Whether you shoot with your iPhone or a digital SLR, the built-in software is limited in its editing options. The best approach is to download them to your PC where you can organize, store, and upload them to social media and other platforms. This also gives you access to some of the best photo editing software available.
Whether you want to eradicate red-eye or are looking for noise reduction and keyword tagging, there is a multitude of photo editing programs to choose from.
Below, we’ve listed 8 of the best photo editors. We’ve included some free programs, as well as premium options. And remember, if all you’re looking to do is crop an image and apply a sepia filter, your phone software or an online platform like Instagram will do all of this, and more, for free.
The 8 Best Photo Editing Software Solutions
1. Adobe Photoshop – Best For Design Professionals
When it comes to photo editing software, there is a reason that Adobe dominates our list. Since the launch of the original Photoshop in 1990, it has set the bar for image and photo editing. It continues to improve with each iteration of the software.
Photoshop offers considerably more than photo editing. It does have a raft of photo editing features, but it also lets you work in layers. This enables you to add different elements to your design, so you can combine images, overlay complex borders, or other designs, and you can create everything from logos to infographics and entire marketing pamphlets and leaflets.
You can only get Photoshop as part of a subscription deal, now, but this means that you can add other Adobe programs while also spreading the cost. You can also add Adobe Stock to your subscription, which offers up to 10 professional images per month.
Photoshop can be downloaded on your mobile device, as well as your desktop. For the most part, it has an intuitive interface, which is all the more impressive considering the huge range of image editing tools that are included. There are occasions, especially when you first start using the software, that the options will seem overwhelming.
Photoshop will do everything you want it to, as long as you can find the options and settings. However, this does come at a price. In this case, that price is monthly and typically bundled with other packages. The addition of premium features hikes the price up even further.
It is ideal for design professionals, most of whom probably already use it, but its combination of high price and extensive editing options means that it will be too much for novices and most hobbyists. Honestly, some people will love the subscription, others will prefer a one-off fee.
2. Adobe Lightroom – Best For Professional Photographers
For pure photo editing, you don’t need layers or vector graphics capabilities. You need to be able to apply filters to improve clarity, quality, color, and focus. You need to be able to remove blemishes and imperfections, without the image looking, for lack of a better term, like it’s been heavily Photoshopped.
Lightroom is aimed at photographers, rather than graphic and visual designers. It is much easier to understand, with a simpler interface. Its primary focus is image sorting and categorization. Choose the photo you want to edit from the list on the left, make edits on the right, and add keywords to the images as you go.
Adobe Lightroom is much more than just a premium file explorer, though, and you will find advanced tools aplenty across the top of the screen. Up here, you’ll find the necessary tools for lens correction, effect application, and much, much more.
One feature we found especially useful is the convenient history drop-down next to the file management tab. This invites you to experiment with the multiple features and functions that Lightroom has to offer, safe in the knowledge that you can easily revert to when you last had a recognizable image file.
You can tag photos, store them from within the software, and you can rank them, too. The ranking system is just a star rating system. If you have photos that need dire attention, because they’re due to be sent to a client or put on display in a couple of days, for example, you can assign them five stars. Pictures of the dog that you would quite like to share on Facebook get a one star. The pictures can then be sorted by star rating, allowing you to prioritize your efforts on the most important pieces first.
As with almost all of Adobe’s offerings, Lightshop comes with a monthly subscription rather than as a one-off purchase. While this keeps the initial cost down, and it does mean that you always have access to the latest version and features, the costs eventually add up, especially if you take extra storage through Adobe.
However, the combination of informative tutorials to teach you the ropes, intuitive interface that is easy to navigate, and the extensive range of features geared towards the photographer, make this the best photo editing software for photographers.
3. Adobe Photoshop Elements – Best For Hobbyists
Hobbyists don’t make money from their photo editing or image creation skills, but they still want many of the same features. Digital cameras are everywhere, and even those incorporated into our mobile devices offer exceptional quality pictures. While the hobbyist may be prepared to pay a decent fee for decent features, the price should not be equivalent to professional software.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is a rare breed. It’s an Adobe picture editing suite without the subscription requirement. Buy it, install it, learn it, and use it to enhance your photographic skills. Elements is effectively a pared-down version of the full Photoshop suite.
It still offers a lot of the image manipulation tools that its bigger sibling offers. It benefits from Sensei AI technology which brings you Guided Edits.
