Photography – Back From The Dead

8/30/2012 3:28:15 AM

Picnik has been reincarnated as PicMonkey, despite Google’s efforts to kill it off

A few months ago, this column touched on the sad demise of Picnik. Picnik, in case you missed it, was an inspired online photo editor that did away with the staid, technical overtones of the likes of and replaced them with joyful design and popular editing options, while carrying with it enough technical welly to produce nicely finished, high-quality images. In a sea of mediocre online editors with intrusive advertising and little to recommend them, it was a breath of fresh air.

Description: Dave StevenSon has been a camera buff ever since the whirr-click of his first autowinding compact in 1993. His book, the Pocket Guide to Digital Photography, is available from

Dave StevenSon has been a camera buff ever since the whirr-click of his first autowinding compact in 1993. His book, the Pocket Guide to Digital Photography, is available from

Then it was bought by Google, and after an initially promising start, its various bells and whistles were folded into Google Plus, a social network so unpopular it makes Rupert Murdoch look like Justin Bieber. Then, just as hope was fading that Picnik’s newfound sugar-daddy would move the service to bigger and better things, Google shuttered the entire service with all the compassion of a fox in a chicken coop.

(To be fair, for a while Google recommended PicMonkey and Aviary as alternatives in its FAQ on the closure of Picnik. More commercial heads prevailed, though, and now the only suggested alternative is the Creative Kit in Google+.)

Fortunately, the internet is a rare stomping ground for phoenixes, so it’s pleasing to see some of Picnik’s former engineers taking to the web again with PicMonkey, which, true to form, is a visually arresting, stress-free online image editor. If you used Picnik, you know what to expect. Airy-fairy web 2.0 copywriting, sprinkles of (occasionally grating) light humour and a frankly incredible amount of image editing prowess. Indeed, PicMonkey is so similar to Picnik that technical types using the API in their own applications generally only need to change ‘www.’ to ‘www.picmonkey. com’ in their code.

Description: PicMonkey can produce some excellent results – no technical knowledge required

PicMonkey can produce some excellent results – no technical knowledge required

While sniffy high-end types wrinkle their noses at PicMonkey and its lightness of touch, there’s no denying the need for the service. For every photographer who wants to spend hours retouching every pixel of every shot they take (to the inevitable detriment of their pictures, by the way), there are a hundred snappers with perfectly decent compact cameras who simply want to apply a professional finish to their images without necessarily needing – or wanting – to know what a curves tool is. It’s a bit like drivers who simply want to be able to get their cars up the M1 without an in-depth knowledge of heel-toe braking or flywheels.

Evidence of the non-expert need for powerful editors is evidenced by the popularity of the effects on offer from the likes of Instagram: it might be well and truly getting on people’s nerves (just how many over-saturated, faux-vignette images do we have to look at?), but with 50 million users, you can’t deny the enormous market for something that will give normal compact camera images some extra sheen.

At the very least, PicMonkey isn’t a one-size-fits-all effect. Indeed, there is a vast number of image editing options available. Of course, not all of these are good: there’s a soft-focus effect at the top of the filters list called Orton that I wouldn’t inflict on a picture of my worst enemy. And while many of the others cover inevitable ground (just how many cross processing options does an editor need?), there are plenty more that enable you to create totally bespoke images. Impressively, there’s even a curves tool that updates the colours in your image as you pull it about. PicMonkey is currently free, but there will ultimately be a paid-for ‘Royale’ membership option, so those who fancy trying out its full range of features should do so now.

More than anything, the reappearance of Picnik, albeit with a slightly different team and a new name, is a magnificent two fingers at Google, whose behaviour in buying Picnik in 2010 and closing it two years later was a surprisingly antistartup move for a company supposedly championing web technology. It’s reassuring to see that a service can survive being chewed up by one of the monsters of the web.

There are still worries, though. PicMonkey’s natural home is on the iPad, a device that perfectly suits applications that do technical jobs in non-technical ways, but is built in Flash. We may presume that this made the building process (and probably the process of converting Picnik to PicMonkey) simpler, but the work of converting PicMonkey to a platform to which it’s ideally suited remains to be done. To be sure, its performan ce within a browser is impressive – not least because of Flash’s reputation as a battery-sucking processor-killer – but it often feels like the flexibility to run applications inside a browser window has been supplanted by the ability to run applications absolutely anywhere.

