However, while you might have got your pose right or have a stunning backdrop for a photo, it’s easy to hit the shutter button and then notice something out of place that ends up ruining the entire picture.
But that’s why photo-editing tools and applications exist – they let you easily turn a flawed photo into something you want to share on all your social media profiles and hang up on your wall in a frame.
Using one of the best photo editors, you can retouch, relight, crop, adjust and fix photos via a computer, tablet, PC or smartphone. Modern photo-editing solutions also provide a large variety of special effects, filters, shapes, fonts, stock images, digital paintbrushes, automated tools and many other features in one app.
There are lots of great photo-editing solutions available right now, targeting the needs and budgets of different sorts of users. Whether you’re a photographer who requires a powerful photo editor with all the bells and whistles, or someone who wants an easy-to-use tool for editing occasional selfies, you can find something suitable out there.
We tested these packages on our iMac and iPhone, with a selection of landscape images and selfies, to help you choose a solution easily and quickly. Here are our picks of the top photo-editing software for 2021.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Best photo-editing software 2021:
- Best overall – Adobe Photoshop: £19.97 per month, Adobe.com
- Best for all devices – Adobe Lightroom: £8.98 per month, Adobe.com
- Best free photo editor – Pixlr: Free, Pixlr.com
- Best for pro tools and features – CyberLink PhotoDirector 365: £2.92 per month, Cyberlink.com
- Best AI-powered photo editor – Luminar AI: £59 per year, Skylum.com
- Best cheap photo editor for pro photographers – Affinity Photo: £23.99, Serif.com
- Best for photographers and other creatives – DxO PhotoLab 4: £115, Dxo.com
- Best for everyday users – Snapseed: Free, Apple.com and Google.com
Adobe Photoshop: £19.97 per month, Adobe.com
If you’re looking for the best overall photo-editing app, look no further than Adobe Photoshop. It offers a large range of tools for editing photos, designing graphics, creating animations and digitally painting.
It provides plenty of easy-to-use and useful features such as cropping, retouching, fixing, eliminating objects, re-lighting, applying effects and so many more.
In addition, Photoshop allows you to create new graphics by adding photos, art, text and elements. What’s more, you can choose from thousands of paintbrushes, pens, pencils, and markers to paint and draw digitally within the Photoshop app. And if you’re feeling extra creative, you can even design your own custom brushes.
Photoshop is currently available on desktop and iPad. The desktop app is pretty straightforward to use, with various tools, settings and information displayed in all corners of the app. What’s neat is that you can move the main editing toolbar around the user interface to suit your preferences.
Adobe Lightroom CC: £8.98 per month, Adobe.com
Best: For all devices
Adobe also offers a cloud-based photo-editing app called Lightroom, which you can access on mobile devices, desktops and the web.
Overall, Lightroom is an easy-to-use and comprehensive photo-editing app. It provides a wide variety of features and tools for creating, editing, organising, storing and sharing photos on all your devices.
Lightroom enables you to crop and rotate photos, adjust colours and lighting using simple sliders, sharpen photos, reduce noise, add different effects, save the best settings and filters to access again, omit objects, and so much more.
Because Lightroom runs on the cloud, it’ll remember your edits so you can return to them at a later time or finish editing a photo on another device. If you’ve never used Lightroom or a similar tool before, you can access informative tutorials within the app and hone your skills.
The Lightroom desktop app is very easy to use and navigate. In the top-left corner you’ll find a plus icon for adding photos, and when it comes to editing, you can access the main editing toolbar on the right side of the app. On the whole, it’s clearly laid out and has lots of useful features.
Pixlr: Free, Pixlr.com
Pixlr is a great photo-editing app for anyone who wants something simple and cost-effective, with it providing both free and premium subscriptions.
If you’re not an experienced photo editor and want to make some basic edits quickly, you’ll love the smart cut-out tool. It’s capable of removing backgrounds, objects, and people with just one click. You can also enhance your creations by adding overlays, stickers, icons and text.
Overall, Pixlr’s online photo-editing platform is straightforward to use and looks great. You’ll find the main editing toolbar on the left side of the app, while there are options like a zoom function on the right side and various menu buttons at the top.
Should you ever experience any issues with the app, you can simply click the “help” button in the top menu bar to access keyboard shortcuts, go straight to the Pixlr user community, or head to the Pixlr YouTube page to watch tutorials.
CyberLink PhotoDirector 365: £2.92 per month, Cyberlink.com
Best: Pro tools and features
CyberLink provides one of the most powerful photo-editing apps available today in the form of PhotoDirector 365. It offers artificial-intelligence tools, guided editing, colour controls, visual effects, layer editing and so much more in a single package.
