Most of the photos that we take end up rather average, with one or two proving frame-worthy. Short of buying better equipment, attending some classes and taking a lot more pictures, there are other ways to jazz up some of your almost-good-enough pictures.
Most websites that allow you to upload photos will also offer a handful of tools to improve your pictures. These usually include cropping, red-eye fixes and the ability to change the photo to black and white or a sepia-tone. To do anything more, you would have to consider an expensive photo editor. The first name you might try to price is PhotoShop. Of course, the $600 price tag will probably quickly convince you to leave this tool to the professionals. Even Adobe’s simplified version, PhotoShop Elements, will still set you back $100. But what if you could take advantage of a lot of the features of these products that you want, forget about all the uber-advanced that you would never use and do it for free. Sounds good to me. So, let’s take a look at our options.
GIMP. GIMP is a popular open-source image editor often considered the “free Photoshop”. It has similar features and interface to Photoshop. A word of warning though: it’s volunteer-developed software, and stability and updates could be an issue; however, most users report using GIMP for Windows without significant problems.
Paint.NET. Paint.NET is a free image and photo-manipulation software for all the usual flavors of Windows, including Vista. Paint.NET features layers, painting and drawing tools, special effects, unlimited undo history and levels adjustments. The best part is that Paint.NET is completely free.
Serif PhotoPlus. Serif Software offers a number of free products, including a web page editor, 3-D software, word processor and, of course, their photo editor, PhotoPlus. You can download a completely free, fully-functional version of PhotoPlus 6 with features like an export optimizer, editable text, image-slicing and image maps, selection tools, smart shapes, third-party plug-in support, red-eye removal tool and photo-enhancement tools.
Truthfully, I had heard of some of these items before I started researching this article, but what surprised me was what I found next – online photo editors. Like I said earlier, simple online photo-editing tools have been available for a while, but I never expected an online application to be comparable with desktop software until I came across these sites. I gave each a quick trial run but look forward to spending a little bit more time with them in the future.
FotoFlexer. FotoFlexer is a completely online, completely free photo editor that claims to be the most advanced online editor available. FotoFlexer also offers layers and smart resize. They also have lots of video demos that show you step by step how to use its features. It will also import and export photos with ease from Facebook, MySpace, Photobucket, Flickr and Picasa.
Phixr. Phixr is a pretty advanced online photo editor, more akin to Photoshop than most others (okay, maybe more like Photoshop Elements). It has some very cool effects and it’s very easy to use. Plus, just like FotoFlexer, you can import images from sites like Flickr, Fotopic, Photobucket, Picasa, Smugmug, and Webshots, as well as from any URL and from your local hard drive. When you’re done editing, you can save as a JPG, PNG, PDF, GIF or perform OCR (text recognition). You can then e-mail it or upload it to all of the above, as well as Buzznet, Costco, DropShots, Fotolog, ImageShack or LiveJournal.
Picnik. Picnik is mostly free. Their free account features six fonts, 39 shapes and connections to popular photo websites, plus most of the edit tools and effects. You can do quite a bit without paying a dime. If you do want to spend some money on their premium upgrade, you get access to a huge library of new fonts and shapes (more than 200, with more added all the time), touch-up tools and 20 more effects and frames.
Graphita. Graphita is more of a fun photo-editor than one for professional or semi-professional use. Think of the doodles you used to make in your yearbook and you’ll get the idea. There are doodle tools, caption tools and more. You can use the images that Graphita provides, or upload your own.
Aviary. On the horizon is Aviary. Aviary is a suite of web-based applications for people who create. It covers the gamut from image editing to typography to music to 3-D to video. They seem to have a tool for just about every creative interest. Their site claims that they “are creating a complex ecosystem for artists and providing the world with free, capable collaborative tools.” They are currently beta-testing their products and not all of them are online yet, but they are accepting requests for early-bird invitations. This suite of products is coming from the creators of www.worth1000.com, a Photoshop image-editing contest website, and if anyone knows image editing, it is certainly the members of that site.
These programs are not only inexpensive, they are also easy to use and comparable to the software that, until recently, was only accessible to professionals. And with these new tools available to use, I’m sure you will be taking many more pictures and filling many more frames.