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The Best Photo Editing Software for Mac & PC

The Best Photo Editing Software for Mac & PC

So, you want to take your photo editing skills to new heights? Whether you're an amateur, passionate about photography, or a pro creating content for clients, finding the right photo editing software can make all the difference. I've been there – endlessly scrolling through forums and reviews, hoping to stumble upon that elusive “best” program.

Well, my friend, your quest ends here! In this ultimate guide, I'll break down the top photo editing software options with insider tips on navigating their powerful (and often overwhelming) features. We'll dive deep into each program's strengths, exploring everything from advanced editing tools to user-friendly interfaces. So buckle up – it will be an insightful and hopefully entertaining ride!

But before we begin, let me share a little anecdote…

My Photographic Editing Journey

Adobe Lightroom App Mobile

I vividly remember the first time I tried my hand at photo editing. Armed with a free software trial and zero clue what I was doing, I set out to “enhance” a good landscape shot. Two hours and countless failed experiments later, I was left with a blurry, oversaturated mess and a newfound appreciation for the art of editing.

From that fateful day on, I became determined to master this craft. I scoured the internet, tried every program under the sun (or at least it felt that way), and learned through a lot of trial and error. Eventually, I found my stride and even made photo editing a part of my career.

The moral of the story? Don't get discouraged if you're just starting! With the right tools and patience, you'll be editing photos like a pro in no time.

Understanding the Different Types of Photo Editing Software

Now that we've gotten the personal anecdotes out of the way, let's talk technicalities. When it comes to photo editing software, there are a few key categories to be aware of:

Raster Image Editors

These programs work with raster graphics (composed of pixels) and typically offer advanced tools for editing, retouching, and creating image compositions. Industry giants like Adobe Photoshop and GIMP fall into this camp.

Vector Image Editors

Conversely, vector image editors use mathematical formulas to create scalable graphics (think logos and illustrations). While not ideal for photo manipulation, programs like Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape can come in handy for adding graphic elements to your images.

All-in-One Editors

As the name suggests, these multifaceted programs attempt to cover all your editing needs – from photo retouching to graphic design. Examples include Photoshop Elements, Pixlr, and Serif's Affinity suite.

Deciding which software best suits your needs depends on your goals and experience level. Are you primarily touching up photos? Opt for a raster editor. Are you looking to create digital art or design assets? A vector program might be more up your alley.

The Crème de la Crème: Top 5 Photo Editing Software

Alright, let's get to the good stuff! I've researched and tested dozens of options, and these five programs consistently rise to the top as the best photo editing software on the market.

1 – Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop Review

Is anyone surprised to see Photoshop topping the list? This industry-standard behemoth needs little introduction. If you're serious about photo editing (and have the budget for it), Photoshop is hard to beat.

With its vast array of professional-grade tools and seemingly endless capabilities, Photoshop allows you to retouch, manipulate, and composite images in ways that would make Ansel Adams weep tears of joy. This program has everything from advanced selection tools to non-destructive editing and Raw processing.

Photoshop's power comes at a cost – a steep learning curve. Be prepared to invest serious time into mastering its myriad features and shortcuts. But once you do, you'll have a digital editing powerhouse.

Key Features:

  • Industry-leading selection and masking tools
  • Powerful adjustment layers and blending modes
  • Comprehensive Raw processing and camera Raw support
  • Vector drawing and type tools
  • Video editing capabilities
  • Integration with Adobe's Creative Cloud ecosystem

Pricing:

  • $20.99/month for Photoshop + Lightroom (Photography Plan)
  • $52.99/month for a full Creative Cloud subscription

2 – Capture One Pro

Best Tools For Designers Capture One

While Photoshop may reign supreme in general photo editing, Capture One Pro gives it a run for its money regarding Raw processing and tethered shooting. This powerful (yet easy-to-use) program is a favourite among professional photographers and studios.

With its exceptional colour editing tools, customisable workspace, and robust tethering capabilities, Capture One Pro streamline the entire editing process – from import to export. Its brilliant colour rendition, especially with files from higher-end cameras, is simply unmatched.

The program's “Sessions” workflow is ingenious, allowing you to group images based on specific shoots or projects while maintaining a clear folder structure. And let's not forget about those gorgeous black-and-white conversion tools – any monochrome enthusiast would be delighted!

