So you've got the digital camera ... but what are you going to do with the photos on your computer? Hugh John takes a look at the software that can turn you into the Andy Warhol or John Heartfield (left) of the digital age
In conventional photography the creative process usually ends the moment you release the shutter button. Unless you own or have access to a darkroom, those carefully taken photographs are fed into an automated developing system that would make a battery hen feel cosseted.
Digital photography, however, with its on-screen editing gives far greater control over final output, whether as print, displayed on a monitor or over the Web. Photomontage was formerly the preserve of specialists and artists. However, digital photography and graphics software have changed that forever. In a school or college environment, the ability to correct and enhance images, to crop or to apply text is invaluable.
Photoshop, the doyen of "pixel painting" applications was launched by Adobe more than 10 years ago. Version 6 has a host of new and improved features. This program now offers most of the editing and creative facilities that one is ever likely to need for digital enhancement - hugely versatile text, image manipulation, layers, sophisticated drawing tools, multiple undos and now, with the inclusion of ImageReady, a sister program that optimises images for the Web and creates those clever rollover buttons and animations so popular with Web designers. Photoshop continues to set the pace.
Photoshop LE and PhotoDeluxe 4, while both benefiting from Photoshop technology, are different. LE is a cut-down, cheaper version of Photoshop for users who do not want or need some of the more technical features of the full program. PhotoDeluxe, available both as a home and business version, has a wide range of templates and a good collection of built-in cue cards and guided activities to help inexperienced users.
Those wanting more control over the editing process are likely to opt for the advanced menus. The interface is clear and simple and consists of three modes: "Get and Fix Photo", "Cards and More" and "Share". Picture quality can be improved, scratches, red-eye and other blemishes instantly removed by applying Extensis Intellihance, a third party plug-in incorporated into PhotoDeluxe. You can even wrap your digital images around various 3D models in the Kazoo filter.
Jasc PaintShop Pro started its life as shareware andit's still possible to download an evaluation copy from the Internet. Make no mistake though, this is a fully-fledged photo-editing suite with the sort of tools you'll only find elsewhere in Photoshop. New to version 7 are the "Aged Newspaper", "Sepia" and "Enamel Filters" as well as some interesting textures such as "Sandstone", "Soft Plastic" and "Rough Leather"! It's a snip to optimise pictures for the Web and the program developers have overhauled PaintShop's text editing toolset which now includes text on a path.
Web-centricity is the selling point of MGI's PhotoSuite 4. "Web and PC photography made easy" is the maker's claim and the program is strongly Web-oriented, from a browser interface to the option of connecting to online photo-finishing services such as GatherRound.com and Photonet. As well as a comprehensive selection of retouching tools, PhotoSuite offers "stitching", a function that enables the user to create a panoramic image from multiple photos and "PhotoTapestry" which can produce one large image from up to 2,000 thumbnail tiles.
Corel's PhotoPaint Digital Camera Edition is a mid-price package that doesn't provide the sort of print shop projects and guided activities that younger users find helpful, but does contain an excellent set of filters as well as impressive photo-editing tools. PhotoPaint can also import Photoshop files in layer form should you wish to work on images between the two programs.
If you want a program that offers adequate image-manipulation tools and a vast array of templates and projects then consider Microsoft Picture It! Photo and Print Studio 2001. Part image editor and part print studio, it now takes up five CDs. It's not the most intuitive or powerful picture-editor but younger children will appreciate the range of ready-made projects.
Adobe Photoshop 6
Educational price: pound;105 from RM
www.rm.com Tel: 0870 908 6868
Adobe Photoshop LE Price: pound;80
Adobe PhotoDeluxe Home version Price: pound;58
PhotoDeluxe Business version Price: pound;117
Tel: 020 8606 4001
MGI PhotoSuite 4 Price: pound;50
Tel: 0800 973 830
Jasc PaintShop Pro 7
Price: pound;94 from Digital Workshop
Tel: 01295 258 335
Corel PhotoPaint DCE
Tel: 020 7298 8505
Microsoft Picture It 2001
Tel: 0345 002000