There's an abundance of applications you can buy to edit your photos. Adobe's Photoshop is at the top of the heap.
But if you don't have the time to learn or the money to spend on Photoshop or any of the other fine photo-manipulative products out there, there's a Web site that lets you do a variety of those photo-enhancing manipulations. And right now, picnik.com is completely free.
Picnik.com uses a Web browser such as Firefox or Internet Explorer to do its thing. You just log onto the picnik Web site and begin. When I surfed on over, I began by clicking on the "Upload Photo" button. A dialog box appeared on my computer, and I selected one of the photos I had on my computer's hard drive. Picnik.com uploaded the image to the picnik Web site, and I was presented with an editing screen that displayed my photo.
A series of tabs above the image let me select from a variety of features. The Edit tab offers abilities like Rotate, Crop, Resize, Exposure, Colors, Sharpen and Red-Eye. All of these abilities are fairly self-explanatory but picnik.com let me easily experiment without the worry of corrupting my original photo, which was safely stored on my computer.
Clicking on the Exposure button for example brought up two sliders: one for Brightness and the other for Contrast. As with everything on picnik.com, sliding either of them instantly reflects the changes to the image. An Auto-fix feature lets picnik.com do the adjustments for you. In fact, there's an Auto-fix for Colors as well as a master Auto-fix that does a good job of making your original photo look its very best.
With every adjustment is an Undo and Redo button as well. In no way, shape or form are you burning any bridges here. Besides, you still have your original photo safely on your computer. Everything you are doing on picnik.com is with a copy you uploaded to the Web site.
The Creative Tools tab offers additional special effects like converting the photo to black and white. Others are Sepia, Boost, Soften, Border, Tint and many more.
The last tab is Save & Share. This lets you take your adjusted photo, define its size and file type (jpeg, TIFF, etc.) and save it back onto your computer's hard drive. Other options let you save the photo to Flickr, Picasa Web Albums, Facebook, e-mail it or send it directly to your computer's printer.
The Web site says picnik is currently in public beta, so all of its special features are available free. After the beta is over, many of the features will remain as a free service. Others will become part of their extra service, which may have some kind of charge. And by the way, picnik.com truly understands the concept of the Internet being platform-independent as all of this works on computers running Windows, Macintosh and Linux.
In the meantime, if you have photographs you've taken with your digital camera, scanned in or already have on your computer, picnik.com is a cool way to enhance them without having to buy more software.
Craig Crossman is a national newspaper columnist and host of the radio talk show Computer America.