So you’ve got the photos, but how about one of the best photo editing software in the world? Some may have beautiful photography; however, without some post-production tweaks at least here and there, your work may not be optimally portrayed in the way you had hoped when you first envisioned your project(s). Aside from the typical Photoshop lovers (that many and even we agree with being the industry standard today), are there other programs out there for photo editing worth looking at?
What is the purpose of the best photo editing software?
Image editing is the process of altering images whether they are traditional photographs, illustrations or digital photographs. There are many tools through which images can be manipulated, enhanced or transformed — if you can think of it, it’s most likely possible to do (at least in some form, with some software). In our experience, the best photo editing software can resize the image effortlessly, crop the photo and give it a fresh look (discarding all the unwanted objects or people), add effects (noticeable or merely not), filters, tweak minor as well as major adjustments, etc. Many of the latest software also allow users to merge different photos into a single image. An image slicer is another fresh tool for digital image editing through which an image is sliced in different independent sections that can be saved separately. We’ve seen some manipulate a photo so much that it’s barely recognizable to the original — it all depends on the photographer and project.
Unlike the best video editing software out there, a lot of these are quite affordable if you don’t go the high-end or subscription route. When it comes to finding the best photo software for you, keep a few things in mind. Firstly, make sure the photography software offers not only the previously explained staple-point features but other nifty tools you may find useful — color swapping abilities through which the colors of some specific objects can be altered, image rotation in any direction or degree, sharpen or soften the images in many varying ways, etc. Don’t forget your budget as well (or what you plan on saving up for after reading this and deciding). You can always try their free trial (which we’ve provided for each) to see if it’s worth the long-term investment.
Be sure to read our best digital camera in-depth guide if you still need a camera or other proper tool(s) to accommodate the new photo editing software you grab. We digress — let’s get down to the top 10 below.
The top 10 best photo editing software
Adobe Photoshop CC
Compatibility: Mac and PC
As stated previously, and considering this is the by far the industry standard nowadays for both Mac and PC, we had to at least start off this guide with Photoshop to get the ball rolling. It is of course one of the best photo editing software if you have the money, or you at least plan on using it for quite a long time since it will be an investment even for beginners. Considering they literally have Photoshop classes locally and nationally (depending on where you live), your support with this will always be there. With all of that being said, let’s highlight a few features (and we mean few, this thing takes years to fully learn): total photo manipulation in merely any way you can think, a streamlined and user-friendly interface, special technology for cropping, adding typography, filtering, masks, cloning and more. Their latest “Creative Cloud” feature can also store your brushes, colors, images, styles and other custom assets so they’re accessible from all of your different devices. The CC version has improved artboards where you can duplicate a single image or a group of layers into others and it can change the backgrounds quickly as well as apply alternate glyphs for particular characters directly from the in-context menu.
We also like their ‘Face-Aware Liquify’ feature that can identify the facial features like mouth, eyes, nose and others automatically and can adjust them easily for those working with photos of people. The ‘Refine Edge Brush’ is another new tool that separates the background and foreground elements of pictures. On top of that, you’re also getting access to millions of stock images\graphics that Adobe provides which is never a bad thing. Considering there are literally books about Photoshop and how to use it, this paragraph you’re reading is merely a very confined review. Photoshop CC is recommended as the best photography software by pretty much everyone due to quite a few reasons, mostly being how easy it is to use once you learn the hotkeys and capabilities, overwhelming support around the net, and a reputation for professional photographers using it as their no-brainer go-to program. Also keep in mind that if you take the time to sit down and get to know Adobe Photoshop, you’ll be good for the rest of your life in not only your own photography but perhaps a career as well.
Serif Affinity Photo
Up next, we have another heavy-hitter in the best photo editing software world, and this time especially geared towards Mac users (although there’s a beta out for Windows right now, it’s still Mac only). This program is compatible with all main camera file formats, provides super accurate editing, easy-to-use interface (as you can see in this picture, a bit similar to Photoshop — although a lot of software is as you will see), and is loaded with way too-many-to-count nifty features. For one, the user can adjust the black point, white balance, exposure, vibrance, clarity, highlights, shadows and much more. It is available with a wide range of high-end filters that include blurs, destination, tilt-shift, distortion, and glows, and you can enhance and correct images with black and white, curves, levels, HSL, shadows and highlights and white balance. Affinity photo offers all of the efficient tools required to make quick corrections or detailed retouches. It gives an accurate, full set of liquefy features and frequency separation capability, comprehensive RAW file editing, ability to work in RGB, CMYK, LAB and Grayscale, as well as a nice pan and zoom (at 60fps) for live previous, tools and editing.
Multi-layering, PDF/X support (this is big), live stacks, trim, bleed and crop marks name a few more of our favorite features of this program. This is another photo editing software we can’t completely describe in this paragraph overview — it’s another one of the best due to this. TechRadar’s Serif Affinity review rated it well and goes a lot more in-depth if you need some additional information. Check out Serif Affinity if you’re a Mac user and want something a bit different from the stereotypical “Photoshop or bust” mentality.
Compatibility: Mac and Windows
As we continue on our list after the few most popular photo programs available today, we have a different spin on editing right here. This is a great tool that is helpful in producing HDR (High Dynamic Range) imagery from the bracketed exposure of high contrast scenes. As opposed to a total-package program like the previous two, this is more specific that may even accommodate Photoshop or Affinity (even though they also have a few HDR features, they aren’t as in-depth or specialized like this one). If you’re unfamiliar to HDR photos, Photomatix Pro works well with pictures of the same scene captured under varying exposure settings — one can adjust the appearance of small details, contrast in shadows, saturation in shadows, saturation in highlight and shadow clipping.
The photographer can also perform removal of seams in 360 degrees on a stitched panoramic image with this one. It also offers the option of ‘Finishing Touch’, which allows you to you enhance the contrast of the image or adjust the saturation of the individual shade. The deghosting feature of the software deals with the problem of artifacts as well. Its a bit of a different solution than the others but still considered the best photo editing software if it pertains to your needs. Check out Photomatix Pro if it stands out to what you envisioned your photography needing — the user reviews really back up its legitimacy as another great option.
Phase One Capture One Pro 9
Compatibility: Mac and Windows
Up next, Capture One Pro is quite popular among the photo culture, especially due to its advanced technical features (we’ve seen it as a favorite with commercial shoots and the like). For starters, there’s a great built-in RAW converter and asset manager, Tethered Capture, Instant Review, compatible with both Mac and PC, and it can support almost any camera out there. Its ‘Color Balance Tool’ gives great control over the creative process through intuitive color grading. You can create as many keyword libraries as you like in order to manage varying lists easily through simple clicks (big for those who will be doing this a lot and need to optimize their workflow), and you can add or remove keywords from different images.
This imaging software is also effective to edit pictures in general and it supports both CMYK and RGB workflows along with dynamic proofing. It adjusts the curves only with Luma and provides fine tune contrast with no effect on hue and saturation. Capture One Pro 9 retains the same sharpness and quality of your photographs regardless of the output size of the image and the color editor of this one really allows for the perfect color tones you require.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 14
Compatibility: Windows and Mac
Here’s another popular Adobe photo editing software to take a look at and is a favorite among users looking for simplicity. With its enhanced features you can do quick edits, add artistic touches and transform your photo. It isn’t as in-depth as Photoshop but some may even consider that a plus — often PS can be a bit messy for those who can’t understand or want to use all of its technical features that takes years to master. This image software is great for beginners as well, and it lets you share the lasting moments on YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and others. Elements 14 allows the user to import, organize, process and showcase large volumes of digital photographs.
You can also resize, rotate and go for quick fixes with the easier to use and friendlier Quick Edit mode. The software lastly provides 34 ‘Guided Edits‘ through which you can add a sense of motion to the image and can resize the photo to fit in your required frame. Check out the Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 if you aren’t into bells and whistles.
Serif PhotoPlus X8
Here’s Serif’s second appearance in the guide, and this one is a great candidate for the best photo editing software if you wanted a solution with some great features that isn’t subscription-based like a few others. The re-engineered Crop tool has really improved since previous versions and there is a new ‘Trim Canvas’ tool to further trim the image quite easily and efficiently. Their ‘Surface Blur’ is another option that allows you to create great portraits, removing all the unwanted lines and blemishes. Especially if you’re working with people and concerned with faces, it helps smoothen wrinkles or makes the skin even without ignoring important details. Using the ‘Clone tool’, you can eliminate any unwanted marks, creases and scratches (won’t be perfect every time but is great for automation).
