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Free image editors

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Bring out the best in your happy snaps.

How much should you spend on an image editing program? The answer could be nothing at all. We compared 10 popular free image editors to see which might be your best choice for a virtual photo lab.

From our test

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What we found

We compared the 10 programs for their capabilities and ease of use.

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Smartphone photography tips

The better the image is in the first place, the less work you’ll have to do to it.

Even if you’re an experienced photographer, knowing how to adapt your skills to a smartphone camera can make a difference.

  • Get to know your camera. Even if you commonly use the camera in your smartphone, find out what it can and can’t do. Learn about its advanced features and software settings, what sort of lighting it can cope with and so on. Many smartphone cameras will have several camera modes including panorama and HDR (High Dynamic Range), along with video.
  • Tap to focus. You know better than your smartphone what area of your shot you want to show clearly. Focus manually on an area by tapping the screen with your finger.
  • Get the light right. Are you shooting under indoor lighting or outdoors? There are many kinds of lighting, and even digital SLRs can struggle with getting correct exposure. That’s why professionals shoot in raw mode, to capture the most image data to allow for later exposure adjustment. Using HDR on a smartphone is the closest equivalent, but no replacement. Avoid backlit scenes, look for even lighting across your shot and use HDR for still scenes only to avoid blurring. Experiment with flash settings rather than just keeping it on auto.

  • Compose your shot. Frame your subject carefully and don’t crop too tightly while shooting. Allow a little room – you can crop later in software if needed. Fixed-lens smartphone cameras don’t offer depth of field adjustment. Don’t always put your subject in centre-screen – being slightly off-centre can often be more interesting or dramatic.

  • Move around. Don’t take every shot from the same standing position. Vary your height, distance and angle to make things interesting. Keep moving and shooting to increase your chances of getting the best shot.

  • Add effects later. Whether on your smartphone camera or on your computer, there are plenty of programs that can add special effects to your shots to give them a special look, from mild to wild.

  • Keep it clean. Regardless of your camera, features or skills, you need to keep the lens clean. It’s easy for any camera to develop a dirty lens, but smartphones in particular are subject to lens smearing, dust and lint due to handling and pocket/purse storage. Keep a lens cloth handy to give it a good wipe before use.