19 Best Photo Editing Software for Photographers in 2020

Digital cameras have come a long way in recent years. Now, we can take stunning pictures with a normal smartphone. But, no matter the camera, there’s always scope for improvement. The best photo editing software lets you fine-tune every pixel.

best photo editing software
copyright: HDesert / bigstock

For professionals, photo editing software is as important as the camera. It can get rid of lightning problems in landscape photos, it can remove blemishes in portraits and can give photos the high-quality finish they need to make the best impression.

For casual users, it’s a way to show off your creativity. It also gives your best photos a professional touch before sharing them.

You can edit photos online for free with cloud software. That may be enough for the casual user, but desktop software is much more powerful. Here are some of the latest innovations in photo editing software:

  • Face recognition makes it easier to organize photos of people
  • AI makes routine editing work quicker and easier
  • Virtual reality lets you create immersive photos.
  • HDR (high dynamic range) imaging brings out the colors

The hardest thing is there’s so much to choose from! So, we’ve reviewed and ranked a list of the best photo editing software to help you decide what’s best for you. 

So, let’s get started:

#1. Adobe Photoshop

Best for professional photography

Available for Windows, macOS, and iPadOS

adobe photoshop
source: adobe.com

Everyone’s heard of Photoshop. It’s been around for 30 years, and it’s the industry leader. The current edition, Adobe Photoshop 2020 (version 21) launched last November. It introduces lots of new and improved features.

These include a new properties panel and selection tool. It’s also the first edition to support iPads. Adobe Photoshop is a subscription product, which some people might not like. But you will get free updates and support for the duration of the subscription.

You can also store and access your work online. You don’t need to copy over your projects between devices.Photoshop is one of the most feature-rich photo editing suites. It offers layered editing, automation, and lots of presets.

It has a clean and intuitive interface, but the number of features may be too much for some. There are helpful guides, which make it easier to understand the main tools. 

We recommend Adobe Photoshop 2020 for professional photographers. It’s the industry standard, and it’s supported by thousands of plugins. It’s an evolving product with powerful features. But, it’s overkill for most casual users. 

What Adobe Photoshop does best

  • Layered editing
  • Support for iPad
  • Content-aware filtering
  • Powerful object selection
  • Hundreds of presets

Where does Adobe Photoshop fall short

  • Subscription-only
  • High learning curve
  • Limited vector editing

Our favorite feature

Photoshop’s real power lies in the way it uses artificial intelligence. Adobe Sensei automates many tasks that would otherwise take hours.

For example, you can select objects in photos by drawing a rectangle. The AI does the rest. That’s much faster than making a freehand selection!

How much does it cost?

Adobe has pricing tiers for businesses, individuals, and educational institutions. Photoshop starts at $9.99 per month. This entry-level choice also includes Adobe Lightroom.

#2. Skylum Luminar

Best for automatic photo enhancement

Available for Windows and macOS 

skylum luminar
source: skylum.com

Luminar is available as a plugin for Adobe Photoshop or as a standalone application. The latest edition, Luminar 4, uses libraries to help you organize your images. Unlike Photoshop, you don’t need to subscribe.

It’s a one-time purchase. Luminar is a one-stop shop for photo editing. It’s best-known for the way it uses AI to transform your photos. You start with a vast selection of presets, which you can change and merge to make your own.

One of the most unique features is the sky replacement tool. This lets you replace the sky in your photos. You can also embed new objects with a single click.

Adding sun rays to change the mood of landscape photos it is possible while you can even use Luminar’s unique AI slider to see the changes in real-time. Even removing an object from a photo is a one-click task. 

Luminar’s ease of use makes it perfect for beginners. It’s good for professionals too, thanks to layered editing and RAW file support. Photoshop or Lightroom users can also install the Luminar plugin.

What Skylum Luminar does best

  • Layered editing
  • Plugin available for Photoshop
  • Customizable workspaces
  • Content-aware AI editing
  • Over 70 ‘instant looks’ presets

Where does Skylum Luminar fall short

  • Limited export formats
  • Very hardware-intensive

Our favorite feature

While AI photo editing is the norm, Luminar introduces some interesting new features. We enjoyed using the Sky Replacement tool to change the mood of our photos.

And the AI slider makes it easy to accurately adjust images, but it is taxing on hardware.

How much does it cost?

Luminar 4 starts at $89 for a full license. There are two other bundles available. The Plus bundle includes the Amazing Planets and California Sunsets add-ons. It costs $99. The Max bundle, which includes the Aurora HDR photo editor, costs $169.

