Best photo editing software in 2023
Before making your choice, it is a good idea to carefully consider your individual photo editor requirements.
If your priority is raw processing and basic tonal enhancements, an editor with more advanced features such as layers and selections may not be necessary. Instead, free software that comes bundled with your camera may suffice – we have included a list at the end of this guide to give an idea of your options. For beginners seeking guidance with photo editing programs such as Photoshop Elements (we also have one dedicated specifically to Adobe programs like Lightroom!). Alternatively, take a look at some tips in our beginner’s guide to Photoshop Elements which should help them become familiar with these manufacturer-built programs!
Best photo editing software
However, if you want to add custom effects, blend exposures, or create HDRs and panoramas, a more advanced photo editor is necessary. This could include paid-for options like Skylum’s Luminar or Affinity Photo; free browser-based apps like Fotor; or open-source packages like GIMP; our guide provides all these and many more solutions.
Have specific image editing goals, such as monochrome conversion? Our guide on how to make images monochromatic in Lightroom offers several useful principles, and many can also apply when working in other programs.
Affinity Photo 2: Photo editing software
Recently released as version 2, Affinity Photo 2 stands as the ideal Photoshop alternative. Based heavily on Photoshop’s familiar workflow, users will quickly feel at home when making the switch from Adobe Creative Cloud subscription-based services like Creative Cloud subscription. Ex-CC subscribers looking for subscription-free alternatives will also appreciate Affinity Photo’s intuitive nature – they won’t miss anything when transitioning.
Layers, Adjustment Layers, Masks and Filters are all present here; some features even exceed what existed in Photoshop – for example the powerful Brush tool with preview of strokes; Frequency Separation tool dedicated for portrait retouching; HDR tone-mapping tools etc.
Affinity Photo excels at more complex photo edits such as compositing, cut-outs, adding effects or exposure blending – tasks which were once only possible through Photoshop.
Pros: Photoshop-level power without subscription; Extensive retouching tools and an outstanding Tone Mapping tool.
Cons: Lacking any browsing or cataloguing features for easier organization of photos (at first).
Skylum Luminar Neo
Luminar AI stands out from other photo editors by being both easy and enjoyable to use. With presets that offer simple one-click ‘looks’ that take seconds to apply and customisable panels with tons of tonal tools for tonal adjustments and selective edits as well as layer functionality providing extra control, it makes this an enjoyable choice for beginners as well as more experienced editors looking for finer control over their images.
Luminar’s reality-bending AI has quickly become legendary, from Skylum’s AI sky replacement (still considered one of the best) through portrait enhancement, portrait bokeh, AI subject masking, sun rays removal and power line deletion to presets that help make photo editing faster than ever – although learning their workings may require some trial and error compared with using one of Adobe Lightroom presets instead.
Luminar Neo is an attractively presented editor with an easy learning curve, perfect for anyone who prefers an editor that allows them to get up and running quickly while still offering plenty of scope for exploration. However, please be aware that Skylum is now pushing its subscription plans very heavily; while you may still qualify for a lifetime license (excluding extensions ), which may not provide the best value option.
Pros: Simplifying and enjoying using, as well as lifetime licence availability and impressive AI tools, make this software very user friendly.
Cons: Some AI features may sometimes produce unpredictable effects; preset editing can be cumbersome.
DxO PhotoLab 6 Elite
DxO’s hallmark has always been its raw processing controls, which kick in before editing to correct images for optical imperfections and lens flaws such as chromatic aberration, vignetting and corner sharpness.
DxO takes advantage of its vast database of lens/camera combinations to provide stunning raw photos without you needing to make adjustments yourself. Their editor features an impressive array of tonal sliders, sharpening features and local adjustment tools similar to what Lightroom provides.
Invest in DxO’s more expensive Elite edition for even greater peace of mind – DxO’s DeepPRIME XD noise reduction will do an outstanding job of eliminating graininess while maintaining fine details in low light situations, weddings or events where noise reduction controls could prove invaluable.
PhotoLab offers similar image organising tools as Lightroom within its PhotoLibrary, including adding keywords, rating images and searching the library – making it easier for you to locate photos you need quickly. Plus it synchronises perfectly with Lightroom! If raw editing is your focus and maximum image quality from both camera and lenses is your goal, PhotoLab is an outstanding value with its excellent noise reduction tools!
DXO PhotoLab now comes in at version 6.3 with improved colour profiling, soft proofing, and lens correction features.
Extensive database of optical corrections; Excellent noise reduction options; Maximum quality from Raw files
Upfront price may be expensive
Capture One 23
At PS299 / $299 for a standalone licence, this is the most costly solution, yet also one of the closest alternatives to Lightroom that you’ll get without subscribing. Most importantly, however, this program produces excellent raw files.
At first glance, you might think a raw file would appear identical no matter which editor it’s opened in; however, there can be significant variations in quality depending on how the raw data is processed. Capture One offers unrivaled detail and quality that few can match.
Workflow and tethering features are unparalleled, while advanced tonal tools allow you to fine-tune photos to an extraordinary degree, including tools for contrast control, colour balancing and layers-based local adjustments.
Capture One has recently been upgraded to make it more beginner-friendly; however, the learning curve and cost remain steep compared with its competition (for the cost of one licence you could subscribe to Photoshop/Lightroom for two and a half years).
But there’s a reason many pros choose Capture One; it is an elegant, high-end package and widely considered the best available for its raw editing and workflow tools.
Excellent workflow features; exceptional raw processing for tonal fine-tuning.
Significant initial investment cost and challenging learning curve for new users.
Pixlr Desktop app
Pixlr offers two versions, both beginner-friendly and more advanced versions: Pixlr X for novice users and Pixlr E for more experienced photographers and artists. Both apps are free; with E offering layers. It provides many appealing effects such as one-click background removal and larger font library for text addition; however a premium edition with additional capabilities such as one-click background removal is only available through payment plans; hence it remains effectively an limited free app with plans available to expand it further.
Pixlr X offers an intuitive user experience with simple icons and a straightforward layout, making it an excellent option if you want to integrate photos into designs like leaflets or brochures. Cutting tools in Pixlr X make this task even easier by enabling users to easily cut parts of an image together.
Are You Wondering: “How Can I Edit Photos on My Phone Like a Professional”? Pixlr is one of several photo editing software available for smartphones that will help you do just that – take a look at our picks of the Best Photo Editing Apps For Phones to learn more.
Pros: For beginners and experts alike. Free to use. One-click background removal with ads intrusiveness in free version. contul.
Cons: Free version may have intrusive ads that interfere with use. Could use more resources for novice users.