Today, photos have become the primary medium in our lives. Since our phones are always with us, we take dozens of photos a day for a variety of purposes, from selfies that we share with friends to payment receipts we need to remember to the images we plan to use for blog posts or websites.
This proliferation of photography and a wide range of use cases for images in our lives now means that not only professionals need to make all those photos look great. Sometimes we want to crop our shots or adjust the shadows or apply a specific filter or even watermark them for online sharing.
We know we should be able to tweak the photos we take in some sort of Mac image editor. But how do we choose the right one?
How To Pick The Best Photo Editing Software For Mac
With smartphones in every pocket, photo editing software for Mac has exploded in recent years. Not only there are default tools that come pre-installed with macOS, you can now find a free photo editor for Mac for all the basic photo enhancements as well as the best photo editor for Mac when it comes to advanced retouching. In general, any good photo editor Mac frees up a lot of your time by automating certain repetitive tasks.
Photo editors differ wildly by their pricing, features, ease of use, speed, and specific goals they help you with. That’s why there’s no one answer to what’s the best free photo editor for Mac. It depends on what you need to do and how much time you want to spend learning. You can pretty much do any photo adjustments you want in GIMP, which is free, but maybe paying a little bit for the tool you’re going to use every day and which is going to save you hundreds of hours makes sense.
On that note, let’s go through some of the best paid and free photo editing software for Mac and mention which use cases each one fits really well.
You don’t have to go far to find a decent free photo editor for Mac. Preview might just do the trick! It comes with your macOS and is the default app for opening any images.
What most people don’t know is that Preview lets you crop and rotate images as well as adjust levels, exposure, shadows, saturation, and much more.
To access Preview’s editing capabilities, just click the Show Markup Toolbar icon in the top menu.
When you start to hit the limits of Preview in terms of editing photos, there’s another app, which is often called the best free photo editor for Mac — Apple Photos.
Apple Photos also comes preinstalled with macOS and is the natural continuation of iPhoto and Aperture. It has robust editing capabilities, letting you adjust curves and selective colors, as well as apply quick filters and do overall retouching work.
To work on an image in Apple Photos, just open it and then click Edit in the top menu. Switch between Adjust, Filters, and Crop at the top to change the editing mode you’re in.
While Apple Photos has a fair number of features that let you tweak any part of your image, it does take quite a bit of time. When you come back home with your phone storage full of photos, processing each one could take minutes at best — a whole day could pass without you even noticing. What if you could use the power of AI to fix this?
Photolemur is the world’s first fully automated AI photo enhancer. All you need to do is drop your picture onto the app’s window and it would use millions of data points to analyze the picture’s details and adjust them in the best way possible. If you want to suggest a direction, Photolemur also features a few styles to redo the photos on the fly. You can even choose to dial the app’s edits back using a simple slider. The best part? Minutes of editing are now seconds!
Price: Free for Setapp members
When you need a tool for a high-volume professional production, there’s still nothing that can really beat Adobe Lightroom. First released in 2007, Lightroom has become a true staple of every photographer’s workflow.
You can imagine Lightroom as an all-in-one solution. It has everything you need to process and store a large collection (from tags to stars to comments) and at the same time features in-depth retouching tools and custom filters that can be quickly applied to batches of images at once.
The downside? Lightroom is expensive, not easy to pick up, and very taxing on your machine. So if your goal is mastering photo production, Adobe Lightroom is more or less a must. Otherwise, you have plenty of other options.
Price: $9.99 a month
What if you want the best photo editing software for Mac for casual use but don’t like Apple Photos for some reason? You don’t have to go far to find a great substitute — Emulsion does exactly the same tasks (and even has its own library), just in a different way.
Emulsion is fast, lightweight, and easy to learn. It’s a fully-fledged photo editor and manager that covers all aspects of photo retouching and can be used by amateurs and professionals alike. Emulsion can handle large quantities of photos with ease, letting you sort and edit them in a continuous and seamless workflow. In addition, it features GPS and equipment data, and can even take all your portraits by names.
Price: Free for Setapp members
If you’re looking for the ultimate Mac image editor that would truly allow you to bring your photographs to the next level, it would probably be Adobe Photoshop.
Nothing is more iconic in the retouching world than Photoshop. First released in 1990, Photoshop has continued to be the most comprehensive and advanced photo editing software for Mac. It’s not perfect though — it requires a lot of computing power, is difficult to learn, doesn’t have a photo organizer, and is the most expensive tool on the list. But if you need to reimagine your images, Photoshop will help you get there.
Price: $20.99 a month
Sometimes what you need is not the best photo editor for Mac, but a significant improvement to the editor you already use. Almost all robust Mac image editors let you create and connect plugins that enhance their default toolkits, sometimes considerably. That’s exactly what Luminar Flex is.
Luminar Flex works as a meta layer to make your favorite photo editor, whether it’s Apple Photos, Adobe Photoshop, or Lightroom, much more powerful. This app comes with lots of professional filters built right in and lets you adjust those filters and create new ones that would express your creativity the way you need. Then you can simply control the intensity of your filters using a single slider right within your favorite photo editing tool.
Price: Free for Setapp members
As one of the new Mac image editors, Pixelmator Pro quickly gained a loyal following among those who want access to powerful retouching tools without sacrificing either speed or ease of use.
Pixelmator Pro offers non-destructive photo editing, with full support for RAW photos (even the new AppleRAW), a wide variety of presets, and automatic enhancements based on machine learning. You can even use Pixelmator Pro to draw and illustrate as it comes with an impressive set of vector tools for unlimited creative expression.
Since Adobe Photoshop has moved from a one-time license to a subscription model, lots of professionals started to look for alternatives. And many found the perfect one in Affinity Photo.
Affinity Photo is essentially what the best photo editing software for Mac would look like if you designed it from the ground up, without all the legacy features that Photoshop has to carry over from one version to the next. Affinity Photo is lightning fast, can handle massive files (over 100 MB), zooms at 60 frames per second, and is able to edit PSD files. It’s not cheap, but it’s available as a single payment rather than a continuous subscription.
Truth is, you don’t need your best free photo editor for Mac to do everything — it’s ok to use a combination of tools as long as you know why you’re using them. For example, almost none of the standard photo editing apps are great at processing images in bulk. But PhotoBulk is.
PhotoBulk is an essential tool for high-volume photo editing. Whether you want to resize, rotate, or watermark multiple images (hundreds, even), PhotoBulk can take on the task with ease. It will compress, rename, and reformat anything you throw at it — and it will do it fast. You don’t even need to learn how to use PhotoBulk. Just select any necessary adjustments on the left, load up all your images on the right, and click Start.
Price: Free for Setapp members
As you can see, the world of photo editing is vast and very diverse. There is something for everyone. If you want the best images without lifting a finger, try Photolemur’s AI capabilities. If you need a powerful editor, use Emulsion. If you’d like to expand the possibilities of your current editing software, download Luminar Flex. And if you need to process hundreds of images at once, you can’t go wrong with PhotoBulk.
Best of all, Photolemur, Emulsion, Luminar Flex, and PhotoBulk are all available to you absolutely free with a seven-day trial of Setapp, a platform with more than 210 productivity-enhancing Mac apps. Try each Setapp app today at no cost and see how you can reinvent your photo production system and much more.