#3. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Best for organizing photo collections

Available for Windows and macOS

adobe photoshop lightroom
source: adobe.com

Adobe Lightroom is for photo editing and management. It’s part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, so it’s available to anyone who buys a standard Photoshop license. There are apps for mobile devices too. 

All your images stay online. You can access your library from anywhere, and Adobe provides 1TB of online storage. This means you can start on one device and finish on another. 

Lightroom isn’t as powerful as Photoshop for editing photos, but that’s not what it’s meant for. Instead, Lightroom is for organizing and managing photos and applying changes in bulk.

Photoshop only lets you work with one image at once. Lightroom has a simple interface. The learning curve is minimal. It’s good for saving time when you’re editing big photo collections.

You can apply changes to a complete set of photos at the same time. You can also install new presets from third-party creators. Lightroom and Photoshop work well together.

You can use Lightroom for quick and easy bulk editing and photo management. Photoshop gives you complete control over every pixel in your photos.  

What Photoshop Lightroom does best

  • Non-destructive editing
  • Lots of presets
  • Easy to learn
  • RAW image processing

Where does Photoshop Lightroom fall short

  • No support for plugins
  • Limited editing features
  • Subscription-only

Our favorite feature

We love how easy Lightroom is to use. It’s ideal for beginners who want a better way to keep their collections organized. It’s also good for improving your photos in bulk.

Professionals will also appreciate how it helps them keep their workflows organized. They’ll still want to use Photoshop for any serious editing.

How much does it cost?

Subscriptions start at $9.99 per month. This includes the desktop and mobile versions and 1TB of online storage.  

#4. Corel PaintShop Pro Ultimate 

Best for amateur photographers and artists

Available for Windows

corel paintshop
source: paintshoppro.com

PaintShop Pro is now 30 years old, making it one of the oldest photo editors around. The latest edition, PaintShop Pro 2020, features some major improvements. There’s a new cloning feature that lets you merge elements from multiple photos.

You can select objects with great precision with the new selection tool. And there’s a scaled-down interface option, which you can turn on for making quick edits.

A lot of photo editing software is hard to learn. PaintShop Pro isn’t one of them. It’s made for beginners, but it’s still a powerful program. It has many features you’d normally only find in far more expensive software.

The new interface makes it easier to work with touchscreens too. Like other leading photo editing software, PaintShop Pro supports non-destructive layered editing.

You can even create vector layers, which is good for adding text and diagrams. You can apply filters to their own layers as well, without touching the original image.

The adaptable interface and powerful features makes PaintShop Pro ideal for enthusiastic amateurs. It’s a lot more advanced than most one-click photo editing apps. But, it’s not as hard to master as most professional photo software.

What Corel PaintShop does best

  • Works with Photoshop plugins
  • Picture tubes
  • 360° photo editing
  • Vector editing
  • Content-aware cloning
  • Very affordable

Where does Corel PaintShop fall short

  • Only available for Windows

Our favorite feature

The biggest benefit with PaintShop Pro is its customizable workspaces. The new Photography Workspace is a great entry point for inexperienced users. It’s also a good segue into the more advanced modes. 

How much does it cost?

Corel PaintShop Pro Ultimate costs a one-time fee of $99.99. The price is $79.99 for anyone upgrading from an earlier edition. 

#5. Adobe Photoshop Elements 

Best for casual photographers 

Available for Windows and macOS

adobe photoshop elements
source: adobe.com

Photoshop Elements is the entry-level counterpart of Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop Elements 2020, the latest edition, includes two apps. You can use Elements Organizer for managing photos and the Elements Editor for editing them.

Both are standalone apps but work well together. As soon as you launch Photoshop Elements, it’s obvious it’s made for beginners. It has three main interface modes. Guided edits offer walkthroughs of the key features.

Quick edits let you apply simple changes to your photos. The Expert mode unlocks the full range of features. This includes many special effects, but there aren’t many advanced options.

You can’t export CMYK formats, so it’s not suitable for professional print-production work. Adobe’s Sensei AI is good for tweaking your images. In the Elements Organizer, it helps you organize photo collections with smart tags.

With Elements Editor, the smart selection tool lets you create cutouts of people and pets. It’s perfect for adding some creativity to those family memories!

What Photoshop Elements does best

  • Guided editing
  • User-friendly interface
  • Instant smart selections
  • One-time purchase
  • Automatic face- and geo-tagging

Where does Photoshop Elements fall short

  • No support for Adobe Cloud
  • Few advanced editing features
  • Can’t export in CMYK formats 

Our favorite feature

Adobe markets Photoshop Elements as a family- and amateur-friendly version of Photoshop. We particularly liked the Guided Edits feature. It gives you a good introduction to photo editing. Professional users may find the software lacking. 

How much does it cost?

