Software Choices

Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!  Today I’d like to take a moment to cover software that I either know about or personally use.  Let me begin with a disclaimer… I am only offering my opinion on these software packages.  I’ve used several and I know about many but that doesn’t mean I know which one will work best for you.

Software is probably the single most frustrating part of being a photographer or a photography enthusiast.  I’ve been a member of two camera clubs locally (co-founded one and served as President for three years) and I can attest that the most common issue that photographers have is figuring out which software to use and how the heck to use it.  As I cover the titles that I’ll mention today, I want you to know that I will go further into details about how to use the software as I continue to write in later editions.  Right now, I just want to help you make a decision on getting started with a software package.

If you look at the two photos of the B-17 airplane that I took last year at the Jamestown Airport, you’ll see a striking difference between the two images.  The lighting conditions were not the greatest when I was at the airport and I was playing around with several exposures to try to get the best “in-camera” shot.  However, it’s the software that allows me to take the visual information in the image and bring out the best looks and colors.  It also allows me to work on portions of the image kind of like painting the image in with a brush as I go.  Note that I did not “Photoshop” the image in the sense that I created any part of the image from my imagination.  I simply manipulated the existing colors and details in the image to achieve the look of the final draft.

Most cameras today come bundled with a software disc or allow you to visit the manufacturer’s website to download the latest version of the software that they provide to work best with your camera.  These software packages are your best bet if you’re just getting started and you don’t know anything about using photo editing software.  They make the process of moving the photos off your camera and onto your computer very easy and they are pre-programmed to give the best quality image for the model camera that you are using.  In most cases, they give you a complete set of tools that will allow you to tweak your photo and make it look its best.  Some even give you the ability to quickly share your photos through either email or social media.

Once you’re ready to graduate to non-manufacturer software you can begin looking toward free software that’s either available to download and install on your computer or run from a website.  As I cover these and the paid programs I’m going to simply mention them and what they will do for you then leave it up to you to search for them on the Internet and do your own homework.

Some of the best programs available that run from a website are Pixlr, Ipiccy, and PicMonkey.  These website editors allow you to work with your photo in many ways to bring out the best exposure and tweak the colors and details of the image.  They also give you a lot of fun features like adding frames, text and shapes to your image to get creative.

If you’re ready and willing to download and install software to your computer, you can look into these free titles.  The best one and the closest to Photoshop is GIMP.  GIMP will give you tools that can be used in both photography and graphic design.  It’s heavily supported by a community of dedicated developers who defy the consumer model so it’s guaranteed to be free until the end of time.  Other powerful editors include PhotoScape, Nik and  Nik is one of the secret weapons of many photographers out there and it used to cost hundreds of dollars before Google bought it and decided to offer it for free.  All of these titles give you incredible editing power for the best possible price… nothing!

Once you’ve played with those and you’ve decided that you just want to get down to the best software available then your options become a bit greater.  The most popular titles used by photographers today are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture (which is going away and being replaced by Photos for OS X), Adobe Photoshop Elements, PaintShop Pro, On1 Photo and CaptureOne Pro.  These programs are all very advanced and give you professional level control over your photos.  Elements is the cheapest and probably the best possible choice for someone just getting started in photography.  The guided editing tools will give you fantastic results and teach you how to use the tools that are available.  Photoshop and Lightroom are now subscription based which means you’ll have to pay $9.99 per month to use them.  PaintShop Pro is much like Elements in that it is designed for the home user or the hobbyist.  On1 is quickly becoming a one stop replacement for those who use both Lightroom and Photoshop and it offers stunning features for making your photos look incredible.  CaptureOne Pro is more for the full time studio photographer who requires the best possible control over his or her photos.

Most of the programs mentioned here will work on either a Windows PC or a Mac.  As I said before, I’m going to let you do a little of your own homework by searching the Internet for these titles to decided which is best for you.  YouTube is also a great place to learn about these programs.  I promise that we’ll go into more detail with several of these programs in due time.  Until then, happy shooting!