If you’re starting out in digital photography, one aspect you’ll need to pick up is post-processing, i.e. cleaning up your photos and removing blemishes, red-eye and improving color balance and so forth.
The good news, of course, is that there’s a ton of good photo editing software programs out there (which I’ve covered at some length in this article). However, not many of these programs are suited to beginners – either the user interface is cluttered with options you may not need (i.e. Adobe Photoshop), or the software may be too basic to meet your needs.
In this article, I want to showcase the top 5 beginner photo editors for Windows users. A good photo editing program should offer you a good range of image editing features at a reasonable price. For digital photography enthusiasts, some important and basic image editing features are:
- Importing and organizing. The ability to easily import photos into your Windows computer is a must in a good photo editor. The basic Windows picture import functionality is surprisingly capable (surpassing that of the Mac, which basically requires Apple iPhoto to do import), while the free Windows Photo Gallery is quite strong at organizing and tagging photos too. Of course, for importing and organizing photos, you can also look at some good beginner level, commercial software which I describe below.
- Easy adjustments. When I say easy adjustments, I mean things like rotating, cropping, and changing brightness, contrast, hue and saturation. A good photo editor MUST provide these functionalities. The better ones will include built-in wizards or tools to remove red-eye, image noise and correct geometric distortions.
- Adding photo effects. Next, good photo editors must have a good selection of photo effect filters. For example, some of the effects I need in my re-touching work include sharpening, blurring, adding borders and even things like “cartoon-izing” my pictures. I like to see a good range of these effects in my photo software.
- Output and sharing. In this day and age, options for output and sharing of photos have reached mind-boggling levels. A good software should allow you to burn pictures to DVD or Blu-ray, email, do direct uploads to Facebook, integrate with Dropbox or even print out into photo books.
Option 1: Adobe Photoshop Elements
Adobe Photoshop Elements has gone from strength to strength in the photo editing realm. This software has all the tools you need to organize, edit and share your digital photos. It’s very much like a watered down version of the industry grade Adobe Photoshop and is built for the beginner to intermediate photo editor in mind.
Some of the key benefits of Photoshop Elements include:
- Strong organization tools. When you enter Elements, you can easily order, tag and find the photos in your collection. Folks who use Elements always tell me it’s a refreshing way to organize their photos – which for years have been stuck in random, obscurely named Windows folders!
- Powerful editing tools to make your life easier. One of the complaints I used to have about post-processing of my photos is the sure amount of effort it takes to do very standard clean-up jobs like red-eye removal, color balancing, etc. Photoshop Elements takes care of that with quick editing tools and guided tutorials.
- Sharing options. Photoshop Elements has greatly improved its sharing capabilities and allows you to create photo books, greeting cards, scrap books, and also burn photos into physical media, or upload them to Facebook, YouTube, etc.
On the whole, Adobe Photoshop Elements is a great photo software for family and general use. In particular, I find that it has a very powerful photo organization, tagging and cataloging feature set.
Option 2: Corel Paintshop Pro
Corel Paintshop Pro has been my default photo editing tool for many years. It’s one of my perennial favorites and has everything I need to import, edit and share my photo collections.
Corel is a Canadian software company and has always produced great pieces of media-related software – to manipulate photos and videos.
Paintshop Pro started off as a raster graphics editor owned by Jasc Software. Corel Corporation purchased Jasc Software in 2004 and renamed the product Corel Paintshop Pro.
With Paintshop Pro, you can:
- Manage your photos. Take your entire photo collection or latest set of photo shots and browse through them, tag and rate them. In particular, Corel has done a fine job of helping you detect faces in a bunch of pictures and using GPS data to geo-tag pictures from your trips.
- Quickly do photo edits. I’ve used Paintshop Pro’s tools for changing lighting, cropping and changing things like white balance and color levels. I’ve also used them for advanced editing like adding layers, changing color gradients and even correcting perspectives and HDR merging.
- Share photos in a huge number of ways. Just like in Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel Paintshop Pro allows you to export to a variety of output file formats, burn photos to media, upload them to Flickr, Facebook and other social media.
The software also comes with many useful tools which will cost you a lot of money if you buy them alone.
All in all, Corel Paintshop Pro is a fantastic and value-for-money photo editor – invest in it and it’ll see you through your photo editing needs for many years to come.
Case Study. Many folks I know are divided between Corel Paintshop Pro and Adobe Photoshop Elements – which one is better?
I think that the guideline is this – if you’re used to Adobe’s interface and want to go with Adobe products, Photoshop Elements is a good choice.
If you want a standalone piece of software, or if you’ve used Paintshop Pro for many years and love its interface, then Corel Paintshop Pro is for you.
In my opinion, Paintshop Pro is still better value for money. Each version of the software comes with a HUGE slew of quality imaging tools which will cost you hundreds of dollars if you purchase them separately.
Option 3: GIMP
I love GIMP – it’s one amazing piece of software! And best of all, it’s free. I still can’t believe the developers offer all of this functionality for free.
GIMP is open source software and it can essentially do about 80% of what Adobe Photoshop can do. For me, GIMP is a powerful alternative to standard, commercial software like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel Paintshop Pro.
GIMP is great for “simple, fire it up and quickly edit” kind of tasks. I don’t have to wait to get into say, Corel Paintshop Pro in order to do quick edits.
GIMP is a bitmap/pixel based image manipulation program for photo editing and retouching, and creating images and animations.
