Monday, March 1, 2010

Free Software Series, Part 3: Photo Editing Software

We are in the last week of our 3rd quarter, which means I have my students for 4 more days before I welcome my next group. This time, I've found myself in that precarious no man's land that elective teachers dread. My desktop publishing class has finished its final project and have no time to complete a new one before grades are due. What do I do with my class this last week that will be productive, but not overly time consuming and not require grading? I decided to have some fun with photos this week.

Middle school students are naturally drawn to photos--of themselves, friends, animals, movie stars, you name it! It seems like their preferred activity is to surf for and look at pictures. Normally, I discourage this, but this week I've decided to embrace their love of photos and allow them to explore some great, free photo editing software online. The programs I list below are just a small sample of what's out there. All but the last program runs online and does not require download. Many do not require an account to experiment with either.

Flauntr
This program has a lot of nice features, including fun frames and effects that are simple to apply. The trick is getting rid of changes you've made. Apparently, there's a history icon somewhere in the program that allows you to see a list of all the changes you've made and deselect the ones you don't want. Where this icon is hidden is beyond me and my engineering boyfriend, who couldn't find it either. Having no easy way to undo a change makes this program less than ideal.

FotoFlexer
This one has lots of neat features, including the ability to work with layers. It doesn't have quite as many frame options as Flauntr, but you can add "glitter" text and stickers, which can be fun for younger kids. You can also fix red eye, blemishes and wrinkles (fun for us older kids!). Unlike Flauntr, FotoFlexer has a clear undo option, and you can play with it without creating an account.

LunaPic
Organized a bit like Paint, LunaPic's interface isn't quite as nice as the previous two, and it doesn't have quite as many photo editing features. However, it allows you to animate a picture, which is fun. You can add reflecting water animations, snowfall, horror effects, and more.

Aviary
Aviary is a bit more complex than the others and will take your students longer to figure out. However, it has some pretty amazing features. Besides a photo editor that works with layers, there's an effects editor, color editor, vector editor, and audio editor. It's a pretty neat online application, but not something you could just log into and use without some experimenting.

Picnik
This photo editor is good for elementary and middle school students. No registration is required, so your kids can get started right away, and it's pretty simple to figure out. You can easily edit the appearance of photos, add text, stickers, and frames. There are also lots of seasonal graphics which will appeal to the younger crowd.

Pixlr
Pixlr is set up a lot like Photoshop. It allows you to edit photos in much the same way as Photoshop, but doesn't have as many fun & fancy tools as some of the other sites, such as Fotoflexer. It does, however, allow you to work with layers.

Photoshop.com
Speaking of Photoshop, Photoshop does offer a free online photo editor as well. It has many of the same basic photo editing options as the rest, including the ability to correct red eye, tint photos, distort, adjust colors, and so on. It can also add frames, stickers, text and more, however, it doesn't have many options in this area. It does not use layers, but it does show your changes in real time and makes it easy to have a particular color pop.

If your school Internet connection is too slow, or you'd prefer to use a program that's loaded on the computer for other reasons, check out Gimp. Gimp is a free downloadable photo editing program that looks and functions much like Adobe's Photoshop Elements. It has a lot of great features that will allow students to learn how to edit photos like pros!

Again, these are just a few of the free photo editing programs you can find online. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to check them out before deciding which one is best for your purposes. As always, if you've used a different program that you just love, let me know!

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