Dave's Favorites: Budget Image Editing With PhotoFiltre
You don't have to spend $100 on an image editing program to work with your photos.
Everyone knows about the big commercial packages like Adobe Photoshop Elements, Microsoft Digital Image Suite, and Jasc Paint Shop Pro. But there are a number of shareware editors available as well. Many readers swear by IrfanView, for instance, which is free for noncommercial use and available from our Downloads library. Others tell me how much they like a program called PhotoFiltre.
PhotoFiltre is free, yet it's a surprisingly powerful photo editor. (You can make donations to the author via the Web site.) It has all the usual tools, including one-click auto exposure correction, brightness, contrast, and saturation adjustments. You can sharpen and blur, add text, and paint directly on your images.
What I find surprising, though, is how many advanced features the program offers. There's a clone brush, a magic wand for selecting regions of the picture, and even artistic filters that add painterly effects like pastel and watercolor. I really like a filmstrip at the bottom of the screen that you can set to display the contents of a folder, then add pictures from the filmstrip to your workspace just by double-clicking. That makes it easy to work on several pictures at once.
What doesn't PhotoFiltre offer? For starters, it lacks the kind of smart, uncluttered interface you'll find in a commercial editor. The program feels a bit crowded and complex, as if the designer felt the urge to put every single menu item in button form somewhere on the screen. It also lacks an "edge tracking" selection tool and support for layers, and that limits your ability to make sophisticated changes to your picture.
Despite the program's weaknesses, it's definitely worth a try--especially if you haven't invested in one of the top commercial photo editors.