The best software usually has a big price tag that goes with it. For amateur photographers, they’re simply not an option. If you just want to do photo collage for social media and not add special effects, you don’t need to pay for photo editing tools. This doesn’t mean that you have to go without – there are plenty of free alternatives that come very close to matching the real deal.
Here’s a list of alternatives to the most popular photo software or free photo editor on the market.
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Even if you’re not a photographer, you’ve heard of Photoshop. It’s more than just a brand and many use it both as a verb and an adjective.
If I’m editing a photo in Aperture, I usually refer to what I’m doing as ‘photoshopping’ because this allows people who don’t know the software to understand what I’m talking about.
The main problem is that Adobe Photoshop CC comes with a subscription fee of $20.99 a month. this adds up to a lot of money for a beginner, especially as it takes years to master the advanced features and editing tools.
Free: GIMP – GNU Image Manipulation Program
The GIMP is the open source image manipulation program. You can get this program for free. And you can use it for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring.
It has many capabilities: you can use it as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter (jpg, png, etc), and more.
GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything.
The advanced scripting interface means that everything from the simplest enhancement tools to the most complex image manipulation procedures is easily scripted. You can find the software here.
Paid: Luminar 3 & Adobe Lightroom CC
These are the two most common photography software, used to make post-production corrections and manage files effectively.
They do more than just edit a file; they allow you to add a whole range of file management options including key-wording, rating and backing up.
Lightroom CC is like a stripped down version of Photoshop and gave other software packages, such as Luminar 3 their base. Deciding between the two depends on your how you like to work through your images.
The big difference is Lightroom is only available through subscription. It has been around longer, so has many features for the photographer, whereas Luminar is relatively new.
This has been the hardest category to find a free alternative for because there’s not really a lot out there.
The best two options are Darktable, created by programmer genius Johannes Hanika, and Phocus which, rather ironically, is made by Hasselblad. I say ironically because they offer a free alternative to a fairly cheap piece of software while their cameras can cost over $40,000.
Darktable is free photo editing software that aims to bridge the gap between the excellent existing free raw converters and image management tools. It is great at being able to easily share the photos and process RAW files.
If you’ve ever used iPhoto, you’ll be familiar with this type of program; it allows editing photos and as well as order prints, add tags and locations etc.
Overall, a very good program for free.
Phocus is on the list because “Phocus software provides all the power, performance, and advanced tools that discerning professionals desire in an easy-to-use and attractive working environment, making even the largest files simple to handle.”
It’s true, it really is a great piece of kit… unless you only ever shoot in RAW.
The main problem with this software is that it will only process Hasselblad’s version of a RAW file; you’ll have to use other software if you shoot in RAW. I do shoot in RAW but I don’t think it’s right for everyone; if you have no interest in RAW, Phocus is probably the software for you.
Both Phocus and Darktable are available on both Mac and PC, so no problems there.
Paid: Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator software helps you create distinctive vector artwork for any project. Take advantage of the precision and power of sophisticated drawing tools, expressive natural brushes, and a host of time-savers.”
Illustrator was the first version to include 3-dimensional capabilities. This allowed users to extrude or revolve shapes to create simple 3D objects. It’s a really powerful tool for graphic design but, as you can probably tell, isn’t cheap. especially as you need to renew the subscription every year.
Inkscape is an Open Source vector graphics editor. It has capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw and Xara X. This is because it uses the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format.
It supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clone stamp, alpha blending, etc.). Great care is taken in designing a streamlined interface. It is very easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more.