Free photo editing software
- Wed, 15 Feb 2012
Imaging editing and file management is an integral part of modern day photography, but the software to carry out these tasks is not always that affordable. Take the full version of Photoshop. Its an industry standard program, but at almost £700, that's more than quite a few DSLRs and some tasty lenses. There's no denying that it's the best imaging editing program out there, but the price only really makes it viable for jobbing pros and high-end enthusiasts who can take full advantage of the controls on offer.
There's much more affordable software out there that won't break the bank, but if you know where to look, you'll find a host of free image editing programs out there that are completely free. Here are our picks of the best free software and Apps for photographers...
What is it?: Gimp is, in essence, a free version of Photoshop. Although it is not associated with Adobe in any way the end result is quite reminiscent of the pre-CS versions, giving a satisfyingly basic layout which will be familiar to all Photoshop users.
From basic cropping and resizing to correcting barrel distortion, Gimp is an all-encompassing piece of software that'll solve a number of issues for those unwilling to spend out on a more expensive piece of software. For starters PSD files (layered files from Photoshop) can be opened and altered, making it incredibly useful as a converter.
A Histogram, which can be divided in red, green and blue channels, is also present and can be utilized to alter exposure and colour balance. The interface can be moved around, adapting to the available space on your monitor, making it perfect for the likes of netbooks and desktop computers.
A clone tool, healing tool and perspective clone tool are present for more in-depth photo fixes, as is the ability to create and manipulate Alpha Channels and multiple layers. Because Gimp is multi-platform there's no restrictions on using a Linux setup, nor Windows or Mac.
Gimp is a excellent solution to those not wanting to pay for Photoshop, as the functionality is extremely close to the Adobe program a few generations ago. This isn't to say it's perfect, as dealing with layer manipulation can be sluggish and the chaotic floating window layout confusing. All of the controls are logically placed within the menus though, and there's a number of user-made filters to be downloaded.
Reliability can sometimes be an issue, with a number of crashes occurring at various junctures during our testing. Gimp did run on almost anything though, and wasn't anywhere near as resource-heavy as Photoshop.
System requirements: Download - PC and Mac (additional software required)
What is it?: A Google-owned organization and editing package, aimed at sharing your images through the various internet options that Google host. Picasa gathers your images for easy upload, and even offers some basic editing functionality.
The editing is essentially a number of customizable filters, each with a few sliding controls to alter the severity of the effects. There are also a number of corrective settings, such as brightness, to utilize and the ability to resize or save into other formats.
An impressive number of formats can be imported, from JPEG to PSD and a whole host Raw files. The links to Google are apparent from the get-go, with their Google+ social networking site prominent as an export option. This doesn't mean other social networking sites are chastised though, as Twitter can be exported to directly and Facebook via a third party plugin.
The interface is beautifully friendly, with large buttons and simple icons for each function. Because Picasa isn't particularly concerned with the likes of layers and Alpha Channels there isn't a massive amount of clutter either, which is especially helpful for rapid alterations.
Unlike Gimp Picasa is perfect for absolute beginners, as the program needs far less time spent fiddling with settings. That being said there is a lack of frequently-used functions, such as a clone tool.
System requirements: Download - PC and Mac
What is it?: A Raw processing program with the ability to make the kind of on-the-fly adjustments that Lightroom is capable of, from simple level changes through to tinkering with the white balance and cropping.
Looking much like a low-rent version of Lightroom the layout is very straightforward, with tools to the right, images placed centrally and the browser on the left. Moving the window to fill a larger space can cause the icons to merge into one another, showing the homemade nature of RawTherapee.
Thankfully the program churns through the majority of tasks with relative ease, making opening a number of different Raw files extremely simple. The lack of presentational flair also seems to be to the benefit of the startup and processing times, as both are impressively rapid.
Any alterations are saved within a selectable history, allowing each to be removed when needed, and viewed side-by-side with the original image. There are a few gimmicky features to play with, but the majority of controls are aimed towards correcting and tweaking rather than making huge changes.
The ability to import a whole host of files, alter them and output the results in rapid fashion will be perfect for an aspiring pro photographer on location. Pay careful attention to the build version, as some are unreliable, and take your time with the interface as a number of the tools are poorly labeled.
System requirements: Download - PC, Mac and Linux
What is it?: An online version of Photoshop, albeit a stripped-down variation with more of a concentration on organizing and sharing. The usability of this program depends heavily on your internet connection speed, but once uploaded is reasonably rapid.
The first step in the process is to upload files which, once again, is affected by the available connection. For this reason it's worth keeping the files you edit below 5MB, and not more than 10 at once. There's a 2GB limit on the amount of images stored, and only Jpeg's can be uploaded, meaning this isn't for Raw shooters.
Once the files do make it online Albums can be made, and basic editing performed. The likes of exposure can't be tweaked in fine detail, with the adjustments in a handful of steps instead. What is there is fairly powerfully, though, with each image accompanied by an adjusted preview thumbnail of your photo.
Dodge and burn are present, in Beta incarnations, and cropping and resizing are fairly straightforward. Once the edit has been completed the program can print direct or download, with a number of sharing options on offer. More online applications are being produced by Adobe, such as Style Match, although a number are virtually demos of Photoshop Elements.
Moving past the potential restrictions of using whatever internet connection is available, Photoshop Express is incredibly useful when you're traveling without a laptop, or at a friend's house wanting to access some images.
System requirements: Online (registration required), Apple iOS (via the App Store) and Android (via Android Market)
PhotoPlus Starter Edition
What is it?: A scaled-down version of Serif PhotoPlus X4, which offers the same interface with a few tools locked out. As the program is now on the X5 version you get a decent impression of how the software will work while being able to import, edit and export images.
As a result of the restricted version of the software, PhotoPlus Starter can import but only perform basic Raw file editing, misses out on HDR photo merge automation and no dedicated extension programs for fixing or cutting out images.
This doesn't mean the functionality is removed entirely, as Serif add dedicated utilities to the full versions of the programs with altered interfaces. The likes of the clone and select tools are still very much present within the software.
Even with these restrictions Serif Photoplus Starter Edition has an impressive amount of functionality, and can adjust exposure, white balance and colour levels extremely simply. The interface is simple to negotiate, and all the controls are laid out in a manner that a Photoshop Elements-user would appreciate.
Although similar to many other demos of photo editing programs, PhotoPlus Starter Edition is far more than a simple introduction. The elements that are restricted aren't imperative, making it well worth considering for PC users.
System requirements: PC
Another web-based program, much like Photoshop Express, with the ability to import and edit from the likes of Facebook. Impressively featured if a touch basic-looking, this site is useful for those wanting to access images from social media sites and edit them.
More of a converter and organizer than a photo editor, this Windows-only program displays images in a friendly manner and offers some basic editing, although the layout and manner in which the tools are selected (drop-down menus rather than icons) seems a touch archaic.
Apparently based upon Gimp, Seashore is a far more basic incarnation with a small smattering of tools which the absolute beginner will find useful, but the more experienced user will mostly likely find too restrictive.
As online photo editors go, Pixlr is pretty impressive. Not only is there no sign-up involved in order to start editing, but it has the same functionality as plenty of installed programs. The interface is extremely familiar and the options plentiful as well.