Key Features:

  • Unparalleled Raw processing and tethered shooting
  • Precise colour editing with various colour editors
  • Amazing black-and-white conversion capabilities
  • Intuitive image management with Sessions workflow
  • Supports over 500 camera models
  • Layer tools for local adjustments

Pricing:

  • $299 one-time payment for a perpetual license
  • Optional annual upgrade plan ($159/year)

3 – Affinity Photo

Download Affinity Photo Software

Are you looking for an affordable yet powerful Photoshop alternative? Enter Affinity Photo – the budget-friendly dark horse giving Adobe a run for its money. With a one-time purchase fee (no subscriptions required), you can access a full-fledged raster image editor packed with pro-grade features.

Affinity Photo's interface is clean, customisable, and surprisingly easy to navigate, even for newcomers. Its breadth of editing tools rivals Photoshop's, including advanced retouching, HDR merging, panorama stitching, and support for industry-standard plugins. Plus, its Raw processing prowess will satisfy even the pickiest pixel peepers.

While it may not (yet) match Photoshop's video editing or 3D capabilities, Affinity Photo delivers exceptional bang for your buck in the photo editing department. Oh, and is it available for Mac, Windows, and iPad? Talk about versatility!

Key Features:

  • Comprehensive photo editing toolkit
  • Advanced retouching and adjustment tools
  • Customisable interface and workspaces
  • Panoramic stitching and HDR merge
  • Cross-platform availability (Desktop and iPad)
  • Support for Photoshop plugins
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Pricing:

  • $54.99 one-time purchase (Desktop)
  • $19.99 for iPad version

4 – DxO PhotoLab

Dxo Photolab Best Photo Editing Software

For the analytically-minded photographers out there, DxO PhotoLab is a revelation. This RAW processing powerhouse leverages an extensive optics and sensor data database to automatically correct flaws and optimise image quality – a godsend for perfectionists.

With DxO's unique PRIME denoising technology and state-of-the-art lens corrections, you can extract every ounce of detail and clarity from your Raw files. The program's DeepPRIME AI even goes so far as to reconstruct missing or corrupted data within an image intelligently.

Beyond its impressive computational prowess, PhotoLab also boasts a full suite of localised editing tools, presets, and creative styles to refine your edits. The program's integration with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom is seamless for those who prefer a more streamlined workflow.

The only potential downside? DxO PhotoLab's learning curve can be steep, especially for its advanced correction algorithms. But once you've mastered its intricacies, you'll be rewarded with astonishingly crisp, natural-looking photos.

Key Features:

  • Industry-leading optics modules and lens corrections
  • Unrivalled denoising and PRIME raw deblurring
  • Deep learning-powered auto masking and editing tools
  • Over 60 creative styles and presets
  • Seamless integration with Adobe products
  • Specialised tools for portraits, landscapes, architecture, and more

Pricing:

  • $139 one-time purchase (Essential Edition)
  • $219 one-time purchase (Elite Edition with AI tools)

5 – GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

Gimp Alternative To Photoshop

For those on a shoestring budget (or just philosophically opposed to pricey software), GIMP is the open-source freeware hero we all need. Don't let its lack of a price tag fool you – this powerful raster editor packs a serious punch when it comes to photo manipulation and editing capabilities.

With a vast array of professional tools and filters at your disposal, GIMP can handle everything from basic touchups to advanced compositing and image creation. While its interface may feel a tad outdated (and admittedly cluttered), a quick tweak of the settings can transform it into a clean, user-friendly workspace.

Sure, GIMP may not offer the cutting-edge AI features or seamless Raw processing of its paid counterparts. But for the cash-conscious photo enthusiast, it's an exceptional (and legal) alternative that delivers impressive results – if you're willing to put in the effort.

Key Features:

  • Full suite of photo retouching tools
  • Advanced filters and brushes
  • Customisable interface and dockable dialogues
  • Support for Photoshop plugins and file types
  • Layer masks, channels, and paths
  • Cross-platform availability (Windows, Mac, Linux)

Price:

FREE!

