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Photo Editing and Sharing Software

Are you overwhelmed by all the choices for photo editing software for your PC or Mac? Here’s a summary your options. These options work well with both point & shoot cameras and SLRs.

[Updated June 2012: There's a new kid on the block; they're called ThisLife. It's getting great reviews. It's a photo consolidation service that pulls all your photos from all your different online accounts. It'll organize your photos in one place, whether they're on your computer, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, iPad, phone, Snapfish, Picasa.]

Mom/Dad/Beginner/Hobbyist/Amateur

WINDOWS 7 AND VISTA 

Windows Live Photo Gallery: Free. Download it here.

It’s an easy way to edit, organize, and share your photos. It’s as good as iPhoto for Mac, and that’s saying a lot because Microsoft has been playing catch-up in this area for some time.

Here are the key features:

  • face recognition: it learns who is in your photos so you can search for photos of certain people.
  • edit: lighten, darken, color-correct. The software does all of this without altering the original file; that way you can undo any edit you do, even years later.
  • fuse two photos together so that it can replace someone’s face who blinked with their face from a different photo.
  • panorama stitching: stitch together adjacent images to create a seamless panorama image.
  • share: post photos to Facebook, Flickr, and sync with Windows Live SkyDrive directly from the software. Or just email easily to anyone you want.

Google Picasa: Free. Download the Windows version here.

Picasa is more social and Internet-connected than Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPhoto); it enables collaboration, which means that your friends who also use Picasa can add their own photos to albums you post online, and vice versa.

Picasa edits and organizes in much the same way that WLPhoto does, except that it doesn’t have pano-stitching and photo fuse technology. But it does have geo-tagging (which will read the geographic location of where you took your photo if your camera embeds that information into the file, which mostly happens if you use a smartphone camera. It will then organize your photos by location if you wish.)

Adobe Photoshop Elements 10: $79. Download a free trial here. Elements is incredibly good. In fact, in addition to all of the great organization and editing capabilities you’d expect from Adobe, its editing options are nearly as good as its big brother, Photoshop CS. Yes, you read that right. It does 90-95% of what Photoshop CS6 does; it even does layers.

Elements isn’t as good at connecting to the Internet as Picasa and WLPhoto are (though check out the free Photoshop.com for lightweight editing, organizing and sharing online), but Elements is much stronger at editing and retouching, but just as good at organizing your photos. This software is worth considering if you’d like to someday become an advanced amateur; it provides an excellent introduction to the far more advanced Adobe products, such as Photoshop CS and Lightroom.

APPLE MAC

iPhoto: Free, comes with any Mac.

iPhoto has most of the same features as WLPhoto. iPhoto adds geo-tagging, but doesn’t have pano-stitching or photo-fuse. If you advance to become an advanced amateur or professional, iPhoto has a smooth upgrade path to Apple Aperture, which is Apple’s professional photo software.

Picasa: Free. Download the Mac version here.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 for Mac: $79 See the link in the Windows section above.

ONLINE

Photoshop.com offers a free online toolset for adjustments, cropping, sharing, and printing. I use it regularly for sharing photos with family and friends. See it here.

Flickr.com. Yahoo's Flickr just released an online editing function which uses Aviary as its engine. 

Advanced Amateur and Professional

[Read this excellent detailed review of Lightroom and Aperture in the Wall Street Journal by Walt Mossberg.]

Adobe Lightroom 3 for Windows and Mac: $99 upgrade, $299 new user. Download a free trial here.

Lightroom works on both Windows and Mac, providing a big advantage if you work with both Windows and Mac machines, which is the case for me. It’s a critical consideration if you ever see yourself changing platforms in the future, in either direction. By contrast, Apple Aperture doesn’t have a Windows version. That reason alone points me to Lightroom.

Adobe Lightroom 3

It’s important to understand what Lightroom (and Aperture) is: it’s an advanced photo organization and editing tool that advanced amateurs and professionals use to efficiently manage, edit, and publish their photos. For many shooters, Lightroom replaces Photoshop because of Lightroom’s increasingly powerful editing and retouching tools, especially with version 3′s powerful lens distortion correction and amazing noise-reduction features.

Lightroom 4 has recently released. Download a free trial here.

Apple Aperture 4 for Mac ONLY: $79. Download a free trial.

Aperture is an excellent photo editing and organization tool that has similar features to Lightroom. Two areas of weakness are that Aperture’s noise-reduction capabilities are not as strong as Lightroom’s, and lens correction isn't nearly as good. However, Aperture supports basic video editing and geo-tagging, which Lightroom does not. Warning: Recently, many Aperture users have moved to Lightroom because Apple took so long to upgrade their software to version 3 and usually takes longer to support new RAW file formats. Apple doesn’t beta their software; as with its consumer products, the Aperture team did not solicit customer feedback nor keep its base aware of what additions were coming in the new version. Understand this history before plunging into Aperture. Apple has voiced their intention to improve on this front, but their history doesn’t bode well. But its price can't be beat.

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