It comes with an entire suite of AI tools for automatically deblurring photos, eradicating haze, recognising and tagging different people in photos, turning photos into digital paintings, tweaking the sky and more.
A PhotoDirector 365 subscription will give you access to lots of great features overall, including express layer templates, LUTs colour presets, frames, stickers, professional-looking special effects, stock images, an audio library, plug-ins, video-editing tools, priority customer support and more.
If you like the sound of PhotoDirector 365, you can download it on both Windows and Mac devices. The app features a clean and feature-packed user interface, with an easy-to-use navigation bar.
Luminar AI: £59 per year, Skylum.com
Best: AI-powered photo editor
Luminar AI is an app that applies artificial intelligence to the photo-editing process, allowing everyone to edit photos quickly and easily.
At the heart of Luminar AI is an innovative template system that identifies subjects and problems in photos, before recommending a suitable template. If the template looks good, you can then select and personalise it, although you can also bypass this AI-driven system to edit photos manually.
The software also offers some advanced portrait tools for editing body shape, eyes, faces and skin, along with landscape tools for changing the way the sky looks in a photo or adding atmospheric effects such as mist, haze and fog. You can also crop and enhance photos.
You can currently download Luminar AI as a separate application for Windows or Mac, but you also have the option of using it as an Adobe Lightroom Classic or Photoshop plugin and as an Apple Photos extension.
The Mac app is well laid out and easy to navigate, thanks to the main navigation bar that offers a plus icon for adding folders and photos. Another neat UI feature is that multiple photos are displayed at the bottom of the app, allowing you to switch between and edit different items easily.
Affinity Photo: £23.99, Affinity.serif.com
Best: Price for pro photographers
Affinity Photo is a feature-packed, pro-grade image-editing application that can be used on Mac, Windows and iPad. Its top features include raw editing, HDR merging, panorama stitching, focus stacking, batch processing, PSD editing, unlimited layers, smart object support, digital painting and more.
Another great thing about Affinity Photo is that it works with every major file format, which includes Photoshop docs. And if you’re using one of Apple’s latest MacBooks, you’ll be happy to learn that it has been optimised for the new M1 processor.
The user interface of Affinity Photo looks similar to Adobe Photoshop. You’ll find the main editing toolbar on the left-hand side of the app, while there are options for histogram, colour, swatches, brushes, adjustment, layers, effects, styles, stock and more on the right side.
Overall, you can tell that Affinity Photo is a piece of software aimed at professional photographers, editors and designers because it has so many different tools and settings. If you’ve never used an advanced photo-editing app before, it might take some time to get used to all the different features offered by Affinity Photo. But that’s certainly not a bad thing.
DxO PhotoLab 4: £115, Dxo.com
Best: For photographers and other creatives
DxO PhotoLab 4 is a RAW processing and photo-editing solution. It’s aimed at anyone who wants an advanced image editor, whether you’re a professional photographer, picture editor, graphic designer or artist.
One of its best functions is a built-in artificial-intelligence-powered system that allows users to improve mosaicing and noise in their photos quickly and easily.
It provides many other useful tools including optical corrections, the ability to remove haze in landscape shots, local adjustments, automatic corrections, a colour wheel, a photo library, red-eye correction, multiple exports, a full-screen view, colour protection, various presets, simple photo management and more.
PhotoLab 4 is available to download on Windows and Mac. As soon as you open the app, you’ll notice the PhotoLibrary tab on the left side. Using this, you can upload a photo from your computer or a different device, and once you’ve done this, the main editing interface opens. Overall, the photo-editing tools are well organised and easy to access, and if you’re not happy with your edits, there’s a handy “reset” button in the right-hand corner.
Best: For everyday users
If you want a mobile-friendly and easy-to-use photo-editing app, you should check out Snapseed from Google. Available on both iOS and Android, it’ll allow you to edit photos on your smartphone with ease.
You can access 29 different photo-editing tools and filters including tuning, cropping, rotating, brushing, text, lens blur, face enhancement, frames, a vintage filter, RAW editing and more.
The app is free and easy to use. After launching Snapeed, you’ll see a large plus icon that you tap to upload or take a photo – it supports JPG and RAW files – and when opening a photo in Snapseed, the main editing interface appears. On the “looks” page you can scroll through and choose from a large variety of image filters.
And if you click on “tools”, a large list of photo-editing functions appears on the screen. It’s clearly labelled with text and icons, making it very easy to find the right tool you need. Meanwhile, the “export” page lets you share and save edited photos.
The verdict: Photo-editing software
The best overall photo editor is Adobe Photoshop, thanks to its wide array of comprehensive image-editing tools. But Adobe’s Lightroom is an excellent choice if you’re looking for something slightly easier to use with great mobile apps.
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To see your photos in their best light, check out our review of the best photo printers for image quality
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