Software Solutions for Your Digital Photography Needs
The photo software you use is as critical to your success in the digital darkroom as the hardware. The good news is that if your needs are basic — you just want to view and organize your photos and maybe crop an image or two — you may not need to pay a dime for a good solution. These programs are designed to be used on a computer rather than a mobile device.
Basic (and free) programs
If you don’t plan on doing a lot of retouching or other manipulation of your photos but simply want a tool for downloading and organizing your pictures, one of the following free programs may be a good solution:
- Your camera’s own software: Your camera may have shipped with a CD or DVD that contained free software designed by the camera manufacturer. Or you may be able to download the software from the manufacturer’s website. In some cases, these programs provide only basic photo viewing and organizing, but some are quite capable. Nikon, for example, offers Nikon Capture NX-D, which offers tools for removing red-eye, cropping pictures, adjusting color and exposure, and processing Nikon Raw files.
- Apple iPhoto or Photos: Long-time Mac users are no doubt familiar with iPhoto, the browser built into the Mac operating system until very recently. As part of recent operating system updates, iPhoto was replaced by Photos.
- Windows Live Photo Gallery or Photos: Recent versions of Microsoft Windows also offer a free photo downloader and browser. The name varies depending on your version of the Windows operating system; here’s a look at Windows Live Photo Gallery, which ships with Windows 7. In Windows 10, the program is called Photos and looks more like a smartphone or tablet app.
Advanced (and not free) options
If you’re interested in serious photo retouching or digital-imaging artistry, you need to step up to a full-fledged, photo-editing program. The following list describes the most popular offerings (prices are the manufacturer’s suggested retail):
- Adobe Photoshop Elements: Elements has been the best-selling, consumer-level, photo-editing program for some time, and for good reason. With a full complement of retouching tools, onscreen guidance for beginners, and an assortment of templates for creating photo projects such as scrapbooks, Elements offers all the features that most consumers need. But don’t think this is a lightweight player — you actually get many high-end editing features as well. The program also includes a photo organizer along with built-in tools to help you print your photos and upload them to photo-sharing sites. The program sells for $100.)
- Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom: These two are mentioned together because Adobe now makes them available as a two-tiered solution specifically geared to photography. In the past, you could buy both programs separately, but Adobe now uses a subscription-based system. Currently, you pay about $10 a month if you subscribe for a year. (This price enables you to install the programs on two computers.) Lightroom is still available as a standalone purchase ($150), but you can get Photoshop only via subscription.
Photoshop offers the industry’s most powerful, sophisticated, retouching tools. In fact, you probably won’t use even a quarter of the tools in the Photoshop shed unless you’re a digital-imaging professional who uses the program on a daily basis — even then, some tools may never see the light of day.
Lightroom, though, is quickly becoming the preferred alternative for photographers who don’t need the high-level tools found in Photoshop. Shown below, it’s also geared to processing large numbers of images quickly. For example, with a few mouse clicks, you can make the same color adjustment to an entire series of images from a day’s shoot.
- Affinity Photo: This new player in the photography world has gotten rave reviews for offering sophisticated editing tools at a bargain price ($50). Currently, it is available for Mac computers only (Apple named it the 2015 Mac app of the year), but a Windows version is in the testing stage and may even be available by the time you read this.
- Exposure X: This program tries to straddle the line between being simple enough for the novice photo editor but also providing tools that the professional photographer sometimes needs, especially in the arena of portrait photography. It can work as a standalone program or as a plug-in (add-on tool) with Photoshop or Lightroom. (The price is about $150.)
- ON1 Photo 10: Here’s another inexpensive alternative for photographers who need a well-equipped photo editor and organizer. Previously, ON1 editing tools were marketed separately as Photoshop and Lightroom plug-ins, but now you can get all those tools and more in a stand-alone program. The program still operates as a plug-in if you prefer that option, however. Here’s a look at one section of tools designed for quick and easy portrait retouching. (This program runs $120.)
Not sure which tool you need, if any? Good news: You can download free trials of all these programs from the manufacturers’ websites.