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The Best Photo Editing Softwares and Apps for 2020

Introduction

It can be overwhelming - to say the least - to enter into the “magical” world of editing softwares and apps, if you don’t have a clue about what are their features or even how to interpret those qualities/numbers, what do they mean in practice.
And oh, did I mention the fact that there are more and more choices every day? Till the last decade, options were quite limited; now, (un)fortunately, they are endless!
The choice of the right software (or app), together with a comprehensive guide to help you understand which features of the software may be more useful to you are the two cardinal points that I want to discuss with you in this article, since these are what I consider the two most problematic issues that every photographer has to face when they first approach the world of post production in photography.

Dolomites at sunrise in autumn in Italy

1. Why You Should Edit Your Photos

This is kind of a tricky question to answer; I’ll try to make it as easy (and as short) as possible for you.
Let’s start by saying that the shot that you get in your camera, whether you are shooting in RAW or JPEG, it is NOT a real representation of what you are seeing. Why?

- Because if you are shooting RAW, the file has to be edited. The RAW file is (like the name is sublty suggesting by itself) a raw format, that needs some work. The colors and contrasts are not the same as the scene you are looking at with your naked eyes: the temperature could be off in the shot, the colors and contrasts are generally well below what you are seeing (and that’s why you need to work on the file later).

- Because if you are shooting in JPEG, you basically allow the camera to do the editing work for you. The JPEG format is a “ready for print” file, and nobody generally works in postproduction with JPEGs; that doesn’t mean that the files are not edited. The camera will basically do what you are too lazy to do by yourself, in other words it will edit the files automatically before showing them to you. That’s why the colors and contrasts are generally nicer in JPEGs, compared to RAWs, during the shooting phase.

Now, the only question that remains up in the air is: do you want to take the complete control over the post production phase of your pictures, or do you want to give that control to the processor of your camera that will apply the same basic settings to all your pictures?
Should I mention the endless upsides of taking the full control on the editing part of your pictures?
To make a full list it would be too long, so please trust me on this one and keep reading to learn more about the different editing softwares!

dolomites summer photo workshop
venice photo workshop at sunrise
GIAU PASS PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP
Dolomites mountains at sunrise in october photography tour
Flower hills in Tuscany Italy during a photography workshop

2. Top Photo Editing Softwares and Apps

In the main chapter of this article we are going to see what are the best alternatives currently on the market, starting with the editing software for computers and ending with smartphone/tablet apps.

2.1 Adobe Lightroom

Let’s start with the most popular photo-editing software ever made: ladies and gentlemen, Adobe Lightroom!
The chances that you already -at least- heard this name are really high, if you are into photography at all; it’s on the market since 2006, and since the beginning it’s become the industry standard for the segment, no questions about it.

Let’s see the main pros and cons of this software:
- RAW editing and adjustments: okay guys, let’s not forget that Lightroom’s main purpose is the RAW development, and obviously that’s the greatest thing that you can do with it.
RAW adjustments like temperature, tint, highlights and shadows, etc, are the things for which Lightroom was created, and so the things that it can do better!
- Photo Library: if I have to suggest one place where to organize all your pictures, the Lightroom Library is for sure the one that has more features. You can rate your images, give them tags to quickly find them, and obviously order them in folders; a part from these, there are endless more advanced functions that you can use!
- User-friendly: well, even if it’s not as user-friendly as we got used to with all the smartphone apps available today, it’s not really hard to learn most the main functions this software has!
- Lack of Layers and Masking: well, this is the only cons I could think of. The only reason why I can’t use Lightroom as a stand-alone editing software is because I make an abundant use of layers and masking in my workflow, and, even if you can use some gradients in Lightroom to work on some specific areas, you don’t have the same control on adjustments and selections that you can have with other post production softwares.

2.2 Adobe Photoshop

Well before Lightroom was born, another software from the same company was dominating the photo-editing scene: Adobe Photoshop was (and still is) its name!
It was born in 1990, with the main purpose of digital photo retouching and digital color editing; likewise its younger brother Lightroom, it became from the very beginning a must have and incredibly powerful tool for every photographer.
From the 1.0 version many features have been added, and nowadays it’s for sure the most popular photo retouching software on the market.
You may wonder by now what’s the point for Adobe to have on the market two photo-editing softwares: the answer is that while Lightroom is mainly a RAW developer and an organizer, Photoshop is the software you need if you have to do some more complex adjustments or work on layers, masks or channels.

Like every other software though, even Photoshop has its pros and cons. Let’s see the main ones!
- Layering and Maskering: well, this has to be n.1 feature for those who are looking to buy Adobe Photoshop; the possibility to work with layers and mask some parts of them is the thing that is missing in Lightroom and the most important feature of Photoshop, so in case you are keen to work with these tools, you’ve just found your workhorse!
It will require a little bit of tests and failures to really understand how layers and masks work, but once you’ll get it you won’t be able to work without them anymore!

- Precise Selections: whether you need to make just some precise masking or you have to move/delete/add some objects to the image, Photoshop will help you to do that with a variety of tools like the magnetic lasso or the brushes, so that you can select just the area/object you need to work on.

- Advanced Cloning: in Photoshop you’ll have the clone stamp tool, the spot healing brush tool, the patch tool and a bunch of others at your disposal. These tools will help you accomplish the same exact thing (in different ways, obviously): remove some unwanted objects from your picture with great precision.

