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Best photo editing software 2021: Photoshop, Procreate, and more

Our recommendations for the best photo editing software offer a suite of features while also reducing the processing workload.

For many professional photographers, photo editing software is a key part of the process.

There is a huge range of photo editing solutions on the market that go far beyond the filters and tweaks that mobile apps offer. Whether you are a professional, enjoy photography on the weekends, or you want to dip your toe into the field, you're not limited to Adobe Photoshop. 

Some types of image editing software focus on traditional, typical changes: exposure, contrast, grain levels, bokeh shallow depth blur effects, and color changes. Others now implement basic machine learning (ML) to try and automate editing flows, and some are specifically designed for creatives who want to combine art and photography. 

To reduce professional workloads or to bring hobbyist photography to life, our top picks for photo editing software are worth considering. 

Buyer's Guide

Adobe Photoshop

Advanced photo editing

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Adobe

Now that Adobe has introduced a subscription option for its creative applications, Photoshop is within the range of both hobbyists and professionals.

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most well-known image editing and manipulation software options on the market, and there's a reason for that; it's advanced and offers a wide variety of tools and options for image creation. Photoshop can be used for color adjustment, resizing, masking, layering, and more. 

Subscriptions are offered on a monthly basis and can be combined with other Adobe applications, such as Lightroom. 

Pros:

  • An extensive library of tools, brushes
  • Plugin compatibility

Cons:

  • A steep learning curve

Adobe Lightroom

Managing workflows

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Adobe

Adobe Lightroom is another popular option for photographers, and this software is specifically designed to reduce the workload during batch image editing. I have used this software to manage event and wedding photography, in particular. It has handy tools, including batch contrast and refinement tweaks, presets, and masking for applying effects like bookeh. 

Subscriptions are offered on a monthly basis and can be combined with other Adobe applications, such as Photoshop. 

Pros:

  • Easy editing workflow management
  • Can be bridged with Photoshop

Cons:

  • The basic presets included are limited, so you may need to create extra presents yourself or purchase others
  • You'll want a larger screen if possible, as the zoom function can be frustrating

Skylum LuminarAI

Experiment with AI

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Skylum

Skylum LuminarAI is a photo editing platform that places artificial intelligence (AI) at the core of its marketing. The software uses AI and machine learning (ML) for editing with a particular focus on portraiture, such as editing skin tones, faces, eyes, and bodies. 

Pros:

  • User friendly 
  • Plugins available for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Apple Photos
  • macOS and Windows support

Cons:

  • Not as advanced as other options on the market
  • No subscription option is available

Corel PaintShop Pro 2022

Photos and graphic design

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Corel

Corel has been developing creative applications for years, and PaintShop Pro 2022 is one of the latest in the firm's lineup. PaintShop Pro 2022 has a range of features that will keep most photographers and graphic designers happy, including basic AI, portrait modes, image effects, and adjustment tools.

Pros:

  • Affordable licensing
  • iPhone image support recently added

Cons:

  • Upgrade required to access ParticleShop and Artistic Effects
  • Some features are restricted to Ultimate 2022, including highlight reels

Capture One

RAW file editing

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Capture One

Capture One is an alternative to Lightroom for batch and mass photo editing. The software contains many of the features you would expect of a robust image editor -- standard tweaks, masking, cloning, clarity changes, and more -- and has recently been updated to improve its intuitiveness. Capture One is a great option for managing and editing RAW files at high resolution. 

Pros:

  • Speed editing options
  • Strong color processing
  • RAW file support

Cons:

  • High price for a one-off license (although subscriptions are available, $24/month)
  • Cheaper plans lock you in with specific camera formats

Procreate

Art and photography, combined

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Procreate

Procreate is image editing software for the artists among us. This option is for those who want to add artistic effects to their photographs, rather than focusing on more traditional edits. The software includes over 200 brushes, numerous effects, and is suitable for use with a stylus and an iPad. 

Pros:

  • Ease of use
  • Hundreds of effects to choose from
  • Active user community

Cons:

  • Only available on iOS
  • Some tools need further development 

How did we choose these products?

Photo editing solutions created by dominant players in the photography market, like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, have existed for years. But there are also exciting developments and software options from younger vendors that are worth considering. 

Which is the right one for you?

It is worth investing in software that is frequently updated and developed if you'll be using it frequently -- and even more so when software has included the means to reduce the burden of editing workflows. If you are editing for fun or for small projects, however, a budget-friendly or free option could be just what you need.

FAQ

Should I buy or subscribe?

If you're going to use photo editing software on a frequent basis or for business purposes, it may be worth subscribing to receive new updates and features as they become available. However, if you're dipping your toe in to learn the trade, you might want to stick to a trial run or practice with free options first.

What does AI have to do with it?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are algorithms based on data sets that are now being explored in creative applications. While not always perfect, these technologies can be used to make minor adjustments and to improve consistency, thereby optimizing workflows. 

Are there alternatives worth considering?

While the options above are our top picks for editing software, there are also free, basic options online that you can use in a pinch, or to practice your skills:

Also: