Gift Guide: 5 Photo Editing Applications to Create a Masterpiece

As a photo enthusiast, one thing I’d really love to find under the tree would be an awesome photo editing application that helps me turn my average shots into artistic masterpieces. If you too have a shutterbug on your gift buying list consider getting them one of these five applications.

The software listed ranges from the simple and inexpensive to powerful tools for the serious enthusiast or photo professional with a bonus intermediate application for those who just want to organize and edit their pictures a bit. Most of these are available on both Windows and Mac.

Some of these can be purchased as a boxed application that you can wrap and hand them while others can be had with an iTunes gift card coming from the Mac App Store.

See our other 2011 Gift Guides for more holiday giving ideas.

Adobe Photoshop CS5

Photoshop sets the standard for image editing and can even be used to create works of art from scratch.

Adobe Photoshop

You can’t find a more powerful photo editing and image manipulation application than this. You can find cheaper since Photoshop comes at quite a premium. Also the learning curve will be steep for someone who has never used an application that uses layered editing like Photoshop. However, all the cost and time spent learning the ins and outs of the program will be worth it for the serious photographer.

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The recent upgrade added some great new features including the ability to quickly select certain parts of a picture like hair or grass. The content-aware fill feature lets you quickly get rid of annoying and distracting things like a light pole sticking out of the head of your subject.

The old favorite tools like the automated tools for things like HDR images, panoramas and printing of images will help a serious photographer create some amazing work. With Adobe Bridge, built into the application, photo organizing becomes manageable even for people with thousands of images.

While Photoshop can fetch a retail price of $700, you can buy it much cheaper if you can prove that you’re a student or educator. My wife is a school teacher, so we got it for $199.

$189.88 @ Provantage (Educator’s Version) | $648.99 @ MacMall (Full Version)

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Apple Aperture

Organize and edit RAW photos and more with Aperture, iPhoto’s more mature brother.

Apple Aperture

While Photoshop may be the standard-bearer for high-powered photo editing, Aperture’s been nipping at Adobe’s heals for quite some time. I began using this app on the Mac recently for organizing photos, tagging them and most of my basic corrections. I love how it works and it reminds me a lot of iPhoto, borrowing some of the simpler interface from that basic photo editing tool. This makes it easier to step up to a more powerful tool.

In Aperture you can do powerful photo editing. You can also organize your images by event, star ratings, geography, date and tags. When you’re done performing your edits (everything from levels to color correction), send them to social networking and photo sharing sites. You can also create some interesting slide shows, which can be shared on your website or as a video.

If you print your photos, there are a lot of printing options. After a summer vacation we made a photo book of our trip through Apple’s website and sent it to grandma as a gift, all from within Aperture.

When Apple put Aperture in the Mac App Store, they cut the price dramatically from $200 to under $80. At the lower price, this has become my go to app for photo editing, organizing and sharing. I only open my images in Photoshop when I have something really specialized that I want to do.

$79.99 @ Mac App Store

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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

An Apature-like photo manipulation and organization tool app that works on Windows PCs.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

What Aperture does for a Mac user, Lightroom does for both Mac and Windows users. I prefer the simplicity of Aperture, but I like the power and darker feel of Lightroom. The tool makes a great companion to Photoshop. You can do most of your photo correction work in Lightroom. You can also share images with others by posting to websites and social networks. The printing features are second to none.

My only complaint with Lightroom is the large library size it creates on your hard drive. If you have a limited drive on a laptop and a huge library, you will need an external drive since the Lightroom library can be pretty big.

I love Lightroom’s photo organizing features. You can rate and tag photos and quickly find them. I’ve used this app to do basic editing and all of my organizing and opened in Photoshop only when necessary for more advanced features.

$149.99 @ Amazon

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Adobe Photoshop Elements 10

A great photo editor and organizer for not too much money

Photoshop Elements 10

Elements is an end-to-end solution for those who don’t want the complexity or expense of Lightroom and/or Photoshop. You can organize your photos in the Organizer module. Then you can do simple edits or some really creative things in the Editor feature. Finally, when you are ready to share your masterpiece, the tool has you covered. You can post to social networks, photo sharing sites or your own page. Adobe offers an online sharing tool as well for a premium.

Unlike Photoshop, Elements doesn’t restrict you two just two computers. Great for a family of shutterbugs or those with multiple machines.

If you think your recipient will want to also do some video editing, there’s a package deal where you get Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10 for  less than the two cost separately. Also, Mac users can now get the app in the Mac App Store letting you install on many more machines than Adobe allows with the boxed version or the online version directly from Adobe. Whatever you do, don’t buy them directly from Adobe, because you can get one or both programs far less elsewhere.

$79.99 @ Mac App Store | $81.77 @ Provantage (boxed) | $109.99 @ Amazon (combo with Premiere Elements)

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Pixelmator

This Mac app can handle most of your basic photo editing needs and does more than iPhoto for not too much money.

Pixelmator for Mac

Pixelmator is a visually attractive program with a simple interface. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. You can do almost the same photo image correction and manipulation as the tools above at a fraction of the cost. It’s Mac only app and one of the first to ship in the new Mac App Store.

Retouch your photos, change the look with filters, and more. It really does compete nicely with Photoshop for those with simpler needs or smaller wallets.

$29.99 @ Mac App Store

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Other Gift Guides That May Interest You:
13 Great Photography Accessories
Best Point and Shoot Cameras Under $300

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