When it comes to digital photography software, options abound, perhaps to the point of being confusing. Whether you’re a first-time user or in need of an upgrade, or looking to make a change, here is an overview of some of the best photography software currently available. Hopefully, this will help you make a more informed decision on which application is right for you. So, feel free to browse through these editing tools! We listed professional photo editing software as well as free photo editing software.
Updated: January 18th, 2023 to add the latest versions of all software.
Updated: May 25, 2022 to add recent versions of all software.
Updated: February 02, 2021 to add recent versions of all software.
Updated: January 24, 2020 to add recent versions of Luminar, Capture One Pro, PaintShop Pro, Photo Director, On1.
Updated: February 12, 2019 to add Luminar, Capture One Pro, Optics Pro to PhotoLab, Photo Director, Paintshop, On1's current versions.
Updated: December 4, 2018 to add Capture One's current version.
Updated: January 31, 2017 to add Macphun Luminar and Macphun Aurora HDR photography software.
Note: This is our leaderboard for the best overall photography software. We will also be splitting it out into “best photo management software” and “best photo editing” software, as sometimes photographers need specialist tools for specialist jobs. But for now, let's jump into what we consider to be the best all-around performers for a photographer.
Our Criteria For Judging Photography Editing Tools
Coming to a fair conclusion on the best photography software requires scoring various elements of the software with universal criteria. Coming up with that criteria is a little difficult, but this is what we came up with:
- Interface / Ease of Use: An assessment of the overall organizational logic of menus, toolboxes, palettes, etc within the photography software and how easy and intuitive they are to use in practice.
- Fulfillment of Promise: An appraisal of the features and functionality of the software and whether they sufficiently live up to the manufacturer's claims.
- Photo Editing Quality: A subjective measure of how effectively the available tools in a given application perform various image editing tasks.
- Photo Management Quality: A subjective measure of the efficiency of the keywording, search, geotagging, and other organizational features of the software.
- Community: How easy is it to get help and learn from the wider community of users? (blogs, forums, YouTube videos, freelancers, etc.)
- Overall: A broad overview — an average of the six judging criteria.
|Software||Ease of Use||Fulfills Promise||Photo Editing||Photo Management||Community||Overall|
|Luminar by Skylum||10||9||9||3||6||7.4|
|Capture One Pro||7.5||8||8.5||8.5||4||7.3|
|On1 Photo RAW||8.5||8||8||7||3||6.9|
|Photo Director Ultra||7||6||7||8||5||6.6|
#1 Choice: Adobe Lightroom – Score: 8.4
Lightroom has emerged as the cure-all in the eyes of many photographers. It uses the same raw processor as Photoshop and allows for non-destructive image editing; in fact, a great deal of Photoshop’s editing tools are found in Lightroom, with the most glaring omission being layers. It is, indeed, possible to do all your fixing and finalizing (dodging and burning, noise reduction, sharpening, tonal adjustments, lens correction, effects, etc.) in Lightroom and perhaps never give Photoshop much thought.
If, however, you do need or prefer to use a feature in Photoshop, Lightroom makes for a seamless round-trip journey into Photoshop and back. And Lightroom does a few things that Photoshop doesn’t do so well — or at all — especially when it comes to serving as a photo organizer, something at which Lightroom excels. Additionally, Lightroom allows you to tag, flag, and rate photos. Also featured is a superb printing module, the ability to create slideshows, the option to export images to the Web, and integrated book creation via Blurb.
While not as complex as Photoshop, Lightroom is an expansive application that will take some time to fully appreciate and integrate into your workflow. Lightroom is available for Mac OS and Windows and can be obtained as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan for US$9.99 per month. A free mobile version of Lightroom is also available for iOS and Android devices. In terms of the best photography software, this is the one to beat.
The December 2022 release of Lightroom Classic (version 12.1) supports new cameras, lenses, and bug fixes.
Grab Lightroom here.
Oh, and btw now you can save 27% on the new release of Creative Cloud editing tools.
