- February 19, 2019
- 23 min to read
Best Photo Editing Software for Photographers
If you do digital photography, you need software to edit your pictures. When they hear photo editing, many people imagine Adobe Photoshop. That’s fair. Photoshop gives you all the tools you need to create any effect you can imagine. But at the same time, you need to do a lot of work and have a lot of experience to unlock the potential of Photoshop. So it’s not the best choice for beginners.
There’s a lot of other functional, sometimes simpler, software with friendly interfaces. We’ll tell you about it.
1. Luminar (7 day free trial)
Luminar positions itself as the most innovative way to edit photos. The interface looks like Lightroom, excluding the Library column, which is combined with Edit and Info in one menu. The adjustment tools are the same as in Lightroom, from white balance and temperature to exposure, contrast, shadows, and so on. Lens correction and transform tools are also available.
The secret weapon of Luminar is Artificial Intelligence, or AI. AI technology powers three Luminar features:
Sky Enhancer – unique filters that make the sky in your pictures more expressive and increase contrast
Accidental AI – analyzes your photos and applies enhancements automatically so you don’t have to make a dozen manual adjustments
Sun Rays – adds realistic sun rays to your photos and lets you customize them
In Luminar you have over 60 default styles, or presets, created by pro photographers. You can use them to edit images with one click. The program has toolsets for portraits, landscapes, and aerial photography. Luminar’s interface is clear and logical. Like Lightroom, it has a thoughtful placement of tools. Just move the sliders and see what happens.
There’s no subscription for Luminar. Just buy it and use it. Skylum will give your money back within 60 days if you don’t like it.
PC: 2GHz Intel Core 2 or AMD Athlon 64 processor, 2GB RAM (8GB recommended), Windows 7 to 10 | Mac: Multicore Intel 64-bit processor, 2GB RAM (8GB recommended), OS X 10.11 or later | Hard drive: 4GB | Minimum screen resolution: 1024x768 pixels
Photoshop isn’t cheap and it’s not the simplest program, but it’s the best tool in the world. Nowadays, the only way to get Photoshop is to subscribe to one of Adobe’s subscription-based Photography plans.
Photoshop isn’t only for photographers. It’s for illustrators, designers, videographers, and artists. It lets you work with masks and layers, add ready-made filters, and make your own filters. You can change every characteristic of your photo - single colors, shades, etc... You can change the white balance and create a picture with any form: diptych, triptych, collage, etc. But you need to watch tens of tutorials to master all these features.
There are no image browsing or cataloging tools in Photoshop itself, but since Lightroom is included in the same Photography Plans as Photoshop, that’s not an issue. RAW conversions are taken care of by Adobe Camera Raw, which is so powerful it’s practically an image editor in its own right. On its own, Photoshop is powerful but limited; with Adobe Lightroom, it’s half of an unbeatable image editing double act.
3. Photolemur (Free version with watermark)
Photolemur promises the quickest photo editing. Just drag and drop your pictures to get the result. Artificial Intelligence does all the work. This program is good for portrait photographers because of Face Finish technology, which removes imperfections, enhances eyes, and whitens teeth. The smart browsing option lets you improve multiple photos at once.
Photolemur is a simple program for beginners. If you want to improve your pictures fast without understanding tens of options, use Photolemur.
4. Aurora HDR (7 day free trial)
This software is based on a Quantum HDR Engine powered by Artificial Intelligence. It provides 20+ tools to help you get beautiful HDR photos. At your disposal are a polarizing filter, color toning, vignetting, dodge and burn, and other features. And Aurora HDR has a few exclusive tools:
HDR Denoise – intelligently cleans noise
HDR Smart Structure – improves depth and details in your images
HDR Clarity – boosts clarity and adds localized contrast only where needed, without touching the whole photo
Aurora HDR gives you 80 unique Looks, or presets, which can turn your photos from RAW to creative in a few seconds. Manual mode is available too. Aurora HDR come with no subscription and a 60-day money back guarantee.
5. Alien Skin Exposure X4 (30-day Trial)
PC: Intel Core 2 or equivalent processor, Windows 7 64-bit or later | Mac: Intel Core 2 or higher processor, OS X 10.10 or later | Hard drive: Not listed | Minimum screen resolution: 1280x768 pixels
Alien Skin Exposure X4 has a strange name and a good pack of tools. This all-in-one program focuses on analog effects and has a rich library with presets. Alien Skin Exposure is a mix of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. With this software, you can adjust colors, shadows, lighting, and sharpness and crop pictures. The program also supports layers and masks and has a lot of one-click presets. You can create your own presets too.
One important feature of Alien Skin is virtual image copy, which creates a photo clone that doesn’t take any space on the hard drive. Another useful option is the ability to preview a preset before applying it. One flaw, however, is that Exposure X4 can be a little bit slow when scanning big catalogs.
PC: 64-bit 1.6GHz or faster processor, 4GB RAM, Win 7 SP1 to 10 | Mac: Multicore Intel 64-bit processor, 4GB RAM, OS X 10.11 or later | Hard drive: 5GB | Minimum screen resolution: 1280x800 pixels
Elements is Photoshop for beginners. Its interface is simpler.
Photoshop Elements is based on two programs:
Organizer: Helps you sort pictures. You can browse photos by folders, create albums, and mark pictures with hashtags. It makes it easier to create a series.
Editor: Includes tutorials, fast effects, guided mode with a list of walkthroughs, and expert mode with tens of tools from exposure and color editing to noise removal.
From flaws: Photoshop Elements has a limited version of Camera Raw with a small set of tools from classic Photoshop. It doesn’t support lens correction profiles or chromatic aberration removal, though. Many options are missing. For example, you don’t have curves even in expert mode.
Advantages of this software are its modern design and friendly and easy interface. It’s best for beginners, and tutorials are available.
PC: 2GHz or faster Intel Core 2 or AMD Athlon 64 processor, 2GB RAM (8GB recommended), Windows 7 SP1 to 10 | Mac: Intel 64-bit, 2GB RAM (8GB recommended), OS X 10.11 or later | Hard drive: 2GB (10GB for CC) | Minimum screen resolution: 1024x768 pixels
Adobe Photoshop + Lightroom = the perfect weapon.
Photoshop is great for hardcore manipulation: pro retouching, working with masks, layers, and levels. Adobe Lightroom was made mostly for corrections to shadows, lighting, exposure, and colors. You can edit photos fully manually quite easily: just slide the sliders and see what happens. Or use presets. You can save all settings and create your own presets to use later. Lightroom is convenient for editing a series of photos – you just need to create a catalog and apply one preset.
Lightroom is an all-in-one image cataloging, RAW processing, and editing program. But Adobe has made things more confusing by splitting off the old Lightroom, now called Lightroom Classic, for regular desktop storage and introducing a new, slimmed-down Lightroom CC which stores all your photos online. With Lightroom CC, you have to pay for Adobe Cloud storage, starting at 1GB for around £10/$10 per month, and there are now three Photography plans to choose from.
Lightroom CC offers the convenience of having your whole image library available everywhere, but the storage costs are high and the software itself lacks some key features you might take for granted in the desktop version – it doesn’t support plug-ins, for example, and supports only Photoshop as an external editor.
PC: Processor not specified, 2GB RAM (4GB recommended), Windows 7 SP1 to 10 | Mac: 64-bit Core Duo 2 or better processor, 2GB RAM, OS X 10.9 or later | Hard drive: 670MB | Minimum screen resolution: 1280x768 pixels
Do you want a low-cost and powerful Photoshop alternative? Now you’ve got it. Affinity Photo 1.6 has the same features as the famous Adobe product but it’s price is much better. Previously, Affinity Photo worked only on Mac, but now it’s available for Windows too.
It matches Photoshop in terms of selection, masking, and layer tools, and Serif, the developer of the Affinity products, has focused particularly heavily on retouching, with cloning, healing, and retouching tools, an inpainting tool for automatic object removal, and a dedicated Liquify Persona (workspace) for localized image distortion effects.
These Personas are part of the whole Affinity Photo workflow. The Photo Persona is where the regular image editing is done, but there’s also a Develop Persona for RAW processing, a Tone Mapping Persona for HDR effects, and an Export Persona for exporting finished images.
But Affinity’s creators didn’t come up with any browsing and cataloging tools.
9. DxO Photolab (Free 30-Day Trial)
PC: Intel Core 2 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 processor, 4GB RAM (8GB recommended), Windows 7 SP1 to 10 | Mac: Intel Core i5 or higher, 4GB RAM (6GB recommended), OS X 10.11 or later | Hard drive: 4GB | Minimum screen resolution: Not listed
Owners of Fujifilm cameras, we’re sorry but this tool is not for you. DxO Photolab 1.2 does not support RAWs from Fuji cameras.
This program is a basic tool without any supernatural options. With the new gradient, brush, and U-point adjustment tools, it’s now possible to enhance your photos within Photolab rather than in an external editor, all while using DxO’s excellent RAW processing engine. You can do good editing with Photolab, which boasts strong noise removal and effective optical correction.
The basic version of Photolab has limited features. To open the ClearView feature and perspective corrections, you need to buy the Elite edition. This will also give you access to the FilmPack set of analog effects.
PC: Intel Core 2 Duo, Xeon, or better processor, 4GB RAM (16GB recommended), Windows 7 to 10 | Mac: Intel Core 2 Duo or better processor, 4GB RAM (16GB recommended), OS X 10.9 or later | Hard drive: 1.5GB | Minimum screen resolution: 1280x720 pixels
What can you do with ON1 Photo RAW?
Organize your photos into series and explore your image folders
Work with RAW files
Use one-click presets from a huge library
Explore manual mode and change any characteristics of your images, from exposure and lighting to contrast and saturation
Photo RAW is compatible with cloud services such as Dropbox, which makes managing images easy. ON1 Photo RAW doesn’t have the most useful and friendly interface, but it has a wealth of effects and tools that make it worth using. But it’s not the best choice for beginners – you need some knowledge of editing to use it fully.
The latest version of ON1 Photo RAW has one unique feature called the LUT filter. This filter lets you use LUT (lookup table) files for image editing (they’ve long been popular in cinematography), and with the addition of perspective transformation tools, there’s little that ON1 Photo RAW can’t do.
PC: Dual-core CPU or better, 8GB RAM, Windows 7 SP1 to 10 | Mac: Dual-core CPU or better, 8GB RAM, OS X 10.11.6 or later | Hard drive: 10GB | Minimum screen resolution: 1200x800 pixels
If you like Lightroom, you’ll like Capture One. It has a smart and logical cataloging system so you can browse, group, and search for photos easily. This program has pretty much the same potential as Lightroom. But unlike Lightroom, Capture One Pro works in a single window. Editing RAW files with Capture One is quite easy, just like in Lightroom. You can make manual adjustments to colors, shadows, lighting, sharpness, and other characteristics. A big library of presets (Styles) is also available, and an option to save presets has been added.