If your photo needs to be cropped, adjusted, or reformatted, how can you get it ready for publication in print or the web? We spoke to five nonprofit technology and creative professionals about the photo-editing tools that have worked for them and their organizations.
Digital images come in a range of file types, and in all different sizes and resolutions. And sometimes they need a little work, cropping out an undesirable element, or compensating for bad exposure. Whether you’ve taken a picture yourself, bought one from a professional photographer, or downloaded one from a Web site, how do you get it ready for use?
Several good software packages can help with this, depending on your needs, budget and skills. We spoke to five nonprofit technology and creative professionals about the photo-editing tools that have worked for them and their organizations. We’ve consolidated their advice — starting with the simplest tools and moving up to the most complex — to help you find a tool that might work for you.
Before you start to consider software, you’ll need to think through what you want to be able to do. The most basic photo manipulation task is to size the photo. In the digital world, each image has essentially three different sizes:
So in order to effectively size a photo, it’s desirable to have a tool that allows you to control not only the physical dimensions, but also the resolution and the file size — ideally, in some easy-to-use wizard format so you don’t need to think about all three things every time you save an image.
It’s also useful to be able to tweak or adjust photos. Many tools provide color correction capabilities — for instance, to boost the color on a washed-out photo or to remove red eye. Cropping functionality — whereby you can “cut out” a certain portion of a picture — can help you create more focused and professional-looking images. If you’re cropping photos to fit within a particular template — a Web site, for instance, or a newsletter — it’s handy to have tools that will let you crop a photo to a specific dimension.
Finally, you’ll need to consider the file types that you can create. JPG is the de facto industry standard for usable digital photos, as it is able to compress file sizes while maintaining picture quality. If you routinely use (or receive) photos in other file types, make sure whatever software package you choose allows you to convert them.
Images whose dimensions or file sizes are too big won't work well on Web sites or to send via email. If all you need to do is resize them, there are several Web sites — like www.shrinkpictures.com , www.photosize.com  and www.resize2mail.com  — that will do so for you, removing nearly all complexity from the task.
These simple-to-use sites are good resources for less complex needs. All you need is a broadband Internet connection. Most work similarly: You upload your file and tell it what you’d like back in terms of a percentage of the original, file size or physical measurements, or intended use. Some even offer more advanced features, like converting images to grayscale (black and white) or sepia tone. But these only resize your existing image — none of them will crop photos. If you're looking to do more than just resize, you'll need a more powerful solution.
Aimed at the home user or small business, these packages tend to be easier to use and more affordable than the professional applications.
Google designed its free download, Picasa , to help users do three main things: organize the photos on their computers, edit them and share them through email, print and the Web. Apple designed iPhoto , part of its iLife suite, with all the same goals in mind. For both, the interface is easy to use and powerful enough for basic needs.
Editing tools are simplified. Click one button to crop, another to remove red eye, another to enhance the contrast or correct the color. Resize based on need — to e-mail, to print or for the Web. Unlike the higher-end editing software, system requirements for both are minimal. Picasa runs on Windows and Linux systems, but not on Macs, and is free. iPhoto only runs on Macs, and is $79 for a single user — or free with all new Macs.
Adobe Photoshop is the professional industry standard for photo manipulation. However, it’s a powerful and complex piece of software, and chances are, it’s more than you need. Recently, Adobe introduced Photoshop Express , a free online version of Photoshop that combines the usability of Picasa with the editing power of Photoshop. Because it is Web-based, it is not platform-dependent. Currently, Express is in beta release.
Adobe also offers Photoshop Elements , sort of a Photoshop Lite, as the consumer version of the professional application. Targeting enthusiasts, Elements offers a package stripped of the high-end features that make Photoshop so valuable to professionals. While it doesn’t support all professional printing needs, it will meet most editing needs. It also offers a pretty good filing system to help you manage and sort photo archives.
The application itself takes up a fair amount of hard drive space and requires decent system resources, but not as much as the full version of Photoshop. It’s also significantly cheaper than Photoshop, at $99 retail or $15 on TechSoup Stock . And because it’s aimed at consumers, the interface is easier to learn and relies on wizards and step-by-step, goal-oriented processes to guide users.
Aimed at the professional, these applications are feature-rich and better-suited for users with at least a fundamental knowledge of the field. Almost anyone — regardless of how tech-savvy they may be — is likely to require at least a book to help learn these packages, if not an actual class.
Photoshop  is the powerful, industry standard of photo editing and manipulation. Its abilities are almost limitless, but it is also difficult to learn and use. That said, learning the basics of photo manipulation — how to resize images, how to auto-correct exposure and contrast levels, and how to convert or save as file types — requires less time and effort.
It was designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions, available online, and you can also download many free “actions,” or prerecorded sequences of tools and keystrokes that format and edit images in predefined ways. Photoshop is compatible with Macs and PCs, and with a little work, it can be run on Linux systems. A resource hog, it requires a robust system to run on, with about a gigabyte of RAM at a minimum, and benefits considerably from even more RAM or an advanced video card.
Many organizations already have copies loaded on systems. If that's the case in your office, spend a little time learning to use it. There are plenty of good books and online resources to guide you through the basics. It will serve you well down the road.
Photoshop is $649 retail, or $160 admin fee for qualified nonprofits through TechSoup Stock  for the full Creative Suite.
GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)  is a freely distributed application with many of the same features as Photoshop, including batch processing, image format conversion and editing tools. Like Photoshop, it was designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions, and will run on PCs and Macs, as well as the Unix-based systems for which it was designed.
Its advantages are cost and functionality, but it is not without shortcomings. While it is less of a resource hog than Photoshop, its user interface is even less intuitive and less user-friendly, and there's comparatively little online support. GIMP also lacks some of the high-end professional functionality of Photoshop, including color matching, making it less popular than Photoshop with professional designers.
Pixel  is a newer option that will run on a number of different operating systems, and while it is not free, it is super-affordable and includes unlimited support. Currently still in beta release, its feature set is stronger than GIMP's and closer to that of Photoshop. Its user interface is also similar enough to Photoshop's that Adobe users making the transition will have an easy time of it. While still new to the marketplace, Pixel is in active development and a potential option for image editing needs.
Whatever your needs are, there’s a solution out there for them. Whether you choose to keep it simple, using online resizing tools, or learn to put the full power of a photo manipulation and editing engine to work for you, you’re well on your way to making your materials look better and more professional.
After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what a finely polished and perfectly cropped image might be worth
Graphic and Web Design Toolkit 
TechSoup has a resource-rich graphic design toolkit full of tips, tricks and instructions.
Preparing Images for the Web 
More information on basic techniques for resizing and compressing images.
Thanks to TechSoup for their financial support of this article, as well as to the nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice, and other help: