A photo editing tool chest - for free
Feb 27, 2008, 12:43 GMT
Washington - Buying a digital camera, photo printer, and camera accessories can leave a hole in your wallet. So why should have to splurge yet more on software? While the big-name commercial software packages such as PhotoShop promise to make your life with digital images easier, there are plenty of programs available for free that do almost as much - and sometimes more.
--- Downloading your images
Getting the images from your camera to the computer is the first challenge that new digital photographers face, and it's one that the right software can automate. It's possible that your digital camera came with all of the software necessary to download your photos, but if not, there are some good applications that will do the job at no cost.
Breeze Downloader is one of the oldest downloading automation tools on the market, and it remains one of the best. While there is a commercial 'pro' version available from Breeze, the original freeware version is all that most folks will ever need. With Breeze Downloader, you can automatically download photos from anyplace on your computer, including directly from a camera itself.
You simply configure the program to look for photographs at a particular USB connection or FireWire port, tell the application where downloaded photographs should go, and click Download All. Once you set up the operation, successive downloads are automated without any intervention from you. You can download Breeze Downloader from http://www.photo-freeware.net/breeze-downloader.php.
--- Editing your photos
Most digital cameras come with basic image editing tools. But you'll quickly outgrow them. That's normally when camera owners start looking towards commercial packages such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. While these programs can do just about everything you would want with an image, they come at a price - a high one - and there are very capable free alternatives.
Chief among them is GIMP (http://www.gimp.org), an open-source program that does most of what Photoshop can do - and even mimics Photoshop's interface, thanks to another open source add-on called GimpShop (http://plasticbugs.com/?page_id=294). GIMP offers such sophisticated editing features as layers, channels, redeye reduction, and a host of third-party plug-ins. There's even a plug-in available, called UFRaw, that allows GIMP to work with the uncompressed, raw image file formats that many DSLRs offer.
--- Printing photos
The challenge that digital photographers face when they want to print their photos is how difficult it can be to fit a number of differently sized pictures on a single sheet of paper. Many photo printing programs only allow you to print same-sized photographs on a single page, potentially wasting expensive photo paper.
The commercial program QImage (http://www.ddisoftware.com/qimage) has long excelled at flexibility in printing photographs, but the free Google Picasa (http://picasa.google.com) has recently beefed up its photo printing abilities to the point where it rivals QImage. Picasa is also an excellent photo organiser.
--- Emailing photos
E-mailing digital photographs is a lot harder than it should be. That's primarily because you cannot simply download a picture from your photo card and then send it from an e-mail program. If you do, your recipient will receive a very large file that will take some time to download. It may even clog an e-mail inbox and cause other messages to bounce.
So you have to resize images, making them significantly smaller than the originals, before sending them in an e-mail message. Essentially, what you want to do is create thumbnail versions of your images that you wish to e-mail. One of the best free programs for doing this is Easy Thumbnails (http://www.fookes.com/ezthumbs).
This program can take an entire folder of images and create smaller versions of them, perfect for copying over to an open e-mail messaging window. SendPhotos (http://www.sendphotos.com/), although not free, is an upscale e-mail sending application that offers plenty of hand-holding during the process and provides lots of useful additions, including templates to make you e-mail messages stand out.
Normally, one of the downsides of finding free software is the time that it takes to ferret through a lot of programs to find a few gems. The programs here are all proven winners. They'll not only save you money but are also easy enough to learn quickly, leaving you plenty of time to do what matters most: take pictures.