Useful Software For Photo Enthusiasts

Nowadays you can call anyone with an Instagram account a “photography enthusiast”. However, what I meant was “newbie photographers”. Those, who instead of cropping their snaps muse over the best composition before the picture is taken. Those, who instead of applying filters fiddle with curves and white balance. Those, who feel like the Wizard of Oz behind their shutter – altering reality to make wonders. Those, for whom a photo has an expressive value instead of being a trendy way to communicate what they’ve been up to this weekend.

useful softwareIf you are making your first steps in the art of photography, you could use some nice versatile tools – preferably on a budget, or even free.

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Free photo editors for Linux, Mac, and Windows

Can’t afford Photoshop? Can’t justify the expense? What do you need in a good photo editor anyway? To me, the absolute essential features necessary for any photo editing app are:

  • Layers and layer masks (alpha editing). These features let you selectively apply edits and filters to portions of the image that you control.
  • Painting tools. Brushes in varying sizes and hardness. For painting masks, mostly.
  • Curves. Essential. A curves adjustment tool lets you control color, color saturation, contrast, brightness, and black white points. Curves is often the only tool I use.
  • Color adjustment. Hue and saturation adjustments.
  • Channel mixer/B&W converter. Some way to make black and white photos.
  • Filters. Blur and sharpen. You don’t need page curl or lens flare.

Without further ado, and in alphabetical order, some free apps that fit the bill:

Aviary Phoenix (Web app–All platforms)

The only web/online app in the list that supports layers and masks. “From basic image retouching to complex effects,

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Picasa for Mac

collagePicasa, Google’s free photo-editing software, recently became available for Mac users (running OS X 10.4.9 or above). It has a few nifty features that iPhoto (or iPhoto ’08 at least) doesn’t and is very easy to use. It’s got all the basic editing tools – crop, straighten, remove red eye, convert to black and white, convert to sepia, and so on that you’ll also find in iPhoto. The extras in Picasa include adding a a gauzy glow to your photos, adding a graduated tint (useful for sky portions of photos), and adding focal black and white (allowing you to keep one part of the photo in colour and covert the rest to black and white). Plus something simple I always wished iPhoto would do – allow you to add text to a photo. In Picasa there’s a button right there under “basic fixes” that says “add text” and that’s how easy it is!

You can also create collages (like the one at the top of this post), mosaics, contact sheets, & fun multiple exposure shots with the click of a few buttons (see below). It’s all very easy to use and I think would be a great fit for someone looking to do a bit of easy editing to family photos (you can upload them to Picasa Web Albums with the one click too).

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Microsoft Image Composite Editor: Easy to use, good results

Microsoft Image Composite Editor

Image Composite Editor is Microsoft’s over-engineered way of saying “panorama stitcher.” This software takes multiple images and stitches them together automatically, blending seams, cropping, the works. It’s extremely simple to use: just drag and drop a batch of images onto the interface and it gets to work immediately finding overlapping points, stitching the image together, correcting for distortion, and blending the results together.

To test it, I dropped two images from a simple two-frame panorama I shot a few weeks ago of Balboa Pier onto it. It worked quickly and did a fair job of compositing the images. It did have some blending trouble around the right-center portion of the photo. But overall the result was good and it was ridiculously easy. This is the easiest to use stitching software I’ve ever used.

Another nice feature is that it will export to multiple formats including JPG, TIFF, Photoshop, HD View Tileset, Deep Zoom Tileset, Windows Bitmap, PNG, and HD Photo Image. And you can export layers if the format supports it (for example, Photoshop) to help with additional post-processing.

Click here to download Microsoft Image Composite Editor (Free,

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Poll: What software do you use to edit your photos?

As one of our most recent polls shows we have photographers of all skill levels here from beginners to experts. We all have different reasons for taking photographs and a different workflow. Part of virtually every digital photographer’s workflow is editing photos in software. So I’m curious what software you use (primarily) to edit your photos. If you don’t see your favorite app in the list, click the link to add it.

{democracy:3}

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Review: Adobe Photoshop goes online with Photoshop Express

Photoshop Express featured Adobe has finally opened up the beta of Photoshop Express, the long-awaited online version of Adobe Photoshop. I’ve just finished running it through it’s paces and I am impressed.

Photoshop express requires registration to use. You get access to the online editing tool and a relatively meager 2 GB of space for photos at a custom URL which you can organize into a slick public gallery and slideshows. It won’t replace dedicated photo sharing like Flickr (no comments, limited interaction) but for casual users just being able to share a few albums and slideshows may be enough. By default, photos you upload to the service are private until you move them into your public gallery.

Photoshop Express

The interface should be immediately familiar to anyone who has used Adobe Lightroom. The default view of your photos mimics Lightroom’s browse mode and even includes the ability to rate and caption your uploads. Unfortunately it does not support RAW editing. That would have been killer.

Editing is also very much like Lightroom. Unlike Photoshop, it does not support layers, masking, or really any of the features that make Photoshop,

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Selecting foregrounds in the GIMP (video)

This video is a quick demonstration of the foreground selection tool in the GIMP, a powerful and free image editing application. The foreground selection tool gives photographers a quick and easy way to isolate portions of a photograph for masking or other effects.

Music by sunbyrn.

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Tethered shooting on Ubuntu Linux using gPhoto2


Photo by Jacob Garcia

My D70, like most digital cameras, has a USB port that allows me to connect it to my computer and download photos. Many cameras also allow you to control them using your computer when they are connected. This is called tethered shooting. You click the shutter and a few seconds later the photo is displayed in all its glory on your big screen monitor. This can come in extremely handy in studio situations. It’s a great trick for quickly checking that you’re capturing the shots you want without squinting at a 2 or 3 inch LCD.

On a lark it occurred to me to do something goofy with my camera (more on that in a minute). On the way to crazy town I came up with a way to do basic tethered shooting on Linux.

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Free noise reduction plugin for the GIMP

GREYCstoration pluginI’ve been using the GIMP image editor (also known as the GNU Image Manipulation Program) (also known as the wonderful, open source, free photo editor with the awful name) a lot lately. Version 2.4.2. I highly recommend a second look if you haven’t tried it recently. The newest version has vastly improved controls for cropping and selections, a foreground selection tool, a healing tool, and better brush management among other enhancements.

But one thing my stock GIMP install didn’t have was a decent noise removal filter. That is, until I downloaded and installed the GREYCstoration plugin. Installing it is as simple as downloading and dropping the plugin into the GIMP plugins directory. Restart GIMP and you’ll find a new menu under Filters | Enhance | GREYCstoration.

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Learning Photoshop

For more than a year, Photoshop was the bane of my photographic world. I wanted to learn it, but each time I tried, I came away feeling frazzled, inept, and not too bright. I just wanted to master the basics. Perhaps I could learn to remove small distractions from an image or brighten a dark spot. For example, I took a picture of a couple with their dog, and an upturned chair in the background made it appear as if the dog had horns.

Picture before PhotoshopPicture before Photoshop
Many of my friends could use this program, so I began with optimism. First, I took a class. The instructor cheerfully zipped though his list of topics, while I watched, listened, took notes, and tried to follow the steps on my laptop. That didn’t work, though, because while I took notes, I missed details, and while I was trying to find a tool or command, he was often moving on the next topic. I finished the class but recognized that I needed to find another way to learn the program.

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