Guided Edits are a selection of simple wizard-style edits that you can quickly apply to your photos. Using these, you can give the appearance that you know what you’re doing. Some of the effects are very basic, such as converting a color photo to black and white. They can be easily achieved in expert mode, but if you’re a hobbyist that doesn’t want to learn, then these Guided Edits mean that the Photoshop Elements software stands out.
Using this program, you can work with your chosen photos and then order personalized gifts and cards directly from the program. This could prove handy if you’re looking for unique gifts or personalized items, but you’ll likely have a preferred store.
As a hobbyist, you will want to share your creations with others. Photoshop Elements does enable simple sharing via share buttons in the software, but the options are somewhat restricted. There’s no Instagram. There’s no Pinterest. There’s no Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, either. You can save images and upload them, but one-click sharing saves a good few button presses and it would have been nice to have additional options here.
The one-time purchase, Guided Edits, and really simple interface make this the best option for the keen hobbyist, but it could be improved with more social options.
4. DxO Photolab – Best For Noise Reduction
Noise reduction is one of the most commonly used photo editing techniques used, especially on mobile phone pictures. It can remove blemishes that have been highlighted by the increased noise that is caused by contrasting light and dark areas on an image, as well as the small sensors deployed by mobile phones.
However, greater noise reduction isn’t always the best option. The right amount of noise reduction minimizes file sizes and it can be used to remove noise that detracts from the overall image. Too much noise reduction means that faces look like porcelain dolls and other shots start to look like photorealistic paintings.
Whether you use a digital SLR or a mobile phone, you can shoot images in RAW format, although you may have to install a third-party app on your phone or change the default settings on your camera. Once you have a RAW file, though, you can then edit this using photo editing software. This enables you much greater control over the level of noise reduction you use. You can even control the areas of the image where you apply noise reduction and those where you don’t.
However, like the smartphone settings, results can vary.
DxO’s latest version of Photolab offers some of the best noise reduction results available. While most software looks at neighboring pixels to determine which pixels are fine detail and which are just noise. DxO, in Prime mode, looks at a larger patch of pixels.
This means that it does a better job of working out what is noise and what is not. You do have to export the image to let Photolab do its thing, and it can take a minute or two with high ISO files, but it is well worth the wait.
The noise reduction is excellent without leaving you with an unrealistic or ridiculous looking photo. It preserves detail while eliminating noise, and that is the ultimate goal with this feature.
Beyond noise reduction, Photolab is a reasonable photo editing suite. It does a good job of removing haze and correcting images. But, while DxO has improved the software’s workflow and image explorer and saving options, it is still found wanting when compared to the likes of Adobe Photoshop Elements.
You will need to buy the Prime version of the software to enjoy the best noise reduction levels, and this does cost more than the standard, but you get what you pay for in this instance.
5. Skylum Luminar – Best For Social Media
Whether you run a commercial Pinterest page or a social Facebook page, uploading and sharing images is a great way to stay in touch with your connections, but you can’t just share any photo. You will want to crop the images, maybe add a few words of text to create a meme, and even apply some simple filters. There shouldn’t be much need for advanced noise reduction or other complex features.
You can use your mobile phone tools to perform a lot of these functions, and these usually offer the benefit of making it simple to share images to major social media sites and messenger apps. You can also use online services like Canva and even some image sharing sites like Instagram include filters and other modifications that can be easily applied.
If you’re looking to make the transition from mobile phone software to something more professional, Skylum Luminar offers a great bridge. It is very user friendly, even more so than Lightroom. It has a host of preset edits and filters, most of which give good results. It has cataloging features, although this is one area where Lightshop still excels.
Luminar lets you layer edits and a host of gradient and color edits. You can also customize your workspace, which enables you to get rid of the filters you don’t use, replacing them with those that you do.
Another potential benefit of Luminar is its price. It requires a one-off fee, rather than a subscription, and costs the same as a six-month subscription to Adobe’s software. While this does mean a bit of an initial financial hit, it also means that once you’ve paid, you don’t have to keep paying.
As well as the one-off, low cost, Luminar has a good range of share buttons that let you share directly to Facebook, through Apple Messages, and on a limited series of photo-sharing sites.
