With the best photo editing software, you can take your images to the next level. Far from being a new phenomenon, photo editing has its roots in the dodging and burning of the film days, and it’s an essential part of any serious photographer’s workflow in the modern age. A good edit can bring a flat photograph to life, whether it’s though a judicious crop to bring focus to the main subject, or tuning colours to give them punch, or even a dramatic edit like a full black-and-white conversion. But to do any of this, you need the right software.

We regularly test and review photo editing software, covering everything from free tools and mobile apps to the market-leader programs like Photoshop. All our photographers have their own preferred editing workflow, and this guide represents the best of the best as chosen by the experts behind our photo software reviews. But it’s not just a rundown of the expensive professional stuff – we’ve also included budget-friendly options, including some programs that are completely free.

To make this guide easier to navigate, we’ve divided it into sections. First we’ve covered the best subscription-based image editing services, then best subscription-free software that’s a one-time purchase and download. After that we’ve looked at the best free photo-editing software choices, and finished off with the best photo editing app for mobile.

Scroll to the bottom of this article for helpful tips on how to choose the right photo editing software, or read on to see our full list – and for more options, you can check out our guides to the best subscription-free photo editing software and the best free photo editing software.

The best photo editing software: our quick list

Here’s a quick-reference list of the image editing programs we’ve picked for our list, along with links to get the best prices…

Best subscription-based photo editing software:

  • Best image editing software overall: Adobe Photoshop – buy now
  • Best photo editing software for beginners: Adobe Lightroom – buy now
  • Best photo editing software for Windows: Zoner Photo Studio X – buy now

Best subscription-free photo editing software:

  • Best Photoshop alternative: Affinity Photo 2 – visit site
  • Best RAW processor: DxO PhotoLab 7 – buy now
  • Best AI image editor: Skylum Luminar NEO – buy now

Best free photo editing software:

  • Best free Photoshop alternative: GIMP – visit site
  • Best free RAW processor: RawTherapee – visit site

Best mobile image editing software:

Read on to learn more about why we rate each of these image editing programs, with links to full reviews by our team of writers and photographers…

Best subscription-based photo editing software

Opinions are divided on the subscription model for software, but with more and more companies pivoting in this direction, it’s something you can’t ignore. Many of the top-tier, professional standard programs are subscription or nothing, and there are at least some pretty good deals for photographers that can soften the blow of monthly payments a little. Here are our picks of the best subscription services for photo editing.

Best image editing software overall: Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop review, Photoshop interface
This is the default Photoshop Photography workspace but creating your own to suit your preferences is easy enough. Image credit: Will Cheung.

Amateur Photographer verdict

Sure, you have to be financially in hock to Adobe indefinitely. That’s not ideal. But Photoshop really is the most capable image-editing program around – and its latest edition is better than ever.
  • Powerful image editor for any task
  • Smart AI-powered selection tools
  • Neural filters can restore old photos
  • AI emphasis won’t appeal to everyone
  • Subscription only
  • Cancellation fees

At a glance:

  • Photo editing and graphics program
  • Windows and Mac
  • $9.99/£9.98 monthly with Lightroom (20GB storage), or $19.99/£19.97 monthly (1TB storage)
  • adobe.com

Adobe Photoshop has been practically synonymous with photo editing for decades now, to the point where many people casually use ‘photoshopped’ as a generic term for an edited or retouched image. Adobe, somewhat hilariously, has a sniffy page on its website where it explains that you should be saying ‘The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software’ instead of ‘The image was photoshopped’, which will assuredly catch on any day now.

But joking aside, Photoshop is a superb piece of photo editing software. Of course it is. Whether you need to clone out distractions, rescue blown-out highlights, convert an image to monochrome, process RAW files (via the Camera Raw plugin) or perform any of the other myriad tasks that might befall a photo editor, Photoshop will be well equipped. We reviewed the most recent version of Adobe Photoshop, and its ability to clean up and declutter images has been made faster than ever thanks to new AI-powered object selection tools.