But perhaps what’s most pleasing about PicMonkey is that it’s at the vanguard of photo editors that enable you to produce nicely finished images without noodling about with Photoshop – even Photoshop Elements is a complicated series of levers and pullies, and without a decent theoretical understanding you’ll struggle to pull off subtle, effective edits. It’s possible that without PicMonkey and its ilk, the natural one-stop solution of casual photographers would continue to be the tedious, one-size-fits-all cliché of Instagram and other lomographic pretenders. And anything that gets us away from homogenous photography is a good thing, despite Google’s worst intentions.

Description: Check out those curves A full-on curves tool is more than you get with many photo editors, much less free online ones

Check out those curvesA full-on curves tool is more than you get with many photo editors, much less free online ones

  •  Google's Chromebox
  •  Sony's Multi-function Smart Wireless Headset
  •  Ouya – Android-Based Video Game Console Project
  •  Sony's Handycam HDR-XR260 Camcorder In Hands
  •  Sigma Released The World's First 1:1 180mm F2.8 Macro Lens
  •  Samsung MV900F
  •  Panasonic Lumix SZ5
  •  Panasonic Unveiled 45-150mm F/4.0-5.6 Lens For M4/3
  •  Trend Electronics - Solar Gargets
  •  In Detail – Humax DTR-T1000
  •  In Detail – Google Nexus Q
  •  I Work-Pro – A Style All Your Own
  •  Hot Five Digital Devices - August 2012
  •  Graphic Design – The Worship Of Icons
  •  Graphic Design – Pointing The Way
  •  Adobe InDesign CS5 : Object Layer Options, Object-Level Display Settings
  •  Adobe InDesign CS5 : Working with the Links Panel
  •  Corel Painter X : The Great Outdoors - Spring Flowers
  •  Corel Painter X : The Great Outdoors - Landscape
  •  Application Patterns and Tips : Deploy Applications Using ClickOnce
    Top 10
    Nikon 1 J2 With Stylish Design And Dependable Image And Video Quality
    Canon Powershot D20 - Super-Durable Waterproof Camera
    Fujifilm Finepix F800EXR – Another Excellent EXR
    Sony NEX-6 – The Best Compact Camera
    Teufel Cubycon 2 – An Excellent All-In-One For Films
    Dell S2740L - A Beautifully Crafted 27-inch IPS Monitor
    Philips 55PFL6007T With Fantastic Picture Quality
    Philips Gioco 278G4 – An Excellent 27-inch Screen
    Sony VPL-HW50ES – Sony’s Best Home Cinema Projector
    Windows Vista : Installing and Running Applications - Launching Applications
    Most View
    Bamboo Splash - Powerful Specs And Friendly Interface
    Powered By Windows (Part 2) - Toshiba Satellite U840 Series, Philips E248C3 MODA Lightframe Monitor & HP Envy Spectre 14
    MSI X79A-GD65 8D - Power without the Cost
    Canon EOS M With Wonderful Touchscreen Interface (Part 1)
    Windows Server 2003 : Building an Active Directory Structure (part 1) - The First Domain
    Personalize Your iPhone Case
    Speed ​​up browsing with a faster DNS
    Using and Configuring Public Folder Sharing
    Extending the Real-Time Communications Functionality of Exchange Server 2007 : Installing OCS 2007 (part 1)
    Google, privacy & you (Part 1)
    iPhone Application Development : Making Multivalue Choices with Pickers - Understanding Pickers
    Microsoft Surface With Windows RT - Truly A Unique Tablet
    Network Configuration & Troubleshooting (Part 1)
    Panasonic Lumix GH3 – The Fastest Touchscreen-Camera (Part 2)
    Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2005 : FOR XML Commands (part 3) - OPENXML Enhancements in SQL Server 2005
    Exchange Server 2010 : Track Exchange Performance (part 2) - Test the Performance Limitations in a Lab
    Extra Network Hardware Round-Up (Part 2) - NAS Drives, Media Center Extenders & Games Consoles
    Windows Server 2003 : Planning a Host Name Resolution Strategy - Understanding Name Resolution Requirements
    Google’s Data Liberation Front (Part 2)
    Datacolor SpyderLensCal (Part 1)