/ Technology

Are you wasting money on photo-editing software?

You’d think removing red eye or cropping your pictures requires expensive photo-editing software. But our latest tests reveal that this isn’t the case at all – have you spent too much on unnecessary software?

I’ve enjoyed taking photographs for a number of years and have been lucky enough to have tried a range of cameras. Some have been my own new or second-hand purchases, and some were models bought for Which? testing.

But despite taking better photos as my experience and skill grows, I’ve found lately that I’ve been using photo-editing software to ‘fix’ my photos.

The freedom of free software

A few years ago I used to load Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 if I wanted to fix something, and I still use it from time to time. But now, I’m wowed by the simplicity and wide availability of free photo-editing software.

It’s so quick. If you’ve never cropped a photo, adjusted the colours, toned down the brightness of an over-bright flash photo or removed red eye, give it a try. People who then see your pictures might think you’ve turned into a pro photographer!

How free software fared in our tests

I worked on our latest tests of photo-editing software where three testers tried each package. We looked at software from Adobe, Apple, Google and more. Seven of the packages are free, and two of those, Pixlr and Google Picnik, are web-based.

One tester had never edited a photo before, and another had very limited experience. The good news is that they found a lot of the free software a doddle to use.

Some free software is powerful too – you can remove unwanted objects and change backgrounds, for example. Or, just keep it simple and press “auto-correct”.

You can also edit photos on the move. I occasionally use Adobe Photoshop Express, a free app on my smartphone, to add special effects and more impact to quick snapshots I’ve taken.

Have you tried any free software to edit your pictures – how easy was it to use and did you get good results? Or will our results encourage you to ditch your expensive software in favour of free packages?


I like some of the features of iPhoto. For example, it will create web pages with thumbnails linked to larger images with one or two clicks, , all ready to upload to a website.

Though I have Photoshop (as part of Adobe CS), I enjoy the simplicity of iPhoto and prefer it for some tasks.

I use GNU Image Manupulation Program, otherwise known as GIMP, quite a competent free image editing program. To save the public art gallery I work at needing to pay out for further Photoshop licences I also recommend they download GIMP. I don’t think it’s suitable for comprehensive editing but it does everything that I need it to do for images for the documentation of art works. However I don’t use the program to its full potential so it may be able to do a lot more than I know about. It’s an open program that allows users to assist in its development and evolution. Very much a program by the people for the people.

I have used the free FastStone Image Viewer and it is quite good and easy. If you dont want to use or buy the full Adobe Photoshop package you can get the scaled down Adobe Photoshop Lightroom which is apparently very good and cheaper than Photoshop.

Chris Nation says:
7 July 2011

Adobe Lightroom is not a cut-down version of Photoshop [PS]. That’s Photoshop Elements [PSE]. Lightroom is a development of the purely photographic tools like exposure, white balance, saturation etc, that are also found in PS. For serious photographers LR may be all they ever need.

However, there are things that LR cannot do and images must be exported to PS or PS E to achieve them. Building images using two or more other images – be they photos, graphic art or whatever, are examples.

I have Lightroom and, as a professional photographer with 30 years experience of film and darkrooms, find Lightroom brilliant to achieve images in minutes that would have been impossible or extremely time consuming to do with analogue technology.

But for handling casual snaps or photos to go onto eBay or somesuch, MS Picture It!, which is part of the MS Works suite, or MS Photo Manager is perfectly adequate and would suit anybody who just wants to tidy up framing and basic exposure aspects of their photos.

Vivian says:
8 June 2011

I use Google’s Picasa & I’m really impressed, apart from printing the photos off, where I still use my old PaintshopPro as there’s more choice of layout

Vivian says:
8 June 2011

I haven’t been able to use Picnik successfully as I live in the country & my broadband’s too slow

Years ago I bought Corel Photo Album which has photoediting and organising facilites. When I considered upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 it transpires that Photo Album is not compatible. Corel do not provide an upgrade path. This means that all the tags and descriptive information I have so carefully entered into the organiser will be lost.
The question is whether free software, e.g. Picasa which has an organising facility, will be more future-proof.
Otherwise, do not use as an organiser.