Best Photo Editing Software for Professionals and Photographers

“Photo editing” is a term thrown around by photographers and non-photographers alike.

Most people associate this with adjustments and filters available in social media. These are great for quick prettifying and easy corrections.

For serious hobbyists and professionals, photo editing is an integral part of their process –a way for them to create masterful renderings of their subjects in their photographs.

In this article, we’ll go over tools that’ll cover the following types of photo editors:

  • Best free photo editing  software
  • Best photo editing software for Mac
  • Best photo editing software for Windows 10 and other PC users
  • Best online photo editor

What photo editing software is best for beginners?

Here are our top picks:

  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020
  • Correl Paintshop Pro
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Gimp
  • Adobe Lightroom CC
  • Skylum Luminar 4
  • Capture One Pro
  • Pixlr E

We’ll talk about their core strengths and features, possible issues you’ll encounter, and who they’re best for.

1. Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020

Powerful and easy-to-use image editing software for Mac and PC

Adobe Photoshop Elements gives you the professional photo editing power of Adobe products in a package that’s easy to use. It uses proprietary AI technology coupled with guided process modules to help beginners edit photos with satisfying ease.

Key Features

  • Ease of Use
  • Powerful Tools
  • Accessibility (price and platform)

Compared to the original Photoshop, Photoshop Elements displays fewer tools at its dashboard. This makes it a friendly interface for beginners to begin their photo editing journey.

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Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020 vs Adobe Photoshop

Images from How to Resize a Photo Tutorial and Get to know Photoshop Tutorial

Even if you’ve never touched a photo editing software before, the navigation and interface will be easy to understand.

To maximize Photoshop’s innovative features, Adobe Elements features over 50 guided edits to give you step-by-step instructions. They’re organized into effect types: Basics, Color, and Fun.

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Image from Adobe Elements 2020 page

Familiarize yourself with color splash, motion blur ,and others through their helpful. It'll show you precisely what looks you can achieve with them if you apply them to your photos, so you know if it's worth using.

Another cool thing you can do with Adobe Elements is to convert your black-and-white photos into fully colored images with Automatic Colorization. This same feature can be used to enhance your other photos' colors too.

Now, let’s talk about automated edits. If your need to do quick touch-ups on your photographs rather than major creative tweaking, this photo editor uses Adobe Sensei AI for automatic and simultaneous editing in real-time. It’s content-aware, which means it can identify your subject and recognize faces. This helps smoothen skin, correct people's glances, and adjust facial features (if needed) too.

Finally, unlike other Adobe software, the Adobe Elements editing software doesn’t require a monthly subscription.

You can enjoy it for a one-time payment of $59.99.

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Enjoy Adobe Elements 2020 without a subscription fee!

Still undecided? Try it free for 30 days to see if this editing software fits your needs.

It’s available in Mac (Apple Mac OS 10.11 to 10.13) and PC (Windows 8.1 and 10).

Key Issues

  • Less control compared to Photoshop
  • Installer size

When it comes to how extensively you can modify your edits, Photoshop is definitely more advanced than Adobe Elements. This is what draws professionals into the latter. However, if you're a beginner, you must note that Adobe Photoshop's advanced features can come at a steep learning curve. (More on this later.)

Photoshop Elements 2020 can be heavy to install, too. Its installers are 3.4 GB for Windows, and 3.1 GB for MacOS. Before you start downloading, make sure that your machine has enough capacity and power to accommodate them.

Learning Resources

If you want to know more about maximizing Photoshop Elements, here are resources you may find useful:

Avail of the Adobe Photoshop Elements free trial or buy it here.

2. Corel Paintshop Pro

Cost-efficient Photoshop Elements alternative for beginners

Corel Paintshop Pro has several similarities with Adobe Elements in the sense that:

  • It offers guides for beginners
  • has powerful tools for advanced users, and
  • it doesn't require a monthly subscription

Unlike Elements, however, it's only available on Windows.

It has a simplified interface that allows beginners to get started immediately. Slowly but surely, you’ll be introduced to more advanced creative features through guides.

