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Flare from The Iconfactory: Awesome photo editing app for Mac

One of the joys of photography with the iPhone is that there are a huge number of apps for the platform that let you work with your photos to apply cropping, add filters and effects, and then share those photos with others. Sure, we have apps like iPhoto and Photoshop Elements, but to me they're not really in the same ballpark as the iPhone apps when it comes to quickly editing a photo.

Flare is a new Mac app (US$19.95, now on sale for $9.99) from The Iconfactory and ARTIS Software that brings drag, drop and click editing to photos much in the manner that the current iPhone photo apps do. Available in the Mac App Store, Flare is easy enough for photo newbies to use, yet powerful enough that professional photographers will want to have it in their kit of goodies.

After launching the app for the first time, you're greeted with a simple startup screen with three choices: "Drag a photo here to get started with Flare," "Read the User's Guide" or "View a Tutorial." I think most people will do what I did -- I just dragged a photo to the box in the startup screen and started playing with the app to see what it could do. After that, I clicked the User's Guide button to get more details, which took me to a very complete online explanation of what each and every effect, filter and process does to your photograph.

The splash screen also points you to a series of three short online video tutorials that can provide the info you need to use Flare like a pro -- all in about four minutes. As noted in the first tutorial, you can start using the app by simply doing a "drag and drop" of a photo onto the splash screen, then applying one of the built-in presets. There are 24 of these presets, and you can also add your own to the list. The presets are all quite artistic, and I can think of situations where I'd apply one or another of them to create a specific atmosphere in a photo.

To create your own presets, you can open a photo and start adding effects. Effects are clumped into three major groups -- color, lens and creative effects. Color effects include exposure, brightness, saturation, contrast, tints, color filters and gradients, and several processing options. Lens effects add Gaussian, motion, and zoom blurs, and the ability to sharpen, add a glow to, or vignette a photo. Using creative effects, it's possible to add grain, texture, frames and borders, rotation, scaling, and halftoning to your pictures.

However, Flare doesn't end there. To get even more control of how your images will appear, each effect can be tweaked in any number of ways. For textures, you can not only select from 42 different textures, but you can also control the opacity, how the texture is blended with the image, and control the saturation and contrast. Similar sliders and pop-ups give you amazing control over any of the effects.

At any time, you can save your tweaks as a custom preset, so adding the same effects to another photo becomes as easy as clicking a preset. Flare provides a way to save your work in process as "snapshots," which are accessible at any time should you decide to go back to an earlier version of your work.

One feature I love is the ability to toggle between the original image and your edited version with one click. It's an effective and easy way to see exactly what you've done to a photo.

There's not too much more to say about Flare except this: if you take digital photographs and would like to be able to edit them in a professional manner without the steep learning curve associated with other tools, buy this app. It's a bargain at the $19.95 regular price, but at the current $9.99 introductory price, Flare is a steal.



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Software Mac OS X

One of the joys of photography with the iPhone is that there are a huge number of apps for the platform that let you work with your...