Contrary to received wisdom, what's done can, in the digital world, usually be undone. A well-designed and powerful image editor can salvage most pictures from the ravages of red-eye, inexact focusing, poor colour balance or under-exposure. Imaginative use of filters can create effects that were not originally captured by the photographer. Depth of field, for instance, can be simulated by applying blur to the background and a sharpen filter to the subject.
Good image editors also contain an array of creative tools to enhance, or even transform, an image. Watercolour, stained glass, impressionist, charcoal, vignetting, all can be done, the only limit is the user's imagination. Pictures can also be cropped, resized, inverted, duplicated, wrapped, rotated, skewed or elongated.
This, perhaps, is the significant difference between conventional silver halide and digital photography. For many reasons - not least cost and accessibility - the creative process ended for all but the most enthusiastic photographer the moment the shutter button was released. No longer. Now the darkroom has become the computer screen, children can learn about image editing as easily as they absorb text editing skills in word processing lessons.
Image-editing suites should also be able to read and save picture files in a wide number of formats, particularly if the user is working on more than one type of computer (such as PC and Mac) and intends posting images on the Internet.
Adobe has been at the forefront of image editing for the past decade. Photoshop 5, its flagship product, is still the first choice of most professionals and offers a plethora of tools that include masking, multiple undos, layers, text placement and a superb range of artistic filters. It also has the advantage of being highly integrated with two other graphics programs from the same company - Illustrator and PageMaker. Adobe PhotoDeluxe, essentially a pared down Photoshop, is much cheaper and contains many of the same core tools, with guided activities to help the inexperienced user and a good selection of templates.
Also highly recommended is Satori PhotoXL, an excellent program with features one might expect from far more expensive software. It's also astonishingly fast. Paint Shop Pro has a good range of effects including Emboss, Sharpen, Dodge and, like Photoshop, employs layers technology allowing the user to edit and preview effects quickly. PhotoSuite II, on the other hand, comes with Internet connectivity for connection to the MGI Software website where it is possible to download a range of additional tools. Microsoft is also in the market with its competitively priced PictureIt.
Two other companies producing innovative imaging software are MetaTools and Extensis. PhotoSoap 2 is especially good at cleaning up images - removing red-eye, repairing scratch marks and dust spots. Extensis offers a superb range of software that can be applied either within PhotoShop (PhotoTools, MaskPro, Intellihance) or used independently (PhotoFrame).
Adobe Photoshop (pound;671) and Adobe PhotoDeluxe (pound;58). Tel: 0181 606 4001 www.adobe.co.uk
PhotoSuite II (pound;49). Tel: 0171 365 0034 www.mgisoft.com
PaintShop Pro (pound;99). Tel: 01295 258 335 www.jasc.com
Satori 2.5XL (pound;120). Tel: 01954 261 333 www.satoripaint.com
Kai's PhotoSoap (pound;47). Tel: 0181 358 5857 www.metatools.com
Extensis Intellihance 3 (pound;116). Tel: 0181 358 5857 www.extensis.com
Picture It! (pound;50). Tel: 0345 002000 www.microsoft.com