Whether you want to add some dramatic flair or fix a few mistakes, photo editing needn’t be a burden. With these four tools, you can take your desktop photo-editing to the next level.
1. Great Software
It all starts with the software. If you’re in the market for a great, general purpose photo editor you have several excellent options. There’s Adobe Photoshop (and the more approachable Photoshop Elements) in addition to ACDSee, Corel Photo Video Suite , Zoner Photo Studio, and more . Each program has their own strengths and weaknesses. Our advice: try each (they all offer free trials) and find the one that works best for you.
2. A Large, High-Resolution IPS Display
Whether you’re a casual snap-shooter or a budding professional, a wide-screen, high-resolution monitor is a must. Monitors with “In-Plane Switching” (IPS) technology are a great choice, since they provide superior color reproduction, which is critical when assessing your work on screen. IPS monitors will also offer a clear and consistent view of what’s on your display from a variety of viewing angles as opposed to some LCD monitors which wash out as you shift viewing angles or lose color consistency out at the edges of the display.
IPS monitors will also pack more pixels per square inch than similarly-sized displays with resolutions that can reach 2,560 x 1,440 (or higher). You’ll definitely appreciate these added pixels when you magnify images on screen.
Beyond IPS technology, size matters too. How large should you go? As large as space and budget affords. A 27-inch monitor may sound imposing at first, but you’ll quickly recognize just how useful it is when you can work with ample space to compare images side-by-side. More screen real estate makes editing vastly more efficient.
3. A Color Calibration Tool
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but accurate color shouldn’t be. Whether you regularly edit the color or hue of your images or simply enjoy scrolling through an album of family snapshots, having a color-accurate monitor is critical. This goes double if you love making your own prints — only a color calibrated monitor and printer will produce prints that will closely match what you see on the screen.
All monitors are tuned, out of the box, to display colors as accurately as their circuitry allows, but with time, they “drift” away from this ideal state. Yes, even those great IPS monitors we mentioned above will, slowly, become less accurate over time. A calibration device, such as Datacolor’s Spyder4 or X-Rite’s ColorMunki, attaches to your monitor to measure its color and includes software that can reset the monitor to its original state. Then, every month or so, you can re-measure your monitor and reset it as needed to ensure that what you’re seeing on screen is as accurate a reproduction as your monitor is capable of.
4. A Tablet
No, not an iPad (but by all means, go get one). We’re talking about an editing or graphics tablet, such as a Wacom Intuos or a VisTablet. These tablets allow you to make finely-tuned edits with a stylus instead of a mouse. A graphics tablet gives you a level of editing precision and ergonomic comfort that can’t be matched with a mere mouse. (Just be sure to check that your software supports tablet inputs — most of the major photo editors do, but it pays to read the fine print.)
Working with a stylus mimics real-life cause-and-effect: when you press down harder on the stylus, effects like paint or ink are more pronounced. If you need to make very tiny corrections, the stylus is far more accurate. For detail work, there’s really no substitute. Your wrists (and photos) will thank you.