Best photo editing software in 2024

Choosing the best photo editing software can be tricky. It means working out exactly what you want to achieve and how much you know — or want to know — about the technicalities of image-editing. 

That might be a little daunting, but don’t worry, as this guide is here to help you. We’ll run through all the best photo editing software applications so you can make the best choice. We’ll cover lighter editing programs for smartphone or casual photographers; powerful editing software to help enthusiasts and content creators bring out the best in their photos and even add some AI flare; and in-depth editing suites for serious enthusiasts and professionals, which combine powerful editing features with comprehensive workflows that can be tailored to your processes.

The best photo editing software normally comes with a price tag, of course, but if you only need to edit photos occasionally, or your editing needs are basic, check out our guide to the best free photo editing software below. Some of these programs are remarkably capable, and while many come in free and more advanced paid-for versions, the free version may be all you need!

Read on to find out the best photo editing software for you.

The quick list

The best photo editing software today

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The best all round

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2024

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2024 (Image credit: Adobe)

1. Adobe Photoshop Elements 2024

Best photo editing software all round

Specifications

Platform: Windows, MacOS

Reasons to buy

+
Effective Organizer app manages your photo library
+
New AI tools bring the latest editing tricks
+
Guided edits help you learn

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks tools for more serious photography
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Novice-friendly approach can grate

Photoshop Elements is aimed squarely at beginners and intermediate users, so it won’t suit experts and professionals, but it does have more advanced tools in its Expert mode, and can suit the widest range of photographic needs and user levels.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2024 is the latest version. Adobe updates Elements every year, and this time around it’s added more of Adobe’s Sensei AI technology, so that you can now select skies and backgrounds with a single click. You can also create movie Photo Reels from still photos, add animated movement effects to still images, apply one-click fixes for dehazing, background removal, colorizing and more.

There’s so much to explore, however, including no fewer than 62 guided edits in the latest version, that it could all get a little overwhelming, and while Elements is terrific for all sorts of projects, including social media graphics, photo gifts and more, it’s not really geared towards serious photographers. It does have an Expert mode and it can open and edit raw files, but without the more advanced options in other programs.

But Photoshop Elements is subscription free, and if you shoot videos too, you might want to take a look at the Photoshop Elements + Premiere Elements bundle. Premiere Elements does for video editing and sharing what Elements does for photos.

The best for AI effects

Skylum Luminar Neo

Skylum Luminar Neo (Image credit: Skylum)

2. Skylum Luminar Neo

The best photo editing software for reality-bending effects

Specifications

Platform: Windows, MacOS, mobile

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent sky replacement
+
Time-saving AI effects
+
Constant evolution of features

Reasons to avoid

-
Relies on paid extensions for some tools other editors include as standard
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Ever-changing bundles, pricing and offers

Skylum Luminar Neo is the latest version of the Luminar photo editor and has evolved into a modular software platform built around Luminar Neo itself and a growing set of Extensions for additional effects. It is still possible to buy a lifetime license, but the pricing is clearly driving subscriptions.

Billed as the photo editor for photographers who want results not technicalities, Luminar uses a set of Essential, Creative, Portrait and Professional filters (and Extensions, where installed) that can be used individually or together to create anything from simple photo enhancements to spectacular reality bending. The results are often excellent, particularly the AI Sky Replacement, which was the first such tool and is still the best.

Luminar’s GenErase tool is the first of its new Generative AI options, where it’s now catching up with Photoshop, and while it’s not especially quick at removing objects from scenes, the results are often quite remarkable.

Luminar Neo is ideal for photographers and content creators who want to make regular photos spectacular with  minimal know-how and effort. It’s probably less useful to more technically minded photographers, and Skylum’s constantly changing deals and offers can be confusing.

The best all in one editor

ON1 Photo RAW 2024

ON1 Photo RAW 2024 (Image credit: ON1)

3. ON1 Photo RAW 2024

The best photo editing software for features and scope

Specifications

Platform: Mac OS, Windows, iOS, Android

Reasons to buy

+
Extensive library of presets and effects filters
+
Support for layers
+
Can be used as a standalone app or plug-ins
+
Optional cloud storage and mobile app

Reasons to avoid

-
HDR effects are somewhat poor
-
It does so much there’s a lot to take in

It’s difficult to describe ON1 Photo RAW without resorting to superlatives. Where other programs in this list specialize in particular areas, such as image cataloging, preset effects and in-depth layers-based editing, ON1 Photo RAW does all of this in a single-window workflow. You can use it as a standalone program or use its component tools as plug-ins for Lightroom, for example, and you can get it for a one-off fee or with a cloud-enable subscription — there’s even a mobile app with editing tools and its own camera.