Photoshop Elements 2020 costs a one-time fee of $99.99.

#6. Skylum Aurora HDR 

Best for HDR photography 

Available for Windows and macOS

skylum aurora hdr
source: skylum.com

Skylum Aurora HDR is an award-winning photo editor for high dynamic range photography. Few things bring out the color in landscape photography better than HDR technology. 

Aurora makes it possible to expand a photo’s color range beyond what’s possible with a single exposure. HDR photography often requires three to five different exposures of the same scene.

With Aurora, you can take one RAW image and expand its color tones using filters. HDR photography is usually for the professionals. But we’ve listed Aurora as a beginner-friendly program because it’s so easy to use.

The sleek and modern interface is a lot like that in Adobe Lightroom. The added advantage is it lets you work with layers, masks, and blending modes. Every change you make is non-destructive too.

Aurora HDR has lots of presets, which are great for inspiration. You can also customize every preset to get that perfect look. The before/after slider lets you see the difference while you’re working too.

It’s available as a standalone program or as a plugin for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

What Skylum Aurora HDR does best

  • Natural-looking results
  • Plugin available for Photoshop
  • Non-destructive editing
  • Perfect for HDR photography

Where does Skylum Aurora HDR fall short

  • Very taxing on hardware

Our favorite feature

Aside from being easy to use, we love the way Aurora HDR really brings photos to life. There’s a small learning curve, making HDR photography more accessible than ever. It’s customizable one-click presets couldn’t be easier to use.

How much does it cost?

Aurora HDR costs $99. You can also get it with Luminar 4 for $149

#7. DxO PhotoLab 

Best for optical correction and noise reduction

Available for Windows and macOS

dxo photolab
source: dxo.com

DxO PhotoLab replaces DxO Optics Pro. It’s now a full-featured photo editor with lens correction and RAW file support. One of the most important features is the new local adjustment tool. This gives you more control over editing.

PhotoLab also has a management mode, but it’s limited. Here, you can browse through images and search by file type, tag, or rating. Double-clicking on a photo opens the Customize section.

There, you can edit your photos and remove unwanted items. With local adjustments, you can make these changes on a per-pixel level. There’s also a color wheel which lets you fine-tune colors over eight channels.

PhotoLab works with your filing structure, so you don’t need to import images. The software will check the EXIF data to show you the cameras and lenses used.

If it can’t find the correction modules required, it will ask you to download them. It then lets you improve photos with filters designed for your specific camera and lens type.

What DxO PhotoLab does best

  • Clean and modern interface
  • Excellent noise reduction
  • Optical corrections
  • Powerful RAW photo editing

Where does DxO PhotoLab fall short

  • Few workflow tools
  • No support for Fujifilm X-Trans files

Our favorite feature

A big strength of PhotoLab is its optical correction. It uses data from over 42,000 camera and lens combinations to provide unique corrective profiles. If you want the best RAW photo editing experience, there’s simply no better tool for the job.

How much does it cost?

DxO PhotoLab 3 costs $129. Users of older versions can upgrade for $69.

#8. ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020

Best for all-in-one photo editing and management

Available for Windows (Standard edition available for macOS)

acdsee photo studio
source: acdsee.com

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 is ACDSee Systems’ premium offer. This new edition has blended cloning and smart erasing effects. Like related products, it uses AI face recognition to help you organize your photos.

Like Adobe, ACDSee is one of the pioneers of digital photography. Although it’s not as well known, it is a cheaper alternative. Still, it offers the full set of editing tools you’d expect from the best photo editing software.

Some features do lack refinement, and the interface is overcrowded. But unlike Photoshop, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate does include a photo-management mode.  

ACDSee’s RAW image processor supports over 500 camera models. After you’ve imported and cataloged your images, you can edit them in non-destructive layers. You can also adjust lighting and colors in specific parts of your images. 

ACDSee offers many training resources, like tutorials and workshops. Users can also get help from the community. It might not be as popular as Adobe, but it’s worth checking out. There’s a free trial available too.

What ACDSee Photo Studio does best

  • Combined photo management and editing
  • Face recognition and geotagging
  • Excellent performance
  • Cloud storage included

Where does ACDSee Photo Studio fall short

  • Cluttered interface
  • RAW file import quality isn’t great

Our favorite feature

It’s good to have photo management and editing in one program. We liked being able to organize photos and other files without opening another app. It’s also able to open documents of other types, like Office files and PDFs.

How much does it cost?

A lifetime license costs $84.95. There’s a subscription plan, which includes ACDSee’s full range of tools, for $89 per year. 

