8 Great Software Finds for Photographers

FEBRUARY 28, 2012

By Theano Nikitas

From iPhone apps to photo-editing tools, we review our favorite photo programs on the market now.

Hipstamatic photography softwareHipstamatic

Scoff if you will, but Hipstamatic and Instagram have become de rigeur photo apps for i-devices. Hipstamatic, now in version 235, is compatible with the iPhone, iPod Touch (fourth generation) and iPad 2 (Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi+3G). The hook here, other than being able to produce some pretty nifty albeit funky images, is the ability to change various parameters such as quality, film and flash effects, lenses and viewfinder mode. You can even change the look of the virtual camera, a kind of silly but entertaining option.

Still, Hipstamatic is fun to shoot with and, if you get bored or want to expand your creative options, you can bump up your film/flash effects/lens repertoire with one or more HipstaPaks. Set up an account to create albums, share your handiwork, order prints or enter contests. Hey, it’s only $1.99 and you won’t find a more fun way to spend two bucks.

Price: $1.99
Info: or the iTunes Store

Corel AfterShot Pro photography softwareCorel AfterShot Pro

This new workflow management solution is the product of Corel’s 2011 acquisition of Bibble Labs. Wrapped around Bibble technology, this software carries on the Bibble tradition of Mac, Linux and Windows support. (In the past, some Corel software was Windows-only.)

AfterShot Pro has already been compared to Lightroom and Aperture in the press and there are definite similarities, although it seems a little more flexible in terms of usability—by both professionals and consumers. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying out this speedy application with its impressively fast performance. In addition to the expected organizational and search tools, AfterShot Pro offers non-destructive editing and image adjustments, batch processing, a history browser and more. AfterShot Pro also incorporates Noise Ninja and Athentech’s Perfectly Clear technology, both capable and welcome additions. Current RAW support covers about 240 cameras from around 11 manufacturers.

Check out the free trial by downloading it online or order the box set, which comes with all three platforms. Upgrade pricing of $79.99 is available for owners of Bibble Pro or Lite 5, Corel PaintShop Pro Photo X2 or higher, and even Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture.

$99.99; $79.99 for upgrade

Intagram photography softwareInstagram

Even more popular than Hipstamatic and boasting 15 million users (and growing), Instagram is a free app that is taking over iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches around the world. It requires iOS 3.1.2 or later (an Android version is on the roadmap) and is super easy to use. Simply snap a shot, apply a filter (if you’d like) and share it. And sharing is where Instagram really excels, with its own news feed, complete with followers and the ability to “like” or comment on images. It’s an amazing community, with a lot of talented people contributing their photos. Of course, you can also share your creations on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Foursquare and e-mail.

Like Hipstamatic, Instagram is perfect for those on-the-fly photos but with more personality than the typical cell phone picture. And since smartphones are increasingly gaining footing in the world of photography (even for some pros), Instagram is a good way to get your feet wet. Plus, you can’t beat the price!

Price: Free
Info: or the iTunes Store

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4  photography softwareAdobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

Currently in public beta until March 31—a practice that has benefited Adobe and Lightroom users in the past—Lightroom 4 (LR4) is the latest iteration of Adobe’s image-editing and organizational software. Revamped with additional video support, improved develop capabilities, soft proofing, photo book creation and location-based organization (with or without GPS EXIF data), LR4 is a welcome update for current users and will likely attract its lion’s share of newcomers as well.

Although far from a professional video editor, LR4 offers a few time-saving options including the ability to trim clips and apply Quick Develop adjustments. Presets created in the Develop Module can also be used to adjust a range of parameters to entire groups of clips. LR4’s new processing engine and advanced shadow and highlights controls also give you a glimpse into Adobe Camera Raw 7 (and the next version of Photoshop). Other improvements to the develop module have also been incorporated.

Pros will welcome LR4’s soft proofing, an often-requested addition, and with the support of Blurb, photo books—albeit with some limitations—can be created within LR4. Basic geotagging from EXIF data or by dragging and dropping onto a map can be used for search and sort. Definitely check out the beta, even for a couple of weeks, and make your voice heard via feedback to Adobe. Windows XP users are out of luck, though; you’ll need Vista or any of the newer Windows operating systems for LR4, a trend we’re seeing with other software manufacturers as well.

Free (until March 31, 2012)

LightTrac photography softwareLightTrac

Wedding photographers, architectural photographers and anyone who shoots outdoors need this incredibly intelligent little app. LightTrac can’t predict the weather but it can plot the angle and elevation of the sun (and moon) for the location, day, year and time of your choice. A slider bar changes the time of day so you can plan the perfect lighting down to the minute and, of course, LightTrac provides the times of sunrise, sunset and twilight, along with moonrise, moonset and moon phases for any date you want. It automatically detects time zones, too.

