CyberLink may be a huge name in the video world, thanks to powerful applications like PowerDirector, but when it comes to photo workflow applications they’re still relative beginners. And so it was no surprise that PhotoDirector 2011 was more about learning from the competition than leading the way. Still, the end result was a very capable budget Lightroom clone, providing plenty of features to help you organise, optimise and share your photos at a fraction of the cost of the high-end competition.
The company was clearly just getting started, though, as the latest release, PhotoDirector 3, represents a major upgrade for the product. Forget the usual minor cosmetic tweaks, the program is packed with important new features and functionality. If you’ve any interest in photo workflow tools at all then you need to give this one a closer look.
PhotoDirector 3 opens with a tabbed interface which separates its functions into five main areas. As with the last version, “Library” is for importing and organising your images; “Adjustment” is where you’ll tweak brightness, contrast, white balance and so on; and “Slideshow” can share your chosen images as a slideshow video.
And this version introduces two new tabs to the mix: “Edit” provides tools to apply effects, remove objects or backgrounds, touch up photos and more, while the “Print” section supports a host of customisable printing options.
Importing your photos remains quick and easy. Click the Import button, point the program at your camera or folders and PhotoDirector will grab them for you. Strong support for more than 40 RAW formats ensures good results, and the program can even exclude duplicates from the import list (very useful if your current photo collection is less than organised).
A highly configurable viewer is then on hand to help browse your photos. This is packed with functionality – multiple viewing modes, filters, zoom options, a search tool, flagging and rating options (though no face tagging) and a whole lot more – and so there are plenty of buttons to explore. Fortunately intuitive design and helpful tooltips smooth the way and ensure you’ll soon be feeling at home.
As before, the Metadata tab displays (though doesn’t allow you to edit) the selected photo’s EXIF data. But PhotoDirector 3 introduces support for viewing, adding and editing IPTC tags, too. You don’t appear to be able to use these in an image search, but there’s still the option to add custom tags of your own, and on balance the program’s Library provides a convenient way to import, organise and view your photos.
Clicking the Adjustment tab reveals a histogram highlighting the colour tone distribution in your current photo, and a host of sliders to help address any problems: exposure, black level, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, white balance, saturation and more. And there’s also a Regional Adjustment Tools panel where you can quickly crop or rotate your image, or fix red-eye very effectively with a click.
The program also provides Auto White Balance and Auto Tone options, which try to fix your photos with a click (though these delivered variable results for us). 24 Presets – “Warm”, “Colour Enhancement”, “Soft skin tone, blushed”, “Blue skies” and so on – are also available to apply groups of settings with a click, and if these don’t suit your needs then you can download more, or create your own.
And PhotoDirector’s support for batch processing provides yet another way to speed up your work. If you’ve brightened an image, sharpened it and tweaked the colour, say, then you’re able to apply all those tweaks to as many photos as you like in a single operation.
These are all global adjustments, of course, but you can also select a specific area with the Adjustment Brush. PhotoDirector 3 now allows you to alter white balance, tone and HSL this way, as well as applying sharpness and noise reduction, and your tweaks will affect the defined area only while leaving everything else untouched. Factor in the ability to use gradient masks (to apply effects gradually over an area of the photo), and the new curve-based level adjustment tools and there’s a lot of flexibility here.
What’s more, PhotoDirector 3 also adds the much-requested Keystone and Fisheye correction tools to help compensate for lens distortions. These are relatively basic (no libraries of presets for particular cameras), just more sliders, so the program hasn’t yet caught up with Lightroom in this area. But there’s still more than enough adjustment functionality here for most people.
The new PhotoDirector 3 Editing module opens with a “People Beautifier”, a set of tools to whiten teeth, enhance eyes, smooth skin, remove wrinkles and generally clean up your portrait shots. These are simple, but easy to use, and gave good results in our tests.
Perhaps more interesting, though, are the object and background removal tools. If your photo’s composition is spoiled by some unwanted element, then removing it is now as easy as drawing freehand around the object, and choosing the background area you’d like to replace it. For this to work the object must be fairly small, and the background should ideally be plain, with no regular patterns (grass, sand or snow, say), so it won’t apply everywhere. But in the right circumstances the results can be amazing.
The Background Removal tool works in a similar way to help you isolate objects, which you can then insert into other images via the Photo Composer. This is nothing too sophisticated – you’re just copying the object into another photo, while adjusting its size and opacity – but it’s a fun extra to have.
Elsewhere, an Effects option applies a Black and White, Sepia, Tint or Blur effect to your photo. Which is fine, although obviously it’s no substitute for a decent set of filters.
And the module is rounded off with a useful Watermark Creator which enables you to insert text or image watermarks, or perhaps add a text caption with copyright information to your photo in just a few clicks.
Share your work
When all the tweaking is finally done then PhotoDirector’s Slideshow tool will help you convert your chosen images into a simple video slideshow, saving the results as a local video (H.264 AVC/ MPEG-4/ WMV), or uploading it directly to your YouTube account. (Individual photos can also be shared on Facebook or Flickr at any time, although there’s still no “email” option.)
The new Print module provides more configurable printing power: you can choose your paper size, the images per page, core printer settings (copies, resolution, ICC), even add a watermark to each printed image. You can’t zoom in to look at that watermark (or anything else) in detail, which is a shame, but otherwise the module provides a useful extension to PhotoDirector’s capabilities.
And if you’d like to share the images themselves then the Export dialog provides naming, metadata, sizing and yet more watermark options. This can only export in JPEG or TIFF format, but has been extended in PhotoDirector 3 with new colour space support: you’re able to select sRGB, AdobeRGB or ProProto RGB.
The program has small issues and omissions, then, just here and there. But that’s no surprise: it’s still a relatively new product. PhotoDirector 3′s raft of professional new features mean it’s gained considerably more editing power, though, and is now a genuine contender to the market leaders. If you’re looking for a polished photo workroom tool then PhotoDirector 3 more than deserves a place on your shortlist.
Platforms: Windows XP, Vista, 7, all 32 and 64-bit editions
Requirements: 1024 x 768 x 16-bit colour display, 2GB RAM, graphics card with 128MB RAM or higher, 1GB free hard drive space