No matter how good your camera, or how advanced your photography skills, there will be times your pictures need a little extra style—or, you might say, a little flare. That’s what the new image editor Flare (Mac App Store link), from Artis Software and The Iconfactory, tries to offer. The program provides a simple, iPhone-inspired interface that makes it easy for novice photo editors to add fun, stylized color effects and borders without requiring a trip to a more complicated program like Photoshop.
To start experimenting with an image in Flare, drag and drop a file into the main Flare window or, to edit an image from your iPhoto or Aperture library, go to File -> Open and navigate to Media -> Photos in the left navigation panel. Flare can read any file type supported by Mac OS X, which means that any image that will work in iPhoto, Aperture, or Preview will open just fine in Flare, including raw file formats.
Once an image is imported, you get a few simple buttons below your photo for rotating it (in 90-degree increments) or cropping it, as well as a “switch” for toggling between the original image an your edited version. When you’re ready to start stylizing, there are three different editing panes to choose from: Presets, Edit, and Snapshots. The Presets view shows a collection of twelve pre-built looks, each with a small preview of how it will look with your chosen image; you can easily switch between presets to try out different looks. If you find one you like, click the Apply button. Additional Presets can be downloaded from the Flare Website or by going to Flare -> More Presets in the menu bar.
If you want to alter a preset, or if none of the presets is to your taste, the Edit pane contains individual effects divided into Color, Lens, and Creative categories. These adjust everything from color and contrast to texture, vignette, borders, distortion, light leaks, glows, and more. For each effect you apply to an image, there’s a simple slider for adjusting the strength of that control on your photo. The order of the effects can also be changed to create different results.
Clicking the disclosure triangle on an effect displays more-advanced options. For example, each effect can be applied through a mask, which is essentially a virtual stencil that allows you to constrain adjustments to only the center of an image or to create graduated, linear effects. For example, a mask could be used to alter the sky while leaving the foreground untouched.
Each edit effect also includes a Blending Mode control in its advanced options, which lets you alter how the effect is applied to your image—does the effect only fall into darker areas, say, or does it affect only color? The names of the blending modes probably won’t make much sense to you, but fortunately, each shows a real-time preview—something even Photoshop doesn’t do.
If you come up with a winning recipe of effects in the Edit panel, you can save it as a custom preset so that you can apply it to other images later. A sort of “scratch area” for developing looks is provided in the form of the Snapshots pane, which gives you another place to save presets, though I couldn’t find much use for this feature.
Most of Flare’s effects are well-implemented and yield nice results. The texture, border, and vignette controls are especially good, as are many of the color controls. However, the general exposure and tone-correction options are fairly weak. For example, it’s very difficult to brighten just the midtones in an image without also washing out the shadows. So if your image needs some basic brightening, you might do that in another application, such as iPhoto, before bringing it into Flare.
The program’s interface is very simple. If you’ve ever used plug-ins by Nik software or AutoFX, you should feel right at home. The advantage of Flare is that you don’t need a complicated host program to get access to the effects. And beginners can go wild thanks to unlimited undos and non-destructive editing. Once you’re done editing, you can save your edited image as a JPEG, TIFF, or PNG; send it at an e-mail attachment; or post it to Flickr.
At 20 bucks—on sale for just $10 at the time of this review—Flare delivers good value for the money. Novice users will find themselves easily creating cool photo effects, and even experienced users will appreciate the program’s ease of use, though they might be a little frustrated by the lack of basic adjustments.
[If you’d like to try Flare before purchasing it, the developer offers a trial version for download from the Flare Website.]