What software to use

Image editing software

If you are reading this web site on a Windows or Mac machine, you already have rudimentary photo editing capabilities that came with your operating system. With so many advanced free alternatives out there, I don't see much justification for torturing oneself with such rudimentary software.

So what kind of software should you acquire that has more features than your out-of-the-box program? If really depends on what you want to do. I purposely focus on images of collectible stocks and bonds. Most of you have more elaborate interests and I suspect many of you have loads of photographs taken with your smartphones and digital cameras. Having taken thousands of Kodachrome slides myself, I know that a goodly number of those images are throwaways that we are keeping only for sentimental purposes.

Adobe Photoshop logo

But I also know that all of us probably have a few photos that we got lucky with. They might have better exposures, better lighting and better subjects. But maybe they could benefit from some improvement. Maybe we need to remove an airplane contrail from the sky or a telephone pole that is sticking out of someone's head. Maybe there was a lens flare or a "photo bomber." Who knows?

For the most part, those possible uses are more advanced than what we need for fixing images of certificates. But not always. And while the potential problems listed above can be repaired with many photo editing programs, they can't all do the same things and and they can't all do the same things well. There is a wide gulf between programs in usability.

Many alternatives

I did a quick search on the web for "best photo editing" software and recorded over forty different applications. I bet my readers could find another 15 or 20 if they wanted to spend more time. However, I have experience with only five of those programs and really use only one. I cannot possibly test all.

If you are in the market for photo editing software, I will offer a few hints and insights, but the testing and decisions for acquisition must be yours entirely.

"Best photo editor"

Search the web for "best photo editing software" or "best free photo editing software" and compile a collection of names. Had I made a list year ago, it would be out of date today.

Corel Photo-Paint logo

Read the various descriptions and start recording the features that sound important. After a while, you will notice that most of the programs claim to do the very same things, but many of those features are a lot of "sizzle" and little substance. How many times are you going to want to change the colors of clouds or add "motion" to passing trains? Most of the time, you will simply want to crop images, straighten images, or possibly sharpen details.

"Steep learning curve" vs. "ease of use"

Many of the reviews you find will warn of "steep learning curves." I like easy software as much as the next person, but I do not want to sacrifice features just to get "easy."

In my opinion, "steep learning curve" usually means lots of capabilities. Perhaps too many for some users. That is precisely why I suggest writing down exactly the features you cannot live without. I know it is impossible to look five years into the future with any accuracy. Still, remember that even with casual use, you can learn a lot about image editing in five years. Will your new "easy to use" software really give you what you want a few years from now?

I have found that "ease of use" often translates into "lack of features." Search the web for reviews of Adobe Photoshop, the gold standard against which many programs compare themselves. If an easy-to-use program is better than Photoshop, why isn't it the industry leader? You will find many reviewers accuse Photoshop of having a "steep learning curve." I personally think it is intuitive. But then, I've been using Photoshop and several other very complicated programs for many years and I know why reviewers say that.

Just TRY to change after several years

If you use any program for several years, you intuitively learn how programmers who wrote that application solved problems. Once you reach that level, download a trial version of a different product that offers similar features. Try it out. It will probably seem very different and difficult. In my experience, THAT is what many reviewers refer to as a "steep learning curve."

GIMP logo

For example, I have used Adobe Photoshop since version 5 which I bought in 1999. I find it easy to use – for what I do. Corel is a competitor of Adobe and I have owned versions of Corel's Photo-Paint for longer than Photoshop. It is a very robust program – and I own it today as part of a package – yet I have NEVER used the program. It never made sense to me. Conversely, I acquired my first CorelDraw program (v3.1) in 1993 and find its competitor product, Adobe Illustrator, a complete mystery. I am not saying I could not switch, but I know I would have an uphill battle for several months. Once users understand how different programmers "think" and how their programs work, the learning curve flattens.

Try before you buy

Most of today's software companies know that users want to "test drive" before they commit to spending money on a purchase or subscription. They also know that users probably will not try more than two or three competitors before making a decision. Letting someone "test drive" is good business.

A narrow set of frequently-used features

I made six tutorials for both Photoshop and GIMP that will give users an idea for how to handle the image-related tasks I do every day. I edit other types of photographs, often at the pixel level and I use many obscure tools. However, for all the power of those other features, I would NEVER even consider buying an image editing program that did not have the features I use for certificates, namely:

  • correcting exposure
  • straightening images
  • correcting shapes
  • sharpening features
  • removing yellow

There are big differences in how programs straighten images. Even GIMP has never mastered the process like Photoshop. I consider GIMP quite kludgy for straightening. (See my tutorials.) Someone who has used GIMP for years will think I'm nuts. I'm okay with that but suggest that if you cannot straighten an image easily, every image you touch will take longer than necessary to fix. Another important feature is image stitching (combining two images into one.) I stitch multiple images of certificates together frequently and I consider that a very important demand. Even though Photoshop has that capability, I use a separate program for stitching.

Do you need a program to organize your images?

There is a difference between photo editing and photo management. "Management" means organizing images. By comparison to photo editing, organizing of images is trivial. Some programs (even Adobe) combine photo editing and photo management. Some even employ facial recognition. If you are a person who understands organization, I doubt you will have problems organizing images. If organization is not your strong point, then please make sure the image editing software does EDITING well before considering the organization aspect.

"Our photo editing feature beats Photoshop!"

So what?

Photo by Y S on Unsplash

Competing programs are going to need much more than one or two or even ten super features to beat Photoshop. They're also going to need to do most of the mundane tasks better and faster. And they're going to need to compete on price. Beating Photoshop on both price and features is going to be an uphill battle. The battle becomes even harder when facing the difficulty of convincing die-hard fans to switch. I do not see that happening either soon or quickly.

Gorillas grow to 900 pounds for a reason

When it comes to image editing, Adobe Photoshop is the industry leader among commercial photo editing programs. As best I can tell, GIMP owns that title in the free, open source software space. I have created tutorials using both programs for the common things you will need to do with certificate images. Please feel free to use any software you want, just make sure it competes favorably with Photoshop and GIMP for the things YOU need it to do.

You will probably leave the dance with the one you bought

I know a fair number of geeks who use all kinds of professional-grade software. I know only one who purposely switched from his favorite program because of cost. Consequently I know there is a high percentage chance that the photo editing program you start with will probably be the program you use forever. If cost is one of the most important aspects of photo editing, make sure to include that among the features that will go into your decision. Choose thoughtfully.