Key Features

  • Powerful smart tools and libraries
  • Beginner-friendly workspace and guides
  • Tablet compatibility
  • File compatibility
  • No monthly subscription needed

Corel Paintshop Pro features 360-degree editing, content-aware editing technology, and a massive library of gradients, brushes, textures, and color palettes. You'll also get to use royalty-free background options that you can use for your work.

It supports RAW camera formats, 4k video touch screens, and new stylus and tablet technologies.

Content-aware editing technology makes selection, cloning, and filling in spaces for corrections, easy and seamless. The newer versions also allow copying layer styles.

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Corel Paintshop Pro shows less tools, resulting in a clean workspace.

Image from Removing JPEG Artifacts from Photos Tutorial

It also has automatic noise removal, drawing tools, and other creative features that advanced users can tinker with for graphic design and other purposes.

Instead of bombarding new users with an abundance of tools, the Photography workspace shows bare minimums: one-click automatic photo fixes, exposure, cropping, color correction, layers, and many preset filters.

You can also find this interface on the touch-friendly tablet version.

Purchasing this non-destructive photo editor with a one-time payment allows you to install it both in your PC and your tablet. This makes it convenient for you to use it everywhere.

Get a multitude of resources for Corel PaintShop Pro with your one-time purchase.

The Ultimate version gives you access to a whole collection of software that’ll help you take your work to the next level:

  • AI HDR Studio – uses AI to enhance subtle details from your photos for an HDR effect
  • Sea-To-Sky Workspace – editing workspace especially for drones and underwater tech
  • Painter Essentials 7 – for digital drawing and painting
  • PhotoMirage Express – transforms still into animation
  • Corel AfterShot 3 – for RAW photo editing
  • Corel Creative Collection – a multitude of brushes, textures, royalty-backgrounds and etc

Experience this comprehensive toolset free for 30 days. You’ll also get a 30-day money-back guarantee if you find that it doesn’t satisfy.

Key Issues

  • Windows only (no Mac version)
  • Less extensive editing tools compared to Adobe Photoshop

If you’re a Mac user, then, unfortunately, this is an instant no for you. Corel PaintShop Pro is available from Windows 8-10 only.

While it's comparable to Adobe Photoshop Elements, it has a long way to go before it can be at par with the industry-standard Adobe Photoshop.

Corel PaintShop Pro doesn't have camera shake reduction, 3D modeling, and liquefy, among others.

Learning Resources

If you want to know more about using Corel PaintShop Pro for your photos for editing, you may find useful resources:

Buy Corel PaintShop Pro or try it free for 60 days here.

3. Adobe Photoshop

Best photo editing software for professionals

The reputation and performance of Adobe Photoshop in the image editing arena is impossible to capture with just this section.

This is the industry-standard used by professionals for the last 30 years. It's almost a default option if you're thinking of editing a photo.

You can pretty much execute any vision you have with its powerful image editing capabilities. Experimentation is highly encouraged, too because of its non-destructive interface that allows you to use multiple layers and effects.

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Give life to your artistic vision with Adobe Photoshop

Image from Adobe Photoshop's Behance gallery

It's not just for image editing. It's an artistic tool  for graphic artists as well.

This photo editing software supports all main file-formats, including RAW files. It runs on Mac, PC, and even on your tablet.

Key Features

  • Most powerful photo editing and retouching tools in the industry
  • Synced libraries across devices
  • Efficient interface

Photoshop is undoubtedly the photo editor of choice for most professionals.

You can use it for various purposes, from basic retouching to all-out photo manipulation, drawing, 3D design, typography, and graphic design. It provides a multitude of brushes, textures, and overlays, along with powerful image correction tools.

Content-aware edits and AI-powered portrait selection allow you to efficiently and precisely mask, select, and crop images. Liquifying faces is done excellently as well because of its face-aware capabilities.

In  case  you can't avoid having sunlight go into your lens, you can use this editing program to remove that unwanted haze and correct colors accordingly.

As if all these weren't enough, Photoshop continues to do its best to make artists' and photographers' work as efficient as possible.