#2 Choice: Adobe Photoshop Elements Score: 8.3
Long considered by some users to be a dumbed-down version of Photoshop, Elements has made considerable headway in its most recent versions. While it is true that Elements is a lighter take on the all-powerful Photoshop, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Elements provides many of the same features found in Photoshop, and all of the features needed for competent and comprehensive photo editing, including the processing of raw files, tonal corrections, retouching tools, and layering. Elements also sports Photomerge technology which allows you to merge different parts of different photos to make one ideal photo — useful for group portraits, panoramas, and faux-HDR. Content-aware functions are present, along with a variety of selection tools and brushes (though none of these are as feature-heavy as what you’ll find in Photoshop).
Elements has limited 16-bit and vector support, fewer blend modes, and doesn’t support extensions. These limitations are unlikely to impact photographers who need to do essential edits without the complexity and potential confusion associated with using Photoshop. Elements’ utilitarian-yet-powerful feature set and an easy-to-navigate interface make it appealing to photographers of any skill level.
Elements will also appeal to those who prefer a stand-alone product, as it is not tied to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and can be purchased for Windows and Mac systems for US$69.99. as of 2023.
The latest version is the 2022 update (version 2022.4).
Grab Elements here.
#3 Choice: Adobe Photoshop Score: 7.7
Everyone knows the name. Even non-photographers are aware of this software, as it has infiltrated popular culture and been co-opted into the everyday language (“This shot has obviously been photoshopped.”). Adobe’s flagship application is often thought of as being the go-to choice for professionals, and such a reputation isn’t unwarranted.
Photoshop can be mind-bogglingly sophisticated, boasting features useful not only to photographers but also to those who work with video, illustration, and graphic design, and is a clear leader for best photography software in terms of actual image editing. Photoshop can process raw files and allows for non-destructive global and local editing, including extensive layering and masking options, the application of innumerable effects, powerful noise reduction and sharpening processes, a full array of color correction tools, lens corrections, and everything you’ll need to do comprehensive photo retouching.
Needless to say, Photoshop is a complex piece of software with a considerably steep learning curve; it does, of course, offer basic tools and plenty of automation (exposure, levels and curves, and white balance just to name a few), but some may still find Photoshop a bit overwhelming. If you are willing to tackle Photoshop’s learning curve, you will likely discover that it is the only image editing application you need.
Photoshop doesn't have “in-built” file management; this is handled via Adobe Bridge, should you choose to use it. Adobe Bridge seems to have as many fans as it does detractors.
Photoshop works with Windows and Mac OS, also now works across desktops and iPad, and is available as part of a cloud-based subscription service, starting at US$19.99 per month with four different Cloud plans to choose from. It comes with detailed tutorials, and the reason why some users may avoid this program would be the subscription fees which may be too much unless you are a professional.
The latest version of Photoshop CC (24.1) comes with new AI features powered by Adobe Sensei. Harmonization Neural Filter lets you create seamless composites, and there's also the object finder feature, which lets you select and mask any object with a simple hover and click.
Grab Photoshop here.
#4 Choice: Luminar by Skylum Score: 7.4
Typically, when an application attempts to do too much, it fails miserably in one or more categories. Luminar avoids such a pitfall, successfully serving the needs of beginner, intermediate and experienced photographers. It is a non-destructive RAW image editor that does exactly what it says and does it efficiently and effectively. It's among the most popular photo editing tools.
Luminar is able to be an all-in-one app not because it dumbs anything down, but because it presents users with a bevy of diverse, powerful, photography-specific tools wrapped in an interface that adapts to each user. It takes the very best parts of the company’s other apps and sort of reimagines them and places them under one roof. It all just works.
Luminar comes with a set of presets that can be instantly applied to images and lets the user create custom workspaces and libraries. There are also interesting features like sun-ray tool, AI structure, AI sky enhancer, etc. Although the raw processing is not up to the mark compared to software like Adobe, and Capture One. etc., they make up for it with some great editing tools including the support of adjustment and image layers. Luminar is easily one of 2022’s best image editing options.