These days it is impossible to talk about Adobe software without talking about AI, as the firm is going all-in on it. Newer versions of Photoshop have come loaded with powerful generative AI tools such as Generative Fill and Generative Expand, which allow you to radically transform images with generative content. If you’re someone who just wants to edit your photos and isn’t interested in all that – well, tough. Adobe is, in fact, very interested in all that.

The full version of Photoshop is subscription-only, as it has been for a long time. The popular Photography bundle, where you get it together with Lightroom for $9.99/£9.98 per month, is at least decent value – though be warned that cancellation is a more complex affair than you might think. Adobe is infamous for its sneaky ‘cancellation fees’ that hit users who have the temerity to not want to give them money anymore.

Bear in mind that if you do want Photoshop without a subscription, you can get it in the slimmed-down Photoshop Elements package, which is a one-time purchase. See our beginner’s guide to Adobe Photoshop Elements for more.

Read our full Adobe Photoshop review

Best photo editing software for beginners: Adobe Lightroom

Editing a photo in Adobe Lightroom
The Adobe Lightroom editing interface. Image credit: Joshua Waller

Amateur Photographer verdict

A lighter editing program than Photoshop, with unmatched cataloguing features, Lightroom is ideal for those who like their editing to be smooth and efficient.
  • Unmatched image-organisation features
  • Powerful, efficient editing tools
  • Excellent noise reduction with Denoise AI
  • Subscription only
  • No layers functionality

At a glance:

  • Workflow, image management and editing program
  • Windows and Mac
  • $9.99/£9.98 monthly with Photoshop (20GB storage), or $19.99/£19.97 monthly (1TB storage)
  • adobe.com

If you’re subscribed to Photoshop, chances are good that you’ve got Lightroom too, as the most cost-efficient subscription gives you access to both. While Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom programs share many features, the key appeal of Lightroom lies in its extensive cataloguing and image-management features. These allow you to use keywording and rating to organise your images and single-out the keepers. If you’re regularly sifting through large numbers of files, it is an enormous timesaver.

Lightroom is also no slouch when it comes to photo editing. While Photoshop is the more powerful program with a more comprehensive suite of options, Lightroom is still excellent, and many photographers use Lightroom exclusively. Its image-repair and enhancement tools are precise and intuitive, and the highly fine-tunable masking function can be immensely useful. You can also easily copy your changes to multiple images for speedy batch-editing.

Read our guide to Lightroom vs Photoshop: which is right for you? And for more advice, check out our guide to the pros and cons of RAW vs JPEG.

Best photo editing software for Windows: Zoner Photo Studio X

Screenshot Zoner Photo Studio X
A screenshot from Zoner Photo Studio X. Credit: Zoner

Amateur Photographer verdict

If you’re on a PC and want an alternative to Adobe, consider Zoner Photo Studio X. It packs a number of useful tools and features, particularly for those who want to design their own photobooks.
  • All-in-one software
  • Handy modes for making photobooks and calendars
  • Lacks some high-end modern features
  • Windows only

At a glance:

  • Raw converter, image editor and organiser
  • Windows
  • $59 per year / $5.99 per month
  • zoner.com

This Windows-only software is designed to be the complete package when it comes to photo editing – so it’s also a raw processor, an image organiser and even a photobook designer. It offers plenty of Photoshop-like tools, including Layer adjustments, and the interface is well designed. The program includes plenty of camera and lens correction profiles too, with the option to upload more if needed. This latest version also runs much better than previous iterations of the software, with plenty of bug fixes and performance enhancements having been introduced.

ZPS X doesn’t have Adobe’s ultra-advanced features like Neural Filters, and its corrections aren’t as good as those you’d find in the likes of Photoshop or DxO PhotoLab. However, as a start-to-finish photo editing program, it does a very good job indeed, and is definitely a credible option for those looking for a solid Photoshop alternative.

Read our interview with photographer Kevin Bruseby on getting more from Zoner Photo Studio X.

Best subscription-free photo editing software

We get it – not everyone wants to be on the hook to a digital landlord for the rest of their photo-taking life. Less than $10/£10 a month for Photoshop and Lightroom may feel like a really good deal, but if you’re planning on using the software for years on end, those monthly fees are going to add up, and you may be better off paying full-price up front for software that’s yours to own and keep.

For a more detailed round-up, check out our full guide to the best subscription-free photo editing software. Or read on to discover some of the best photo-editing software that’s available as a one-time purchase with no subscription required.

Best Photoshop alternative: Affinity Photo 2

Affinity Photo 2 Review
Affinity Photo 2. Image credit: Rod Lawton.

Amateur Photographer verdict

A truly excellent image editor – and one you can buy and keep in perpetuity! We’ve been really impressed by Affinity Photo 2, even if it is tricky to get to grips with at first.
  • Brilliant value for money
  • Photoshop-like interface/tools
  • No Lightroom-like cataloguing tools
  • Can be a steep learning curve

At a glance:

  • Photo editor and illustration program
  • Windows, Mac and iPad
  • $69.99 / £69.99
  • affinity.serif.com

Affinity Photo 2 is probably the best Photoshop alternative for those who want a one-time purchase program for photo editing and other image work. Getting it to use forever is the same price as seven months of Photoshop and Lightroom on the Photography Bundle, and for that you get a sophisticated editor with non-destructive workflow, layer editing, masking controls, and plenty more of the kinds of features photographers expect.

The program isn’t the most immediately user-friendly for beginners, and you’ll likely experience a bit of a learning curve if you’re new to image editing. Once you get used to the way the program wants you to think, and swapping between its different ‘Personas’ depending on the task you’re performing, it does get much easier. One thing we particularly appreciated in our review was getting our heads around the adjustment presets, which let you save and re-use your favourite adjustments – a real time-saver for batch-editing.

Read our full Affinity Photo 2 review.

Best RAW processor: DxO PhotoLab 7

DxO PhotoLab 7 Elite edition
You can include a colour chart in the frame like the colour checker passport here then use the Colour Calibration tool in DxO PhotoLab 7 to create a profile for precise colour rendition.

Amateur Photographer verdict

For rescuing detail in raw files, DxO’s de-noising technologies are unmatched. DxO PhotoLab 7 also offers an ever growing list of lens correction profiles
  • Extremely powerful noise reduction
  • Lots of correction profiles
  • One-time purchase
  • Tricky interface
  • No luminosity masks

At a glance:

  • Raw workflow software
  • Mac and Windows
  • 30 days free trial
  • Fully-featured Elite edition: $229/£209 ($109/£99 if upgrading)
  • Pared-down Essential edition: $139/£129 but doesn’t have DeepPrime, LUTs, colour calibration or HSL
  • dxo.com

This powerful software from DxO is especially potent for processing raw files. DxO’s de-noising technologies, DeepPRIME and DeepPRIME XD provide huge benefits in terms of rescuing detail in shots that are suffering from a significant amount of digital noise due to being shot at high ISOs. The process is fast and highly effective, able to turn shots you might have written off as irredeemably compromised into something you can make prints from.

If you’re using an older camera that gets noisy very quickly when the ISO is turned up, PhotoLab could be an excellent way to extend its lease on life. When we reviewed PhotoLab 7 Elite and were hugely impressed – the newly added Calibrated Colour Profile tool works together with the industry standard colour charts to achieve supremely accurate colours.

LUTs (Colour Lookup tables) are colour filters invaluable for video editors, DxO Photolab 7 includes 17 initial choices but it also supports third-party LUTs as well. This tool is used increasingly among photographers, as it helps speed up their workflow through automatic colour correction and colour grading.

Read our full DxO PhotoLab Elite 7 review.