#9. PicMonkey

Best for online publishing

Available for web and mobile

picmonkey
source: picmonkey.com

PicMonkey is a bit different to the other tools we’ve featured so far. It’s a web and mobile app, rather than a desktop one. But it’s also a popular tool with a specific purpose.

It’s designed for creative agencies and social media marketers. Every small business needs compelling visual content. PicMonkey aims to fill the void with a simple set of tools designed for that purpose.

It has powerful photo and vector editing tools, but it’s not as complicated as high-end creativity software. It includes a broad selection of templates and filters. The touch-up tools are easy to use.

You can also edit your images on iPhone or Android. PicMonkey is a great option for small business users and social media influencers.

Support for vector graphics means it’s also good for creating visuals that look great at any scale. You can also print photos, cards, and leaflets from the program. 

What PicMonkey does best

  • Automatic resizing for social media
  • Collage effects and layouts
  • Thousands of design templates
  • Very affordable

Where does PicMonkey fall short

  • No desktop version
  • Limited feature set
  • Subscription-only product

Our favorite feature

We loved the way PicMonkey combines photo editing and design in a program that’s so easy to use. It’s great for beginner photographers who want to prepare photos for web-viewing. 

How much does it cost?

PicMonkey starts at $7.99 per month for the Basic version. The Pro version costs $12.99 per month and comes with unlimited storage. 

#10. Canva

Best for online publishing

Available for web and mobile

canva
source: canva.com

Canva is another web-based photo editing tool. Like PicMonkey, it’s meant for making business templates and designs. But it does help you touch up your photos as well.

It’s one of the most popular tools around for small business users. Beginners will welcome the simple interface and learning curve. Professionals will appreciate having a web-based app they can use anywhere.

Unlike most photo editing software, you can use Canva on a smartphone. You’ll only have a limited feature set but it’s great for making quick and simple changes.

It’s also a way to access the Canva Marketplace. There, you can choose from thousands of templates, clipart images, icons, and more. You can then import them into your projects with the simple drag-and-drop editor.

Canva is ideal for anyone who wants to create photo designs and other visual content for the web. It works well on almost any computer, and it provides ample online storage for your projects.

What Canva does best

  • Huge choice of templates
  • Online media library
  • Easy to use
  • Free version available

Where does Canva fall short

  • Many features are premium only
  • No desktop version

Our favorite feature

We liked how easy it was to create quality visuals without any graphic design experience. Having a free version is a big bonus, but it’s worth upgrading if you want to use the more powerful features. 

How much does it cost?

The free version has over 8,000 templates and 100 design types. Pro users pay $9.95 per month, billed annually. 

#11. Capture One Pro

Best for RAW file conversion and editing

Available for Windows and macOS

capture one
source: captureone.com

Capture One Pro combines image editing, cataloguing, and RAW file processing. Developer Phase One is well-known for its high-end professional photography hardware.

Capture One offers local and layer-based editing. It has many unique features. One of the most important is its support for tethered shooting. With live-monitor views, it’s possible to take photos directly in the app.

Version 20 has lots of interface improvements, better HDR support, and better controls. There’s also a new color editor with eight color ranges.

With lots of unique features, Capture One Pro is a bit different to the other entries in this list. Its interface is customizable. You can change the layout of the program and change the keyboard shortcuts.

It’s designed to adapt to a wide range of needs, but it does come with a steep learning curve.

The photo organization features are a welcome addition to the software. You can add ratings to thumbnails and apply color-coded tags. There’s also a keyword tool to help you build a well-organized library. 

Capture One Pro includes all the photo editing features you’d expect from a high-end program. These include masks and layers, non-destructive editing, and a very capable printing feature.

The RAW camera file importer is particularly good and gives you complete control over your photos. 

What Capture One does best

  • High-quality RAW file conversion
  • Tethered shooting and live monitor-viewing
  • Photo organization
  • Excellent noise reduction
  • Support for 500+ camera models

Where does Capture One fall short

  • No face recognition
  • No cloud storage
  • Expensive

Our favorite feature

Capture One Pro’s biggest strength is its RAW image editing. We liked how you can snap photos directly from the program too. 

How much does it cost?

Subscriptions start at $24 per month if you want support for all major camera models. There are packages exclusive to Fujifilm, Sony, and Nikon starting at $11 per month. You can also make a one-time purchase for $349 and $149 respectively. 

#12. ON1 Photo RAW

Best for RAW file conversion and editing

Available for Windows and macOS

on1 photo
source: on1.com

ON1 Photo RAW 2020 is a complete photo editing and organization suite. This version has improved search, easier photo browsing, and a highlight recovery tool. The program also uses AI technology to help improve colors and tones.

