With every generation, digital cameras get better, but that doesn't mean everyone's snapshots are picture-perfect from the start. Some of the more well known image editing software options, like Adobe Photoshop, are expensive, have a steep learning curve, and may be overkill for many shutterbugs.
Of course, there are less expensive applications like Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and others. But if you're on an extremely tight budget and only need some basic tools for minor tweaking or to add a little creativity to your pictures, look no further than the abundance of free image editing programs and photo apps on the Web. But how do you know what to choose, with all the photo editing software in the world at your fingertips?
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of free photo editing software (it's more like a drop in the bucket of the ever-changing ocean of editing applications), we've put together a handful of options that represent some of the many types of software and apps you can download without needing to even reach for your wallet.
Adobe Photoshop ExpressAdobe Photoshop Express is a quick, easy, and convenient way to edit your photos. Sign up for a free account to use a browser-based version, or download the app (also free) for your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch or Android device. While you don't need a Photoshop account to use the mobile app, an account does get you 2GB of free cloud storage space, so you can store your images and access them from anywhere. Plus you'll have access to the Photoshop Express Editor, Organizer, and Style Match. The latter, a trickle down feature from Photoshop Elements, allows you to automatically apply the style of one image to another photo.
While Photoshop Express is not as sophisticated as Adobe Photoshop Elements, and nowhere near as advanced as Adobe Photoshop CS6, there are plenty of easy-to-use tools and options to make practical and creative adjustments to your images: you can crop, increase/decrease saturation or contrast, add borders, or apply special effects. And once you've finished editing, you can easily upload your images to Flickr, share them on Facebook, and email them to family and friends — all without leaving Photoshop Express.
Dash of ColorDash of Color is a cool app that makes short work of creating black and white images and, if you'd like, adding selective color. Available for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Android devices, Dash of Color is really easy to use. The app automatically converts images to black and white. To add color, just tap the Color icon and use your finger as a brush. You can zoom in to complete more detailed work and use unlimited Undos to make your masterpiece. You can even paint grey over any colored area if the aesthetic suits you. Finished images are saved to your Camera Roll and your original photo remains untouched. You can Tweet, share on Facebook, and post your images to the Dash of Color public gallery from within the app.
If the ads that run across the top of the screen in this free app bother you, consider investing the 99 cents to upgrade within the app for the ad-free version. And why not check out some of Free the Apps! other free photo apps, including Picture Frames, FilterFX, HDR, Crop, and Fisheye.
GIMPPopular among Linux users, and also available for some Windows operating systems, GIMP is now available for Mac OSX users. This is an open-source image editor, which means that the source code is available to anyone and everyone. GIMP is a collaborative effort, and users, developers, and other interested parties are encouraged to modify the program for their own use and to share with others.
GIMP (which is short for GNU Image Manipulation Program) offers advanced tools such as channels, layers (commonly used by the dealnews editors to add cat images to monitors in HDTV deals), blending, selections, paths, quickmask, cloning, paint tools, and pretty much everything a photographer needs, including batch processing. This software is the closest you'll get to Adobe Photoshop without spending a dime.
However, if you're used to commercial software and a help desk phone number, this may not be the program for you. Still, those who are comfortable with computers, software, and getting help from an online community rather than a customer service rep will find this to be a capable image editing program. As an open source application, the term free is more about the freedom to use and modify the program at will rather than not having to pay for the download.
PhotoscapeThis well-rounded Windows software is not only effective for a range of image-editing tasks but is actually kind of fun to use. The Photoscape user interface is basic, and makes navigating the software almost a no-brainer. Click on a tool, and directions on how to use it appear at the bottom of the window.
Photoscape's features include a viewer, editor, screen capture, a RAW converter, and much more. Editing capabilities include correcting for backlighting and adjusting parameters such as color, brightness, and white balance. Batch processing, painting, and creating animated GIFs are only a few of Photoscape's attributes; there are plenty of filter effects, too.
The application's combined ease of use and full feature set makes it a great learning tool for those who want to hone their image editing skills. And more experienced users will appreciate the many options offered by this highly capable program.
While there are a wealth of free photo editing applications and software titles that you can play around with, these tried-and-true options are a good starting point. And unlike any free trial versions you might find, these programs don't have an expiration date. Give your photos the finishing touches they deserve, without spending on unnecessary services.
Front page photo credit: Teeny Tiny Turkey via Flickr