Choosing an Image Editor

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker
(after editing)
Now that we've covered important topics like exposure, composition, and interpreting subjects, we need to consider what to do once you get your photographs into your computer.  Nearly every picture you take can be improved by working on it with software.  But it's important to choose a software program that will work for you.

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Same Image Before Editing
(how embarrassing!)
There are several factors that I believe are important to have in in your software, and I'm listing them here in order of importance:
  1. Photo Management.  If you take a lot of photographs, you need to be able to keep track of them so that you can find them again after you take them.  You need a powerful photo management tool to let you keep track of your photographs.  I rate all the photographs I keep and use hierarchical keywords.  Every photograph I keep gets labeled by subject and location.  This way, if I want to find a picture I took of a Snowy Egret, I can click on the keyword and find all of them.
  2. Non-Destructive Editing.  I think it's important to use software that does not actually alter the image file.  These software programs save all your edits in a separate file or database, so that your actual image file is not altered.  This will keep your image from suffering from extensive editing.
  3. RAW File Editing.  I shoot almost exclusively in RAW so I need a program that will handle my RAW images.  I also want to convert them to DNG files when I'm done editing them.
  4. Strong Adjustment Tools.  I want to be able to handle exposure adjustments, cropping, color adjustments, sharpening, and lens corrections. 
  5. Localized Edits.  Having a tool for localized adjustments can be a great tool.  I use a  spot removal tool and an adjustment brush pretty frequently to deal with localized problems in my image.
  6. Export.  I love being able to export my photographs to my smugmug gallery, as well as Facebook and Google Plus. 
Not all of these features will be equally important to you, but these are my top six "needs" for photo editing.  There are several programs that can do all or most of these.  There are cheap or free software like iPhoto for the Mac or Picasa for PC/Mac.  If you want to spend a little bit of money, you will get a much better feature set with Aperture for Mac or Adobe Lightroom for PC/Mac.  I use Lightroom for 90% of my photo work.  The other 10% I do in Photoshop (this is editing that requires layers).  While any of these (and others) will do, I will explain image editing using Lighroom 3.x.  This is for three reasons: 1) it has a strong feature set, 2) it's available for Mac and PC, and 3) it's what I have.


  1. There's a learning curve, but I use what can be had for free, Linux-based software. I use the Gimp, which also uses layers.

    I'd rather go out and try again than fool around trying to enhance an image with software.

    But that's just me, an income-challenged but persistent shooter!

  2. Great point! I forgot to mention Gimp as an alternative to Photoshop. I tried that out before I scored a license to Photoshop. It looks like a pretty good piece of software.

    I also agree--I'd rather spend my time shooting than editing. I think that's why I frequently get backed up on editing photos. I'd rather go out and shoot.


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