Its response speed is superb and has a great design once you've gotten accustomed to it.

Furthermore, it offers  custom layouts, depending on your purpose. Hide, show, move, resize, and rearrange panels and functions according to what you use most. You can also distribute them among multiple monitors, create keyboard shortcuts, and add menu items  to your workspace, and come back to them anytime.

Finally, using the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography library  allows you to sync your files to the cloud.

This means you can start an artwork on your tablet and seamlessly continue working on editing photo files on your desktop when it's more convenient for you. This and stylus support allows you to work on your ideas on the go. Now, you can easily arrange, preserve, and share any photo for editing you have, anytime across all your devices.

Key Issues

  • Steep learning curve
  • Monthly subscription model

While Photoshop offers so much functionality, it may be a little too much for a beginner.

It uses layers that give way for experimentation and overlapping effects. Professionals would surely appreciate this, but beginners may find that this adds to a steep learning curve.

Then again, you won't find yourself lacking in community support.

A tutorial review is available somewhere on the web for any photo editing effect you want to achieve. It'll take a little patience to learn, but it's quite a worthwhile endeavor.

Currently, Photoshop only offers monthly subscription payment themes for their Photography plans. For 10-20 USD per month, you'll enjoy the powerful features available in this editing program, along with creative cloud storage capacity.

Learning Resources

Learning Photoshop can be intimidating, but it's possible with resources you can use to get you started:

Get your Adobe Photoshop subscription or 7-day free trial here.

4. Gimp

Powerful and free open source photo editing software

GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation program. It has been one of the staples in photo editing because it’s completely free and open-source. It’s been in existence since the mid-'90s and has continuously improved thanks to its active community of users.

You can choose between Gimp's online photo editor, desktop client, and mobile app. For this article, we’ll primarily be talking about the desktop version. Relatively, this is the most stable version compared to the others.

As a beginner, you can enjoy learning the ropes with this editing software with no financial investment. Tutorials and guides are available all over the web, too.

It’s also available in all operating systems you can think of. Apart from the widely-used macOS, OS X, and Windows, you can also use it on GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, Digital UNIX, etc.

Key Features

  • Powerful photo editing tools
  • Free and accessible
  • Expandable and customizable (open-source)
  • Active community

GIMP photo editor allows you to perform all the basic editing functions you’ll need for your photos. You can retouch, soften noise, restore, color correct, crop, and edit exposure and color.

Graphic design and creative tools are also available. It has a good collection of brushes, gradients, special-effect filters, selection tools, and more.

A huge selling point for GIMP is that it’s a free photo editor. Plus, it's open-source. This means that you'll get to fix bugs you see and add scripts and plugins if you can code. You’ll get to customize your workflow and add functionalities that are relevant to you. You can apply scripts to automate processes and group your layers accordingly so you can enjoy non-destructive editing in the most efficient way.

And the most crucial reason why GIMP is as great as it is, is its active community.

Plugins, technical support, and forums are all over the web.

Highly accessible, you can use it with several operating systems apart from the usual Mac OS and Windows. It also supports many file formats: JPEG, GIF, PSD, PNG, TIFF, AutoDesk FLC, PostScript, Targa, Paintshop Pro PSP, etc.

Key Issues

  • Laggy
  • Unintuitive processes
  • Limited some functionality for professional photographers and hobbyists with higher editing demands

Being open-source has its pros and cons. While community improvements make it a robust editing tool, this can give it the tendency to be slow. Compared to professional and standalone photo editing tools, it respond more slowly. Plugins and modifications from different sources may cause bugs and errors.

Moreover, some of its processes can be unintuitive if you’ve been accustomed to other tools.

Finally, it's important to note that GIMP doesn't allow batch processing. It also can't process raw files on its own. This makes it a less than ideal choice for more serious hobbyists and professionals.

A free tool like GIMP is  a great way to start your journey towards  photo editing made more enjoyable if you're into coding as well. An active community behind it will give you a dozen resources you can learn from. They'll also give you tools to help you create a smooth and steady workflow, and satisfying experience, at best.

