In recent years, it’s become easier than ever to get your hands on a good enough camera and start dabbling with photography. From inexpensive DSLRs to the humble cell phone, it’s easy to get your hands on something to take photographs with — but finding the right software to edit it can be a little bit trickier. This selection of free programs will provide everything you need to make the most of your photos.
All of these tools will work on Windows and some are cross-platform and open source.
As far as free alternatives to Photoshop go, you won’t find anything more comprehensive and fully-featured than GIMP. Much like Photoshop, you can do just about anything with GIMP — as long as you have the know-how.
While you’ll be able to find plenty of online resources to help you get your head around its intricacies, this is not a program that is well-suited for novices, and you can expect to get lost quickly if you’re not familiar with Photoshop. GIMP is well worth the time it takes to get to grips with, but it’s important to understand that it’s not an easy program to master.
Intuitive image editor for basic edits, extendable with plugins.
If you’re looking for something that’s a bit more user-friendly, Paint.NET might just be the answer. First developed as a successor to Microsoft Paint, the project has now been worked on for years and is generally regarded as one of the most useful pieces of image editing software you can find for free.
It’s a great program to have at hand for fixing a range of common issues in one place; the basics like cropping, red-eye removal and color balance are all here — and there’s plenty of scope to customize the program with plugins to better suit your needs.
Open source digital darkroom software which supports processing and editing of RAW images.
LightZone is one of the best bits of free darkroom software out there. The program eschews the traditional ‘layers’ that similar packages typically use for the more flexible ‘stack’, which makes for a very powerful tool once you’re used to the slightly different way the system works.
There’s a broad variety of editing methods available to you — particularly for fans of black and white photography, which LightZone caters to particularly well — but what really makes this program a must is the way it works with batches. Any ‘stack’ that you have come up with can be easily applied to a whole batch of photographs, which can be a real time saver when you’re dealing with large quantities of photographs.
A cross-platform (Windows & Mac) panorama photo stitcher.
If you’re looking to make a really impressive panorama shot without any fancy hardware, Hugin is just the tool that you need. The program can stitch together a multitude of photographs into one image.
While its functionality comes as a result of a great deal of behind-the-scenes calculations, for your part it’s a relatively simple and painless process. ‘Control Points’ are the key — that is, points that are present in more than one photo that can help Hugin stitch the entire panorama together. Some of the more advanced settings you might want to grapple with are clearly intended for expert users, but there’s certainly great results to be had with Hugin, no matter what your level of experience.
Straight forward tool for creating panorama images with integrated online image sharing.
For anyone who’s not particularly confident with high-level programs, but still wants to experiment with creating their own panoramas, Microsoft ICE — that’s Image Composite Editor — will do the trick.
Users simply have to point the program towards the images that they want to use, and the panorama is built in a matter of seconds. However, it’s what you can do after the image has been created that’s really impressive; Photosynth support is integrated into the program itself, allowing you to easily upload your panorama to the Internet to share it with friends.
Easy to use image viewer, converter, and editor.
If you have a large photo collection, then you’re going to want a program that allows you to browse through it quickly and easily. A responsive interface and rock-solid stability are crucial, and that’s exactly what’s on offer with the FastStone Image Viewer. You’ll be able to compare photos, look at their EXIF data and perform basic edits, all in a clean interface that has been specifically designed not to interfere with the work that you’re doing.
Versatile photo editor and organizer, with integrated Google+ upload and sharing options.
Picasa is another alternative if you’re looking for a way to organize your photo collection — particularly if you already use Google+. You’ll be able to perform edits on your images and arrange them as you see fit It’s the online sharing features that really make Picasa powerful. It’s all tied into Picasa, so it’s great if you’re looking for a program that makes it easy to create an album that you can then share with friends online. Otherwise, you might find that you can do more with a different program.
Advanced open source and cross platform digital photo management tool.
Most photograph organization packages use a folder-based format to sort your photos, and while this certainly gets the job done, more modern methods are out there. digiKam has a robust tagging system (FastStone Image Viewer uses a similar, if slightly inferior, system), which allows users to sort their images more logically. This method allows for a photo to belong to more than one category at once, useful if you want to be able to sort images by date as well as by subject. Standard editing tools are also available to take on minor tweaks within the program.
Basic tool to convert images or photos into a video.
Images to Video is a program that really does just what you’d expect — it turns your images into video. If you’ve ever seen a time-lapse video and wondered if you could make something similar for yourself, then this is a must-have.
Good results are more reliant on your photographs than a deep knowledge of the program itself; if you have a tripod, then it’ll come in very handy. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of keeping your camera very still for as long as you want your time-lapse to run for, and making sure that you take the photographs at equal intervals. From there, simply load them into Images to Video and decide what format and resolution you want your finished video to be.
Distraction free and comprehensive photo mosaic creator.
Another interesting way of presenting your images is turning them into a mosaic that forms a larger image. Doing this by yourself would be needlessly long-winded and tedious, but thankfully there’s several options out there which automate the process.
AndreaMosaic is the best of the bunch — it’s fully-featured, but there’s very little fluff to distract from what it’s designed to do. Your finished product will look slick and professional, and you won’t have to spend hours fiddling with options and settings to make it happen.
Is another free piece of image editing software key to your workflow? Are you aware of Mac or Linux alternatives to these programs? Let us know in the comments section below.