There are two ways of organizing your photos. You can browse by folder or add them to the catalog. There are separate tabs for each option, which helps avoid confusion.

There isn’t a full-blown database solution like in Adobe Lightroom, but it’s good enough for most users. The 2020 edition adds two new photo management features: You can now view your photos by the date you shot them.

The other option gives you a map view to let you find photos by location. Like any high-end photo editing software, ON1 Photo RAW offers non-destructive editing. All adjustments, like filters, have their own layers.

The Edit mode gives you full control over every pixel. You can make local adjustments or apply global special effects. There’s is a huge library of presets. The latest version introduces over 100 new ones, and you can browse them by category.

What ON1 Photo does best

  • High-quality filters
  • Layered editing
  • Face-tuning tools
  • Lens profile adjustments
  • Bargain price

Where does ON1 Photo fall short

  • Slow on older hardware
  • Lack of face or geo-tagging

Our favorite feature

We enjoyed the way we could change the weather in our photos. You can add rain, fog, or snow with the click of a button. This made it easy to change the atmosphere of a photo. 

How much does it cost?

ON1 Photo RAW costs a one-time fee of $99.99. There’s a 90-day money-back guarantee. 

#13. Pixlr Photo Editor

Best for casual photography

Available for web

pixlr
sorce: pixlr.com

Pixlr is a web-based photo editor. It offers an impressive set of features that you’d often only expect with desktop software. There’s even a basic version available for free.

The Pixlr X edition is the more advanced version, available for a monthly fee. Pixlr is one of the most powerful online photo editors. The biggest difference is you can use it on any device no matter where you are.

You don’t need to download and install the software, and your photos stay online too. To use Pixlr, all you need to do is upload a photo from your device.

You can then transform it non-destructively using professional editing tools. It includes support for layers, which is unique among web-based photo editing apps.

Pixlr uses AI and machine learning to replace repetitive editing tasks. For example, you can remove the background from photos. There are hundreds of filters and pop-art effects, and you can adjust each one with a slider.

A few of these tools are still in beta. They’ll be improved in future updates. But Pixlr’s biggest strength is the fact it’s an evolving online tool. You’ll never need to install it or buy costly upgrades. 

What Pixlr Photo does best

  • Layered editing
  • Advanced editing tools
  • Straightforward interface
  • Minimal learning curve
  • Free version available

Where does Pixlr Photo fall short

  • Some features are still in beta

Our favorite feature

Even if you didn’t have a web app in mind, Pixlr is impressive. We didn’t expect a web app to put many desktop programs to shame. But Pixlr does. It offers a way for amateur photographers to unleash their creativity on the move.

How much does it cost?

The basic, ad-supported edition is free. The more feature-rich Advanced edition costs $3.99 per month. The Professional edition costs $14.99 per month.

#14. Fotor

Best for casual and amateur photography

Available for Windows, macOS, web, and mobile

fotor
source: fotor.com

Fotor is one of the most accessible photo editing solutions in our list. It sports a web app used by millions of people. There are mobile apps for Android and iOS users.

And, for desktop users craving a little more power, there are versions for Windows and macOS. There’s a free version too, but it’s supported by ads. Still, they don’t tend to get in the way. 

If you upgrade to the Pro version, you can get rid of the ads. Fotor Pro also offers some high-end features, including HDR support. Still, the free version is also packed with excellent features by itself. 

A collage maker and designer, Fotor also includes some advanced editing features. It’s good for anyone who wants to edit their photos for personal use. RAW file conversion also makes it suitable for professional users. 

While Fotor isn’t a replacement for more advanced software like Photoshop, it is capable. The photo collage tool is great for creating presentations.

The one-click filters are powerful too. You can transform your photos in seconds. But there’s limited local editing supported, so you won’t be creating anything from scratch. 

What Fotor does best

  • Compatible with almost any device
  • Easy collage-making
  • Excellent one-click filters
  • Feature-rich free version

Where does Fotor fall short

  • Limited local retouching
  • Unsuitable for creating images from scratch

Our favorite feature

Fotor’s strongest point is its photo collage maker. It’s perfect for making beautiful presentations of treasured family memories. With so many layouts to choose from, it couldn’t be easier either. 

How much does it cost?

The Basic edition is free. Upgrading to Pro costs $3.33 per month, billed annually.

#15. CyberLink PhotoDirector 

Best for budget-conscious professional photographers

Available for Windows and macOS

cyberlink photodirector
source: cyberlink.com

CyberLink PhotoDirector is a professional photo editing and workflow management tool. It started off as a simple workflow alternative to Adobe Lightroom.

Now, it has professional-grade features combined with some useful tutorials. This makes it more accessible to beginners, but it’s still a powerful program.