Multiple location information can be saved but the iOS version (iPad and iPhone), which is a bit more sophisticated than the Android app, allows photographers to share saved locations, export locations to be viewed on other apps, and is available in English, German and French. IPad users also benefit from an integrated compass view. It’s a real time saver and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to use it.

$4.99 (iTunes/iPad/iPhone); $1.99 (Amazon/Android); $2.99 (Android Market)

Photodex ProShow Producer/Gold 5 photography softwarePhotodex ProShow Gold/Producer 5

They’re called slide show programs, but Photodex’s ProShow Gold and ProShow Producer—now in version 5—go far beyond that. Perhaps the most capable slide show software on the market (it’s certainly my personal favorite), ProShow Gold and its even more sophisticated sibling, ProShow Producer, incorporate stills, video, audio and, now, 3-D tilt effects.

In addition to a long list of new features in version 5, both programs offer extensive editing options and controls, including the ability to customize effects and captions. Transitions, layers, voiceovers, sound effects menus and a new Fx manager (a centralized location for all your effects) are only a few of the reasons ProShow has been our go-to slide show software for a number of years.

ProShow Producer, although quite a bit more expensive, is designed with the pro in mind. Advanced editing capabilities, custom branding, key-framing, masking, adjustment layers, watermarking and HD output are among the many features that make the extra investment worthwhile. Optional StylePacks are available for additional animations, layouts, themes and transitions.

Want to take your slide show on the road for client presentations? No problem. Photodex also offers a Devices plug-in that automatically converts your slide show for viewing on a huge list of devices including those from Apple, BlackBerry, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony and even Palm.

$69.95 (ProShow Gold 5); $249.95 (ProShow Producer 5)

Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2 photography softwareNik Software Silver Efex Pro 2

Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 isn’t new but it’s certainly one of the best (and one of our favorite) black-and-white conversion programs out there. The latest version offers enhancements including new algorithms, expanded adjustment controls and the ability to apply selective color.

The user interface, with only minor changes, remains highly intuitive, even for first-time users, and the revamp of the preset list makes it easier to view and find the application’s various effects. A welcome addition is the history browser, which presents a chronological list of all the edits performed and, while you can’t turn each effect on or off, you can go back to a previous state.

With version 2 of Silver Efex Pro, some fine-tuning has been added thanks to additional sliders for brightness, contrast and structure. And while pros may turn up their noses at selective coloring, it’s a style that’s still in demand from clients and Nik Software’s U Point technology provides a simple-to-implement process.

Silver Efex Pro 2 is compatible with several versions of Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom and Aperture. Download a trial version from the Nik Software Web site and we’re sure you’ll quickly be singing the plug-in’s praises and ordering a full copy for yourself.

Price: $199.95; $99.95 for upgrade

Nik Software Snapseed photography softwareNik Software Snapseed

Nik Software’s first mobile app—Snapseed—quickly gained its claim to fame and was named by Apple as the iPad App of the Year, an honor that’s well deserved. Snapseed is also available for the iPhone, and Nik Software recently announced plans for a Mac desktop version as well as an Android 4.0 (or later) app.

Snapseed combines practical and creative features that are, as is typical of Nik Software, easy to use. Neither the desktop nor Android versions were available at press time, but working with Snapseed on the iPad feels incredibly natural and intuitive. There’s virtually no learning curve, since Snapseed is all about swiping and tapping, with an opening overlay that explains where and how to swipe and tap.

Beyond the surprisingly effective one-click auto adjustment, Snapseed provides global controls for parameters such as brightness, contrast, saturation, ambiance and white balance. And don’t think Nik Software’s going to skimp just because this is an app; you can use U Point technology for selective adjustments in Snapseed too. Sharpness, cropping and straightening tools are also available.

After that, head into the creative effects and styles for additional options including black-and-white, vintage films, grunge and tilt & shift, just to name a few. Finish up with some frames and you’re ready to share your work with clients or friends. Snapseed goes way beyond cool, even though it’s that, too. This is a special app that deserves a place in every photographer’s toolkit. (Editor's note: Since this story was published, Nik started offering versions of Snapseed for Mac and Windows computers.)

Price: $4.99 (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android); $19.99 (desktop)
Info: or the iTunes Store

Related Articles:

Compact Cameras: Keep It Discreet
Product Review: Nik Color Efex Pro 4
6 Great Web Services for Promoting Your Work

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