A good friend of mine argues that the perfect photograph is one that requires absolutely no adjustments after the shutter is released. Another friend who is enrolled in a decreed photography program had an instructor who insisted all photos taken with digital cameras require sharpening. My own attitude toward using photo editing software is that your actions should enhance, but not significantly alter, the original image to achieve the desired result.
Sometimes this means a little cropping and increasing the contrast. Other times I may use the cloning or healing tool to remove a distracting element. And sometimes adjustments to the levels are required so the final image more closely resembles the colors I saw when I was taking the photograph.
Below are a just a few examples of photo editing software available. They basically can be divided into three categories: purchased software you install on your computer, freeware or shareware you install, and web-based programs where you upload your images and work on them in cyberspace.
Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe’s Photoshop was the standard by which all photo editing software is measured. After many iterations, they replaced the steep price tag (about $650) for the software with a subscription to an online service. This allows them to update features on the fly and provide subscribers with the most current version — which has more features than you could ever imagine using. You might still find older versions at a deep discount, and know that it will meet all of your needs, if you want the software on your computer (for those who don’t always have good internet connections). So ubiquitous is this program, that it’s become a verb (“yeah, that picture was Photoshopped.”)
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
As a photo editor, Lightroom offers less functionality than Photoshop, but it is very useful for streamlining workflow and organizing your photos. Professional photographers like it for the ability to handle a large volume of photographs. The price point is around $150.
Corel Paint Shop Pro
Paint Shop Pro is popular with many photographers because it has a small price tag (about $30), yet contains all the features most photo editors will need.
When first released, Picasa was merely an organizer. The new version contains the editing functions most commonly used by photographers. Oh, and it’s free from Google.
GNU Image Manipulation Program is another free program. It’s got much of the functionality of Photoshop, but is far from intuitive for those who are just getting into photo editing.
Another free photo editing program, PhotoScape also has batch processing features popular with photographers shooting many images.
Another web-based photo editing tool. I tried this one and found it very easy and versatile. It also works with both uploaded photos as well as photos already on the web.