The current version, launched in March, has lots of improvements. The biggest addition in version 11 is the photo animation feature. This brings your photos to life with presets that add motion to still images.

Other improvements include a dispersion effect and new color palettes with seasonal themes.

PhotoDirector is a lot more feature-rich than earlier versions. It’s been working hard to become a serious contender to Adobe Photoshop. While it’s still got some way to go, it does have a lower learning curve.

It supports RAW photo editing, content-aware object removal, and face-tagging. There’s even a body-slimming tool for a little Instagram vanity.

What CyberLink PhotoDirector does best

  • Flexible pricing plans
  • New design packs released every month
  • Powerful layered editing
  • AI-powered deblurring and styling
  • Workflow management features
  • Background music and audio effects

Where does CyberLink PhotoDirector fall short

  • Geotagging not supported
  • Can’t upgrade trial to full version

Our favorite feature

We liked how easy PhotoDirector is to use. After launching the program, there’s a good welcome screen. Here, you can launch the program in three modes.

There’s a learning mode for helping beginners. This helps you find your way around the app before trying out Express or Full mode. 

How much does it cost?

You can buy CyberLink PhotoDirector as a one-time purchase for $69.99. There are annual plans for CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 starting at $37.99. This includes unlimited access to premium plugins.

#16. GIMP

Best for open-source flexibility

Available for Windows, macOS, and Linux

gimp
source: gimp.org

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is the king of open-source photo editing. It’s also one of the few professional photo editing programs available for Linux. For fans of open-source software, it’s the go-to alternative to Photoshop.

We can’t deny GIMP has a steep learning curve. It’s even harder to master. Since GIMP is a nonprofit project, there isn’t any real customer service.

But this also makes it one of the most versatile photo editors out there. It’s completely free, and there are countless ways to extend its functionality. The community regularly publishes plugins too.

While GIMP doesn’t offer as smooth an experience as paid software, it is a powerful tool. It supports non-destructive layered photo editing. There’s a file management mode for organizing your photos.

You can choose from many filters and add more with plugins. GIMP’s local editing tools are perfect for creating digital artworks from scratch. GIMP is more than a photo editor. It’s a full-featured raster graphics tool comparable to Photoshop.

What GIMP does best

  • Completely free and open source
  • Professional photo-editing tools
  • Unlimited customization 
  • Lots of free plugins available
  • Active community of users
  • Non-destructive layered editing

Where does GIMP fall short

  • Lack of guidance and support
  • Steep learning curve

Our favorite feature

If you’re looking for open-source photo editing software, GIMP is second to none. We love how customizable it is. It’s suitable for beginners, but you’ll need some special knowledge to get the most out of it.

How much does it cost?

GIMP is completely free for any kind of use. 

#17. Exposure X5

Best for creative photography

Available for Windows and macOS

exposure
source: exposure.software

Exposure X5 is an all-in-one photo organizer and editor. The standalone program supports Windows and macOS. There’s also a creative editing plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom.

If you’re coming from Adobe Lightroom, you’ll recognize the interface in Exposure X5. It’s very similar and, like Lightroom, it offers full workflow management.

It’s best known for its ample collection of presets. It also supports layered editing, but it lacks auto-correct tools and geometric editing. Exposure X5 is a beginner-friendly tool, but it’s better suited to professionals.

It supports RAW file formats from over 400 cameras. There’s no separate RAW conversion process. You can start working on the images right away and you can categorize pictures with colored labels, flags, or star ratings.

Searching the collections based on camera model, lens, and even shot settings is possible while you can also assign keywords to photos. Exposure will even recognize keywords imported from Lightroom.

If you’re using Photoshop or Lightroom, you can enjoy the unique features of Exposure X5 with the plugin. These include customizable film presets, unique creative tools, and 3D color masking.

What Exposure does best

  • Over 500 customizable presets
  • Layered editing
  • Plugins available for Photoshop and Lightroom
  • RAW photo support for 400+ cameras
  • Portrait retouching

Where does Exposure fall short

  • Poor lens profile corrections
  • No face- or geo-tagging

Our favorite feature

We enjoyed tinkering with the film presets. They’re customizable, and they help add a creative flair to photos of every kind. Exposure X5 has one of the largest selections of film-style presets available.

How much does it cost?

Exposure X5 costs a one-time fee of $119 with a 30-day money-back guarantee. 

#18. Snappa

Best for social media and advertising 

Available for web

snappa
source: snappa.com

Snappa is a web-based graphic design and photo editing tool. It’s often compared to Canva, which it shares a lot in common with. It’s primarily a business graphics tool for creating visuals for ads and social media.

