If you only need to crop and print, almost any photo editor will do. No need to spring for the big bucks (Adobe PhotoShop CSX costs in the vicinity of $700). If you are reasonably comfortable with computer applications (such as MS WORD or MS Excel) and want to do more than just crop and print, perhaps Adobe PhotoShop Elements will do; it costs about $100. Some people claim that Elements can do all you will ever want to do and more. Only if you are good with computer applications, enjoy computers, and really want to dig into editing photos (there is so much you can do), we would recommend Adobe PhotoShop CSX (the current latest version where "X" is a number).
Another program we use is called Breeze Browser. It is a pre-sorting program that we prefer to what Adobe PhotoShop CS includes (Adobe Bridge and/or Lightroom). It is recommended by Arthur Morris of "Birds As Art." Breeze Browser supports rotating files (via EXIF info), deleting files, renaming files, batch renaming files, and viewing via thumbnails, larger, or full resolution. Breeze Browser allows a direct switch to your editor of choice (Adobe PhotoShop CS in our case). Breeze Browser Pro also supports RAW files from most digital cameras. Breeze Browser is fast. Warning: the latest browser that comes with the newest version of Adobe PhotoShop CS is generally thought by our camera club members to be better than Breeze Browser.
My personal workflow is as follows:
I dump all my recent photos into a single folder (I keep several folders called "To Sort Out"). I use Breeze Browser to: delete all photos that are deficient (poor composition, out of focus, improperly exposed, etc.); delete inferior duplicate images; and rename all the remaining images using batch rename (preserving the Canon image number). To help me decide which images to delete I switch often between thumbnail, large, and full screen resolution views.
Next I select an image to process by clicking once on its thumbnail in Breeze Browser, then go from Breeze Browser to Adobe PhotoShop by typing the command Cntl-D (you must set up the link in Breeze Browser to do this via 'File/Preferences/Editor/Use the command line below" and then creating the command line by browsing to the executable for the editor you use).
Now down to a single image to work with, I do appropriate RAW processing if working with a RAW file. Once open in Photoshop, I adjust the light levels (levels histogram obtained by CNTL-L) to bring in the ends as needed (when there are no very few pixels at the extremities). I sometimes adjust the overall brightness with the center triangle. Next I go to hue/saturation/intensity with CNTL-U and modify the color saturation if needed. If needed I also use the "Highlights/Shadows" tool (Image/Adjustments/Shadow-Highlight) to bring out portions of the image, and the "Brightness/Contrast" tool (Image/Adjustments/Brightness-Contrast) to make the image pop a bit more. I like these two tools in combination. Next I crop to the size I want, always at 300 dpi. Cropping is a very important step, as it is the major determinate (after taking the photo) of the overall composition. When appropriate and if allowed in competition, I clone out small portions of the image to improve the overall composition. Finally, I (almost always) apply the Fred Miranda CSPro sharpening filter (with zero halo effect). I also use Noise Ninja if there is background noise, being certain to scale the effect afterwards (under edit). When I am finished I save the image as a jpeg 12 with the same name as the original photo, but adding _N1xN2 before the ".jpg" where N1 is the width of the processed image in pixels, and N2 is the height. Note that I save the processed image under a different name than the original, and KEEP THE ORIGINAL UNCHANGED, so that I can always go back to the original source as needed. Many people prefer to save their images as a psd or tiff file, which have no loss during multiple openings and savings. So long as I never open and save an original image, there will never be any loss as it will remain unchanged.
Incidentally, after fighting it for years, I always shoot RAW images (not jpg images) with my Canon cameras. It requires more compact flash and a bit more work processing the images, but the better results are more than worth it.
That said, we prefer ink jet printers over the other technologies, Epson ink jet printers over other ink jet printers, and Epson Sylus Photo printers over Epson Stylus printers. I bought a larger printer (the Epson Pro 3800) than can handle up to 17" by 22" paper. I love it; click here to read about it.
When printing your photos you need to have the appropriate resolution for the image you are printing, you must use the right paper and ink, and you must have the correct printer settings.
Resolution: the simple rule of thumb is that you need somewhere in the range of 150 to 360 pixels per printed inch for the best print. Thus a larger print (say 8" by 10") requires more pixels than a smaller print (say 4" by 6"). At 300 pixels per inch the file for an 8 by 10 would be 2400 pixels by 3000 pixels; the file for a 4 by 6 would be 1200 pixels by 1800 pixels. You can see why a higher resolution camera is important.
Paper and Ink: We have a bias: start the paper and ink that is sold by the same company that made your printer; no off-brands, no refilled cartridges. However, many people use off-brands and refill the ink cartridges or just use refurbished ink cartridges, and are happy with the results. You need good paper to get a good print. Recent findings indicate that the paper is just as important as the ink in determining the longevity of a print. Read the details on the paper you purchase for your prints. Although we always use new Epson ink cartridges in our printers, we have switched in many cases to Red River Paper.
If you are selling your photographs, in all fairness you should use a printer with inks that provide a longer lifetime. For example, our favorite printer, the old Epson 1280, uses dye-based inks that are advertised (with the right paper) to last 7 years. They do fade over 7 years. My Epson Pro 3800 has lifetimes adverstised at over 100 years.
Printer Settings: It is essential to get the correct printer settings in order to obtain quality, professional-looking prints. Your prints should look as good or better than a print from your local camera store. The critical settings are paper size, orientation (landscape or portrait), centered or not, printing resolution (the resolution used by your printer, not the file resolution on your computer), and the color-correction algorithm used (none is an option). For my Epson 3800 I usually use the following settings: (media type = photo paper), (mode = custom), (ink = color), and (color management = PhotoEnhance4). Note that the "dpi" used by your printer does not map into pixels per inch.