- Advanced Editing: from the title you may think that this is one of the pros, but in this case I actually consider it a cons. You’ll need time to learn how to properly work on Photoshop, even for the most basic functions; it is not as user-friendly as the other softwares in this list, so be aware that if you are not doing photography professionally (or anyway at an advanced level), you may want to spend your time outside shooting rather than in front of a computer learning how to use the editing software.

Got stuck in post production?

If you have an hard time figuring out how to create your own workflow in postproduction, you should know that there are editing sessions included in all our photography tours!

2.3 Skylum Luminar

In the last few years or so a new editing software appeared on the market, and since its first release it immediately caught a lot of attention: its name is Luminar, produced by Skylum.
First of all, the software is available both as a stand-alone product and as a plug-in for the Adobe Suite, for those photographers that can’t separate from the Adobe softwares; at the moment of writing, the newest version on the market is the 4.0, and the features that it’s packing are impressive to say the least.
As the Company is saying, and I’m quoting here, “Luminar 4 is the world’s first purpose-based rather than a tool-based photo editor” (Link): in other words, their aim is not to make you spend a lot of time in learning how all the tools are working and how to make a good use of them, but rather to make you focus on expressing your creativity and simplify the whole editing workflow.
In my humble opinion, this is not bad at all; as I was saying somewhere above, I’m all for spending more time outside shooting rather than standing in front of the computer, and Luminar seems to help you a lot to accomplish that!
Now it’s time to list some of the main features that this software has:

- AI Sky Replacement: the sky replacement is for sure one of the highlights of Luminar, and should be at the top of this list. Don’t get me wrong, you can replace the sky in your photos even with other editing softwares, but with Luminar you’ll be able to do it with just a few clicks, while the AI will do the hard part of the job for you. The ease with which you can replace skies in your photos is just incredible!

- AI Skin Enhancer/Portrait Enhancer: if you are not interested in sky replacements, Luminar got you covered if you are shooting portraits too! Also in this case, let the AI do the hardest part of the job and improve your portraits with just a few clicks; the software will remove all the skin imperfections and selectively improve the sharpness in the in-focus parts of the image.

- Smart Contrast: like for the other features, the thing that is most impressing with the smart contrast is the visible improvement that you see with just the click of a button. Obviously you can obtain similar results with other softwares, but there’s no discussion about the fact that Luminar will save you a lot of time!

2.4 Capture One Pro

Another great name in the photo-editing software’s segment is Capture One; it is developed by Phase One, a company which I don’t think needs any introduction.
Capture One is both a raw-developing and a photo retouching software, so that you’ll be covered whatever you needs are. It is a great all-in-one choice if you don’t want multiple softwares for each part of your workflow.
Let’s see which ones are the main features:

- Tethered Capture: one of the highlights of this software, and one of the things is doing best, is to preview and capture photos directly from your computer, by connecting your camera to it. Obviously this feature won’t interest to everybody, since it suits just the photographers that have the time to set up all the equipment and connect the camera to the computer, but it is really a great feature that this software has (and many others don’t!).

- Basic Color Editor: personally I consider this color editor one of the best on the market; it gives you a lot of control over the HSL (hue-saturation-luminosity), but at the same time it is really easy to use and you can obtain beautiful results within a couple of minutes!

- Interface: Capture One has to have one of the best interfaces on the market. Everything is right where you want it to be, it’s clean and you can personalize it for your needs. Again, simple and powerful at the same time!

2.5 Adobe Photoshop Express (iOs/Android)

As you can see from the title, we are officially switching from computer softwares to smartphone apps; the first one that I want to talk about with you is Adobe Photoshop (yes, again), but this time in its mobile version!
No need to say that many of the features that are packed in the desktop version can’t be found on the mobile version, but it is still in my opinion one of the best options you can find on the app stores and it’s still a really powerful editing tool for mobile shots.
You’ll still find all the “classic” adjustments like colors, contrasts, highlights and shadows, etc, which in my opinion is more than enough for mobile editing!

2.6 Snapseed (iOs/Android)

Developed by Google, Snapseed is for sure a great competitor of Adobe Photoshop Express; the strength of this app is its ease to use. In just a few clicks you’ll far improve your mobile shots; even here though you’ll find all the basic adjustments for colors and contrasts.
Oh, and there are plenty of filters too if you want to go “artistic” and give a particular look to your pictures!

3. How to Choose the Best Photo Editing Software for You

There is not such a thing as a “best photo editing software”, there is just the best photo editing software for you. And how can you understand which one is the best for you?
The first thing you should think about is the amount of time you want to spend doing photo editing: if you get bored easily and just want to do it quickly, Luminar or Lightroom are the best choices for me. In both cases, you can get away with a finished photo in a bunch of minutes. Instead, if you like to be really precise and don’t bother spend a lot of time behind the pc, Photoshop or Luminar might be your options.
Then, you should think how much you want to invest on it: Lightroom, Photoshop and Capture One come with a monthly subscription (check out their websites for prices), while Luminar is a one-time fee.
My personal tip, since all these companies generally offer a trial period before you have to actually buy the software, is to try them all and see which one you like the most or you feel it’s the best choice for you!

Dolomites in summer at its best, Tre Cime di Lavaredo at sunset in photography tour
The last one, we promise.

Before you leave, you should definitely check out this comparison between the two most famous photography brands, Nikon vs Canon!

Conclusion

The choices for photo editing softwares, as you may have understood now, are virtually endless; I tried to make a list here, but the truth is that I barely scratched the surface since there are many, many more that are equally valid options.
As I told already told you, the best way to really understand which one is the best editing software for you is to give them all a try and see by yourself.
One thing is for sure: they all will give you the tools to produce outstanding images!

Leonardo Papèra

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