My own personal choice is GIMP, which is always free, for Linux, Windows and Mac. It functions a whole lot like PS Elements - if you're accustomed to Elements, or even the full blown big brother PhotoShop, then you'll have no trouble adapting to GIMP. I found the reverse to be true - I've been using GIMP for years, but just bought my scanner last year, and so loaded up PS Elements to run under Windows 7. Aside from having a lot less features than GIMP, the experience is so similar, I quickly found everything I needed in the menu structure. To the best of my knowledge, Elements has one advantage - it will edit a 16-bit TIF file, but GIMP can only export a 16-bit file by first down-converting it to 8-bit. All of us GIMP fans are still waiting for the 16-bit package to become available. The difference is barely visible on a screen, but somewhat more visible when printing.
Anyway, this is one little demonstration of what can be done with GIMP - I wanted to take an after dark Halloween photo, taken with my EOS 5D and Sigma 50mm f1.4 lens, make it look like a foggy night, add some film grain and convert it to black and white. The original was shot at f2.8, ISO 1600, and shutter spee of 1/30 sec, so there is a bit of motion blur, as seen below:
- Crop the photo to improve the composition (Tools > Transform tools > Crop)
- "Save" the Image - don't "Export" yet - this will ensure it is kept in GIMP's own format (*.xcf), so there will be no quality loss with subsequent edits.
- Add a layer of Fog (Filters > Render > Clouds > Fog). Fog will be added as a Layer, so you can control both the original picture and what the fog looks like separately. I brightened the original picture a bit, and also, separately changed the fog colour.
- Once you get the fog looking like you want it, you can combine the layers (Image > Flatten Image)
- Now I wanted to turn the street lamp into the dominant light source, so I added a "light" to the image (Filters > Light and Shadow > Lighting Effects... > Light). This gives you all kinds of options, including the placement, colour and behaviour of the "Light". I made the light directional, moved it to the right source point over the street lamp (with mouse) and changed the colour from pure white to pale yellow.
- Add some film grain (Filters > Noise > Add film grain).... again lots of options.
- Save it again
- Export the colour image as a JPG (File > Export and select file type JPEG)
- Re-open the *.xcf Image to do the further work
- Change the xcf image to a B&W (Colours > BW Film Simulation) Choose your favourite B&W film type, click on "Auto Levels" and click OK.
- Brighten the picture's highlights (Colours > Curves... and then boost the upper part of the line by dragging it with your mouse)
- "Save as..." and be sure to give the BW version a different filename if you want to keep the colour version too.
- Finally, export the BW image as a JPG (File > Export, and select file type JPEG)
Any good photo editing tool offers tremendous creative options. I tend to stick with what looks real - if the "fog" didn't look like the real thing, I wouldn't use it.
So there you have it - a dark, murky and creepy picture for Halloween, with lots of kids, little and big, having fun.