Primarily I use two programs, Adobe Photoshop and Corel’s Painter and I am becoming a great fan of ArtRage Studio Pro.
Photoshop is the Cadillac of digital darkroom programs; however, there are many other good programs available.
Currently, there are more available for Windows PCs than for the Mac. Photoshop is expensive. The current version is is CS5 and sells for around $650 or $199 for an upgrade from the previous version. They sell and extended version that costs even more. Both are much cheaper for students and educators.
If you plan to do photography professionally then I’d recommend spending the cash for Photoshop.
Adobe also sells a “lite” version of Photoshop called Photoshop Elements for about $100. Adobe programs can be downloaded and previewed before buying them.
Another excellent low cost photo enhancing program is Paintshop Pro. Corel bought it from JASC. It retails for around $80 or less. It can also be downloaded and previewed. Unfortunately, it isn’t available for Mac users.
As I said, there are many other photo enhancing programs, some of which are embedded as part of a larger program or set of programs. One is Corel’s Graphics Suite that contains two major programs . . . Draw and Photopaint. The latter is very good.
Deneba’s Canvas combines the features of a drawing program, photo program, page layout program and is very good. I also give this company very high marks for tech support, listening to their customers, and quality updates and fair pricing.
Adobe Illustrator and Freehand, which they acquired from Macromedia are also good.
I mentioned Corel’s Painter in the beginning. There are few software programs, virtually none in fact, that come close to doing what it does – - certainly none in its price range. Unfortunately, it is beginning to show its age and is largely neglected by Corel. Corel finally came out with a “new” version, Painter 11, but it looks more like a so-so upgrade to 10 than a new version/
Painter sells for $300 on the Corel site, but you can find it for as little as $100 at some software outlets. If you are only interested in working with photos, don’t worry about getting this program. It is a painting program and is designed more for artists who want to paint than for photographers who need a digital darkroom. That said, however, there are features in it that I find easier to use for photos than in Photoshop, although Photoshop has made some astounding enhancements to the program in the last two or three versions. You should know that Photoshop has made some amazing advances that vigorously encroaches on the niche Painter carved out. In my estimation unless Corel gets on the ball the Painter program will soon be left behind and forgotten.
A low cost painting program that has been around awhile and is really fun to use is ArtRage. It is VERY easy to use and very intuitive. I just bought the pro version for $80! The non-pro version is just $40. You can buy last year’s model 2.5 for even less, just $20. It’s interface is light years ahead of Painter and unlike Photoshop, the ArtRage brush tools are obvious and easy to use. It makes painting and drawing fun. It does, however, need more attention paid to color modes and creating accurate color reproductions when printing your work of art. I plan to keep an eye on ArtRage. It is still a young program whose creators are creative and tuned to artists needs.
I should also mention two top-notch cataloging programs with lots of photo editing features built in make by Adobe and Apple. Adobe makes Lightroom, my favorite, and Apple makes Aperture. There is also iView Media Pro, a very good cataloging program that has taken a few steps backward after Microsoft bought it. Microsoft’s main contribution was to change the name to MS Expression Media. In 2010, Microsoft sold it to Phase One that also markets Capture One. Phase One has plans to enhance Expression Media…and change its name.
If money is an issue, I recommend buying a not so current version at a software outlet or on ebay, and if you like the program, then upgrade from there. Corel has an ebay store where you can find some exceptional deals on their discontinued software. http://stores.ebay.com/corelstore
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