It’s quick and easy to use, with a simple interface, and it lets you customize your filters so that you have easy access to those that you use most often. It is a solid choice for social media sharers that want to upgrade from their existing phone or social media software.
6. Corel Paintshop Pro – Best For The Budget Conscious
Photo editing software tends to offer a lot of features and filters. This is great if you need them, but inflates the price if you don’t. The common trend is also to charge a subscription, rather than a purchase fee, and while the low monthly cost initially looks attractive, it quickly adds up. If you’re operating on a tight budget, it may be best to steer clear of subscription-based models.
Another photo editing suite that doesn’t require a subscription is Corel Paintshop Pro. It’s roughly the same price as Luminar, although it’s unfortunate that a macOS version isn’t available at the moment. In terms of functionality, it comes closest to Adobe’s PhotoShop with layering, rastering, and vectoring, although you would need to invest in two of Adobe’s programs to achieve all of this. At this point, its price looks very appealing indeed.
PaintShop Pro isn’t without its limitations. It misses features like 3D modeling and automatic subject selection. The interface isn’t as slick or user-friendly as Adobe’s, either, so it will take you a little longer to master, despite not having the same depth of advanced features.
It is very good at upsampling, which smooths the blocky edges that you experience when you try making a tiny image larger. Its noise reduction is also very effective, and it has a great selection of artistic filters that can turn a standard image into something befitting of your Instagram account.
Corel continues to update its Paintshop Pro software, and it does a good job of replicating and even improving on some of Adobe’s features.
However, while it is cheaper and only requires a single payment rather than a subscription, working out much cheaper than Photoshop, it isn’t as slick or as easy to use as Adobe.
It also still lacks some of the advanced features of the more expensive software. If you’re working on a budget, don’t appreciate the subscription payment model that Adobe has adopted in recent years, or you simply don’t need all of the advanced features, then Paintshop Pro is a solid alternative.
7. Gimp – Best For Free
When it comes to free photo editing software, there are a few alternatives, but they all lack something. Mobile phone software is very basic, although it is easy to use and designed specifically for touch-screen use. Social media websites offer a range of filters, but these are basic and it can be a pain to use the images you create anywhere other than on that specific site. If you want something more advanced, then your options are limited.
Fortunately, there’s the open-source GNU Image Manipulation Program, better known as GIMP.
GIMP is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It also has a surprisingly broad range of image manipulation filters and settings. There’s a corrective mode as well as clone and touch-up tools. It can be difficult to get to grips with, although there are tutorials available, once you have mastered the basics it is almost entirely customizable.
This not only means that you can change visual features like the color, font, and button sizes, but you can add and remove features that you don’t use from the main interface. You can create a seriously slick editor of your own design, dispensing with the buttons that do who-knows-what and the ribbons that gather digital dust.
The software is open-source. Not only does this mean that it’s free, but it means that the program’s code is available for anybody to see and use. As such, there is a massive community of people making tutorials, plugins, and other tools.
If a feature isn’t immediately available when you install the software, you should be able to find it online somewhere. It will take you time, and sometimes requires a little finessing to get all the plugins working, but this is the price you pay when you use open-source solutions.
It takes a little time to get used to and you can tell that the open-source platform doesn’t have the financial backing of Photoshop. But the dedicated team of plugin developers; the surprising set of features straight out of the box; and the immense number of plugins that can be used to enhance the software, meaning that this is a very strong choice of photo editing software for all users, not just those looking for a free solution.
8. Pixlr Editor – Best For Bloggers
Not everybody uses photos for social media sharing or for giving to clients. They can be used for creating marketing material and adding a touch of visual appeal to websites and blogs. You don’t necessarily need the kind of power that full photo editing suites have to offer. That level of software can prove to be too bloated for your needs. You need something lightweight, easily accessible, but that can turn fairly plain images into great looking website visuals.
Pixlr comes as a lightweight desktop installation. There’s also a mobile app, and there’s a web-based interface, so you can access its tools wherever you are and however you choose. There are free, premium, and professional plans.
They are all subscription-based packages, but they are very competitively priced. The Professional plan is the most expensive, but this includes access to a range of stock images as well as templates and other files. It also includes AI tools. For blogging, you should find that the Premium, which costs a few dollars a month, or even the Free version, is ample.
For the blogger that doesn’t need full photo editing features, but does need to publish good quality, attractive, lightweight images, Pixlr is available for free or with an affordable monthly subscription. It is easy to use and can be used on pretty much any device you own.