Best AI image editor: Skylum Luminar NEO

Mask AI in Sky setting in Luminar Neo
Mask AI in Sky setting in Luminar Neo

Amateur Photographer verdict

With clever AI-powered tools, Skylum Luminar NEO is capable of making complex adjustments with just a single click. One for editors who prefer speed and efficiency.
  • Fast AI-powered sky replacement
  • Smart one-click adjustments
  • Both subscription and one-time purchase options
  • AI tools can be unpredictable
  • Limited image-management functionality

At a glance:

  • Photo editing software with AI tools
  • Mac and Windows (can also be used as a Photoshop/Lightroom plugin)
  • From $79 / £79 or $275 / £275 one-off
  • skylum.com

While Skylum Luminar does have a subscription model, it also offers the option of a one-time-only lifetime purchase of the software. This will ultimately save you money in the long-run, and there is a 30-day trial period in which you can get a refund if the software is not to your taste.

Skylum Luminar NEO is the latest iteration of a piece of software that’s been around for some time – originally, the developer was named Macphun, and made products exclusively for Apple operating systems. These days, Skylum Luminar NEO is a program aiming to fulfil the roles of both Photoshop and Lightroom, with a full suite of photo editing and photo organising tools. It’s stuffed with AI-powered tools like background removal and noise reduction, and also offers tons of presets for those who don’t mind letting the program make a few editing decisions for them.

Read our full Skylum Luminar NEO review.

Best free photo-editing software

If both the monthly subscriptions and one-time costs look out of reach for you, don’t worry – there’s lots of excellent free software out there for editing photos. We have an entire guide dedicated to the best free photo editing software right now – but here are two of the applications we feel are the best.

Best free Photoshop alternative: GIMP

GIMP sample screenshot showing black and white photo of padlock.
GIMP isn’t the most immediately intuitive program, but it’s powerful and completely free. Photo credit: Jon Stapley

Amateur Photographer verdict

More user-friendly than it used to be, GIMP still has a learning curve to be sure, but it’s a terrifically powerful image editor that is completely free to download.
  • Powerful, completely free image editor
  • Highly customisable (if you know what you’re doing)
  • Regular updates
  • Tricky to use at first
  • Not many tutorials

At a glance:

  • Photo editing and graphics software
  • Windows, Mac and Linux
  • Free and open-source
  • gimp.org

The GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP as it apparently must be known, is a free and open-source image editor that you can download, install and run in barely the time it would take to read this paragraph – no credit card required. GIMP has always been free, and is maintained by a devoted team of enthusiasts. It offers a powerful photo editing suite to rival Photoshop or Affinity Photo, and there are tons of community-developed plugins that allow you to make it your own. It’s infamously tricky to get to grips with – though recent updates have made it a lot more user-friendly than it once was.

Best free RAW processor: RawTherapee

Raw Therapee
Raw Therapee is packed full of features, but this also makes it very complicated. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

Amateur Photographer verdict

The kind of software for people who love geeking out over the technical nuances of raw processing – RawTherapee can be intimidating to novices, but it’s a powerful tool that’s 100% free.
  • Completely free
  • Tons of options for processing raws
  • Overwhelming interface
  • Slow pace of updates

At a glance:

When you first boot up RawTherapee, you might be a little overwhelmed at the complexity of what you’re looking at. We’ve found that this free raw conversion software is not blessed with the most intuitive of interfaces, with tons of tool panels and a huge array of features. Geeks will be in heaven; normies might feel a little overwhelmed. However, if you do want to wade into the ins and outs of raw processing and don’t have cash to spend, the amount of power you get for free here is absolutely incredible. Bear in mind that updates for the software have slowed in recent years, with the last one coming in November 2022 – so if you have a newer camera, the software won’t have specific profiles for it.

Best mobile image editing software

Finally, we’re taking a quick look at the best apps for editing photos on the go. Most photographers likely snap plenty of pics on their phone as well as their camera, and there are plenty of apps out there to help you kick your smartphone photography game up a notch. We have a whole dedicated guide to the best photo apps for phones, including editing apps – but read on for our top recommendation.

