Edit your photos online for free

Crop, adjust and touch up your photos without paying for expensive software

Looking for a photo editor? The usual choices include Adobe Photoshop Elements (available online for about $US85 and up), which I use to demonstrate techniques here in Digital Focus, and Corel Paint Shop Pro (available for about $US70 and up). There are free options as well, like Paint.Net and GIMP. For serious RAW shooters, I recommend Adobe Lightroom (available for about $US220 and up).

But these days there's a whole new way to edit your digital photos: using online photo editors that run from within a Web browser, like a photo equivalent to Google Docs or Zoho. On the upside, you don't have to install anything, and you can edit your photos anywhere you have an Internet connection. The downside? Just what you'd expect: These programs generally offer only a fraction of the features found in stand-alone image editors like Photoshop, and you can't work without an Internet connection. This week, let's look at a few of these online photo editors.

FotoFlexer

FotoFlexer shows that you don't need to sacrifice all of the photo editing features you know from programs like Photoshop Elements to use an online photo editor.

Once you upload a photo to the site, you'll see an interface that looks like a simplified photo editing program, complete with automatic exposure correction, red eye removal, and cropping control. But there's a ton of extra stuff here as well, including support for layers--you can load multiple images and control the opacity of each layer, just like in a commercial photo editor. The program also includes effects like blurred edges, grayscale and sepia conversion, and the ability to "cartoonify" your photos. There's even a Photoshop-like Curves tool for adjusting exposure, and a full-screen mode so you don't need to feel like you're working in a Web browser.

Picnik

Though it's not the most powerful option out there, I also like Picnik. You can use the simple, tabbed interface to grab photos from your hard drive or photo sharing sites like Flickr, Facebook, and Myspace. All the basics are here. You can rotate, crop, resize, and tweak the colors and exposure. Like Corel Paint Shop Pro, the red eye removal tool can handle both humans and pets. The Create tab is home to special effects filters, like black and white, sepia, color boost, and soft focus.

Splashup

Of all the Web tools I mention here, my favorite is Splashup.

SplashUp has the most traditional interface I've seen in an online photo editor, complete with a menu bar across the top of the page and a toolbar on the left side packed with all the usual tools. Like FotoFlexer, it includes support for layers, so you can combine photos or perform fine adjustments to your photos. Splashup even has its own file format, which preserves layer information, so you can open a project and continue editing later--just like Photoshop. You can load photos for editing from your computer or popular photo sharing sites like Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, and SmugMug.

Photoshop Express

As nice as Splashup is, it isn't as refined as Adobe Photoshop Express, which is an online version of the familiar Photoshop Elements. You get the same basics as in FotoFlexer--crop, rotate, red-eye removal, exposure correction, for example--but there's no layer support or any of the more powerful editing and correction tools in Photoshop Elements. You will find some cool stuff like a fill light (which lets you adjust the foreground separately from the background), filters, and image distortion. And like the desktop version of Photoshop, you can choose from among several thumbnail variations of the same effect.

Like the other Web tools, you can upload photos from your own PC or from sites like Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, and Picasa. Adobe offers a generous 2GB of online storage, and there are subscribe options for additional photo storage as well.

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