#5 Choice: Capture One Score: 7.3
Capture One has been evolving and is perhaps nowadays the most powerful RAW development software (including HEIC files) out there, thanks to its masking capabilities and precise color correction features. It has a complex user interface, but it has the benefit of being dynamic, therefore, you can move everything around to even emulate the working space of Lightroom as it offers cataloging tools, photo editing tools, presets, and a non-destructive workflow.
Capture One's recent versions deliver better color interpretation, faster performance, and more flexible control especially the speed edits with the help of hotkeys and scroll plus batch edits. New features include more contrast control, editing colors fast and intuitively, and processing the cleanest, sharpest images which are less noisy compared to Adobe's programs. The new dehaze tool helps to eliminate haze and reduce flatness in the images.
The ProStandard camera profiles help to preserve the original colors and hues in the image which can be a lifesaver to photographers looking for authentic colors in their images.
As of 2023, the monthly subscription is $29 per month, the annual subscription is $219 per month, and the license is $349. The last option is a one-time payment to own a license for Capture One Pro.
After 1st February 2023, new perpetual license purchases will not include feature updates.
Grab Capture One Pro here.
#6 Choice: DxO PhotoLab Score: 7.2
DxO PhotoLab has carved out its place in the world of photography software in no small part due to its superior handling of lens correction (some might also make a case for its noise reduction capability). Sure, other applications offer distortion correction, but PhotoLab takes a different approach than the user-submitted lens profiles that Lightroom, as an example, uses.
According to Michael Muchmore of PCMag.com, “DxO Labs actually shoots thousands of shots on test patterns at different lighting conditions to create lens and camera profiles for each camera and lens supported to tune these corrections. The auto-correction is far better than you see in most photo software, and it's often all you need.”
While PhotoLab offers image processing and editing tools that may result in better overall image quality, its utility as a file manager leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, round-tripping with Lightroom is possible in PhotoLab, so you can use DxO’s noise reduction and distortion correction tools and send your images right back to Lightroom. It also has raw support for more than 400 cameras.
DxO Photo Lab 6 is $219 (as of January 2023), and these are the newest features:
- Even greater control over U Point™ technology
- Metadata management in PhotoLibrary
- Simpler keyword management
- DeepPRIME takes it to another level
- DxO now supports Fujifilm X-Trans files
Grab PhotoLab here.
#7 Choice: On1 Photo RAW Score: 6.9
On1 Photo RAW is all about ease of use, refinement, and versatility. Photo RAW incorporates a file Browser that lets users view, sort, and rate images in a package reminiscent of Adobe Bridge. The Effects module contains a plethora of color and black and white presets which can be customized once applied.
The Enhance module is where you go to recover shadows and highlights, remove redeye, and reduce noise. The Layers module may be Photo RAW’s anchor point, as it greatly simplifies the selection, masking, and object removal processes with also the options for HDR Merge and Panorama stitching. Yes, you can perform these tasks in Photoshop, but for most people, Photo RAW presents a considerably easier-to-use alternative.
On1 Photo RAW is available for Mac and Windows for $99.99 (full license plus bonuses).
These are the new features available as of 2023:
- Fully integrated ON1 Resize AI
- Improved NoNoise AI
- LensMatch automatic lens correction
- Improved Sky Swap AI
- More camera support – OM System OM 1, Leica M11, Fujifilm X-T30 II, Nikon Z 9, and more
Grab Photo RAW here.
#8 Choice: Corel Paint Shop Pro Score: 6.7
Like some of the other software covered in this overview, Corel Paint Shop Pro is designed for professional photo editing.
Manage – You can manage your photos via a Lightroom-esque interface that allows for tagging, rating, and a variety of annotations, such as place information.
Adjust – Next you can move on to make basic enhancements to your newly imported images, a task made simple and intuitive with the use of sliders. With Paint Shop Pro you can crop, straighten, and clone; there’s even a “makeover” option, designed with portraits in mind, that removes red-eye and blemishes. You also have access to a satisfying amount of artistic filters, similar to those you’d find on Instagram.
Edit -The Edit panel exposes the true power of Paint Shop Pro, revealing all the tools and features that make this application a viable alternative to Photoshop: raw processing with support for more than 450 cameras, selection tools, layers, HDR processing, and more photo editing tools.
