Friday, October 30, 2009

About Processing Your Pictures

Recently, on Flickr, I was asked about Easy to use software for processing your photographs.  What I have here is an expanded version of what I wrote in response.

Digital photography has become very popular these days.  No longer is the average person limited to the alchemy of the film world.  Now they can literally point and shoot to get awesome results.  But that same simplicity has not quite reached the post processing world to date.  Many photographers are content with the out of camera results and take them to Costco or leave them on their computer and Facebook pages.  That is a shame for some that are very talented and are simply afraid of the software they feel compelled to use.  Let me suggest the programs listed later here for those willing to wade deeper into the waters of post-processing.         
For me to be comfortable with a Post-Processing Software, it needs to fit my minimum work-flow.  So here is my list of things from my work flow that are essential.

Three Essentials

1. Some Kind of Brightness and Contrast Control.  Being the excessively visual person that I am, I use a Curves Tool for most of this.  However, even if the tool supports the basic Brightness Contrast control, I am happy.

 2. Some form of Saturation Control.  Being able to control the saturation of the photo's colors is important to me.  Particularly when shooting landscapes or skin tones where the photographer can control what I like to call the "richness" of the finished product.  Vibrance control is nice as well, but being able to control Saturation is the most important.

3. Sharpening.  The most essential.  All, let me repeat myself, ALL photographs created with a digital camera benefit from sharpening.  If a post-processing program doesn't allow sharpening, find one that does.

Three Niceties I Look For

The following are things I use regularly, but in a pinch, I can do without.

1. Layers.  Being able to keep a separate layer for each adjustment is organizationally wise as well as allowing you to keep your original image intact.  Your creativity can be enhanced with this feature.  Every successful Photoshop user I know uses layers extensively.  A number of other products have them as well.

2. RAW support.  If you don't know now... If your camera shoots in RAW, use it.  The latitude, flexibility and control you have with RAW is well worth the trouble.  Particularly when it comes to exposure control.  Most cameras come with RAW control, but if the converter is native to a program and is first rate, it eliminates an annoying step of changing programs in your work-flow.

3. Plugin Support.  From  noise control to special effects, plugins allow a great deal of creative control.  Supporting Photoshop plugins  is even better.  (Most all do).  

There are other features to be sure, but I hope you get the idea that there are essentials to post processing.   In my work-flow, I will often only touch the first three mentioned.  You might have other things you like to do, but my recommendations that follow fit the needs I express here.  I guess this is my way of making a disclaimer!

So What Do I Recommend?
I use Photoshop and have since version one.  However, I realize there are two barriers to using PhotoShop.  It is an expensive and complex tool.  It costs a lot and as result it is out of reach of the average user.  Heck, it's upgrades are usually in the $200 range let alone the full package!  It is also a package that caters to a very sophisticated crowd and a photographer does not necessarily need many of the features in the product.  So with Photoshop out of the running, what else is there?  

 Check out these three: ( is a free package that is relatively simple and yet satisfies many of the photographer needs. I have played with it a little bit and am quite impressed.  While I am not an expert with it, it appears to be very easy to learn as far as these kinds of programs go,  Powerful, easy to use and heck, its free. Worth giving it a try.

Adobe Photoshop Elements. This is not that easy to learn, but it's a lot easier than its big brother and it takes all the really cool plugins like Flood and Noise Ninja. You will periodically see this on sale at Frys and other locations for under $80 and at Christmas time it may be even less or bundled with Premier Elements for the same price. Premier is a video editing tool, and is another discussion all together.  Further, it is a good step towards PhotoShop if  one does eventually want to jump to the big one!

Adobe Lightroom.  Lightroom is very powerful and easy to use (relatively speaking) once one learns its interface. Still, it is complex and for someone who is new to this kind of powerful program, it will present a longer learning curve. The good thing is that it is laid out for a photographer. If you have been in a Darkroom, then the process with Lightroom will seem familiar. I believe that it is selling around $299. Most every pro I am familiar with now uses this and only goes to Photoshop occasionally.

There are two others you will hear about but that I personally don't care for.  That said, I am not above letting you know about them if they fit your needs better. 

GIMP is a free program. Very powerful, but difficult to use. It does out feature But it also has a steep learning curve with a very primitive interface.  Its biggest strength is that it is available on a number of platforms including Linux.   

Paintshop Pro from Correl. This was a shareware product from days gone by. At that time it was great, but the new, Corel version is bloated and the interface - for me at least - is inconsistent.  However, if you are a Correl user, then you might find some common interface elements that may make its use easier!

Final Word

There are a lot of products out there from free to as much as you might ever want to spend.  What I have presented here are easy to use and economical choices.  I hope it helps! 

Best to you always,


  1. I agree with you, Photoshop is way to expensive if you compare it with which is free and so powerfull.

  2. Greetings from Port Townsend! A thoughtful and helpful analysis, especially if you haven't alrady spent the family inheritance on a program!