I have been using Photoshop as my photo editor for many years. And a few years ago, I also began using Lightroom Classic. I love their flexibility and power. And I love working with Layers and Layer masks. After all, Lightroom Classic and Photoshop are among the most widely used photo editing tools, and I’ve developed a rapport with them.
However, they do require you to pay a $9.99 per month subscription. For those who do not prefer subscriptions, cannot justify the expenditure, or are simply on a tight budget, $120 per year can be hard to swallow. Many might not need that level of manipulation or power.
Thankfully, there are many alternatives to Photoshop and Lightroom. Below I have a look at some of the most popular free photo editors.
I wrote about Apple Photos earlier. If you have a Mac, it’s already installed on your computer. Photos tucks complex editing tools into several simple controls by default. The layout is extremely intuitive but surprisingly powerful.
A wonderful surprise is the the Retouch feature, which removes spots, blemishes and scratches quite effectively. It allows you to organize and edit your photos, supports RAW files, and create slideshows or even print calendars or photo books. It’s probably best for people who don’t need to do serious professional editing.
I stumbled across Pixlr, a free web-based photo editor. During the coronavirus pandemic, I needed to teach math to special education students. I wanted my presentation to be meaningful and vivid, so I used dollar bills and coins. Pixlr allowed me to resize them, move them freely around, and create different backgrounds and more. This made my lessons more effective and fun.
Pixlr is an effective, easy-to-use editor that allows you to use filters and brushes, and even allows you to use layers. Of course, you can export your finished products to your hard drive. Pxlr works with various image files, such as PSD, PXD, JPEG, PNG, WebP, SVG and more.
You do need to be online the entire time to use it, of course. The easier, simpler version has a maximum working size of 3840 pixels across. They also have a more sophisticated photo editor and another program that removes backgrounds.
Microsoft Photos is a free photo and video editor and organizer included with Windows! It has five primary modes — Collection, Albums, People, Folders and Video Editor.
While I do most of my work on a Mac, I do have a Windows 10 touchscreen laptop at work. From what little experience I had with it, the ability to touch, enlarge, and move the photos via touchscreen seemed well-implemented.
As a bonus, Microsoft Photos also allows you to identify faces through People Mode. You can name these faces and perform searches for them. It performs all basic editing tools. Like Apple Photos, it’s probably best for people who don’t need to do serious professional editing.
Darktable is a popular photo editor that runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. The interface looks relatively similar to Lightroom Classic. And having used Lightroom for a few years now, that seems to be a good thing.
Like Lightroom, Darktable supports RAW files and has the ability to edit your images non-destructively throughout the entire workflow. And also like Lightroom, it offers digital asset management, so you can organize your photos.
Darktable is also open-source. You don’t need to use code to use it, of course, but if you can write code, you could roll up your sleeves and check out the source code!
I saved the 900-ton gorilla of free photo editors for last. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an extremely powerful, multi-faceted cross-platform image editor available for GNU/Linux, Mac and Windows. And yes, this too is open source, and if you want to again roll up your sleeves and tweak the source code, you may do so.
Because of this, it also has many customization options and third party plugins. This is software that rivals Photoshop in its power and sophistication. It was initially created because Photoshop didn’t run on Linux systems.
So what does it do? Just about everything. It works with Layers, edits just about every way imaginable and opens a multitude of files, including PSD files. You can do all the basic editing, but also manipulate photos, use it for graphic design, create original artwork or drawings, and even an animation package. In fact, this does just about everything except organize your photos.