Photo Editing Software Features
This is really just a selection of photo editing software available. From online to mobile phone editors, and Windows to Mac, there is a massive range. And, while Adobe pretty much has the market tied up in terms of advanced features, not everybody needs that level of functionality, and certainly, not everybody wants to pay the high subscription costs that Adobe demands.
Cost is an important factor. The price can vary from free versions of software to several hundred dollars for a one-year subscription. Subscription models have become commonplace, and they have their pros and cons.
Paying monthly means that you pay a relatively small amount, but you do have to pay every month. If you stop paying, you lose access to the software. With a subscription model, you receive access to the latest software, including all patches and upgrades that are released.
This is usually true for the first year or so with a one-off purchase, but support will eventually be removed. With some subscription models, you have the opportunity to add or remove certain elements of the package. You might choose to start with a subscription that incorporates both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
After a few months, if you realize that you don’t need Lightroom, you can remove that from your subscription. With a one-off purchase, this isn’t possible.
2. Free Software
Free software does exist but is usually tied to some platform or architecture. For example, Apple and Android phones offer basic photo editing software as standard.
You can apply some basic filters, crop the images, add text, and easily share the resulting image to social networks and via messenger. Instagram is well-known for its filters, although these usually lean on the side of fun rather than offering serious photo editing capabilities.
Some applications offer free versions, usually in a bid to encourage you to sign up for their paid and premium versions. Pixlr is a good example of this. Its free version is perfectly capable and offers more than mobile phone software, while its cheapest paid version is an inexpensive monthly subscription that offers more advanced edits.
GIMP is the closest you can get to free, professional standard photo editing software. It is an open-source platform, which means that anybody can jump in, grab the source code, and create plug-ins. It is this community that has helped make it the best free option on the market. It also allows you to customize the entire program to meet your needs.
There are a lot of photo editing professionals and digital designers that consider it an excellent first step into the world of image editing.
Before buying or downloading any photo editor, you need to ensure that it is compatible with your phone, desktop, laptop, or Chromebook. Some software will work on a range of devices. Photoshop, for example, is available on Windows or Mac as well as on your iPad.
Our list consists primarily of downloadable software options, but there are some online platforms. Canva is one of the most popular online platforms. It is geared more towards digital design, but it has some photo editing capabilities.
4. Ease Of Use
Regardless of your skill level or your desired use of the software, ease of use is important. If you are left rifling through layers and layers of menu for the one filter you need, it’s inconvenient and will put you off using the software. The best user interfaces are usually found on commercial software that has been around for several iterations.
The publisher has had the chance to hone the user experience, and they will have been able to take user feedback into account. Photoshop, for example, has been through various incarnations, and it shows. Its user interface is easy to understand and quick to navigate.
GIMP takes a slightly different approach to this. While a lot of software lets you choose interface colors, button size, and design, GIMP lets you add and remove control panels. You can snap a menu away from the interface or add one to it. This means that you can create an interface to perfectly match your requirements. Get rid of the features you don’t use and add those that you do use but are normally buried deep in the options.
Workflow features enable you to undo changes or revert to earlier versions of a picture. This can be very useful when experimenting with different filters. After applying several filters, you might decide that the last two changes made the image look a little too perfect. Undo the extra two noise-canceling layers and you can move on with other elements of design.
While pretty much all software offers Undo, and the associated shortcut, programs with more advanced workflow features enable you to look back through your recent changes and find one in the last good state.
Choosing The Best Photo Editing Software
The best photo editing software depends on your needs and requirements. If you’re a photo editor, for example, you take and sell pictures to clients or you sell them online, you will want software with the most filters and access to manual filter levels. Lightroom from Adobe most likely meets your needs.
If you’re a digital designer that incorporates photos into your work, you will want features like layering and 3D graphics, and Photoshop sets the standard for this type of work.
If you’re just starting, you want basic features with the possibility to expand on your skills at a later date. Corel Paintshop Pro is a good example of this type of suite.
While we found Adobe thoroughly deserves its position as the market leader for photo editing software, some alternatives might better suit you. GIMP, in particular, is an incredible piece of software considering it’s free and it can be enhanced with additional plugins and unique features.
It is a great way to try your hand at photo editing before committing to a one-off purchase or an ongoing subscription.