Software allows for cheaper, easier editing of digital images |

Software allows for cheaper, easier editing of digital images

Steve Segal

With summer just about over, it’s a good time to purchase a digital photo-editing program to pare down and organize that ever-increasing pile of pictures.

Once upon a time, such programs were located on the outer ends of the features spectrum.

Professional technicians used the expensive Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard. While this program was not — and still is not — the most user-friendly program ever made, those willing to spend the time and energy could get remarkable results.

Everyone else was relegated mostly to simple, and very primitive, programs that only offered a few basic functions such as cropping, scanning and color correction.

But with the price of digital cameras lowering by the month and most film-developing companies offering to make digital prints for minimal cost, many companies are putting substantial resources into marketing photo-editing programs that combine high-end power with low-end cost.

The majority of these products fall in the $100 to $130 range. (For comparison, Adobe Photoshop 7, the current version, sells for about $600.) While there are some less-expensive programs, features typically are left out to get the price lower.

Standard features on these program now include the ability to automatically make changes such as fixing red-eye or removing scratches. Also included are templates for making greetings cards, calendars, Web-page graphics and other personalized projects.

For most users, the ability to filter photographs is very important. A filter is a special effect that instantly can transform an image. For example, a watercolor filter can make any photo appear to have been painted by a watercolor brush, while a sepia filter will make a photo appear to have been taken years ago. Typically, photo-editing programs come with a dozen or so built-in filters.

But these programs also support a special type of very powerful filter, known as a Photoshop plug-in as it was designed originally to work within Photoshop. Most of these specialized programs still operate within a host program. Typically included are about a dozen features to a package, with an average cost of about $100 or more. What makes these program worth the price is that they perform a few highly specialized special effects or features that aren’t found in the host program. For example, Alien Skin Software released a plug-in several years ago that quickly and easily allowed images to have a drop-shadow effect, something that previously took a lot of painstaking effort.

Auto FX software, another plug-in company, has a line of plug-ins geared toward illustrators who want the ultimate control. For example, its Mystical Tint Tone and Color ($179) just deals with 38 very sophisticated lighting, tinting and color effects. (Unlike other plug-ins, the Auto FX plug-ins can also be run as stand-alone programs.)

While it can be difficult for someone to pick a program to purchase from this plethora of high-quality choices, the good news is that virtually all of the programs allow users to download a free demonstration version. Also, there are rebates and special discounts, which are detailed on the various Web sites, so the final price likely is going to be a lot less. And, finally, photo-organizing software either is included or sold as a bundle for a minimal additional cost.

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