Snappa is easy to use. It’s not an advanced photo editing tool, and there’s no learning curve involved. It uses a simple drag-and-drop interface, and you can add effects using a slider.

Every subscription includes access to a library of 3 million royalty-free stock photos, 100,000+ graphic, and 200 fonts. You can also choose from thousands of customizable templates.

They are all organized by industry niche and available in many sizes. It’s easy to resize graphics for use in certain situations. For example, there are size presets for Facebook timeline images and Twitter headers.

Snappa isn’t made for print production or professional photo editing. But it’s an excellent choice for social media and marketing. The templates are great for creating high-quality visual content in minutes rather than hours. There’s also a free edition for casual users. 

What Snappa does best

  • Easy drag-and-drop editing
  • Access to millions of stock images and graphics
  • Share images on social media
  • No learning curve

Where does Snappa fall short

  • No undo feature
  • No auto saving

Our favorite feature

We loved the wide selection of professional-quality templates. They make it easy to create marketing materials and other presentations.

Best of all, we found there were ample options for every niche we could think of.

How much does it cost?

There is a free edition, but it only allows three downloads per month. The Pro edition costs $10 per month and offers unlimited downloads. 

#19. Anthropics PortraitPro

Best for portrait editing

Available for Windows and macOS

anthropics portrait
source: anthropics.com

Anthropics PortraitPro is the best photo editing software for portraits. There’s a studio edition for professional photographers, which supports RAW file formats.

There’s also a Photoshop plugin for those who prefer not to use a separate program. New in PortraitPro 19 is the patented ClearSkin 5 technology. It uses deep-learning technology to replicate the appearance of real skin.

It removes blemishes and lighting issues, while keeping things like freckles and beauty spots. The goal is to make portrait photos more realistic, unlike those which have been ‘Photoshopped’.

The fact the program only works for portrait editing is its strongest point. Another unique feature is the expression tools. You can enhance your portraits by changing facial expressions with sliders. 

PortraitPro also includes many standard photo editing features. Advanced picture controls let users adjust tone and temperature and add other effects. You can also combine photos to change backgrounds or choose an included background. 

Anthropics also makes PortraitPro Body, which lets users adjust build, height, and more. There’s LandscapePro for landscape photography. Finally, there’s Smart Photo Editor, which is for general photography.

What Anthropics Portrait does best

  • Skin smoothing
  • Makeup tools
  • Lighting fixes
  • Lens correction
  • Facial expressions

Where does Anthropics Portrait fall short

  • Results sometimes lack realism

Our favorite feature

While the results weren’t always realistic, we enjoyed experimenting with the expression tools. It completely transformed our portrait photos. We can see its value in making better photos for social media profiles and other websites.

How much does it cost?

PortraitPro is a one-time purchase costing $44.95. The Studio edition costs $69.95, and the Studio Max edition costs $139.95. 

Why should you edit your photos?

The process of creating a photo doesn’t end the moment you press the shutter button. Every photo is captured in a RAW file format by a light-sensitive chip.

This converts the light into electrical signals and renders them in a digital file. This means the photos the camera itself edits the photos too.

What you see on the screen is a neutral exposure where a whole lot of data has been captured to create the image. It’s usually not a pretty one.

Here are five reasons for editing your photos:

Cropping

When done correctly, cropping can enhance the visual impact of your photos. It also has practical uses, such as for changing the aspect ratio to fit certain paper sizes or web design standards. 

cropping
source: adobe.com

Cropping removes unwanted outer areas from an image. This changes its size and/or aspect ratio. Cropping a digital image is easy. All photo editing software provides this function. You can even use MS Paint to crop images. 

Saturation

When something is saturated, it means it’s holding as much water as it can absorb. With digital photography, you replace water with color.

This is what defines the intensity of color in an image. If you want to make your photos more colorful, you’ll need to increase the saturation.

saturation
source: skylum.com

While hue refers to the color itself, saturation refers to color intensity. Photo editing software lets you change color intensity across several channels.

Most programs let you change color intensity with the primary colors – red, blue, and yellow. Some software lets you alter saturation across as many as eight channels.

Retouching

Photo retouching is the process of preparing a photo for its final presentation. Photographers retouch photos after they apply global filters to improve lighting and color.

retouching
source: skylum.com

Retouching removes unwanted elements from an image. Unlike cropping, it doesn’t involve removing entire areas of the image. Professional photo editing software often includes content-aware retouching and cloning.

This is much faster than using brushes to edit the image manually. Photographers also retouch portrait photos to remove blemishes. Sometimes, these efforts can replace a professional makeup artist!

Color balance

Cameras often emphasize one of the primary colors, mostly blue or red. While the difference is subtle, it can be greater in certain lighting conditions.

