editing tools but no masks. There is a large collection of user-created plugins for a wide range of effects. Windows. Web: www.getpaint.net.
- Zoner Photo Studio (free edition): More of a Lightroom competitor, a very capable tool with a great clone and heal tool and useful filters for interesting effects. A more fully-fledged paid version is available. Windows. Web: https://free.zoner.com/.
For those that shoot in RAW,
- Raw Therapee (free): An extremely powerful converter of camera RAW files. Not the easiest software to use, but dedicated to RAW conversion and manipulation – very powerful software. Windows, Mac. Web: rawtherapee.com.
Editing such as image resizing, cropping, straightening and simple retouching can be achieved using basic tools that will load fast, are very easy to use, and are easy on the wallet:
- Faststone Viewer (free): Easy to use, fast and ultra-efficient. This is a must-have tool for rapid browsing of images and basic editing. Has the advantage of being able to open RAW files. Windows. Web: faststone.org/FSViewerDetail.htm.
I have put together the following tutorials for download on using Faststone, with particular reference to the camera club competitions:
- XNView (free): One of the most versatile image viewers available. Will open almost any image type and convert to many other formats. Will also do basic editing such as cropping and resizing. XNViewMP for Windows, Mac, Linux. Web: www.xnview.com/en/.
If you are prepared to pay for software without breaking the bank, there are a number of very capable options:
- Serif PhotoPlus (£80, Windows): A comprehensive set of tools, vying to be a Photoshop rival. Very capable and worth looking at. Web: serif.com/photoplus/.
- Affinity Photo (£39.99 Mac): Also from Serif, but for the Mac. Aimed at Photoshop users with RAW editing, CMYK and the expected professional tools. Web: https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/photo/.
- Photoshop Elements (£80, Windows, Mac): Photoshop’s smaller sibling. An entry-level version of Photoshop. Also very capable but lacking some of the professional tools. Web: adobe.com/uk/products/photoshop-elements.html.
- Paintshop Pro (£50, Windows): Long-time rival of Photoshop. Can do a lot of what Photoshop does, but lacks some of the power. Web: paintshoppro.com/en/.
- Zoner Photo Studio (£80, Windows): As for the free version above, but includes RAW capability, HDR and more. Web: https://www.zoner.com/.
WARNING: When installing software, always be aware of adware that may be loaded alongside the program. It is best to choose Custom Install whenever possible which may allow you to deselect items not wanted. Read the dialogue boxes during the install and uncheck any that want to install browser add-ons etc.