This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Picnik Photo Editor

I’ve seen many quick and dirty photo editing programs via web browser, but this Flash-based editor definitely takes the cake. Hands down, the ease of use is the best part. As you work, little windows pop up with explanations, but I’ve never needed them because of the usability. For a professional photographer or someone looking to get into the nitty gritty of what’s outlined in the Pro Digital Photographer’s Handbook, the program would be mostly unpractical for regular use, but it’s certainly beneficial as an emergency tool (getting stuck at someone else’s computer, etc.) or doing stuff on the fly. It’s obviously not a replacement for Photoshop, but if you’re a consumer who can’t afford Photoshop or you just want to fool around, this is a great, really intuitive option.

It has the standard rotate, crop and resize functions, as well as exposure control and color settings. The color settings are basic. You can adjust hue, saturation and contrast in a variety of ways. Although the adjustment is somewhat crude — and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use this interface to ‘save’ a bad photo the way you might be able to in Photoshop — you’ll definitely be able to make a good photo “pop.”

What amazes me about Picnik is the exposure control. It has brightness and contrast settings, but I wasn’t impressed until I saw the “advanced” option, which displays a histogram. What’s most impressive is that you can set the shadow (black point) and highlights (white point) separately! In Photoshop this is called “Levels” (often considered the most popular exposure adjustment tool). There are a few drawbacks with Picnik’s exposure control. The histogram isn’t all that accurate, and it’s a little rough when setting your white and black points. All-in-all, it’s probably not that practical as a visual guide, but just the ability to set white and black points at all is what impresses me as a photographer.

Picnik also has a bunch of “creative tools” (essentially “filters” in Photoshop). What’s great is the ability to adjust most of these effects. Most online programs allow you only to simply set a photo to B&W or Sepia tone. This program allows for adjustments so that you can gradually set a color hue, or go crazy. You can determine the amount of the effect to add, and have more control over the look of your photo. Some of these filters add some really glamorous effects, everything from vignette to soften (reminiscent of high school glamour shots in the 80s). And the “coming soon” buttons obviously suggest additional filters are on the way.

One of the biggest selling points is how it integrates Picasa and Flickr. You can search and download photos from any public Flickr account seamlessly, and Picnik also allows you to email photos to sites like Photobucket, TypePad and even Walmart (Walmart’s own online photo editing software is nothing compared to Picnik). Moreover, close Picnik and come back the next day: your image is cached. Picnik sends a cookie to your browser, so when you return, you can pick up right where you left off. And the best, albeit most basic, function to me is the ability simply to save the image to your computer. In an age of proprietary everything, having the option to upload a photo, edit it, then just save it to your computer is golden.

The main cons here are that it seems you can only upload one photo at a time (which may just be part of the beta), and there’s no selection “lasso” tool (as in Photoshop). If a particular area of the photo is out of wack, maybe the left side is too dark, there is no way to select just that side for editing. Another feature Picnik could add would be a method for viewing thumbnails or maybe running a slideshow and allowing you to tag images.

Overall, though, for a free service that’s quite new, this is really impressive and a lot of fun.

– Jeremy Rue

Picnik Photo Editor
Free!
Available from Picnik, Inc.