Photographers interested in printing their pictures will usually record raw files at the same time as the regular JPEG format, and most serious cameras include a RAW+JPEG setting for this purpose. Advanced cameras let you choose the size and quality of the JPEG image so you can opt for the biggest and best JPEGs or the smallest JPEGs for online sharing and when storage space is limited.
Many of today’s cameras come with built-in filter effects that can be applied”¨ to shots as you take them. They are only applied to JPEGs because raw files are, by definition, created without adjustments. However, most (if not all) filter effects can be applied once images are in an editable format (JPEG or TIFF) and there’s plenty of software to help you.
While some subjects look best in full, glorious colour, others can work better when rendered into black and white. Even though dedicated monochrome cameras exist, it’s easy to convert a colour image into monochrome and the end result can be as satisfying. Better still, you also have a colour original to return to.
Most image editors include tools for adjusting the hue and intensity of colours, as well as adjusting the overall colour balance in images. These adjustments are necessary because image sensors sometimes fail to record ‘true’ colours or produce colours that are out-of-balance in one or more ways.
Brightness and contrast adjustments are among the most common functions performed on digital images. Because of this – and because photographers expect to be able to fine-tune these adjustments – most editors provide several ways of making these adjustments.
Resizing and cropping are two of the most basic image editing functions. Both require careful consideration as they can affect image quality. Resizing changes the dimensions of the image, which usually affects the file size (and, thereby, image quality). Cropping always involves cutting away part of the original image and results in some of the pixels being discarded.
All image editors provide a workspace with menu bars and toolbars for accessing all the adjustments. Although their layout may be a little different and some tools can be grouped differently in different sub-menus, in essence most of the tools will do similar things.
Retouching tools are provided in all editing software, although entry-level applications may provide few of them and offer limited scope for adjusting them. Most applications apply adjustments with ‘brushes’ that can be adjusted with sliders, usually in a pop-up dialog box that resembles the screen grab below. Brushes can also be set via a dropdown menu in either the menu bar or the toolbox.
Adjustment layers are among the most useful editing functions, partly because they enable you to edit non-destructively but also because you can use the Layers function to select part of an image and work on it without affecting the remainder of the image. The best way to visualise layers is as transparent overlays upon which specific effects are applied.
Although the basic image editor in a computer’s operating system may be adequate for snapshooters, serious photographers require a dedicated editing program. Adobe’s Photoshop is often the first program people think of, however there are lower cost and free alternatives for both photo editing software and workflow applications.