Photo Editing
Free Photo Software
PIXLR. ( For:- Windows, Linux, Mac etc. Runs from the website. Needs no installation).
     This is a brilliant photo editor. It’s FREE for anyone to use, no registration or subscription and needs no files to be installed on ones PC. It is a cross platform application so it runs on all operative systems and browsers as long as Adobe Flash is installed on the users computer. It has the look and feel of Paintshop Pro / Photoshop. On arrival at the website, you can  open the application in a number of different languages, if your language isn’t shown, then you can start it in English and when the application has loaded, select “Language” on the menu line, and a long list of languages appears. Under the menu item “File” you can open a photo file on ones computer, and start editing. You can also choose to open a photo file at a web address using the “Open From URL” option. Most of the main features of commercial photo editors are featured including a good selection of filter effects. You can also work with layers. There is no feather function to feather selections, but there is a “Vignette” filter that “spotlights” the central area of the photo by adding an increasingly opaque area (in your chosen colour) to the edges of the photo.

Photo Filtre. (For:- Windows)
     This is great if you do not want to do a whole lot of very advanced editing, but it is still quite a powerful piece of software,  capable of many things, with masses of plug-ins and effect filters, but relatively easy to use. Best of all, it is FREE !!!!!!!!! It’s only real disadvantage is that it does not allow one to work in layers, but this may be added in the future.

The Gimp. (For:- Windows, Linux)
     ABSOLUTELY FREE !!! Professional software and very powerful. The Gimp was originally designed for the Linux operative system as an Open Source counterpart to Adobe’s Photoshop, it has since been released in a Windows version. An extremely good piece of software. It can do pretty well anything Photo Shop can do. As with PhotoShop, I tend to get a bit bogged down in the many functions. On a personal note, I find the interface takes a bit of getting used to, as the program does not open in a single window but instead places all of it’s components on the desktop. Highly recommended though.  Note:- Make sure that you download the Windows version if you are using Microsoft’s Windows. Works fine on Vista and XP / ME.
Shareware & Commercial Software
Paintshop Pro. (For:- Windows)
Many years ago, I purchased JASC’s Paintshop Pro version 5 which came with a simple animation program called Animation Shop. I have used this old version for many years and still use it, I guess it is something to do with the fact that I have got to know it so well. However time marches on and improvements occur along the way, and Corel bought up Paintshop Pro and although slightly more in price than it used to be, it is nowhere near as expensive as the professional photo editing programs.  For many years I have happily used Paintshop Pro 5, but have  (March 2010) ugraded to Corel Paintshop Pro X2 Ultimate version. I have now again upgraded to Corel Paintshop Pro X3. It is packed full with tools, filters and really cool features. Unfortunately because there are so many features and adjustment options, it tends to be a bit overwhelming, but I am very pleased with it. One of the best features is the “Clarify” adjustment found under “Adjust” -----> “Brightness and contrast” -----> “Clarify”. Using this adjustment, really makes a stand out. It increases the sharpness, colouring etc, and is adjustable so one can get the best result, that suits ones taste.

Microsoft Photo Suite 2006. (For:- Windows)
I am not a fan of Microsoft but this software created by an Irish firm for Microsoft is very neat and fairly easy to use. It has a totally different type of interface, with wizards for doing the most usual editing. However if one wants to do something a bit more advanced, then there are more options available from the menu. Once you get used to it, it is quite a powerfull piece of software. It also has a photo library organiser, and can also be used to create cards and other projects. There are many useful effect filters and the ability to work with layers. Recommended for beginners and those of us who don’t need all the bells and whistles if you can lay your hands on a cheap copy or buy it second hand. It is unavailable now, and Microsoft will not bring out a newer version.

Adobe Photoshop. (For:- Windows)
Very expensive professional software which for many years has been the cutting edge for the graphic industry. Paintshop Pro (mentioned above) was initially inspired by it, and had a similar user interface.  Here the similarity ends. Photoshop is as powerful as it gets ! There are an unbelievable amount of adjustments and effects one can apply to a photo. The results are brilliant ! This program produces the best feathering effect of all the programs I have tried. However due to the amount of functions available, I tend to get a bit bogged down in it all. The obvious disadvantage is the price !

Adobe Photoshop Elements.
    This is a cheaper version of the fully professional Photoshop, (approximately the same price as Corel's Paintshop Pro), with all the necessary tools that an amateur photographer needs, for adjusting digital photos and creating different effects on photos and graphical elements. Version 9 has a different interface than earlier versions, and is designed to make it easier for those not so used to photo editing to use by using pre-set adjustment settings, however I found it off putting, and a bit frustrating to use.
Comparison between Paintshop Pro X3 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 9
I had better start by saying that the comments here are my own opinions and based on my experiences with both programs.

I will also say from the beginning, that I prefer working with Corel's Paintshop Pro (PSP). Maybe it is just me, but I find it so much easier to do things. The one main thing that bugs me, is that Photoshop and Photoshop Elements rely quite a bit on keyboard shortcuts to perform many of the operations. Many of them can be done by the click of a mouse button, but in some cases it takes longer. The most frustrating for me is the Photoshop "Zoom Tool" which one selects to be able to enlarge the area being edited. This can also be done by using 2 keyboard shortcuts, for zoom in or zoom out. I find it irritating to have to click on a tool and choose to zoom in or out, when in PSP I can just use the scroll wheel on the mouse to zoom in or out.

Extractor Tool.
For quite a few years, Photoshop has had an "Object Extractor" tool, for removing objects from a photo and pasting them somewhere else. This CAN be done by using a selection tool with great difficulty, but Photoshop / Elements users have been able to simply paint an edge around an object, for example a long haired animal, and perfectly copy the animal for use in another photo /picture with none of the background being removed with it. This made life very easy.

From PSP version X3, a similar "extractor Tool" has been added and is found under the Image menu item.

Smart Carver Tool.
This tool was a new addition to the Paintshop Pro X3 version. It allows the user to remove an unwanted object from a photo, and the area where the object was, is filled in with the surrounding background.
Photoshop Elements does not at the time of writing (Jan. 2011) have a tool like this.

Gradient Fills.
For the easiest gradient fills, I love the Photoshop / Elements gradient tool. You simply select the main 2 colours you want for the gradient, by selecting them from the colour palette, then one clicks on the gradient tool and drags the cursor across the area where the gradient is to be, in the direction and angle of the required gradient effect. The flow from the differing shades of colour is very smooth with no banding of the shades. If one wants a gradient containing more than 2 colours one can easily edit the gradient, to produce exactly what one wants.

In comparison, the Paintshop Pro way of producing gradients is a little less simple. One has to click on one of the colour palettes (foreground/stroke or background/fill ) Then a dialogue box appears and one selects the gradient tab. A pre-set gradient is automatically selected and one then has to modify / edit that. Choosing the gradient colours is not as easy it it first looks, and adjusting things to get just what one wants can be quite time consuming. One has to be careful that if saying yes to saving the gradient, one does not overwrite an existing pre-set gradient !

This is the effect seen on many of the photos in the website. It is also referred to as "vignette" effect, where a selected area of the photo can be feathered and then copied, and pasted as a new picture, giving a lovely fading effect around the edges of the copied element.
Both a very early version of Photoshop and Version 9 of Photoshop Elements make very nice feathering effects, I used to use a setting of 15 to achieve a fairly wide fade.

Paintshop Pro to my mind does not have such a smooth and wide fade out, however there is quite a choice in how to apply a feathering effect. One can choose to feather inside of the edge of selection, outside the selection or on the inside and outside edges.
The setting for the level of feathering that one can apply, runs from 0 to 200. I have found that using higher settings than I am used to from Photoshop, result in pleasing enough feathering.

Art Effects.
Both programs have many different effects that can be applied to pictures. I was pleased with the "arty" effects that I tried in Photoshop Elements, and these although pre-set could be easily be adjusted. Paintshop Pro X3 also has many effects, but I found adjustment of the "arty" effects to be a bit more complicated.
Both Photoshop Elements  and Paintshop Pro support plugin effects, so both programs can be expanded as much as you want.

Local Tone Mapping.
I couldn't find an equivalent of this in Photoshop Elements or earlier versions of Photoshop, but Paintshop Pro X3 has an adjustment called "Local Tone Mapping", called "Clarify" in PSP X2. The level of local tone mapping can be set from 0 to 20. I usually use a setting of 5 for most photos. The effect on a photo is amazing in many cases. It gives a depth to a photo, and enhances the tones. In fact many of the photos I edit just have this adjustment made to them, and nothing else needs to be done.

Both Corel's Paintshop Photo Pro X3 and Adobe's Photoshop Elements 9 are very large. And take quite a bit of time to install, requiring over 1 Gb of space on the hard drive.

Both programs want to catalogue all the graphic and video files on your computer, and have an image browser as well as an editor. This can be an irritation for some people. It was for me with Paintshop Pro X3 in the beginning, as the Catalogue browser starts automatically when you start the editor, thus it takes longer for the program to be ready to use. However I am now used to it, and find it a great help. The image browser can be disabled apparently, according to some people on the Paintshop Pro forums, not through the program options, but by identifying the browser/catalogue file and renaming it, which I guess many people would not want to do.

Despite the criticism of the gradient fill and the art effects in Paintshop Pro X3, I get a kick out of using it, and enjoy every minute !
It is well worth spending a few hours playing around with the various effects. The WOW factor is quite high, I have been heard to exclaim loudly "wow" many times in the first few weeks I was using the new version of the software.

I cannot say the same for Photoshop Elements (I know many people would possibly disagree with me), but it left me frustrated, and has since been removed from my PC.

Another thing I have noticed, is that in Photo Elements and also earlier versions of Photoshop, the automatic level adjustment, does not have much effect on my photos, whereas the automatic "Smart Photo Fix in Paintshop Pro does have quite an effect in most cases. It is with the Auto levels in PSP.

Taking into account that both programs cost approximately the same amount of money, I feel one gets more for ones money from Paintshop Pro.

A comparison of photos that have been adjusted in both programs, can be seen on the "Photo Edits" page.
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