How to give photos a “wow” look with just one click

If you’re just joining us, I’ve been checking out PhotoDirector, a new photo editing package that offers professional tools at an affordable price. In my last post, I talked about how easy this program makes it to sort, track, and organize tons of pictures. Today we look at PhotoDirector’s RAW option and its big library of presets, canned settings that give photos different interesting looks.

PhotoDirector includes a wide range of editing presets for achieving different looks quickly.

To put PhotoDirector through its paces, I imported about 100 JPEGs from several point-and-shoot cameras and a bunch of 10MB photos that I shot with a Nikon DSLR in RAW format.

Support for RAW is one of PhotoDirector’s coolest features. Many new digital cameras take RAW in addition to the more popular JPEG. Unlike JPEGs, which are preprocessed inside the camera for convenience, RAW files are picture information — exposure, contrast, white balance, etc. — taken directly from the camera’s image sensor. This means you start with the best possible image quality when editing your photos. Better yet all the picture info is stored separately from the image itself, so you can tweak the photo ad infinitum without ever changing the original read-only RAW file. If you make a change you regret, reverting to the original setting is as easy as clicking a button. This type of photo editing, called "nondestructive," is why RAW files are sometimes described as digital negatives. (Next time we’ll talk about how PhotoDirector takes reverting yet a step further.)

RAW files are big - we’re talking five times a JPEG’s size at 5 to 15MB or more! — which can make handling them tedious on lesser computers. But on my laptop with 2nd-gen Intel Core processor and 8GB of RAM, working with RAW files was remarkably fast and easy.

Want to look like an artistic genius? PhotoDirector’s presets offer some great looks and can be applied to photos with just one click. There are presets to change color photos to high-contrast black and whites, intensify blue skies, give your people shots different looks, and lots, lots more.

PhotoDirector provides a preview of each preset, and also lets you compare original and doctored shots side-by-side or with two halves butted together.

If PhotoDirector doesn’t have the look you’re after, a link inside the program takes you straight to Cyberlink’s DirectorsZone. Even though PhotoDirector still hasn’t been officially released as I write this, there are already dozens of presets for you to download and use on your photos. (For example, Fired Sunset emphasizes the reds in your pictures, giving them a fiery look.) Plus, the presets are all free. How cool is that?

Comparing an original photo to an applied preset is another simple push-button operation in PhotoDirector.

You can also compare before and after shots by butting the halves together.

But what if you want fine-tune your shots by, say, toning down the shine on a friend’s nose, or pumping up the colors in a wave while leaving a surfer’s skin tones untouched? PhotoDirector’s manual image controls let you do all that and more, which we’ll talk about next time.

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