Smartphone-indeed, cell phones with cameras in general-have pretty much ruined our eye for photography. Not that we had a great one to begin with, what with Polaroids, the 110 camera, the disc camera (remember those?) and a slew of low end point and click cameras all contributed to our poor photography skills.
I am not exception either…I take LOTS of photos with my smartphone. I have an expensive Nikon DSLR that just sits around, doing nothing. I have a Kodak digicam that sees a good deal of use, but nothing like my phone.
So, we are taking mediocre to good photos with our phones. Is there anything we can do to help them look better? Sure! On the Windows side of the house, there is a plethora of helper apps to give your photos some life. Many are free, many are cheap to very expensive and all will help.
Since I am a frugal person, I’m going to focus on FREE. And, of all the freebies, there are two that I love: Picasa from the Goog and Windows Photo Gallery part of the Windows Essential suite. Both share some of the same functions, but each has a unique set of features that can do wonders. Both allow fine tuning of things like contrast, brightness, color saturation and tint.
Picasa has the traditional ‘I’m feeling lucky’ Google button that will automagically make your photo look better. As a place to start, click that button. Once clicked, you can further enhance your photo
by changing the white balance (for older photos or washed out photos) or apply a number of filters for a more artistic edge. Experimenting is the best way to achieve the look you want. I always make a copy of the photo first, but Picasa has a number of undo steps to bail you out.
Notice the three photos here. The first, taken with my HTC Shift at a local theme park, in untouched. It’s OK, but looks washed out. The second one, the same photo, had the “I’m feeling lucky” button applied and it looks much better. I also used the neutral color function on the second tab to further enhance it and, finally, pumped up the fill and background lighting. It looks much better. The third picture, again the same photo, had the Focal B&W applied to it. This allows you to focus one specific area of the photo. The entire photo is rendered black and white, except for the focal point, which is color. In this case, I wanted to draw attention to the kid on the bench and some of the water behind them. There are a bunch of features that can enhance the photo, but I will leave that to you to discover.
Windows Photo Gallery
Windows Photo Gallery, part of the Windows Essentials Suite, formerly Live Essentials, and is available for free from Microsoft. Like Picasa, Photo Gallery has many tools for enhancing your photos. It even has the I’m Feeling Lucky button, but it is called Auto Adjust. Like Picasa, it also allows the fine tuning of the lighting, colors and brightness and contrast. It also has a straighten feature, which will straighten the photo for you. You can control this or let the software figure it and it does a very nice job of figuring it out too.
It has a stitch feature which allows you to select several photos, pick parts of the photo to keep and it will merge them together into one photo. So, if you have, say, three photos of the same people in the same pose, but each has a person looking a different way, you can select the correct faces from each and have it stitch together a photo where they are all looking in the same direction. Quite clever and it works well.
You can also select multiple photos and create a movie from them, however, this is a bit of a deception since it just calls Movie Maker and passes it the photos. But, this is not a knock on the software. By correcting the photos here and then calling up Movie Maker, you can give more life to your photos.
Photo Gallery is not quite as sophisticated as Picasa, but it works well and loads faster than Picasa. For quick corrections, this is probably the best free tool out.
Both of these products work with Windows 8. Speaking of Windows 8, there is one photo app I played with, but really cannot recommend it yet. It is called ‘Awesome Picture’ and is in the Windows 8 style. As with the Release Preview App Store releases, it is rather simplistic and, obviously, not a complete app. However, it’s filters work as well as Picasa or Photo Gallery. It is currently free and I do not know if it will stay that way.
There are lots of other photo editing and enhancing packages, these are just two of my favorite freebies. ArcSoft had a few decent packages as did Corel. But, for the money, Adobe’s Photoshop Essentials, the pared down consumer version of Photoshop, works very well and offers much more in the way you can fix and enhance your photos.
I have previously written about this subject, so please read these posts as well. Happy clicking!