Color balance is also referred to as gray or white balance. The main goal is to make all the colors as neutral and as realistic as possible.

color balance
source: dxo.com

Most photo editing programs let you change the color balance. Beginner programs often only have three color channels. Professional ones have as many as eight.

With the best photo editing software, you can also adjust colors locally with brushes and selections too.

Noise reduction

Noise refers to that uneven grainy look you often see in digital images. It’s the digital version of grain in traditional film. But, unlike film grain, it can make photos look unappealing.

noise reduction
source: dxo.com

Noise increases the longer the exposure time, or if you shoot at a high ISO setting. You can reduce noise by shooting at lower ISO settings or using RAW formats.

Photo editing software can also help using specialized algorithms. Professional software like DxO PhotoLab lets you reduce noise locally. This helps avoid reducing detail in other parts of the image.

How to choose the right photo editing software for you

Choosing the right photo editing software is no easy task. Not only is it a very personal choice; there are dozens of options available. For many people, the obvious choice is Photoshop, as it’s the industry leader.

But it also has a steep learning curve and a huge amount of features many people will never need. To help you choose the right solution, you should start by making a list of features.

Categorize them by how important they are from must-haves to things you’d like to have but don’t need. This will help you shortlist some apps.

Here are some ideas to help:

Best photo editing software for beginners

Casual photographers often find themselves overwhelmed by the number of options available. There’s also no point in investing hundreds of dollars in software designed for the pros.

Most beginners only need simple features like color correction, resizing, and cropping. Brush-based editing gives you more control over your photos, but it’s time-consuming.

That’s why beginners often prefer software with plenty of presets and templates. For beginners, we recommend starting with a free web-based tool. But if you’re looking for a desktop solution, you won’t do much better than Corel PaintShop Pro.

It provides many pro features, like layered editing, but it’s also easy to use. PaintShop Pro won’t leave you wanting more if you need more advanced features. We also think the Workspaces tool is valuable.

corel paintshop pro workspace tool
source: corel.com

This lets users adjust the program for specific use cases. For example, you can start with the Essential Workspace. When you’re confident using the software, you can use the Complete Workspace.

Best photo editing software for professionals

Professional photographers usually prefer photo editing software that supports RAW formats. From a technical standpoint, these vary between camera and lens models. Not all RAW editing programs support all cameras and lenses.

The important thing about editing RAW photos is that you can start with the exact image the camera took. It isn’t compressed into a JPEG or TIFF file. You can think of a RAW photo as a digital version of the negatives from traditional film cameras.

We recommend Adobe Photoshop for professionals. It is, after all, the industry standard. There are hundreds of plugins available which further extend its functionality. The learning curve is steep, but the powerful features make it worth the effort.

adobe photoshop content aware tool
source: adobe.com

Adobe’s excellent use of AI also helps professional photographers save time. We love the new content-aware fill feature in this year’s edition. It makes it easy to remove unwanted objects from photos.

Best photo editing software for Mac

Most photo editing software is available for Mac. Again, for professional photographers, we recommend Adobe Photoshop. But since PaintShop Pro isn’t available for macOS, we’ll give the prize to Fotor.

It’s one of the most user-friendly photo editors around, and it’s also available on the web. If you’re a beginner or casual amateur, Fotor is a great way to get started.

fotor hdr software
source: fotor.com

Support for RAW image formats and HDR controls makes it a great segue into professional photography. The AI-powered photo effects are also great for adding some artistic flair to your photos.

Best photo editing software for Windows

Casual photographers can use the Photos app included with Windows 10. But it won’t be long before they outgrow its limited feature set. We recommend Adobe Photoshop for professionals and Corel PaintShop Pro for beginners.

Best free photo editing software

There’s only one true contender when it comes to free photo editing software. You can perform some basic operations with free web-based software, but they’re limited.

GIMP is the uncontested industry leader in free and open-source photo editing software. GIMP isn’t easy to learn, but it has an active and helpful community behind it. It’s also good for creating original artworks and graphic design.

gimp tools

We liked how adaptable it is. There are thousands of free add-ons available. These include filter presets, graphical elements, and more. If you’re good at coding, you can even make your own.

Final words

We hope this guide has helped you choose the best photo editing software for your needs.

Here’s a recap of our recommendations:

  • Corel PaintShop Pro – best for beginners
  • Adobe Photoshop – best for professionals
  • Fotor – best for macOS
  • Adobe Photoshop or Corel PaintShop Pro – best for Windows
  • GIMP – best free software

Remember, you can give most software a test run with a free trial. This is good for testing learning curves and getting a better idea of what you need.

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