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Dave Collerton

Free Photo Editing Software for the PC

Free Photo Editing Software for the PC

I have wriiten before regarding the many photo editing tools available to photographers looking to edit their photos in a professional, cost effective way, be that Mac or PC. While there are some truly free applications, PhotoscapeX Pro and GIMP for example, unlike for Android and IOS mobile operating systems, once you move to a non mobile platform eg PC or Mac, free tends to become a mute point. Often free can just mean, free trial or free with limitations. This article then looks at some of the very capable, truly free photo editing applications that currently exist for the PC, and MAC. As always when reading my blogs, please remember that my preferred weapon of choice for editing, thanks to the fact that I have the ASUS Zenbook with a powerful Nvidia GTX1050, 4K graphics card, is the PC when it comes to videography and photo editing.

The two applications I want to focus on in this article are Nik Collection, previously owned by Google, and DxO Optics Pro 11. Both of these products now fall under the DxO brand, perhaps better known for their camera / lens correlation database. While the latest versions of Nik Collection have now become plugins to Photoshop, costing you £39.95 with discount, the original version of Nik Collection applications is still available for free download from the DxO website. While I have only recently started to use Nik Collection, I have used all the products and I am blown away by it's abilities and range of editing tools. My particualr favourites are Silver Efex Pro 2 and Color Efex Pro 4 but all have their uses. If it has a downside it is that many of the applications only work on JPEG / TIFF images which is a little strange as you do lose some dynamic range once you move away from RAW. However, this limitation does not seem to detract from its ability to create stunning, dynamic images with a little effort.

Let's start with Nik Collection.

Basically, Nik Collection is a collection of applications designed to enhance your photographs. The best known of these, and one of my personal favourites, is Silver Efex Pro 2 which creates inspiring B&W images from existing B&W and colour photos. Importantly, what I outline here with regards using Silver Efex Pro 2 works pretty much for all the applications in the Nik Collection. The only three exceptions, and this is basically with regards the way you open them for editing, is Sharper Pro 3, Dfine 2 and Viveza 2. Unlike the other applications, which have a file option for opening an image on the application main menu, these three applications require you to right click on the image and open the applications using "Open With". If you have used the application before it will appear in the list of available applications. If not, you'll have to associate it by searching for the application and then choosing it. For example, Sharpener Pro 3 can be found, on a PC at least, in C:/program files/dxo/nik collection/sharpener pro 3. There are 32 and 64 bit applications available so choose the one suitable for your hardware. I use the 64 bit version which is in a subdirectory. There are two types of sharpening, one before post processing and one for output. Choose the one most appropriate for your task. Here's a dramatic landscape image processed with both Dfine2 (noise reduction) and Sharpener Pro 3.

Teignmouth Pier in Storm Conditions

As wth most things, the best way to understand what something can do is to look at examples. Here, I have taken a photo of the childrens carousel currenly on Princess Gardens in Torquay. This colourful image in itself is quite attractive but it lends itself well to processing in Silver Efex Pro 2. 

Original Photo Processed using Luminar 2018 Win version

Processed image using Silver Efex Pro 2 software as a Kodak Tri-X 400TX Pro Film Emulation

Because we have started with a colour image, Silver Efex Pro 2 provides us with the ability to adjust the primary colours in the image ie red, blue, green etc to make selective changes to the final B&W rendition. We can also change the whole image by selecting various filters such as an orange, red or green filter which works on the image as a whole. Other adjustment tools include global effects such as brightness, contrast and structure plus you can drop control points on selected parts of the image to control highlights, structure, contrast etc. This is similar to the brush effect in other applications and allows for enormous flexibility when editing. Let's take a look at the Silver Efex Pro 2 interface on the PC.

Here we can see everything of importance to the you as you navigate the user interface. In the left hand panel you have various presets which give you a typical look, for example Neutral, High Contrast, Low Contrast and High Key as well as presets which emulate vintage effects such as pin-hole camera, film noir and many more. Every preset can be edited to modify the overall effect on the image and these editing tools can be seen on the RHS panel. The central panel shows the edited image and just above this are comparison controls to enable you to see the effects your edits have on the image. You also have the ability to open images (which must be in a jpeg format) and save / save as. On the RHS, you can't see these since they are off screen, you can select various classic film emulations, add and sutract grain, vignette and apply borders and burn edges. There also some tone controls, for example curves, which enable you to quickly develop the look you want. The ability to zoom into key regions to see the effect of your modifications is also very useful.

Other components included in Nik Collection include Analog Efex Pro, Dfine 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Sharpener Pro 3, HDR Efex Pro and Viveza 2. Each of these tools, other than the exceptions I have mentioned above, operate in a similar way to Silver Efex Pro 2 albeit that some are less fully featured. Here for example is the user interface for Analog Efex Pro 2.

