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7 Free Programs for Editing Your Photos

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle is an accountant. Shh – don’t tell. She thinks she’s a writer.
Published July 12th 2019
Make Your Photos Pop with this Free Software
Have you ever been disappointed with your photos but you don't edit them because the software is costly. Take heart, there is a wide variety of free programs or apps that you can use not only for basic fixes but also for some advanced editing. You will be surprised how much difference you can make without too much effort. Perhaps your photos are a little too dark, or your subject is too small in the overall scene, or the colours just aren't as bright as you remember them.

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Play with colour changes in photo editing- Image by Javier Rodriguez from Pixabay

Is Editing Your Photos Cheating?
Photo editing is not a digital age concept. Dodging, burning and masking were all techniques used in film processing in the darkroom.

Your choice of camera settings will impact how close to reality your image is, particularly if you are shooting in JPEG rather than RAW. In this case, your camera is already doing some editing for you.

So at its most basic photo editing can be used to more accurately replicate reality where you haven't quite achieved this in camera. Moving on from that, it can be used for artistic effect. So what can be achieved by editing photos?

Basic Photo Editing Example 1 Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge
Basic Photo Editing Example 1 Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge

What Photo Editing Might You Want to Do?
How you edit your photos is limited only by your imagination and will depend on what you intend the photo for. Is it a family portrait you want to display at its best, a photo you want to make a funny greeting card with, or something you want to share on social media? The following are common photo editing techniques.

Isolate your subject
Remove objects from a photo
Correct lighting / enhance exposure
Sharpen a photo
Improve composition
Enhance colours
Apply filters or effects like a watercolour paint effect
Add a watermark or narration
Add borders
Combine photos
Retouch an image that has been damaged
Focus stacking
Blending photos

The following videos give an overview of what photo editing or post-processing is all about. Although they were produced in 2013 they are still relevant today.

Introduction to Photo Editing Part 1 by Mike Browne
Introduction to Photo Editing Part 2 by Mike Browne

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Basic Photo Editing Example 2 Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge

What Software to Use?
There are a surprising number of photo editing software packages available either

for purchase,
as subscriptions,
as free to download
free to use online or
provided by your camera manufacturer.

The following list is provided to give an idea of what is available. It is not a comprehensive list and no package is recommended over another.

Although there are some good programs for subscription such as Adobe's Lightroom or Photo Shop or for purchase such as Affinity we will look at free to download or free online packages to ensure everyone will be able to access some software.

Many of these products feature tutorials on their websites and a search of YouTube will reveal how-to videos for the software of your choice.

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Basic Photo Editing Example 3 Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge

Provided by Camera Manufacturers
Many camera manufacturers provide proprietary photo editing software. Check with your camera manufacturer. The following are from Nikon and Canon.

Nikon Capture NX-D
Digital Photo Professional for Canon (For RAW image processing)

GIMP
GIMP is recognised by a number of review sites as the best free offering. It is very similar to Adobe Photoshop.

Advanced photo editing tools include layers, masks, curves, and levels, clone stamp, healing tools, custom brushes, perspective changes, and smart selection tools. A large selection of third-party plugins are available.

With so much advanced technology comes a steep learning curve so this is not the best option for those just wanting to do quick basic edits. The GIMP website features many tutorials and there is a plethora of YouTube videos about how to use GIMP.

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Basic Photo Editing Example 4 Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge

Photoscape
Photoscape is a good program for beginners and is available in both Windows and Mac versions.

Basic photo editing tools include filters, light and brightness controls, effects, sharpening, straightening, crop freely or by ratios, frames, cloning, painting, add objects and text, raw conversion, photo splitting and merging, and animated GIF creation.

This is a user-friendly program but if you are new to photo editing there are many how-to videos on their website.

PAINT.net
PAINT.net works on less powerful hardware but is only available for Windows users. It is simple to use and is therefore good for beginners.

Basic photo editing tools include sharpen, blur, distort, emboss, layers, filters and plugins.

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Basic Photo Editing Example 5 Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge

Photo-Pos Pro
Photo-Pos Pro has the advantage of having both beginner (basic tools) and expert (advanced editing) modes so you can choose your level.

It has a large selection of filters and the expert mode includes layer masks for sophisticated editing, as well as tools for adjusting curves and levels manually.

On the downside, it can be a little slow to start up and it limits the size at which photos can be saved.

Fotor
Fotor is an online photo editor. Rather than specific editing Fotor focusses on special effects, frames and borders, and a range of one-tap options. It is simple to use but does have advertising pop-ups.

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Basic Photo Editing Example 6 Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge

Free Apps for Phone Based Photo Editing Software
For those of you who take photos on your phone and don't want to have to transfer them to your computer there is also no shortage of on-phone photo editing apps.

A search on Apple Store or Google Play will reveal a vast array of options. The following two are available for both IOS and Android and are perhaps the best known.

Snapseed
Snapseed was developed by Google and compatible with Apple-IOS and Android devices. It is available from the Apple store and from Google Play

Its features include 29 tools and filters, including healing, brush, structure, HDR, perspective, opens JPG and RAW files, and selective filter brush.

Adobe Photoshop Express
Adobe Photoshop Express is compatible with Apple-IOS and Android devices and is available from the Apple Store and from Google Play.

Its features include perspective correction, remove noise, apply blur, add borders and text, filters and effects, collages, spot healing, quick fixes and import/export.

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Your photo edits are limited only by your imagination - Image by Michael Drummond from Pixabay

Taking it to the Next Step.
If you're not sure about editing your photos why not grab one of these free programs and start experimenting.

For those who are more adventurous and to show what can be done with learning and practice the following video presents an excellent example of dramatic photo improvement through post-processing. This example is done using Adobe's subscription services but these effects can be achieved in some of the free programs.

How to Create STUNNING Sunset Photos - Adobe Lightroom Landscape Photography Editing Tutorial by Serge Ramelli

Or watch this video which shows an excellent photo become extraordinary, also using the Adobe subscription services

Landscape Photography - How did I take Photo, and Edit in Lightroom - Lightroom Tips by Atillio Ruffo
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