Choosing the right photo editor
The simplest photo-editing software lets you
make improvements like eliminating red-eye, cropping and adjusting contrast.
But more sophisticated software lets you do much more, such as combining the
best elements of several photos, substituting colors or adding special
effects. Here's what pros say to look for when choosing a photo editor:
- Check the system
requirements. Some photo-editing software can be notoriously large,
requiring up to 2 GB of hard-disk space. Most also require a current or
recent operating system like Windows 7 or Mac OS X.
- Look for the right level
of handholding. If you're a beginner, you'll want a program that walks you
through basic editing tasks, such as removing red eye or cropping pictures.
Some programs have two modes -- one for novices and one for experts -- so
that once you've learned the basics you can proceed to more advanced edits.
- Download the trial
version first. Usually, this gives you 30 days to evaluate the program at no
cost. It's often wise to try two or three programs at the same time before
- Check for upgrade
pricing. If you have older software and you'd like to update to the
latest version, most companies, including Adobe, offer less expensive upgrade
pricing. For example, Photoshop CS6 sells for $799, but to upgrade from CS3,
CS4 and CS5 costs only $200.
- Balance features with
ease of use. While Photoshop is unmatched in terms of power, unless you're
headed for a career in photography or graphic arts, most experts suggest
starting with more basic photo-editing software. While the learning curve
will still be steep, once you get familiar with the basic tools, it's a bit
easier to make the transition to professional-level software.
- Make sure the program
lets you import and export a wide range of file formats. The most common are BMP,
TIF, GIF, PICT, EPS and JPEG files. If you anticipate a need to process RAW
files, be sure the software supports this -- though many photo editors do.
The RAW format, an option with high-end digital cameras, gives you the most
editing scope because no post-shot processing is done by the camera itself.
- Do you want to use layers
and masks? If you plan to do extensive photo editing, these are the tools
that reviewers mention a lot -- especially if they reach for them and they
are missing. Masks help you edit just one portion of an image, and layers
help you try more adjustments with greater flexibility.
- Consider image
management. Most photo-editing software includes some basic image-management
features to organize photo files and find them later. Most enthusiast and
professional photographers prefer separate database tools for this -- for
faster and better searches. That's a whole different category of software,
worth checking out if you anticipate taking more than a few hundred photos.
- Look for web integration. The new generation of
photo editors lets you save your digital photos in web format and email them
to friends, as well as post them online so family members living far away can
peek at your latest snapshots. Newer online photo editors integrate directly
with photo-sharing and social-networking sites.
- Templates make fast work
of simple projects. Photo-editing software for beginners often includes lots of
templates for fun projects, from creating greeting cards to faking magazine