Taking Photo Editing to the Next Level

While the core editing software is undoubtedly crucial, don't overlook the value of investing in complementary tools and resources to elevate your craft even further. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Plugins and Extensions

Think of plugins as souped-up additions to your editing arsenal, granting you access to specialised tools and automation. From AI-powered sky replacements to advanced noise reduction and sharpening routines, plugins can streamline complex tasks and take your edits to new heights.

Some programs (like Photoshop and Affinity Photo) even support third-party extensions, opening up additional creative possibilities. Just be judicious in your plugin purchases – those one-click wonders can add up quickly!

Specialised Editing Tools

While general-purpose photo editors are versatile beasts, specific editing tasks may warrant more specialised software. For example:

  • RAW Processing: Programs like Capture One Pro and DxO PhotoLab excel at extracting maximum detail and quality from RAW files.
  • HDR and Exposure Blending: Dedicated editors like Aurora HDR can easily merge challenging exposure ranges.
  • Focus Stacking: Tools like Helicon Focus combine multiple exposures to achieve incredible depth of field.
  • Astrophotography: Specialized star trackers and image-stacking software are crucial for capturing celestial wonders.

The key is to identify your photography niche(s) and invest accordingly in the tools tailored to those specific editing needs.

Presets and Actions

Suppose the thought of building complex editing routines from scratch makes you queasy; fear not! Presets and actions can be your best friends, allowing you to apply carefully crafted edits with just a few clicks.

Many editing programs come bundled with basic preset options (like Instagram-esque filters), but the magic happens when you explore third-party preset packs from industry professionals. High quality can shave hours off your workflow while delivering consistent, pro-grade results with finely tuned colour grading, stylistic looks, and efficient editing flows.

Education and Community

Even the most powerful software is nothing without the skills to wield it effectively. As such, investing in top-notch educational resources – be it in-depth video tutorials, comprehensive ebooks, or hands-on workshops – can be a game-changer in accelerating your editing prowess.

Don't underestimate the value of photo editing communities, either. By engaging with like-minded creatives (both online and offline), you'll gain priceless insights and inspiration and stay motivated to keep pushing the boundaries of your craft.

Bringing It All Together

Phew, what a whirlwind tour! This guide has provided a comprehensive overview of the top photo editing software options and valuable insights to aid your selection process.

Remember, no single program is perfect for everyone. The “best” photo editing software ultimately aligns with your specific needs, goals, and workflow preferences. Be bold and try multiple options (many offer free trials!) until you find that magical sweet spot.

Most importantly, have fun with the process! Photo editing is both an art and a science; there's always room to experiment, grow, and unleash your inner creative genius. Embrace the journey, my friend – because that elevates a good photo into a breathtaking masterpiece.

Best Photo Editing Software FAQs

What's the difference between raster and vector image editing?

Raster image editors (like Photoshop and GIMP) work with pixels, making them ideal for manipulating and retouching photographic images. On the other hand, vector editors (such as Illustrator and Inkscape) use mathematically defined shapes and lines, which can be scaled without losing quality. Vector graphics are better suited for creating logos, illustrations, and other scalable artwork.

Is Photoshop the only “professional” photo editing option?

While Adobe Photoshop is undoubtedly the industry standard, it's not the only professional-grade photo editing software available. Programs like Capture One Pro, Affinity Photo, and DxO PhotoLab, offer comparable (and, in some cases, superior) editing capabilities tailored for specific photography workflows and needs.

How much should I expect to spend on photo editing software?

Costs can vary widely depending on your specific requirements. Free options like GIMP provide a robust array of editing tools at no cost. At the same time, professional-grade programs can range anywhere from $50 for a one-time purchase (e.g., Affinity Photo) to $50+/month for a subscription plan (e.g., Adobe Creative Cloud). Remember also to factor in the potential costs of plugins, presets, and educational resources.

Can I use photo editing software on my tablet or mobile device?

Absolutely! Many modern photo editors now offer mobile versions or dedicated tablet apps, allowing you to edit on the go. For example, Affinity Photo has an exceptional iPad edition, while Adobe's Creative Cloud apps can run seamlessly across desktop and mobile platforms.

What are the most important factors when choosing photo editing software?

Key considerations include your photography genre(s) and editing needs, desired workflow and interface preferences, budget constraints, and compatibility with existing tools or file formats. It's also wise to assess each program's learning curve and availability of educational resources to ensure a smooth onboarding process.

Photo of author

Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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