12 Must Have FREE Software Programs For Photographers

A few people wrote in with questions and comments on some of my software suggestions in the Digital Darkroom Essentials post the other week, and before I knew it, this post had pretty much written itself … so here you have it, 12 of my top recommendations for FREE software for photographers.

Some you’ve probably seen, but I’m guessing there’ll be a couple of surprises in there for everyone.

The big problem with any list like this is ‘compatibility’, especially for the Mac users, but also between different versions of Windows and even the 2-3 Unix users (who remind me they’re out there any time I do a post like this!)  This time around I’ve tried to find software that has versions for everyone, and where that just isn’t available, I’ve listed the ‘Windows’ version, simply because that’s what I’ve got.

Where I found something I’ve listed it, but even when I didn’t find anything, I’m sure there’s Mac equivalents out there for those who know where to look.  So if you do know any, or find any, please let me know and I’ll update the post accordingly!

1. GIMP. This gets top listing every time. GIMP is a versatile graphics manipulation package with most of the Photoshop functionality and none of the price. It’s open source software that’s really come of age. The downside used to be a lack of documentation and sometimes troublesome installers, but these days it is so well supported that the installation is a breeze and there is a wealth of free tutorials and videos out there. (Mac & PC versions available)

2. RawShooter Essentials: I started recommending this one about 4 years ago now, thinking it would soon disappear. As I understood it, it had been bought out by Adobe and was the basis for the Lightroom software … and we all thought it this free version would disappear quietly. The good news is, it’s still available and it still does a fantastic job of importing and converting RAW image files and several associated file-management tasks. If you capture raw images, or think perhaps you should start, grab this free download and give it a test drive. Mac Users: try this free raw convertor!

3. PicaJet Photo Management: PicaJet is a standalone digital asset management system, packed full of features and functions to make managing even the largest photo collections a breeze. This link goes to the PicaJet website where you can download the basic free version … which is excellent … though once they try it, most people seem eager to upgrade to the pro version.

4. PhotoByte Business Automation: There are too many features & functions to list here so you really should take a minute to visit the link below and check it out for yourself. This software basically handles the papertrail, start to finish, for professional photographers. It tracks your images your licenses and your accounts every bit as well as some of the high ticket alternatives on the market.

5. 7 – Zip : This is an archive utility is available as open source and is free to use. 7Z is fast, efficient and free. Most operating systems have an un-zip utility built in these days but they tend to be a bit limited … especially when it comes time to zip stuff up (ie. a heap of previews you want to email to a Client)  … so it’s worth having a good one on hand, and being familiar with it before you need it.

6. CDBurnerXP is a free application to burn CDs and DVDs, including Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs. It also includes the feature to burn and create ISOs, as well as a multilanguage interface. Everyone, even companies, can use it for free. It does not include adware or similar malicious components.

7. VLC Media Player : Maybe not essential for everyone, but increasingly photographers are using multimedia to market themselves and their work, so this media player will fill all your needs. It can handle DVDs, (S)VCDs, Audio CDs, web streams, TV cards and much more. You don’t

need to keep track of a dozen codec packs you need to have installed. VLC has all codecs built-in. It comes with support for nearly all codec there is.

8. Mozilla Firefox : Mozilla Firefox is another open source project that’s come of age. As a web developer I constantly recommend it because it adheres to the WWW/HTML standards much better than Internet Explorer or any other browser I’ve been able to test (Windows or Mac) … so you actually experience websites as their designers intended.

Aesthetics aside, I find Firefox a whole lot more reliable and user-friendly. It also makes good use of Add-Ons, free third-party tools you can download and install in seconds to add functionality to your browser.

As an open source project there are literally thousands of these, and they can transform your Web Browser into an incredibly powerful work station. Those alone probably justify another article sometime, but for now, if you haven’t tried Firefox, don’t put it off any longer!

9. Mozilla Thunderbird : Thunderbird is an open source e-mail client that is flexible to suit your personality, to give you the features you need, and to fit your work style. Again being open source has it’s advantages, and there are literally millions of free add-ons to make your email management more efficient. Two of my favourites are the Attachment Reminder, which scans outgoing messages for any indication of an attachment, and remind you when you’ve forgotten to add it. The other is a world clocks add-on, that you add to your toolbars so you can see at a glance other relevant time zones.

The other big advantage of non-Outlook email clients is the immediate reduction in hacking, phishing and virus emails. For better or worse, the idiots who create these tend to target Microsoft products, so when you use something else you become a much smaller target.

That’s not absolute by any means and you should still take all necessary precautions, but as a Eudora user for 15 years and now a Thunderbird fan, I have never had any of the problems with malicious emails that I’ve seen affect so many Outlook users.

10. File Renamer Basic : Digital photography has brought a lot of benefits to the table but it’s also created a few problems for photographers. Chief amongst those is how to manage the thousands and thousands of image files we now shoot so easily. The first step is a simple file-naming system, connected to a well planned workflow and filing system. You can view this guide to Making Sense Of Your Photo Files which uses this great little utility to rename and number photo files in a logical, fast & user-friendly way.

11. Power Batch : Sometimes it’s easier and a whole lot faster to do a few batch tasks on a set of images before you open them individually in your photo editor. Power Batch batch-converts, resizes, renames, rotates, adjusts, and watermarks your photos. I particularly like the batch resizing, where you can use one of 11 example filters. There’s also functions built-in for renaming files, manipulating EXIF and IPTC metadata, basic sharpening, brightness, contrast & colour adjustments and a whole lot more.

12. Virtual Photographer : This is one I’ve only recently started using, and I love it! It is a Photoshop plugin that let’s you apply dozens of different filters, effects and corrections to your photos, and save your own as well. I find it a great way to manage the many filters and actions I’ve accumulated, and simplify my workflow. It’s listed as compatibly with all versions of Photoshop — Mac & PC, plus a lot of other images editors as well. (I haven’t tried it with GIMP, but if someone does, please let me know and I’ll update this! )

Well that’s about it for now. Of course there are plenty of other great programs out there when you start looking and it can be a trap if you try to download and test to many at once.  A good rule it to only ever install and test one new application at a time! That way, if there are compatibility issues you know which program to un-install to get things back to normal.

As always if you have any feedback or suggestions we’d like to hear them. Unfortunately the spammers have been hitting this site hard so we’ve had to disable the blog comments, but you can post your feedback on my Guestbook if you want so everyone can see them!

Finally, here are two free web tools you should check out … and one commercial demo you ought to grab and put away for later … just in case!

Web Tool #1: Currency Convertor Calculator — Not software as such, but a great tool that any online photographer should bookmark …  Enter an amount in any currency, select the currency you want to convert to, and submit. This is great for quick & simple conversions when you’re dealing with overseas photo buyers.

Web Tool #2: ZamZar File Convertor — Another web-based tool you should bookmark for future reference. This one lets you open any file type you can imagine and save it in a format you can use. You won’t need this often, but when you do, you’ll usually be in a hurry and seriously stressed!

Free Trial: Art Plus Digital Photo Recovery Tool : This is a commercial program, but well worth installing for when you do need to recover lost images from corrupted or accidentally formatted digital camera memory cards. It works with all types of memory cards. It’s able to recover images from formatted cards and reads corrupted cards (in most cases even if they’re not recognized by Windows).

The demo version will read your damaged card, let you know what files can be recovered … and then you can decide to spend the $25 to unlock the software once you know for sure you can recover the images files you need!  Hopefully it’s something you’ll never need to use, but if you do, it will be a lifesaver!


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