A few other standouts here include the latest ‘HSL Dropper’ tool of this photography software lets you change the appearance of the object by adding and subtracting all hues at the same time and their ‘Transfer Color’ tool allows you to match colors between two different layers and images. With quite a few more highlight features we haven’t listed yet, be sure to check out Serif PhotoPlus X8 for a different solution if you weren’t feeling the previous picks.
Compatibility: Windows and Mac
Here’s yet another Adobe program but considering they know what they’re doing and have been for quite some time, Lightroom is another amazing program that may really suit your photo needs if you’re into beefing up your photos. This is considered the best photo editing software since it has quite a few nifty features we haven’t really seen in other programs before — something called ‘Boundary Wrap’ which stretches the edges of merged panoramas to help the fullness, a slider to remove haze or add some effect to an image, a new mobile app to organize, edit and share your stuff, as well as a convenient feature to edit photos in an internet browser to span across your multiple devices. This photo software is great to edit pictures since it also provides the perfect perspective through straightening and controlling skewed lines.
With the Adobe in-app camera you can preview and apply a preset to your photos, and later you can adjust the setting or can restore the original. We really like how technologically in-tune Adobe has become with this one — it’s great for those who are also interested in editing photos on the fly on your smart devices — not to mention you can submit your photos to ‘Adobe Stock’ to sell to millions of buyers if you were interested in doing so. Adobe Lightroom may be the perfect program for you.
Corel PaintShop Pro X9 Ultimate
Corel is definitely a brand that knows what they’re doing and although less known than other big names, give them a run for their money especially when it comes to budget-friendly video and photography solutions. To name a few standouts of this one, you have a ‘Perfectly Clear 2SE’ feature that does a great job at enhancing the photos with a patented corrections process to help embellish your pictures, which is great for those who don’t want to get into each and every detail of their picture and need a more automated process. The Corel ‘After Shot’ enhances and recovers over exposed photos, fixes distortion and boosts the colors pretty well. The Live Screen Capture of this photo editing software enables screen recording if you need it (or may in the future), including microphone sound and system audio to create a custom video on top of it all — great for those making YouTube tutorials and the like.
This one isn’t jam-packed or super advanced like the others, but it does expand your creativity with lots of textures, brushes and more than 100 royalty-free backgrounds if you need it. This software helps save time as it adjusts the gradient directly on the canvas, shape or image and you can instantly apply text styles with a simplified text toolbar. Don’t forget the Corel PaintShop Pro X9 Ultimate for a budget-friendly and stable program with some automated features to help minimize labor time.
Cyberlink PhotoDirector 8 Ultra
Compatibility: Mac and Windows
This photo editing software is another one of the budget-friendly solutions that will offer some of the essentials and a few more additives you may find useful. For one, it has the feature of blending layers, which can be used to combine more than two pictures in a creative way (like the HDR). You can also remove people or objects from the image, and the PhotoDirector tool can help you fill the space ‘intelligently’ in a way that smoothly blends with the entire scene together. This photo program has a tool to capture images from a video as well in case you want to take some stills from clips you have.
Stitching together a series of photos can create a wide range panorama and the Face Swap feature may be a fun little tool to try out (or help if you have photography with people and need to swap out some smiles from other shots that were better). This allows you to merge a maximum of 5 bracketed shots into a single image through automatic alignment and ghost artifact removal and you can draw attention to a particular focal point of your picture as well. The Cyberlink PhotoDirector 8 Ultra is down our list a bit since there’s nothing that makes it stand out too much compared to others; however, may get the job done for your specific needs.
MAGIX Photo Designer
If you were looking for a super cheap program, we’ve got this one listed last if the previous 9 weren’t your thing and you wanted to save some money yet still have some decent editing capabilities at your fingertips. This one offers a few notables, such as a ‘Lightening function’ in order to expose as well as enhance specific sections of a photo. You can remove any unwanted pieces from your image without making it ugly or empty, and although not necessarily Photoshop quality, can still get the job done for easier images at hand. With this photography software you are also able to switch between the filmstrip view and new effects preview for a pretty easy-to-use interface. You can also create awesome panorama photos in just a few steps.
Another highlight is the ‘Effect Filters’ of the Photo Designer, which give your images a pretty crafty artistic look if you were into sprucing them up. One can also create funny caricatures through this software for a little plus if you’re ever in the mood. Check out the MAGIX Photo Designer if you wanted something cheaper yet still more effective and useful compared to the free trials everywhere. It’s quite fun to mess around with to say the least.