Now that we have established what a photomanipulation is (or can be at least), we are going to go into the details of how you can create your own manips. Basically, there are two things you will need: the right software and photos to play with. Today, let’s talk about software.
Let’s first talk about that big elephant in the room: it is true, probably the most used software today is Adobe Photoshop (there’s a reason why you call a manipulated photo a photoshopped image). It is what I use and what I can give you pointers on. But of course, it is rather expensive. Together with Lightroom it costs a monthly fee of around 12 € which for me works out great because I use it frequently and feel like I’m getting great value for my money. Updates are actually quite frequent, not limited to a new release every two years or so and with the Creative Cloud (CC) you get access to all that are released. Furthermore I like the different apps that will synch with the cloud, making it easy for me to share my vacation pics — but I guess that’s mostly on the photography / photo editing side useful. And the apps are still free if you don’t have a CC abo.
But of course if you don’t know if you’re going to use it that often or if you need all the fancy tool to begin withs, it is a lot of money (I think there are special plans for students, but I do not know how much they might save or what the conditions are under which you can get that). Before I show you some alternatives, let’s discuss what you will need from any software.
What do you need to look out for in terms of functionality when choosing a graphics program for manips?
I think the absolutely most important aspect is that the program you use needs to be able to deal with LAYERS. This means you can put different components on different layers and move them independently whenever you like. If you download a program to try out and it does not have that option, you can delete it at once because it will be of no use.
Another useful thing to have is MASKS, so you don’t have to actually cut things away, but can only make parts of the layer invisible. That way, you can go back and fix mistakes (cutting away too much for example) later without having to find that your “undo steps” are not enough to fix it and you need to start over.
Layer blend modes are also very crucial in photomanipulations, because using BLEND MODES lets you blend images together easily. You can also use them to adjust the lighting on your different components (and matching lighting is a big part of making your manips look believable) as well as add cool light effects to your images.
Some nice-to-have features (that I like to use, but that may not be all that important to someone else who has a different workflow) are:
- Pen tool (and vector masks): the pen tool helps you make precise shapes – in manips, you can use this to cut out something very precisely.
- Adjustment Layers: that way you can add curves, levels, hue/saturation (etc) adjustments to all layers below non-destructively
- In general, the more a program lets you do without having to delete pixels or permanently change them in a way you can’t undo, it is a huge help, this is called Non-Destructive Editing
- If you are anything like me, the amount of layers in your layers’ palette might get out of hand quickly, so a way to organize layers in groups or sets (which ideally can also have a mask) is super helpful to keep organized.
So what are the alternatives to Photoshop?
There’s the Gimp, of course, a free, open source graphic editing software that has been around for almost as long (or longer maybe?) than Photoshop. I recently took a look at the program after years of ignoring it, and it has come a long way. There are some things you will not be able to find in Gimp that are available in Photoshop (such as adjustment layers), but to get you started, it is a great alternative. And it will run on Linux systems, too.
Others I’ve found (partly by googling) that looked promising (but that I haven’t tried out by downloading and testing them) are (at the time of posting the article):
- PaintShop Pro – starting from 69.99 €, free trial available
Has layers and masks, and I know a bunch of manipulators who use this. Haven’t tried it myself though. There seem to be lots of video tutorials on how to use it.
- Affinity – available for 59.99 €
Has layers and masks, can deal with blend modes (from what I can see on youtube), seems to have a great deal of video tutorials on how to use it. The software is relatively new (2015) and offers apps for mobile devices (at least for iPad, I couldn’t find it in the google play store).
- PhotoScape X – free in the basic version, Pro version currently at 39.99 €
I checked out some tutorial videos and the software seems to reach it’s limit at removing backgrounds and adding watermarks. From what I could see I wouldn’t recommend it for manips (at least not the free version, but I doubt the Pro Version would make up for the lack in functionality) – it seems it is geared towards people who want extended editing features for photos, not for actual manippers.
But again, I haven’t tried them and do not recommend them personally, since I’m a Photoshop girl through and through , sorry 😉 – btw, they don’t pay me to say this *sigh*
I think, ultimately, you’ll need to just try some programs out. And I mean really try. Don’t just open them, think “oh my this looks complicated” and close it again (and then in no time your trial version runs out).
If you need any help getting started with Photoshop, please let me know what kinds of topics you would like to see me cover here!
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!