Because it does so much, it’s a little thinner in some areas than specialized software. Its layers, for example, don’t offer the same depth as Photoshop or Affinity Photo, and its HDR merge results are not as good as those in rival programs. And while its cataloging tools are very effective (you can simply browse photos if you don’t want to import them into the catalog), they’re not in the same league as Lightroom Classic’s, or Capture One’s.

But ON1 Photo RAW’s effects presets are varied and inspiring, its effects filters offer endless permutations and its AI masking is both fast and, more often than not, highly effective. ON1 Photo RAW 2024 brings a new Brilliance AI feature that automatically analyzes and enhances images based on their content.

This new feature and ON1 Photo RAW’s preset effects do offer an easy entry point for novices, but there’s a lot here to take in, and ON1 Photo RAW is probably best suited to more advanced photo editors who already know the basics. 

The best for novices

Corel PaintShop Pro 2023

(Image credit: Corel)

4. Corel PaintShop Pro 2023

The best photo editing software for beginners using Windows

Specifications

Platform: Windows

Reasons to buy

+
Simplified, Photography and Complete modes
+
Value for money

Reasons to avoid

-
Windows only
-
Old-fashioned approach

In many ways, Corel PaintShop Pro is superior to Photoshop Elements, as it's a powerful program, yet is easy for novices to grasp, and has some additional tools, such as 360-degree photo editing. It's also touch-screen compatible.  

It does do all the jobs that photographers need up to an enthusiast/intermediate level, while catering for outright beginners too. PaintShop Pro does include AfterShot Lab for processing raw images, and more extensive and powerful tools than Photoshop Elements, but its organizing tools are not especially advanced and its workflow feels old-fashioned. And while the Ultimate bundle offers excellent value with a further 7 different add-ons, including PhotoMirage, Corel Painter Essentials and Highlight Reel amongst others, these are separate tools and utilities rather than an extension to PaintShop Pro’s own features.

PaintShop Pro does have appeal for beginners, long-time PaintShop Pro users or anyone who likes to get as much as possible for the least outlay, but this Windows only software does feel rather like a surviving relic that’s doing just enough to stay current. It carries out traditional photo editing tasks perfectly well, but if you’re looking for AI inspiration, in-depth layers and masking or professional-level image cataloging and raw processing, you need to check out the other options on our list.

The best for photographers

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Adobe Lightroom Classic (Image credit: Adobe)

5. Adobe Lightroom Classic

The best photo editing software for photographers

Specifications

Platform: Windows, MacOS

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful photo organization
+
Seamless non-destructive raw editing
+
Powerful AI masking tools

Reasons to avoid

-
Subscription only
-
Still needs external editors or plug ins for some effects

Adobe Lightroom Classic, as it’s now called, is the ‘original’ Lightroom, and is for photographers who like to store, organize and edit photos on their own computers rather than using Adobe’s cloud storage. Its powerful image organizing tools Lightroom Classic the perfect complement to Adobe Photoshop and, indeed, both are included with Adobe’s good-value Photography Plan.

To work with photos in Lightroom Classic you first have to import them into a catalog, though they can stay in their current location — you don’t need to copy or move them. Once imported, you can apply practically every kind of photographic enhancement and adjustment — though you will still need a regular photo editor like Photoshop to combine images in layers or create more advanced effects.

Lightroom’s editing tools are terrific and its new AI subject masking tools make local adjustments and enhancements a breeze. Its non-destructive approach means you can go back at any time to change the settings, and you can even create multiple ‘Virtual Copies’ of the same photo but with different adjustments.

Adobe Lightroom Classic now has the same status amongst expert and professional photographers as Photoshop itself, and is probably the default photo organizing and editing software for serious users.