Best image editing app: Snapseed

Snapseed’s interface is brilliantly designed for use on touchscreen devices. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

Amateur Photographer verdict

An app favoured by photographers around the world, Snapseed is definitely the best choice for mobile editors – and, somehow, it’s completely free to use!
  • Free to use, no strings
  • Advanced adjustment options
  • Useful presets
  • Slightly complex interface (but you’ll get used to it)

At a glance:

We regard Snapseed as one of the top choices for photo editors on mobile – while there are plenty of competitors out there, truthfully you’re unlikely to go wrong with Snapseed. It’s great. A completely free, Google-made app, available for both iPhones and Android devices, Snapseed puts a powerful and intuitive editor in the palm of your hand.

As well as standard tools like cropping and rotating images, Snapseed also enables Curves adjustments, with a range of presets available to make things easier. It’s perfect both for those who want a streamlined, automated process, and for those who like to dive in deep and get granular with their adjustments. And – need we remind you – it’s free!

Read our guide to how to edit your photos in Snapseed.

How to choose the right photo editing software?

First of all consider your needs and make a list of what are the most essential features you want get from your editing software, this will help you narrow down your options. Obviously, the most suitable photo editing software for you depends on what kind of photography you are doing and whether you are a beginner enthusiast or a pro in editing.

Subscription or one-time purchase

Most of the providers offer either a one-time purchase or a monthly or yearly subscription. With purchasing a one-off license you own the program forever, and will pay less if you brake down your cost per month, as the longer you use them essentially the cheaper they get. Their downside however is that they usually don’t provide software updates and you can miss out on important bug fixes and new plug-ins. The subscription-based options on the other hand benefit from regular software updates but you pay a monthly or yearly fee and your access to the software stops when you stop paying the subscription.

System requirements

You will need sufficient horsepower to run the latest editing software, so if your computer is somewhat outdated this can be an issue. Check on the manufacturers website for the recommended RAM, Graphics card size and type, and operating system and monitor resolution. For example Photoshops’ system requirements state 16 GB as recommended however you can get away with the minimum 8GB, but speed and performance may be curbed.

Consider if you have enough hard disk space to run it. I am not talking about space to install the software, but having enough free hard disk space to run it.

Another important aspect is how often does the provider release software updates? These often include, shiny new features like Photoshops’ Generative AI, but can be other useful things like support for newly released cameras and lenses and lens profile corrections.

Cross Platform Licensing

If you use a Macbook or laptop on the go as well as a PC or iMac at home, you want to check if your chosen software offers what’s called cross platform licensing. This allows you to use the same software on your mac and pc without purchasing a new licence. Some subscriptions also let you download the same software to more than one device so you can pick up where you left off on another device.

Workflow and organisation

Would you like to edit as well as catalogue your images? Most software offer comprehensive cataloguing and rating features to help manage your image files. It is easy to shoot burst and fill up your hard drives so it is more and more important to be able to easily locate your files.


All of the editors listed here will include the essential editing tools but depending on the style and genre you are shooting and editing your ideal editor will differ greatly. You might want built in filters or presets that can be easily applied for a quick fix, AI editing features, or generative fill.

Or maybe you want to work on different layers to composite multiple images together. If you edit your images one by one, practically any of the editors will suit you, however if your work require editing multiple images with similar changes like in event or wedding photography then you want to make sure batch editing is included in the features.

For macro or product photography a software thats capable of compiling focus stacked photos will be essential, however for someone who shoots wildlife effective noise reduction will be a life saver. It all depends on your own unique wants and needs.

Final take away

When you have one or more potential software on your list make sure to download their trial versions. It is a lot easier to make up your mind after you actually worked with them in real life. Choose three images and edit them in each program, this way you can compare the ease of use and features and get a good idea if you will be comfortable to use it on the long run.

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