I started to write a post on lighting today… how to take better photos in less than perfect lighting conditions, whether that’s too little or to much. But it would have taken me all day to write it, and as I was trying to catch up with all of my bijillion food blog feeds, I realized that perhaps it would be more helpful to have a discussion about correcting exposure in your photos. This may sound involved, but for the most part, it’s a very quick fix and will make a world of difference in the look of your photos… enough that you may not worry quite as much about what light you shot them in.
And then, as I started writing that post, I realized that I had not yet talked about software. The one thing you will need to correct exposure is some software. I use full-blown Photoshop CS2 on the Mac. But you don’t need to go buy a piece of $500 software to fix the exposure in your photos. Here are some options for both computer-political parties (sorry, I don’t have any Linux recommendations).
Adobe Photoshop CS2 ($578) If you can afford it, Photoshop CS2 is the pinnacle of photo software. Just be prepared… there is a lot to learn. I’ve used Photoshop since the early 90s, and I still only use about 10% of the functionality. If you go this route, I highly recommend the photoshop books by Scott Kelby. Scott is a great writer and will quickly having you using Photoshop in ways you didn’t think were possible. They don’t always make sense. They are rarely intuitive. But they work, and your photos will be better for it. (Mac/Windows)
Adobe Elements ($66 with $20 mfr rebate) For a much more palatable price than Photoshop, Elements offers photo organization and editing and in general is everything that you need to get started in digital photo editing. The unfortunate part is that it’s not much easier to use than Photoshop. That said, if you want to go to Photoshop someday, it’s not a bad stepping stone. Adobe Elements 4.0 was released last fall, but I haven’t taken a look at the new features. The Mac version has a different feature set than the Windows version and does not include the photo organizer. (Windows/Mac)
Aperture (~$450) With the success of iPhoto, Apple introduced organization and correction software for higher end photographers. If you need software with the power of Aperture, you probably are advanced enough to need Photoshop CS as well. I haven’t used Aperture yet, because I can’t quite stomach the price on top of paying for Photoshop CS. Reviews have been mixed so far, mainly due to slow performance. (Mac only)
Microsoft Digital Image Suite (~$85) This is the product that I worked on when I worked at Microsoft. Digital Image Suite makes it pretty easy to both manage and edit your photos. You can do most things in DIS that you can in Photoshop, but you don’t need to learn a lot of scary terms. You want to correct lighting? There’s a lighting and exposure button in the sidebar. You can start with an automatic adjustment, and fine tune it from there. Some of the automatic corrections are better in Elements, but overall DIS will satisfy most beginner to intermediate users. (Windows only)
iPhoto 06 (free with a new Mac, or $69 for iLife) Does anyone not know about iPhoto? I really only added it here for completeness. If you are using a Mac, you’ll have a version installed already. Give it a shot, see if you like it. I’ve found that the auto corrections tend toward over-saturating images, and that with a library of over about 2000 photos is started to get really, really slow. But, it still is easy to use, and has some very nice integration features with Typepad and Ecto if you want to make your blogging life a bit simpler. (Mac only)
Adobe Labs Lightroom (free, beta software) If you are feeling adventurous, you might try Adobe’s newest entry. Lightroom is essential a high-end photo organizer that has a gorgeously modern UI and some nice features for comparing different photos to help wade through the clutter. It’s basically Adobe’s answer to Aperture, and is much more compelling simply because it’s free. However, this is beta software, and after using it for two weeks, I gave up. It was too slow for my large library of photos and I wasn’t thrilled with the way it handled RAW file conversion. If all you are doing is shooting in JPG, and have under 2,000 photos however, it’s a nice solution to try. I’m looking forward to the actual release, and hoping that they fix the major issues because I’d love to use this app everyday. (Mac only at this point)
Picasa (free) Google bought this company several years ago, and while they haven’t done a lot with the program since then, it is still free and super easy to use. You can’t do a lot of fine tuning of your images with Picasa, but there is enough to correct color and exposure and even add a few funky effects like lens blur. For most people, what it offers is sufficient… not to mention you won’t really lose anything by trying it out. (Windows only)
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