Hi there! If you’re a photographer, you’ll know that taking a shooting pictures makes up only 70% of the photo processing. You still need to do post-processing, remove blemishes and fix color imbalances, before declaring your picture as “ready for the world”.
In the old days of film processing, you’d need to do go into a dark room and do these “edits”. These days, all you need is a photo editing software.
Also, digital cameras these days allow you to edit pictures within the camera (e.g. crop and rotate). I do some of my simple edits “in camera” these days as it saves a lot of my time. For more complex editing, I turn to photo editing software programs.
What software do I use? Well, I’ve tried out a large number of these programs over the years and in this article, I’d like to highlight eight of the best ones to you.
1. Types of Photo Editing Software
The first thing we want to understand before delving into individual photo editing programs is to understand the broad categories of such programs out in the market.
Beginner Level. These are simple, “fun and casual” type of photo editing programs which allow the amateur photographer edit and clean up images very easily. These programs concentrate on ease-of-use and usually have a number of pre-built wizards to remove red eye, rotate, crop or otherwise improve your photos.
Intermediate Level. This class of photo software caters to more creative photographers, who may want to try out more advanced tools. An example of a software in this category are programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop Pro, Apple iPhoto and ACDSee. These programs have a full suite of photo editing tools, from color replacers, fill brushes, “healing” brushes, “lasso” selection tools, in addition to powerful functionalities to organize, tag and also burn your photos to physical media.
Advanced Level. There are also advanced level tools like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom which are industrial class programs. These allow you to incorporate full creativity and are standard in the toolbox of professional photographers. They simply take what you have in your intermediate level software to the next level.
Ok, now let’s move on to looking at the top 8 photo software programs that I’ve come across.
1. Adobe Photoshop Elements
Adobe has always led in the photo software industry, with its flagship professional-level Adobe Photoshop software. Adobe Photoshop Elements is similar to Photoshop, except that it caters to intermediate level users. It’s great for family and general use, and in particular it has a very powerful photo organization, tagging and cataloging feature set.
2. Corel Paintshop Pro
One of my perennial favorites, Corel Paintshop Pro is a great piece of software. It has amazing Photoshop-like functionality, and has powerful tools to balance colors, remove blemishes and also perform layered editing.Whenever I have a photo that needs editing, e.g. to remove a blemish on a portrait photo, I’ll fire up Corel Paintshop Pro as a default tool. Compared to Adobe Photoshop Elements, it’s less “pretty” in the user interface side of things. However, where Paintshop Pro excels is its very balanced tool set and straightforward way to get photo editing done.
3. Apple iPhoto
Apple and the Mac platform are typically viewed as great for photo and video editing. And one of the best programs on the Mac for photo management and editing is iPhoto. You’ve probably see iPhoto in smartphone app format and also its desktop Mac version.I tend to think of iPhoto as a “very good Adobe Photoshop Elements for the Mac” – it has a great user interface, polished feature set, and is very attuned to the Mac platform. If you own Apple devices – phones, Macs, Apple TV, etc. – iPhoto is a very naturally photo editing and photo management software for you.
I’ve always viewed ACDSee as a tool for photo organization. In fact, it started out more as a photo viewing and cataloging tool. These days, however, ACDSee has morphed into a full-fledged editing suite with all the features you need to make your photos better.ACDSee comes in three flavors – ACDSee, ACDSee Pro and ACDSee Photo Editor. ACDSee is the base software, with great photo organization, tagging and sharing capabilities. ACDSee Pro is an advanced version of ACDSee with features that rival Adobe Lightroom – and is suitable for professional photographers. ACDSee Photo Editor is an image editing product that has some really powerful effect filters and noise reduction capabilities.
5. Adobe Lightroom
Adobe Lightroom may not be as well known as Adobe Photoshop, but it’s an important toolkit for serious photographers. I think almost every professional photographer I know has Lightroom or something similar to it (e.g. Aperture on the Mac platform).What Lightroom excels at is the photo workflow. If you have multiple clients who have their own portfolio of photos to import, edit and share – it gets overwhelming. Adobe Lightroom lets you get on top of all of these photos with a fantastic tool set.I like to think of Adobe Lightroom as “Adobe Photoshop meets iTunes” or “Adobe Photoshop with powerful photo management”. It lets you manage photos, in addition to editing them. One of Lightroom’s biggest competitors is Aperture for the Mac.
6. Adobe Photoshop
And of course, there’s the heavyweight Adobe Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop has come a very long way in the photo editing space. These days, it’s laden with so many features, you need to attend 2 to 3 days courses just to understand the full range of features and editing tools it has.Personally, I think that unless you’re in graphic design, you don’t need Adobe Photoshop in your toolbox. It’s very good at editing graphics and photos – but one thing Photoshop lacks is “photo management” – for that purpose, Adobe Lightroom is a better choice.
Another one of my favorites, GIMP is an amazing, intermediate level photo editing software. And best of all, its complete free and licensed as open source software. Until today, I can’t believe this program is free – given its functionalities that can basically do 70% to 80% of what Adobe Photoshop can do.I think of GIMP as an alternative to my favorite Corel Paintshop Pro – it’s basically a “lite” editing tool for me. I think for serious photo edits, I tend to go to Paintshop Pro, while for graphics based editing I turn to the GIMP.Perhaps the only thing lacking in GIMP is a good, polished user interface. But given that it’s free, what more could one ask for?
8. Serif PhotoPlus
Serif may be relatively less well known than the likes of Adobe, Corel, Apple and ACDSee – but it has a fantastic product called Serif Photplus. This tool has a complete photo editing feature set, although it’s user interface is less slick than, say, Photoshop Elements or iPhoto.I tend to think of Serif PhotoPlus as something like Corel Paintshop Pro, but probably a bit less popular and well packaged. On the whole, though, PhotoPlus is a great value for money photo software which you may want to check out.
Case Study. You know, photo editing software used to be restricted to desktop applications, e.g. Adobe Photoshop. These days, photo editing has expanded into online, social, mobile, taking all manner of form and shape.
What I find is that many photographers want to quickly snap pictures and share them quickly on Facebook or some other media. In fact, they want to skip post processing and photo editing software if possible. This is well and good for “fun shots”, but for serious photos that you want to showcase – you should really invest in a good photo editing suite.
Other Noteworthy Mentions
I thought I’d leave the last slot in this article for other photo programs which have caught my attention over the years. Let’s run through these:
Online photo editing sites. These online photo editing sites are really growing fast. They used to have only simple features like cropping, rotating or red eye removal. These days, they have blown up into full scale editing suites – just take a look at the web interface of Pixlr and SumoPaint and you’ll know what I mean.
There are some other online sites that are great, e.g. Aviary (which has great mobile and online versions), as well as Perfect 365 (which I like for editing facial expressions).
I hope the above has helped you understand the top 8 photo software programs I’ve seen and used over the years. I know it can be difficult deciding which program you should use.
To help you out, I think that for the average digital photographer, I’d recommend the following tools:
- GIMP – for quick, simple graphics editing
- Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel PaintShop Pro – your standard photo editing, management and sharing platform
Once you get more professional, you can consider upgrading to Adobe Lightroom – to get full creative options and advanced photo management capabilities.
That’s all I have for. Until next time, have fun editing and managing your photo collection!