The best for mobile photography

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom (Image credit: Adobe)

6. Adobe Lightroom

The best photo editing software for mobile photography

Specifications

Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android

Reasons to buy

+
Cloud-based storage – access all your photos on any device
+
Slick and streamlined interface
+
Lots of help for all user levels

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs 1Tb of Creative Cloud storage at around $10/month
-
No support for external editors except Photoshop

You have to be very careful when talking about Adobe Lightroom because there are actually two versions. Lightroom Classic is the regular version for photos stored on your computer, while Lightroom (previously called Lightroom CC) is the ‘web-first’ version, where all your photos are stored on Adobe’s servers. The advantage of this is that you can view, organize and edit your photos anywhere, on any device.

Lightroom has the same editing tools as Lightroom Classic, but in a stripped-back interface that’s a lot cleaner and more modern. Its image organizing tools are not as powerful, though, so you can create albums but not smart albums.

Perhaps its two biggest drawbacks are that you really need an Adobe subscription plan that includes 1TB cloud storage, and that you can only use Photoshop as an external editor.

That said, the fact that you can use it on desktop computers, mobile devices and even using a web browser makes Lightroom the perfect tool for photographers on the move. The mobile app even includes a camera with powerful manual shooting controls. Lightroom’s Discover panel brings expertise and inspiration from a huge Lightroom community, and there are plenty of beginner resources to get you started.

The best for pros

Adobe Photoshop 2024

Adobe Photoshop 2024 (Image credit: Adobe)

7. Adobe Photoshop 2024

The best photo editing software for professionals

Specifications

Platform: Mac OS, Windows, iPad

Reasons to buy

+
Industry-standard photo editing tools
+
Impressive Neural Filters
+
Cutting edge generative AI

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited help for beginners
-
Subscription only

The ultimate when it comes to photo editing software, Adobe Photoshop CC has it all. It increasingly relies on Sensei, Adobe’s highly touted artificial intelligence engine, to facilitate a host of impressive features. The most high-profile of these include Sky Replacement, Neural Filters and generative AI

The Neural Filters include an impressive Colorize filter for colorizing black and white images, while the Generative Expand and Generative Fill tools do an often uncanny job of expanding photos or adding objects — though sometimes objects, especially humans, can look distinctly weird.

Photoshop does have a reputation for being daunting to beginners, but its interface is extremely clear, clean and efficient, and you don’t have to understand every tool right from the start. Photoshop is designed not just for photographers, but illustrators and artists too, so not all of the tools will be relevant for everyone.

If you’re just getting started in photo editing or you just want amazing effects fast, then Photoshop is probably not the right tool. But for anyone who wants to work in the creative arts, it’s practically a must-have and, partnered with Adobe Lightroom/Classic in the Adobe Photography Plan, its extremely good value. 

The best for commercial photographers

Capture One

Capture One (Image credit: Capture One)

8. Capture One

The best photo editing software for studio photographers

Specifications

Platform: Mac OS, Windows, iOS

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent raw processing quality
+
New AI masking tools
+
Powerful layers-based adjustments
+
Choice of workflows: catalogs or sessions

Reasons to avoid

-
More expensive than Lightroom Classic

Capture One is a direct rival to Adobe Lightroom Classic that’s perhaps less well-known among enthusiasts but which enjoys a strong reputation amongst professional commercial photographers, especially for studio and fashion work. One reason is its extensive support for live ‘tethering’ where shots taken with the camera are fed straight into Capture One for editing, which is now boosted by Capture One Live, a feature that allows remote client collaboration live on set.

Capture One offers ‘Sessions’ for this kind of workflow, but also offers Lightroom style ‘Catalogs’ for longer-term image storage, management and editing. Capture One’s cataloging tools are on a par with Lightroom Classic’s, though it doesn’t offer the cloud-only approach of Lightroom (CC). There is, however, a mobile app that incorporates a camera module.

You can get Capture One either as a subscription or as a perpetual license, though you won’t get the regular updates of the subscription version. It’s also roughly 70% more expensive than Lightroom, but its professional workflow features can easily outweigh the extra cost.

It also offers excellent raw processing quality — somewhat better than Lightroom’s, in fact. And its layer-based adjustments mean you can use practically the full set of adjustment tools on every layer, where you can use only a subset of adjustments with Lightroom masks.

Capture One is not a cheap option, and it’s not really suitable for novices, but its professional workflow and image quality stand out.

The best Photoshop alternative

Affinity Photo 2

Affinity Photo 2 (Image credit: Serif)

9. Affinity Photo 2

The best subscription-free Photoshop alternative

Specifications

Platform: Mac OS, Windows, iPad

Reasons to buy

+
Photoshop rivalling layers capability
+
Low cost, subscription free
+
Powerful adjustments and live filters
+
HDR merge, panorama merge and focus stacking

Reasons to avoid

-
Too technical for beginners
-
No Photoshop-style AI

Affinity Photo 2 is the closest thing to a true Photoshop alternative. Indeed, it mirrors all the professional tools, capabilities and features of Photoshop, even improving on some of them, though it does not have Adobe’s Sensei AI and generative fill/expand capabilities.

Like Photoshop, Affinity Photo 2 is not made solely for photographers, as it also includes illustration, art and design tools too. Its photo editing tools are nevertheless formidable, offering every imaginable adjustment via non-destructive adjustment layers, each of which can be masked to control the areas affected. It also offers live filters such as lighting effects, depth of field blur and other filter effects that normally would be applied permanently but here they remain fully editable after you close and re-open the file.

The ability to merge HDR images, merge panoramic images (or ‘joiners’) and create focus stacks is included, which makes Affinity Photo 2’s price all the more remarkable.

Affinity 2 is the first major update and brings important new features, including non-destructive raw processing, live masks and compound masks — terms which may make little sense to photo editing newcomers but are very significant to experts and professionals.

This is the key point about Affinity Photo. It may be priced like a budget photo editor, but it’s one of the most powerful tools in this list. It has a very steep learning curve, and while it’s fine for those experienced in photo editing, it’s too much to take in for novices.

The best for raw processing

DxO PhotoLab 7

DxO PhotoLab 7 (Image credit: DxO)

10. DxO PhotoLab 7

The best photo editing software for raw files

Specifications

Platform: Mac OS, Windows

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent lens corrections
+
Superb DeepPRIME XD noise reduction
+
Quirky but powerful local adjustments
+
Subscription free

Reasons to avoid

-
Quite technical
-
Not cheap, especially the Elite edition

DxO PhotoLab evolved from the old DxO Optics Pro, a program designed to offer the highest quality lens corrections to digital images. PhotoLab 7 has come a long way since then. It still offers some of the best optical lens correction profiles on the market, even compensating for lens softness at the edges of the frame, but also offers perhaps the best raw processing of any software. This is helped along by DxO’s latest DeepPRIME XD AI noise processing, which dramatically improves the quality of high ISO digital photos — though for this you need the more expensive Elite edition.

Many more experienced photographers will prefer to shoot raw files because of the extra flexibility and control they offer, so choosing a good raw processing tool is important.

DxO PhotoLab also has basic but effective image cataloging and search tools, a range of preset image effects and some very advanced local adjustment tools. These are based around ‘control points’ which mask the area you want to adjust automatically based on the colors and tones of the areas you click on.

PhotoLab 7 is not especially cheap, especially if you opt for the Elite edition (recommended) and DxO’s ViewPoint and FilmPack add-ons. It’s also quite technical, so while experienced photo editors will soon find their way around, editing novices might struggle.

The best free photo editing software

The best free photo editing software offers a tantalizing alternative to paid-for software, especially if you just need to do very basic photo editing, or you don’t edit photos often enough to justify spending money on a commercial program. 

So here’s our list of what we think is the best free photo editing software right now, though there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, a lot of so-called ‘free’ software is actually ‘freemium’ software — in other words, there’s a free version with limited tools and features designed to lead you towards a premium paid-for version. That’s fine. The free version may do everything you need. But if you are tempted to upgrade to a premium version, then this means you should weigh it up against a lot of very good mainstream commercial alternatives. 

Second, do check out the free software that comes with your camera. For example, Canon Digital Photo Professional 4 is free for registered Canon owners, and Nikon NX Studio is free for Nikon users. Other camera makers offer equivalents which don’t always get a lot of attention online, but are free and often quite good.

But camera makers’ own software can be quite technical, while the best free photo editors are much more user-friendly. Here’s our list of programs you should check out.

The free quick list

The best free photo editing software you can use today

The best for easy photo sharing

Google Photos

Google Photos (Image credit: Google)

1. Google Photos

The best photo sharing software for Windows and Android

Specifications

Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android

Reasons to buy

+
Auto-syncing among all your devices
+
Simple, quick sharing
+
Free to use

Reasons to avoid