As can be seen, the RHS panel has far less options and is therefore a little easier to get to grips with. As in Silver Efex Pro 2 there are options for B&W as well as many other anaog effects such as Toy Camera, Vintage Camera, Wet Plate, Double Exposure and a whole host of effects such as light leaks, dirt and scratches. If you are looking to recreate old, long forgotten images, Analog Efex Pro 2 is the application for you.

Another gem from the Nik Collection is Color Efex Pro 4, a tool box of image colouring tools to match anything on the market today. Again, this application has a similar looking interface to the others in the Nik Collection except that on the LHS this time you simply have a list of presets rather than an image. This is quite helpful as most of the effects are easily recognisable. 

Again in the RHS panel you have the option to edit the various effects to fine tune your image. To download the FREE version of Nik Collection simply visit https://nikcollection.dxo.com/nik-collection-2012/ and provide them with your email address. They will then send you a link to download the old (Google) version, which works perfectly, to your PC.

OK, let's take a look DXO Optics Pro 11.

DXO Optics Pro 11 is another free application fron DXO. Again, to access it you must visit https://www.dxo.com/us/digitalcamerauk and provide them with your email address. After 31/07/2018, you may not be able to access this amazing editor so if you are interested, download it now.

As you can see, the user interface is an awful lot busier than even the Silver Efex Pro 2 interface. This is because not only is DXO Optics Pro 11 an editor, it is also a Digital Asset Management system (DAM) which enables you to have some control over your projects and what they contain. Where it is similar to Nik Collection is in the provision of presets, for example film emulations, and a whole host of editing tools. Another important feature of this software is that it corrects images based on the camera / lens combination used to capture the image. This is because one of DXO's strengths is in it's huge database of camera / lens correlation data. If your camera and lens combination is included in their database, the software automatically applies corrections to the base image. This can have a significant effect on images, for example when captured by lenses known to have serious barreling, chromatic abberation and other issues.

DXO Optics Pro 11 is not as easy to get to grips with as say Analog Efex Pro 2 or Color Efex Pro 4. If you want simplicity and you don't mind going in and out of different applications, Nik Collection is probably ideal for your editing needs. On the other hand, if you are looking for the equivelent of the Swiss Army knife for photo editing, and you are prepared to spend the time needed to get to grips with it's intricaces, then DXO Optics Pro 11 is the editor for you. Let's take a deeper look at what 's included.

If you look at the image above you will see the basic layout for editing. This is after you have created your project (under the ORGANISE TAB) and set up the basic parameters that you want associated with that project. For example this can include user information, copyright information etc. The best workflow is to associate images that form part of a particular image set with a project. This means that in future it is really easy to locate your images for additional editing processes. This doesn't move the image, it just sets up a relative link to the original file location. Of course if you then delete the image from it's original folder, it disappears from your project.

Under the CUSTOMISE TAB you will find all of the features you need for editing. For example, in the left hand panel you will find basic information relating to the EXIF info for the camera used including focal length, shutter speed, aperture etc. You can also see a set of presets which you can choose as the basis for your edited image. These include a number of useful presets for B&W, portrait, landscape etc. Choosing a preset is just the start point, and as for Silver Efex Pro 2 etc, any of the preset parameters can be easily modified to control the look of your image. Editing controls are provided in the right hand panel. if you prefer to see what effect the presets will have before making a decision, you can choose to see all of the presets as images simply by clicking on the APPLY PRESETS in the top right hand corner. Again, once selected, you can edit any of the parameters associated with the preset. Finally, you can save your work by choosing to export your image as a TIFF or JPEG or to send it directly to applications such as Facebook, Flickr and indeed Lightroom should you wish to.

The results from DXO Optics Pro 11 are of course, superb and it's a simple task to take the resulting JPEG and push this to Dfine 2 or Sharpener Pro 3 as here with this finshed image of the famous milk bottle from the ruins behind Lupton House. 

DXO Opics Pro 11 and Nik Collection are probably now considered to be previous generation editing tools. DXO wants you to spend money upgrading to the latest and greatest software tools in its collection including the latest versions of Nik Collection, which are now provided as plugins to Photoshop. Also available are upgrades to DXO Optics Pro 11 inthe form of DXO PhotoLab and DXO FilmPack, both of which I have trialed. DXO PhotoLab is very similar to DXO Optics Pro 11 but DXO FilmPack5 does offer some wonderful 35mm film emulations fo restyling your images. If you are interested in film emulation, it's well worth a look.

In summary, and today at least, with the availability of the tools outlined in this blog there is currently little reason to spend hundreds of pounds on advanced photo editing software. Everything you need for professional editing for free is available to download and use today.

As always, any questions please feel free to contact me.

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