Here are some things the GIMP does well:
- Basic and advanced image editing – you get to easily edit and retouch your images, with full selection, layer and color channel support.
- Plug-ins. You can also import free plug-ins and scripts into the software to enhance its functionality (there are tons in the GIMP Plugin Registry)
- Platform independence. Yes, my list in this article is about Windows-based photo editors, but the GIMP is well-known to be platform independent. This means you can run it on Linux, Windows and the Mac OS. That’s a real boon for users who need to use GIMP functionalities across platforms.
Here’s a nice tip too – the GIMP is available as a “Portable App“. In case you didn’t know, Portable Apps allow you to install a program in a flash drive and insert it to run, standalone, in ANY computer you want.
I run the GIMP off my flash drive on my office computer, home computer, etc. and it doesn’t leave any footprint on any machine – all my GIMP files are on my flash drive. It’s a very useful feature
Perhaps the only thing lacking in GIMP is a good, polished user interface. Also, there’s no quality assurance or product support, plus it can be difficult for newbies to get used to its user interface. Hey, but given that it’s free, what more could one ask for?
Option 4: Serif Photo Plus
Serif PhotoPlus is a great piece of software. Serif as a company has made several good inroads into the photo editing genre, pitting themselves against established players like Adobe, Corel, ACD and the like.
And I think they’re doing well. If you head to their website, you’ll see that they’ve a fantastic product and it shows.
Here are some areas which Serif PhotoPlus is especially good at:
Editing and transforming photos. If you want to quickly make adjustments in your pictures, you simply fire up PhotoFix Studio within the program and change what you need. No need to hunt for some obscure command to select and apply your change. Any spots, blemishes, brightness, contrast and other settings are within easy reach in the user interface.
Creative editing. The program balances out quick editing tools with a host of more advanced features. For example, you can invoke “smart selection” features to auto-select areas of interest in your photos and also transform your photos into works of art (using things like watercolor, oil and impressionist effects).
Fixing old photos. This is the part of PhotoPlus I like a lot. I had a huge bunch of old photos I was trying to digitize and when I got them into my computer – guess what? I saw creases, scratches and all sorts of defects in my photos. It was frustrating!
Serif PhotoPlus is VERY good at helping you fix old photos. There’s a powerful tool in there called Scratch Remover, that allows you to target scratches, marks, creases and other defects and remove them almost completely. You can now properly preserve your cherished photo memories for your future generations!
Overall Serif PhotoPlus is a great piece of software for casual and intermediate level digital photographers. I highly recommend it as an viable alternative to Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paintshop Pro.
Option 5: ACDSee
ACDSee has traditionally been a great tool for photo organization and tagging. In the old days, it was more a photo viewing and cataloging tool. However, over the years, I find that ACDSee has transformed itself into a full-fledged editing suite.
This photo editing suite within the ACDSee family of products is called ACDSee Photo Editor. This is a fantastic photo editor, with some standout elements like:
Fast-Fix Tools. The standard toolkits for retouching photos are all there Dodge, Burn, Smudge and Remove Red Eye. You can also do auto adjustments on color balance, brightness and contrast, amongst other correction tools.
Stylized photo editing. You can easily add your creativity to your photo collection. For example, you can create “vignettes” to create some fabulous looking portrait photos. You can blur out objects in your photo to make them seem like they’re moving, or make photos look “old time” with sepia effects.
Batch processing. I particularly like ACDSee Photo Editor’s batch processing capability. You save A LOT of time because you can batch up similar edits on groups of photos. All you have to do is identify the entire batch of pictures where you want to fix up color, sharpness or other defects – then process them all at one go.
There’s also a great patented tool in ACDSee Photo Editor called Lighting and Contrast Enhancement (LCE) – which does a VERY GOOD job of correcting photos suffering from poor lighting or blown out with overexposure. With LCE, you can easily tweak the photos and fix them to using automatic presets.
On the whole, ACDSee is great for photo editing – although it may still trail Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paintshop Pro is some editing features. It also lacks plug-in support, which may be a turn off for some users. However, what’s great about the ACDSee Editor is its heritage of photo organization and cataloging. If you intend to use ACDSee to organize your photos, you may well want to use ACDSee Photo Editor as well to clean then up and remove defects.
And that’s it! I’ve just listed down 5 of the best beginner photo editors for Windows users. If you ask me which software I prefer, I’d say the following:
- I use the GIMP for quick, simple graphics editing.
- I choose Corel PaintShop Pro for my default photo editing, management and sharing platform.
- I’m also experimenting with Serif PhotoPlus as it looks powerful and has got rave reviews from some of my fellow photographers.
Personally, I don’t go with Adobe Photoshop Elements, but that may be a good choice for you if you like the Adobe suite of products.
You may have noticed I’ve not included more “advanced” photo software options, e.g. the likes of Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, CyberLink PhotoDirector.
These photo editing software programs are great, but they are NOT beginner level editors. Their learning curve is WAY steep – Photoshop itself requires you to attend classes and get certificates and such, in order to fully learn its capabilities.
Also, I excluded Apple iPhoto – because iPhoto is obviously more for the Mac platform than Windows.
And finally, the other noticeable exclusion is the slew of online photo editing tools out there, i.e. the likes of Pixlr and SumoPaint which are REALLY polished pieces of web software.
That’s all I have for now. Until next time, have fun hunting for your beginner level photo editing program!