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Altered images

Whether you want to play with sophisticated filters or simply tweak out red-eye, software sure beats a darkroom

Once images are safely installed in the computer, the fun starts - the editing. Unlike processing in conventional photography, which involves a simple choice between a trip to the chemist or hours in a darkroom or converted bathroom, digital editing is quick, cheap and potentially highly creative. Your choice of editing software will be governed by three factors: cost, student ability and the destination of the final image. For basic photo-editing - removing red-eye, image cropping, brightness, contrast - look no further than project-led "hand-holder" programs, which provide specific effects like soft focus or vignette with one click.

These applications can be very stimulating for younger pupils, enabling them to transform art work into postcards, flyers or greetings cards. Adobe Photoshop Elements and Microsoft's PictureIt! Digital Image Pro (a hugely improved PictureIt!) are recommended and have many functions found on professional packages. PhotoPro2 from Broderbund, part of the PrintMaster suite and distributed by Mindscape, is similar and is fun and easy to use.

However, if you're going to publish on the web, consider more sophisticated programs from Adobe or Macromedia, both of which offer educational discounts. Incidentally, both have teachers and students manning their stands at the BETT show.

At Bedford High School, age range 7-18, head of ICT Kathryn Macaulay introduces pupils to Photoshop in Year 7 and art work is either printed or animated in LiveMotion and put on the school's website. By Year 8, all students are expected to have created their own website. Students can integrate artwork, photo-editing and desktop and web publishing with ease and are able to move confidently between applications that share a common interface.

Macromedia offers a similar homogeneous working platform. If a school has used DreamWeaver to build its website and is using the Flash plug-in, it makes sense to go with Fireworks as a photo-editing tool. At St John the Baptist School in Woking, Surrey, head of ICT Renaldo Lawrence has gone down the Macromedia route. "Macromedia programs all work well together and if I do want to import other file formats - Photoshop, for example - Fireworks will handle it." For a complete package of Macromedia software, investigate design suite Studio MX.

Adobe and Macromedia are available on the PC and Apple but Freeway is causing a stir in Mac circles and being hailed as one of the most versatile, powerful and well-priced web publishing packages (see review, page 46).

Paint Shop Pro, which is especially popular with teachers, shares Photoshop's wide range of tools and has adopted its plug-in architecture. PhotoImpact offers the same basic set of tools as Paint Shop at a similar price. If you're after special effects or sophisticated text manipulation, PhotoImpact, with over 50 filters, is well worth investigating.

Imaging software programs usually contain filters that can instantly apply effects such as frames, edges and drop shadows. But if you're after something a bit different there's a good selection of third-party filters to choose from. A brace of programs by Alien Skin are particularly impressive - Xenofex and EyeCandy 4000 include convincing natural phenomena such as clouds or baked earth, a selection of unusual and quirky effects and re-workings of old favourites such as Bevel and Motion Trail. Alien Skin has also released Image Doctor, a sophisticated set of filters for image repair and retouching.

Other filters worth a mention are KPT from Procreate and Total Xaos, a set of three programs from Xaos Tools which include tessellation, type manipulation and some sophisticated paint styles.

However, for paint effects look at Procreate Painter. Huge, complex and expensive it may be, but there's nothing quite like it and you won't find anything else that can create such beautiful or natural-looking digital images.

For work with younger children, the emphasis is less on manipulating images than recognising shape, pattern and colour and there are some terrific primary products which combine image editing and traditional painting skills. Fresco from Black Cat has proved hugely popular and other programs with similarly creative working environments include Softease's Textease Paint and Textease Studio, Splosh, Infant Video Toolkit, Junior Video Toolkit, Colours, Dazzle Plus and Colour Magic 2. All can be seen at BETT.

With your digital image archive growing, some sort of cataloguing program to organise pictures into suitable categories - by class, date, file type, field trip - is essential. And now for the final step - having cropped, edited and corrected those images it's time to publish on the web, create a slide show or head to the printer.

Prices and contacts

Adobe PhotoShop 7 pound;247

Adobe PhotoElements pound;48

Colour Magic 2 pound;50.

Corel Painter pound;290.

Dazzle Plus pound;75.

EyeCandy 4,000 pound;130. Image Doctor pound;70. Xenofex pound;85.

Fresco pound;95.

Freeway pound;170 (free demo).

Granada Colours pound;50.

Infant Video Toolkit pound;75. Junior Video Toolkit pound;50.

KPT pound;150.

Paint Shop Pro pound;40.

PhotoImpact pound;90.

PhotoPro 2 pound;25.

PictureIt! Digital Image Pro pound;60.

Splosh from pound;25.50.

Studio MX pound;97.

Textease Paint pound;40. Textease Studio pound;140.

Total Xaos pound;160.

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