Photography is an expensive hobby or profession to commence. Besides the expense of cameras and lenses, computer software can be an additional several hundred to several thousand dollars. Many people don't realize that they can save most or all of the money normally spent on software by using free professional quality software. Free software is available for almost any photography task, including editing, organizing, raw development, and print layout.
Photo Library and Organization Software
Photo library organization software is rarely used by beginning photographers, but if used it will be much easier to find your photos. There are a number of free programs for this task, and there are various ones available on all three of the major operating systems. All of the programs mentioned here also have quick editing and corrections built in, allowing quick edits such as BW conversion and cropping.
Probably the most popular free organization software is Picasa, available from Google. Picasa is usually good for beginning photographers, as it imports pictures automatically and arranges them in a fairly easy to navigate manner (one note on Picasa is that it will automatically index ALL pictures on your hard drive, which can be annoying). picasa.google.com
Digikam is another free cross platform organization software for photo libraries. It is very nice to work with, though hard to install on both Mac and Windows. www.digikam.org
If you are employing a Mac you probably have access to iPhoto which works well for most tasks. It has the significant problem that it makes working with other software a difficult task.
Photo Editing Software (Not RAW Processing)
Photo editing is an important task for the photographer, as it enables cropping, warping and corrections for distortion and color. The software discussed in this section also allows creative manipulation of images and creation of new images without any photographic content.
GIMP is the most popular and powerful of the PS and CS replacements. With the current version, 2.8 you can do most of the adjustments that you would with PS. There is a whole new look to the software in this new version, and changes that will allow for new features to be added sooner. (www.gimp.org)
Other than GIMP the only editor worth using or mentioning is paint.NET (windows only), which is easier to learn for a beginner but limited in proportion. (www.getpaint.net)
If a photographer is looking for the best quality and most information from their camera they will be shooting RAW instead of JPEG. This is a problem because most editing programs can't handle RAW by themselves. For this you need a RAW processing or conversion program. RAW software is used to adjust white balance and exposure before saving in a format that 'standard' editing software can understand.
The easiest program to use with GIMP for this task is UFRaw which plugs into GIMP directly. The newest versions of UFRaw also have lens distortion corrections and noise reduction built in. UFRaw is the most straight forward of the free RAW programs available. The one feature that can be hard to use in UFRaw is the batch processing (running a whole photo shoot or other set of photos through the program with the same settings). (ufraw.sourceforge.net)
Rawstudio is also able to export to GIMP, though setting this up is a little more work than with UFRaw. It has a nice interface showing all of the pictures that are available in the folder you are working in. The batch functions are fairly accessible and useful. Rawstudio is unfortunately limited in the corrections which are accessible to the user. (rawstudio.org)
Available for Linux only is Raw Therapee, which has some advantages over the others including full fledged batch processing and LAB(a color model based on human vision rather than on specific colors) color corrections. The disadvantage of the software is a hard to learn UI. (rawtherapee.com)
The second half of this article will be posted when I finish editing it. It deals with some more specialized software, including batch processing.
Picasa verson 3 allows you to turn off whole drive scanning, or just remove certain directories from the scan.
Raw Therapee is available for windows.