The history of photo manipulation dates back over 200 years when photographers would scratch, scrape, paint, cut, and paste their way to a pleasing (often humorous) result.
What was once a physical skill possessed by a select few, photo retouching has since become much more accessible thanks to the latest technological advancements.
There’s the infamous Adobe Photoshop, one of the most recognizable pieces of software on the planet – so familiar that it has practically become a verb. There’s Apple Photos, a free, hidden post-processing gem hardwired into MacBooks, and so many others in between.
So whether you’re a photo pro or just doing it for the ‘gram, if you want to take your captures to the next level, there are numerous computer software options out there for your to take advantage of — and we’ve found the best of them.
For this roundup, we took into account features, usability, and cost to make sure all your photo editing needs are met. Here are our picks:
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What photo enthusiast doesn’t like a one-stop photo shop? The most recent addition to the Adobe family gives you access to all your original high-resolution images across all your devices.
The all-new Lightroom CC represents Adobe’s shift from traditional catalog storage to an intuitive cloud-based system. The interface itself feels less like a high-tech software system and more like a simple smartphone app, only enhanced for your desktop. It creates a single catalog of all your photos without the need to rename them or input fancy keywords. Just drag and drop your pictures and Lightroom CC organizes them and auto-attaches searchable keywords so you can find your photos in a snap.
You can edit your photos directly from the software using creative presets or you can make selective adjustments if you prefer. The software features adjustments for light, color, fine details, and optics.
Lightroom does, however, lack some of the individual editing controls like curve adjustments and complex colors that Photoshop enthusiasts love, but for $19.99 per month you can get the Creative Cloud bundle that includes Lightroom CC, one terabyte of cloud storage, Lightroom Classic (the original version that professionals love), and Photoshop CC for a more in-depth photo enhancing experience.
We take more photos than ever, and for the past ten years Photoshop Elements has made photo editing easy for entry-level snappers. Photoshop Elements‘ latest 2018 update not only helps you edit your photos to their best potential, but it also organizes them all for you using built-in content intelligence. The AI analyzes your photos and gives you options to correct them using just a few clicks.
The software automatically sorts your photos by date, subject, people, and places. By attaching smart tags, photos of common subjects like birthdays, sunsets and landmarks, become easy to find without having to do any of the organizing work yourself. There’s even a feature that cuts down on editing time by automatically choosing the best shot for you to edit based on image quality, faces, and subjects.
If you’re familiar with how difficult it can sometimes be to isolate a specific subject in a photo using Photoshop, the new update makes it way easier. Just drag a box around the subject (or multiple subjects), and the software will isolate it for you, then you can fine-tune the edges if needed.
If you’re a newbie, the latest update is an ideal choice because it comes with 49 guided elements features that show you how to edit your photos step-by-step. And of course, you can always add your own personal touch.
The CyberLink software offers useful everyday photo-editing tools and an interface that’s split into six modules. There’s the Library module to import, mark, and prepare photos for editing, but all the magic happens in the Adjustment module. It gives you tools to crop, straighten, and adjust tonality. There’s a spot remover tool for blemishes and an adjustment brush to isolate areas you want to alter. Add a gradient mask, saturate or desaturate, and adjust color temperature. If retouching and skin smoothing tools is what you’re after then the Edit allows you to do just that, along with a cool body shaping feature.
Similarly to Photoshop, it has content-aware object selection tools, and you can use the Layers module to blend multiple photos together. Once you’ve finished your masterpiece, you have the option of creating a slideshow before exporting them. PC Magazine called it, “an affordable tool that gives Adobe a run for its money.”
If you want clean, high quality, no-frills photo editing software then take a shot at this one.
What makes Optics Pro 11 so unique is that it automatically finds the faults with your photographs based on the type of camera and lens you use and it makes adjustments, without you having to do a thing.
The user interface looks similar to Lightroom, and in fact, it works as an excellent plug-in for your Adobe Lightroom workflow since DxO doesn’t offer as much editing flexibility.
There are no brush tools, but the Customize mode can be used to make primary adjustments to contrast, color, and exposure if the automatic enhancements miss the mark. The software doesn’t help with organizing photos, but you can export them directly to other photo applications like Facebook and Flickr once you’re satisfied with the edit. You can also export them to Photoshop or Lightroom to continue working if you wish.
Microsoft Photos is a free, media creation toolbox and you may already have it, since it’s included in Windows 10 computers and replaces the Windows Photo Gallery app.
The application is helpful for adjusting saturation, contrast, highlights, and shadows. It also comes with 15 preset filters that work well for scenery shots. You can change the strength of each of the enhancements with a slider and make skin corrections using blemish removal tools.
It also comes with video editing software that allows you to trim videos and add background music. You can add filters to your vids, but unlike with photos, the video filters aren’t adjustable. The same type of software can cost you $69 for Adobe Premiere, though you will get more advanced video editing options. If you want simple photo and video tuning, this free option may be the right choice for you.
Pull the best out of the pix you take with Apple Photos, the MacBook upgrade of iPhoto. The app recognizes raw camera files and also groups all your pictures by date. You can zoom in to a specific day or zoom out to display months or years worth of photos in what the app organizes as Moments. When you click Edit at the top of the software, Adjust, Filters, and Crop menus appear so you can enhance your photos.
The adjust tab opens up a world of editing opportunities. It allows you to control the brightness of your images, exposure, highlights, shadows, and black point – just as you can on iOS smartphones. You can also sharpen photo details and adjust noise. The Filters come with Warm and Cool options but aren’t nearly as customizable as the ones that come with Photoshop Elements.