The best photo editing software will give your pictures the final pop that they need before you share them. Whether you are a casual smartphone shooter, enthusiastic amateur or a professional photographer, a photo editing program will help you keep your images organized and optimize them to look their absolute best.

Although smartphones typically come with basic photo editing tools, a dedicated photo editing program will give you more control over the aesthetics of your images, allow you to edit RAW files and even combine two images together in a single frame. Keep reading to learn more about the best photo editing software.

— Best Overall: Adobe Lightroom Classic
— Best For Precision Editing: Adobe Photoshop
— Best Budget Photo Editing Software: CyberLink PhotoDirector
— Best Mobile Photo Editor: Adobe Photoshop Express
— Best for RAW Conversion: Capture One Pro

How We Selected the Best Photo Editing Software

When selecting products for this buying guide we considered options for mobile and desktop computers, as well as the various kinds of edits that photographers and photo editors typically want to make. It was important to include programs that were good for batching large amounts of images quickly, but also programs that were more well-suited for making precision edits that are typical of retouchers and digital-imaging experts.

The photo editing programs that are featured in this guide were selected through a mixture of hands-on experience and editorial reviews. Every program that is featured in this guide is something that we have used to edit images before.

Best Photo Editing Software: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Adobe Lightroom Classic

Pro Quality. Adobe

Why It Made The Cut: One of the leading editing programs used by professional photographers, Adobe Lightroom Classic offers a powerful and user-friendly way to organize files and edit images, making it our top pick for photo editing.

Specs:
— Photo management and organization tools
— Face detection and tagging
— Offers brush and gradient adjustments

Pros:
— Integrated with Cloud and mobile apps
— Lens profile corrections
— Plug-in support

Cons:
— Requires monthly subscription
— Can’t edit in layers

Currently available as Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Lightroom Classic, when it comes to editing software, Adobe Lightroom Classic takes the prize as the best overall pick, thanks to its user-friendly interface, powerful editing tools, and ability to quickly batch process images. Features like HDR processing and panorama stitching make once-complicated editing processes a breeze, while tools like tagging and facial recognition make it easy to search through large image catalogs to find what you need in your archives. You’ll need a subscription to use it, but with all of Adobe’s regular updates to the program it’s well worth it. For $9.99 per month, it comes packaged with Adobe Photoshop, which allows you to work in layers and make precise image composites. For footage, here is the best video editing software for Macs.

Best for Precision Editing: Adobe Photoshop

Great for Beginners and Pros. Adobe

Why It Made The Cut: Photoshop changed the way in which photographers could digitally edit their pictures. It’s a great tool for designers, photographers, and retouchers looking for powerful and precise ways to edit their images.

Specs:
— Tons of photo manipulation tools
— Content aware selections tools
— Ability to edit in layers

Pros:
— Lens profile corrections
— Precision editing tools for retouching and image blending
— Advanced AI-powered image selection tools

Cons:
— Subscription-based model
— Interface can be overwhelming for new editors

Adobe Photoshop revolutionized the way that imaging professionals edited images over 30 years ago and continues to be one of the most robust pieces of software on the market. It’s an excellent tool for image retouching, layered image editing and design. Recent updates to the program have included advanced selection tools and sky replacement tools, which make it easier for beginners to create mind-blowing pieces of photographic art. It comes packaged with Adobe Lightroom Classic for $9.99 — which makes sense considering how many pros will use the two programs in conjunction with one another. They can make initial edits in Lightroom for things like exposure or adding film presets, before moving over to Photoshop to edit out blemishes, stray hairs, or other distracting elements from the frame.

Best Budget: CyberLink PhotoDirector

Excellent Value. CyberLink

Why It Made The Cut: CyberLink’s PhotoDirector offers an inexpensive alternative to Adobe’s photo editing programs, while still maintaining a number of pro-level adjustment tools.

Specs:
— Offers layer editing
— Keyword tagging and facial recognition
— Pro-image editing tools

Pros:
— User-friendly interface, good for beginners
— Ability to edit in layers
— Body shaping tool
— Available as a one time purchase or subscription

Cons:
— No geotags
— Limited RAW image profiles

CyberLink’s PhotoDirector is a lower-cost alternative to Adobe’s editing programs that functions as a bit of a hybrid of Photoshop and Lightroom Classic. It includes pro-level adjustment tools, painterly filters, AI-powered sky-replacement tools, and content-aware object selection, plus a unique body-shaping tool, similar to what you might find in a facetune app. It’s available as a one-time purchase or a subscription model ($40.99 per month if you choose the subscription model, or $74.99 for a lifetime license) which might be appealing to people who are turned off by Adobe’s subscription-only model. Its RAW image profiles are a bit limited. Updates don’t tend to roll out quite as quickly, so if you’ve just purchased a brand new camera you might have to wait for the profiles to be recognizable. The tools for correcting chromatic aberrations and digital cameras aren’t quite as robust either, but ultimately PhotoDirector is a solid low-cost option for hobbyist editors.

Best Mobile Photo Editor: Adobe Photoshop Express

Edits on the Go. Adobe

Why It Made The Cut: This free photo editing app from Adobe gives you access to some of Photoshop’s most-used editing tools right on your phone. Users can make basic adjustments, add interesting filters and even edit in layers — a perfect companion for social media posting.

Specs:
— Free app
— Layer editing capabilities
— Easy-to-use mobile editor

Pros:
— Free version available
— User-friendly interface
— Good for social media posting

Cons:
— Need to upgrade to paid version for RAW support

Photoshop Express is a free photo-editing app for your smartphone that includes a nice mix of basic adjustments, eye-catching filters, and even includes layer effects. It’s a great tool for editing images on the go for quick delivery to clients or for social posting. You will need to pay for the program to access advanced features like RAW photo editing and advanced healing tools — but realistically these types of precision edits probably make more sense to do with a trackpad, mouse or tablet, instead of your finger. This is a great choice for amateurs and pros who are looking to give their image a little pop before sharing it with the world.

Best for RAW Conversion: Capture One Pro

Precise Editing. Capture One

Why It Made The Cut: Capture One is another well-loved editing program for professional photographers, especially when it comes to studio work. The program features excellent RAW conversions, image cataloging,  layer editing, wireless tethering for select cameras and the ability to share images in real time via Capture One Live.

Specs:
— Excellent for RAW conversions
— Layer editing capabilities
— User-friendly interface

Pros:
— Fast photo imports
— Wireless tethering for select cameras
— Ability to share while shooting via Capture One Live

Cons:
— Expensive
— No facial recognition

One of the best Adobe alternatives on the market, Capture One excels at RAW image conversions and offers advanced features like wireless tethering and Capture One Live — making it the preferred choice for photographers working in a studio who want fast access to their images without having to manually download cards. The program includes a cataloging system, making it great for batch editing lots of images at once, but also includes the ability to edit in layers — giving it slightly more flexibility than a program like Adobe Lightroom. It’s also great for making precise color edits thanks to its advanced color wheel.

Things to Consider Before Investing in a Photo Editing Program

Catalog Capabilities

An editing program with cataloging capabilities will help you store and organize your images in addition to making edits to them — a feature that can be incredibly helpful when you are looking for something that you shot years ago. Programs like Adobe Classic Lightroom, CyberLink PhotoDirector, and Capture One all include cataloging features, which make them great for processing large amounts of photographs at once. Features like facial recognition and tagging make it easy to find images in the catalog at a later date.

Layers While Editing

The main advantage of editing your image in layers is that you can easily reverse edits as you go or make minor adjustments to your images without one layer affecting the others. The drawback to editing in layers is that your file sizes can become very big, very quickly. It also helps to give your layers unique names so that you can stay organized as you work.  If you’re doing a lot of retouching, masking, or image manipulation (like blending multiple images together) you will probably benefit from a program that allows you to edit in layers. Adobe Photoshop will give you the most control when editing in layers, while programs like Capture One and PhotoDirector will give you the ability to edit in layers, but don’t have quite as many design-focused features.

Mobile vs. Desktop Editing

Many of the photo editing programs in this roundup offer app versions of their programs for making quick edits on the go. Adobe Lightroom’s app will link any edits made on mobile with the desktop version of the app, while Capture One is still working on its app for iPad. There are a number of free mobile editors available for iOS and Android, Photoshop Express is one of our favorites because of its easy-to-use interface, aesthetically pleasing filters and the ability to edit in layers. If you’re looking to edit video, here is the best video editing software.

FAQs

Q: What is the best photo editing software?