Paint Shop Pro 2023 is available for a cost of $89.99.
These are the newest features from the 2023 Ultimate edition:
- Highlight Reel
- MultiCam Capture Lite
- Painter® Essentials™ 8
- Sea-to-Sky™ Workspace
- PhotoMirage™ Express
- Corel® AfterShot™ 3
- Corel® Creative Collection
Grab Paint Shop Pro 2022 here.
#9 Choice: Cyberlink PhotoDirector Ultra Score: 6.6
Cyberlink’s PhotoDirector software may suffer from a lack of name recognition in comparison to the other heavy-hitters on this list, but if you spend some time with the application, you will discover that it isn’t necessarily out of its depth here. In fact, PhotoDirector, is capable of doing much of what the more popular software can do and can certainly do everything a photography enthusiast would need it to do.
PhotoDirector can process raw files, with support for all the major camera manufacturers such as Fujifilm, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, Leica, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, and Samsung, and several obscure/obsolete digital cameras like the AgfaPhoto DC-833m, Apple QuickTake 150, and Polaroid x530. Similar to Paint Shop Pro, PhotoDirector embodies an intuitive, easy-to-use workflow.
PhotoDirector's photo manager/organizer will seem familiar enough to Lightroom users, as you can tag and rate images and sort according to a variety of criteria, though the sort feature isn’t as powerful as what Lightroom provides.
Basic image editing is a snap with PhotoDirector’s “people beautifier,” object removal, and portrait retouching tools. Also included are cloning and healing tools, numerous adjustment brushes, facial recognition, and geotagging. It is unlikely that PhotoDirector would compete squarely with Lightroom, Photoshop, or Affinity Photo, but it may be a perfect alternative to Paint Shop Pro or Elements. There are also some interesting visual effects and AI-powered features that are an improvement in PhotoDirector.
There are four different options available when you go to purchase PhotoDirector – two versions of lifetime licenses and two versions of annual subscriptions. Their most affordable product is an annual subscription to PhotoDirector 365 – it's $39.99 a year as of 2023.
Grab PhotoDirector here.
#10 Choice: Affinity Photo Score: 6
Billed as a true Photoshop alternative, Affinity Photo is a relatively new player in the image editing game. Affinity Photo’s user interface does bear a passing resemblance to that of Adobe’s Photoshop and, indeed, carries nearly all of the same features — from raw processing to layers to ICC color management to 3D effects.
Affinity Photo has a notable advantage over Photoshop in terms of ease of access, as its layout is a bit more intuitive; all of Affinity Photo’s essential image editing tools are front and center and, by default, the only tools you see when you run the application for the first time. But with one mouse click, you can open up the full array of advanced editing tools offered by Affinity Photo, a move that even more closely aligns Affinity Photo with Photoshop in both form and function.
Affinity Photo does not feature any sort of photo management system, so you will have to make use of other software for that. It also does not have any presets that come with the application. The new version comes with features like HDR merge, panorama stitching focus stacking, batch processing, 360 image editing, PSD editing, and so on.
Serif’s Affinity Photo is a stand-alone application that will set you back $40.99. It's available for both Mac and Windows, and there's even an iPad version for $11.99.
These are the new and improved features in 2023:
- GPU rendering
- Panorama stitching
- Defringing and increased maximum radius
- Multiple placed Info page samplers
- Adjustment layers when hardware acceleration is disabled
- Heavily layered documents (faster rendering during panning and text reflow)
- Placed images
- Embedded documents
- Low-memory conditions (including Windows OpenCL preventing fallback from hardware to software)
- Converting documents between ICC profiles/pixel formats
- Documents that contain flattened, opaque layers (usually the result of merge visible)
Grab Affinity Photo here.
And The Best Photography Software Of 2023 Is…
Clearly, options for the best photography software are abundant. You may find that no application fits all of your requirements but the good thing is that you can’t really go wrong with any of the software covered here. Whether you’re willing to forgo certain features for a lower price if the price is no concern and you just want the best product on the market, or you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, there is something out there for you — even if it isn’t on this list. The most important thing you can do before diving into a purchase is to research your options; this overview is a good place to start.