Learning Resources

Get GIMP for free here.

5. Adobe Lightroom CC

Best cloud-based photo editing software on desktop and mobile

Not to be confused with the Lightroom Classic CC, Adobe Lightroom is the newer version known for its cloud sync functionality, efficient batch editing, and quick presets and photo correction interface.

This means that if you're looking for a quick image editor that produces professional results for multiple photos at a time, then this  photo editor is for you. You'll also get to access it across all your devices, be it mobile or desktop.

Lightroom is available on all platforms: Mac, PC, Android, and iOS.

Key Features

  • Easy edits with visual sliders and presets
  • Sleek and progressive interface
  • Seamless hi-res cloud syncing
  • Efficient batch edits

Editing your images in Adobe Lightroom CC primarily consists of moving sliders from  and right.

This allows beginners to immediately see how the changes they make affect their photos.

You can toggle to change exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, and others.

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Use sliders to adjust photo settings in Adobe Lightroom CC

Image from Adjust Light and Color Lightroom CC tutorial

You can also choose among a multitude of image Presets.

Once you do, it doesn't just show you the finished product. You'll also be able to see the sliders that made it so. This gives you a better insight into its inner workings to customize it more to your liking.

Although Lightroom doesn't use layers, it does allow you to look back at your original photo even after you've started editing. You can also create edit versions and compare them, so you'll see which one aligns with your vision.

Lightroom's interface is visual, sleek, and friendly. Upfront, it shows basic functionalities and displays the Automatic image editing setting. This allows you to apply the program's recommended  enhancements to your images right away, or treat them as suggestions so you can modify it and make your own.

Other notable tools are the Local Hue Tool and RAW profiles and filters.

The earlier helps you adjust exposure and contrast to select parts of your photos. What makes the latter exceptional is that they aren't based on your camera model.

The program also lets you work with panoramic images, HDR stitching, and others.

It can also emphasize the details of your photos using machine learning for Windows and iOS.

When editing image batches, Lightroom lets you import multiple photos or folders at one go.

Automatically, it uses AI to analyze images and organize them according to keywords. You can also add your own, if necessary. It  detects faces well, too. This makes it easy to search for a person and see all the pictures you have of him/her.

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Access your photos anywhere with Lightroom CC’s cloud saving functionality.

Image from Take Your First Steps in Lightroom video

Finally, one of the key differences between Adobe Lightroom CC and the classic version is that the earlier has seamless cloud syncing functionalities. It creates full-resolution backups of your works that you can modify in your mobile device and continue on your desktop or vice versa.

Key Issues

  • Requires a monthly subscription
  • No plugin support
  • Requires strong internet connection
  • Not for detailed editing

Like other Adobe programs, you'll need to avail of a monthly subscription for Adobe Lightroom CC. Unlike the classic version, it doesn't support plugins. But it does get regular updates and improvements.

Lightroom is great for editing photos in batches and in terms of its general looks and feel. Suppose you want to focus on individual images and do very detailed edits. In that case, it's best to export to other photo editors like Adobe Photoshop or the classic version.

Finally, because it's very dependent on cloud sync, you'll need a stable internet connection  to access your hi-res images.

Learning Resources

You don't need to go too far off to learn more about Adobe Lightroom CC.

Within the program, you'll find guided edits along with Interactive Edits. These'll give you step-by-step instructions of how to implement specific effects to sample photos supplied.

This way, you'll get a better feel of how to do it on your own, and possibly implement them when you're editing yourself.

Start your Adobe Lightroom CC free trial now.

6. Skylum Luminar 4

Best one-time purchase software for batch photo editing

Skylum Luminar 4 can be used as a standalone batch photo  software or a plugin for the Lightroom Classic CC.

Like Adobe Lightroom, it's known for its batch processing capabilities and powerful editing tools.

Unlike its competitor, however, you can get it with a one-time purchase of $70.

Its clean interface is intuitive and unintimidating for beginners. Without a steep learning curve, it gives you access to several images enhancing and artistic functionalities to improve your photos.