The best photo editing software depends a lot on your workflow as a photographer, how many images you will be editing, and what kind of adjustments you will be making. Adobe Lightroom and Capture One are two of the most popular programs used by photographers and editors who need to edit large amounts of images at once — think studio shooters, event photographers, and photojournalists. If you’re looking to make more refined adjustments that require advanced masking or layering tools, a program like Adobe Photoshop might be a better fit. It’s not unusual for professional photographers to have a few different programs that they like to use for different kinds of edits.

Q: Which photo editing software is best for beginners?

The photo editing programs in this guide are all extremely intuitive to use, making them all great options for novice photo editors. If you are just starting out with photo editing you might be concerned about budgets, while there are plenty of low-cost and free apps for mobile editing, these often have limitations of how much you can actually edit the images. A desktop program from Adobe or Cyberlink will give you a lot more leeway in editing images.

Q: How much does photo editing software cost?

Although there are a few free apps that can be downloaded to edit images, many of these will have limits to how many adjustments you can make to your pictures. The majority of photo editing software runs on a subscription-based model, where you pay the company a certain amount of money each much for access to the programs. A license for a single Adobe program costs $33.99 per month (or you can pay $79.99 for the entire Adobe suite), Capture One costs $24 per month, $179 annually or purchased outright for $299, while a program like Cyberlink PhotoDirector costs $40.99 per year.

Q: What is the best photo editing software?

The best photo editing software depends a lot on your workflow as a photographer, how many images you will be editing, and what kind of adjustments you will be making. Adobe Lightroom and Capture One are two of the most popular programs used by photographers and editors who need to edit large amounts of images at once — think studio shooters, event photographers, and photojournalists. If you’re looking to make more refined adjustments that require advanced masking or layering tools, a program like Adobe Photoshop might be a better fit. It’s not unusual for professional photographers to have a few different programs that they like to use for different kinds of edits.

Q: Which photo editing software is best for beginners?

The photo editing programs in this guide are all extremely intuitive to use, making them all great options for novice photo editors. If you are just starting out with photo editing you might be concerned about budgets, while there are plenty of low-cost and free apps for mobile editing, these often have limitations of how much you can actually edit the images. A desktop program from Adobe or Cyberlink will give you a lot more leeway in editing images.

Q: How much does photo editing software cost?

Although there are a few free apps that can be downloaded to edit images, many of these will have limits to how many adjustments you can make to your pictures. The majority of photo editing software runs on a subscription-based model, where you pay the company a certain amount of money each much for access to the programs. A license for a single Adobe program costs $33.99 per month (or you can pay $79.99 for the entire Adobe suite), Capture One costs $24 per month, $179 annually or purchased outright for $299, while a program like Cyberlink PhotoDirector costs $40.99 per year.

Q: Which app do most photographers use to edit pictures?

Adobe Lightroom is one of the most popular apps for editing pictures because it can sync with your Lightroom catalog at home — meaning any edits you make from your phone can automatically be applied to the pictures that you edit when you are back in front of your computer. Adobe also makes a free editing app called Adobe Photoshop Express that makes it easy to make minor adjustments to your images before sharing. VSCO and Snapseed are other extremely popular editing apps among photographers.

Q: What is the best free photo editing software?

One of the most popular free photo editing software options is an open-source program called Gimp. It’s ad free, includes advanced editing tools that you might not find in an app. Although it costs nothing, the interface can be a little difficult to get the hang of and isn’t quite as user friendly as what you might get from a program that you paid for.

Q: Is Lightroom worth it for beginners?

Lightroom is one of the standard pieces of photo editing software used by professional photographers and editors in the industry. Even if you are just starting out, we think it’s worth it to invest in a monthly subscription if you plan to edit professionally or are looking for a streamlined way to edit large amounts of images at once. It also simplifies the process of archiving, tagging, and organizing your images.

Q: What is the best free photo editor for Windows 10?

The open-source GIMP editor remains one of the strongest free photo-editing programs for Windows users in terms of its advanced editing features. For a program with a more user-friendly interface, but with slightly less editing tools, check out CyberLink’s PhotoDirector Essential program.

Final Thoughts

When selecting the right photo editing software for you, consider the conditions in which you will be shooting, what kinds of adjustments you want to make to your images, and your budget. If you’re working as part of a photo editing team it can be helpful to invest in an industry-standard program like Adobe Lightroom or Capture One. If your editing is happening on a more personal level, it’s okay to go with a less expensive program that is geared at enthusiasts. Keep in mind that many professional photographers and editors use a variety of programs depending on the job or the situation.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


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