Essential Photography Tools

There are several software tools that I believe are essential for a digital photographer these days. Chief amongst these are:

  • Cropping software: to ‘zoom’ in and get rid of unnecessary things in your photo
  • Image editing software: curves/levels correction, resizing, sharpening etc
  • Noise reduction software: removing ISO noise is great when you are pushing ISO 1600+
  • Online photo gallery: to share your photos with the world!

There is also conversion software that converts RAW files to TIFF/Jpeg etc files. Seeing as I don’t use RAW, I can’t really give any advice on a good raw converter. Anyway, Lets have a look at what I believe are the best tools for these tasks…

Cropping Software
I have certain requirements when it comes to cropping. Firstly, I want to be able to crop on batch (that rules out Photoshop). Secondly, I want a ‘Rule of Thirds’ overlay on the photo as I crop it. Thirdly, I want to know the DPI of a crop (ie so I know if a crop will keep the image resolution above 300 DPI). Fourthly, I want lossless jgep cropping (ie no recompression on save). Fifthly, I want auto rotation of the photo based on it’s orientation. And finally, I want the EXIF information retained in the photo. Phew, what a list!

Thankfully a nice freeware product called JPEGCrops offers all the above functionality. It only supports Jpeg files though so if you are using RAW, you’ll need to convert them first. Here’s a screen shot (first photo shows the ‘Rule of Thirds’ overlay):

JPEGCrops0.6

Check it out – it’s pretty handy and I use it for all my cropping needs. Some of the features need to be enabled in the File->Preferences menu.

Image Editing Software
Surely this crown would have to go to Adobe Photoshop, currently at version CS 2. Curves, levels, colour correction, sharpening plus a myriad of other features for photo and image editing. I really don’t have to go into this as it is the quintessential image editing software today.

What’s the catch then? It is expensive at $649 USD, that’s the catch. If this is an issue, I recommend GIMP. Yes, strange sounding name but apparently a great free piece of software.

Noise Reduction Software
What is noise you might ask? Noise is the ‘graininess’ of a photo typically associated with traditional photography and is caused by using high speed film (film that requires less light to capture an exposure). Digital photography doesn’t have film but that concept has carried over nonetheless with the ISO setting. Increasing the ISO means you can get faster shutter speeds but this introduces digital ‘noise’, causing the photo to lose sharpness and clarity.

I use a freeware product called Neat Image to remove this digital ‘noise’. Unfortunately the free version doesn’t support batching (which I find essential to save time), so you’ll have to upgrade to the Home version to get this functionality. Here’s a screen shot of a batch run.

filtration-queue-window

A cool feature of Neat Image is the ability to create ‘noise’ profiles. When I recently brought my Canon 350D SLR, I downloaded some profiles that other users on Neat Image have already created for it and was ready to immediately do some noise reduction. Alternatively, you can create these profiles manually if no one has already done so. Profiles ensure that you don’t apply too much noise reduction to a photo, causing it to look plastically and too smooth.

The best feature of Neat Image though is the way it can automatically change noise profiles based on the EXIF data in a photo. This makes batching of photos a breeze! If first photo is an ISO 400, if will select the correct profile setup for ISO 400 (providing you have one). If the next photo is ISO 1600, it will then select the profile for ISO 1600 (again, providing you have it). Rinse and repeat.

This really is a great piece of software, I highly recommend it. Heck, it’s even compatible with the Mac!

Online Photo Gallery
So you’ve now cropped (JPEGCrops), colour corrected (Photoshop), removed any noise (Neat Image) and sharpened your photo (Photoshop) – now what do you do with it? Well in todays age, you post it online!

There are a multitude of online photo sites, multitude I tell ya! I personally use Pbase. It really is a hardcore photo management website. It supports: custom galleries (and galleries in galleries), EXIF image support, zip/tar file uploads, CSS support, automatic resizing options (small, medium, large and original), password protected galleries, comments, guest book etc. It does it all, except Tags which are all the rage amongst the techno fashionista these days. Here’s a screen shot of my account.

It does however have a cost associated with it. I pay roughly $26 USD a year for 400Mb of storage of which I’m only using 77Mb with 570 photos online at the moment. So it’s a decent amount of storage for the cost.

If paying for an online presence isn’t your thing, I suggest you give Flickr a go. You can get 20Mb of storage for free so it’s something to look into. $24.95 USD a year will get you a Pro account and 2Gb of storage which is very generous compared to Pbase. I might actually look into flickr but I find it’s interface to be quite annoying, no apparent support for zip/tar uploads which is a must feature for me plus flickr seems to be so slow. It’s ‘management’ of photos is interesting however.

So, there you have it. The tools that I believe are essential to todays digital photography after the photo is taken – before and while is a whole other post!

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