Key Features

  • Batch editing
  • Intuitive and beginner-friendly interface
  • Automations and shortcuts for image enhancements
  • One-time purchase only
  • Can be used as a plugin for Adobe Lightroom Classic

Skylum Luminar 4 is best to use if you need to edit many photos with the same effect.

It allows you to import folders and organize them with folders without having to leave the program. You can also tag your favorites, color code,  add, and remove photos along the way.

Beginners will find Skylum Luminar's interface to be sleek and welcoming.

It  displays all  necessary functionalities and allows you to put everything where you want them to be.

Create multiple workspaces to fit your every need.

Although it's friendly, Skylum Luminar 4 is equipped with a powerful editing tool for your every need. Several lens profile correction options, brushes and gradients, filters, adjustment tools, and automatic photo fixes are available for you to make your images better. It uses AI to improve skin in portraits, structure for cityscapes, and skies for landscapes.

You can choose among 70+ filters in Luminar Looks. If this isn't enough, you have an option to buy more in the online marketplace.

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Add creative elements to your photos freely with layers in Skylum Luminar 4.

Image from How to Boost Your Portraits with Double Exposure Effect

Skylum Luminar 4 uses layers for non-destructive edits. But anytime you want to start over, you can  press on Reset Adjustment anytime. It also allows you to look at your original image once in a while with the eye icon at the top icon bar's center.

Possibly one of the best things about Skylum Luminar 4 is that you can get all its robust editing tools with just a one-time payment of $70.

You'll get a license for 2 devices, significant updates, and a 60-day money-back guarantee with this amount.

Key Issues

  • No face recognition and keyword tagging
  • No library search
  • Can be laggy on Windows

Face recognition is already common when it comes to photo editing software, especially those with batch editing. But for some reason, Skylum Luminar 4 is lagging behind as it does not have this feature.

Although it allows you to organize your photo library into color codes, it doesn't allow you to filter them.

It can also be a little unresponsive on Windows.

Learning Resources

Learn more about using tools from Skylum Luminar 4 for your photo editing needs with these tutorials:

Buy Skylum Luminar 4 here.

7. Capture One Pro

Best photo editing software for RAW conversion and tethered capture

Made by high-end hardware and software digital photography manufacturers, Phase One, Capture One Pro offers superb RAW image conversion and unique tethered photography capabilities across several DSLR models.

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Color grade your RAW photos to make the colors more pronounced.

Image from Capture One 12 Tutorials | Travel Color Grade

Capture One Pro is a powerful photo editing tool with fast and efficient importing capabilities, adjustment and photo correction functionalities, and flexible purchase options.

Although its interface can get a bit complicated, it has handy auto features (especially when it comes to raw conversion) that even beginners can enjoy.

Key Features

  • RAW conversion
  • Tethered capture
  • Robust import and photo adjustment tools
  • Purchase options

It's always advisable to shoot RAW because it gets to capture more image data for your photographs compared to a standard JPEG.

Similar to how it worked with film-based photography and darkrooms,  digital images need to be processed with raw image conversion tools in your photo editing software.

Capture One Pro does an excellent job at this.

Compared to Lightroom, Capture One Pro turns out more realistic colors for raw files, even with automatic adjustments.

In case you want to modify specific parts, you have the choice to tweak individual settings instead of the whole image at once.

Importing is also a breeze. Just as you're adding photos to your library, Capture One Pro allows you to apply adjustments, styles and presets while you're at it. It can also automatically detect duplicates. This helps you save time in cleaning up and gives you more time to focus on the more creative side of photo editing.

As with  other photo editing software, you can modify your images' exposure, contrast, shadows, highlights, and white balance. It also has content-aware masking and feathering tools that are almost par with Photoshop.

Noise reduction and lens profile corrections are also present. What's missing, though, is Vibrance and Dehaze.

Another thing that people love about Capture One Pro is its tethered photography capability and iOS companion app, Capture Pilot.

Tethered photography allows you to view the photos you're taking on different devices in real-time. This is good if you're working with a client or just want to see your work on a bigger screen.

With Capture Pilot on your iPhone or iPad, you can have  remote control and an extra screen all at  once.

