Choose the right software for your digital darkroom

An important decision for every digital photographer, besides selecting a camera, is deciding what software to use in the digital darkroom.

Part of the joy of digital photography is the ability to work with image files on your computer right after you shoot the pictures. Many photo manipulation software products are available to help you do this.

Photo manipulation software

Before buying a photo-manipulation software package, think about what you want to do in your digital darkroom. Digital cameras usually are bundled with software for working with digital images. The bundled software may be all you want, or you might want more tools and more control over the images you create.

  • Adobe Photoshop, probably the most often-mentioned software package for image file manipulation. It is a complex and expensive product. Photoshop offers more image manipulation power than most digital photographers are likely to use.

Less expensive products are also available:

  • After Shot Premium Edition (JASC Software). This product has particularly good image printing flexibility for its price. You can select just about any size and shape to print photos. You can easily print several images in thumbnail form on a sheet of paper—ideal for selecting which photos to keep and which ones to discard.
  • Photo Explorer Pro (Ulead Systems). This package offers most of the tools needed by the average digital photographer. One very useful feature is how the program recalls images. When you command Photo Explorer to open a large directory of image files, you can view several at once. Each thumbnail image appears with its file name and file size. This is useful in helping you quickly identify which images will make the best prints.
  • ACDSee (ACD Systems). This software offers an impressive set of photo manipulation tools, including red-eye control and automatic and manual adjustments for brightness, contrast, and color. However, ACDSee is more complex and difficult to learn than the previous two products. If you don’t mind studying a manual, ACDSee offers a lot of power at a reasonable price.

Other tools

It’s worth noting that Windows XP comes with an image viewer. It’s easy to use and quickly opens large directories of image files. However, it does not offer any photo manipulation tools other than Zoom In, Zoom Out, and Rotate Right and Left.