You'll see your photos and manage exposure, focus, and other settings, from your mobile device.

All these are available for a 20 USD/mo subscription or a one-time purchase worth 299 USD.

If you're not yet sure, you can avail of the 30-day trial version first to see if you like it.

Key Issues

  • Lacks Dehaze
  • Lacks panorama and HDSR merging

Capture One Pro has useful photo adjustment tools. But you'll need to use a different photo editing software if you need Dehaze to correct colors when too much light enters your lens.

Merging panorama and HDSR shots are also things that this photo editing software can't do.

You might want to consider other tools if these features are essential to you.

Learning Resources

You can find tutorials, webinars, and support in the Help section of the program or their website with tutorials, webinars, and blog posts you can read. They also have a Youtube channel, in case that's more accessible for you.

Get Capture One Pro here.

8. Pixlr E

Best online photo editing software

If you want to edit photos without installing anything, you can access Pixlr's photo editing tools from your browser.

When you open their website, you'll get to choose between Pixlr X or Pixlr E. As indicated, Pixlr X is the “playful” option, while Pixlr E is the one that features more advanced tools.

Pixlr X is excellent if you just want to arrange, crop, rotate, apply pre-made effects, and add simple texts and images to your work. If you're looking into heavier corrections and more creative modifications, Pixlr E is the way to go.

Key Features

  • Photoshop-like interface
  • Advanced features available
  • A free photo editing tool
  • Can be used on your browser, no installation required
  • Can import from Facebook and online URLs

Usable with just your browser, Pixlr E is a robust photo editing software that you can access with any device.

Its learning curve compared to Pixlr X is steeper. Still, it also offers features that allow for more flexibility and artistic enhancements.

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Use Pixlr E to edit photos with your browser.

Photoshop users will instantly feel at home because their workspaces share the same general look and layout. In this respect, it really can be considered as a good Photoshop alternative. Use this if your machine isn't strong enough to handle the processing power required to run Adobe.

Pixlr E can be launched immediately after selecting it in the Pixlr website.

Without having to go through an installation process, you can work with layers and access  a variety of editing tools for smooth selection, clean adjustments, and creative touches. It features brushes you can choose from that are fully configured. You can draw and  add Pixlr stock photos to your images, too.

Compared to Pixlr X, Pixlr E has a broad toolkit that both beginners and professionals would appreciate.

The interface is also customizable, so you can adjust it depending on your needs.

Key Issues

  • Ads for the free version
  • Dependent on your internet connection
  • Needs Flash to run

Most people use Pixlr E precisely because it's free.

It offers paid versions, too, though. For a monthly subscription, you can get Pixlr with no ads and unlimited access to sophisticated features. You'll get more overlays, stickers, support, and etc., too.

The ads in the free version can get annoying. You'll also need a good internet connection to use this for your photo editing needs.

Finally, the most significant caveat for Pixlr E is that you'll need Adobe Flash to run it.

Years ago, Adobe announced that it'll be discontinued in 2020. As it's already supposed to be its final year on the market, you can opt to enjoy Pixlr E while it lasts –and as you wait for Pixlr's upcoming replacement software.

Learning Resources

Check out cool things you can do with the Pixlr programs in its blog and Youtube channel.

Start using Pixlr E for free here.

Which photo editing software is best?

Suppose you're trying to decide what photo editing software you'd like to avail of. In that case, the first step is to clarify what you're planning to edit.

Are you going to use it primarily for RAW file conversion and simple adjustments such as cropping and rotating? Will you need masking and cloning tools for skin improvements on portraits, or is photo merging for cityscape panoramas your top priority? Are you looking at quick edits, or do you plan on applying detailed creative elements?

Editing can be as simple as quick corrections to full-on graphic design and image manipulation.

Being clear about your goals will help you prioritize the features you'll need from the get-go.

However, if you're still starting out, it would be good to experiment and play around with free trials.

Find time to evaluate your available resources: your machine, skills, and money. With those pieces of information at hand, make a decision that'll support you in the best way possible.

See also: