Photo editing on a Mac: transform your photos into something amazing

People love photos. We are more visual now than ever. With most of us using smartphones and digital cameras to share with the world everything from what we had for dinner to holiday and birthday memories. We snap, share and print more than ever before.

All of this makes our choice of editing tools something worth thinking about. If you asked any Mac user what they use their computer for, editing photos would come near the top of the list.There are, of course, many tools you can use to edit photos on a Mac, including Apple's own Photos.

Photos is a useful tool, with numerous features that make it easy to resize and retouch an image, or even a batch of images. But it is quite basic, compared to some of the other tools on the market. At the other end of the spectrum is the heavy-duty suite of Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) tools, such as Lightroom and Photoshop. However, not everyone needs something so robust, or has the time to learn. Not every Mac can handle the system requirements either.

A happy medium is to look into a range of photo editing apps. We have included and cover several in this article, connecting them to various aspects of the photo editing process. This way, you get a feel how an app performs when undertaking something you do often when editing, or something you know you need help with. However, Setapp includes all best tools to take your photo editing to the next level photo. Discover some of the best apps in the market, with mentions throughout of strengths and weaknesses.

How to edit pictures on macOS?

Why do you need a photo editor? 

#1: Crop and straighten to improve your composition

Getting pictures ready for the web often means cropping and straightening. If you need to get a whole group ready, and the changes are simple and easy to do, the native Mac Photos app can do this. So can PhotoBulk.

PhotoBulk gives you the advantage of real-time previewing for all photos in the set you are working on, giving you the ability to automatically edit, crop, watermark and straighten a whole folder of images in minutes.

To crop your photos with CameraBag Pro click the crop button in the right-hand toolbar (second from bottom).

  • To straighten your image, drag the dial up or down.
  • To crop the photo, drag one corner inwards, then drag the box around the image until its positioned the way you want it.

#2: Adjust lighting and exposure

Back when print film was the only option, waiting for and chasing the light was a challenge every photographer had to struggle with. You could make some changes after a picture was taken, when they were being printed. But you had to be careful. Print film was expensive and you couldn't afford to take dozens of the same shot.

Now you can do a lot more with pictures after they're taken. Editing software won't turn a poor picture into a Pulitzer prize winner, but various apps can be used to improve and enhance the lighting of a picture. Within Photos, for example - Apple's native images app - you can make some changes to the light levels and overall warmth of an image.

Other apps that are good at adjusting the light levels and exposure within an image include the following - and each comes with numerous other handy features:

TouchRetouch - Includes a range of tools for selecting areas you want to erase. TouchRetouch is also great at making color adjustments to your photos to ensure that your final edited work looks the way it should, which includes lighting changes.

PhotoBulk - Mentioned earlier in this article. It can apply lighting adjustments to a whole folder of images in only a few clicks, taking a matter of minutes. Useful if your someone who regularly needs to make simple, quick adjustments to large numbers of pictures with a short turnaround to think about.

Photolemur - an AI-powered photo enhancer that automates the editing process. This is the first photo enhancer that can actually think for itself. You don't need to learn what the pros know and you don't need to spend hours messing around with sliders and editing every image manually. Using 12 smart AI-powered technologies, Photolemur identifies then makes changes to images, including adjustments to lighting, colors and exposure.

To adjust the lighting and color with CameraBag Pro:

  1. Click the Adjustments tab on the right-hand toolbar (first from the top). The color adjustments are grouped at the top and the lighting adjustments are below. Drag the slider in each adjustment left or right to change its value.
  2. Scroll further down and you'll see options for adjusting hue and saturation and for using curves to adjust highlights and shadow. To use curves, click on the Curves tool, choose whether you want to apply the change to all channels or only the red, blue or green channel. Then, when the curve appears, drag the points on it up or down.

Tip: you can undo any change by pressing the Off icon in the bottom toolbar. You can also undo anything pay pressing Command-Z.

#3: Remove small and big imperfections

Imperfections spoil perfect pictures. It doesn't matter if its dirt or rainwater on a lens, or background distractions such as rubbish or graffiti, it can make it harder to get an image ready to be published or printed. Thankfully, almost every photography app comes equipped with features that make it easier to erase or clone out imperfections of any size.

Apple's Photos app includes a healing brush tool.

TouchRetouch comes with a wide range of easy-to-use features that help you identify and remove imperfections. Including a single click tool for blemishes, and a clone stamp to copy pixels from one part of the picture to cover an imperfection you want removed. You can also crop a section of a photo if it proves too difficult to clone pixels.

TouchRetouch app removes objects

Polarr is another option, and great for beginners. Built by photographers, using robust automated editing tools. One of the most difficult challenges is making edits to faces. With Polarr, it knows where are eyes and lips, and teeth on the picture and how to improve their color or brightness. You don't have to use brushes to paint lips red and eyes blue, there's a slider for that now.

#4: Make your photos sharper

CameraBag Pro is also useful for making images sharper. It comes with an adjustment tool that identifies where changes are needed within a picture, remedying them automatically.

When making changes to sharpness, you need a tool and a screen that is configured to what your eyes see. A powerful graphics card and high-resolution screen is a must if you are doing this professionally. With the right app supporting this work, they can spot imperfections that you might miss. Producing sharp images has become a necessity when everyone is equipped with smartphones that come equipped with HD screens.

Emulsion is another option for this. Built for Mac users, giving photo editors a powerful and usable creative workspace for enthusiast and professional photographers.

#5: Fix color balance

When making edits to photos, the color balance is worth reviewing to ensure some areas aren't too warm or cold, depending on the look you are aiming for. This is something you can change using Photos. Or you can make changes as part of a series of edits within other photo editing apps, such as Emulsion or Polarr.

CameraBag Adjustments tool

Emulsion provides an immersive environment, created by photographers. Whereas Polarr is armed with AI, therefore it can spot where small changes are made to improve the overall image. Different areas of the picture can be made warmer, colder, brighter or darker - making small but necessary changes to enhance the original image to stunning effect.

#6: Photo effects and filters

Long before Instagram was popular, photographers have always been keen on using filters. Some of the most basic could apply the warmth of a sunset, or the grainy impurities of older film cameras to modern images. With the right tools, you can do amazing things to images. Even make a picture look as though it was printed on metal.

Some apps are more equipped than others for applying filters and special effects. 

Photolemur can also make enhancements and apply color and texture changes to single or whole batches of images. It can even enhance the color of foliage and the sky.

CameraBag Pro comes with dozens of filters, including black & white, classic photographic styles, grainy effects, mattes, vintage, numerous types of film stocks, and many more. Well worth testing out if you want to apply a range of styles to your images.

#7: Prepare photos for web or commercial print publishing

And finally, you are going to want to make sure your images are ready for the web, commercial use, or printing. This could include watermarking them to protect your creative and intellectual property. Thankfully, photo apps often give you the ability to ensure RAW files - after edits - are turned into high resolution or web versions (where the file size needs to be much smaller) - and watermarks are applied.

Photobulk can add watermark to portrait, landscape, and cropped photos in a single batch.

That's all.

What is the best app for photo editing?

Every app we've mentioned here has several features worth recommending, including Photos. What you choose partly depends on what you need and how familiar you are with photo editing software. Here is how we would classify the apps mentioned in this article - all of them available from Setapp - alongside Photos, a Mac tool available on every macOS device.

  • Quick and simple: Photos - for a basic tool that can make a few changes, we would always recommend Photos.
  • Robust, ideal for professionals: CameraBag Pro. Described as the ultimate tool for bringing both advanced adjustments and one-click filters to your photos and videos. A photographer's and filmmaker's dream. Emulsion comes a close second in this category, providing photographers and film makers with an immersive environment to work on your images, with an interface which scales from small laptops to professional 5k workstations.
  • AI-powered, smart automated editing: Polarr and Photolemur are both capable of taking away the strain of manual photo editing. Polarr can produce better lighting than the original image and make quick enhancements to faces; plus dozens of other features, keeping you in control. Photolemur, on the other hand, analysis images with 12 smart technologies that can automatically make adjustments to pictures.
  • Removing imperfections: TouchRetouch is an ideal option.
  • Bulk edits: Photobulk and CameraBag Pro.

Key Takeaways: Short tips about mentioned apps

Discover all the 6 best photo editing apps, available for Setapp members - this is a quick way to weed out which app is right for you.

TouchRetouch, an app to remove unwanted objects from any photos with the absolute minimum of effort.

One-touch removal tool makes distracting lines vanish in seconds - mark only a section of a line to remove it whole (no need to be precise - the app is so smart that can remove the entire line.)

This app can remove unwanted things from any photo:

  • telephone posts and wires
  • surface scratches (straight and curved) and shadows
  • skin blemishes and pimples
  • human-made objects like garbage cans, street signs, and telephone posts
  • photobombing persons
  • and whatever you think that is spoiling your photos.

Emulsion app is a photo catalog which allows non-destructive editing, metadata manipulation, photo organization, and more:

  • it allows quick access to your collections by folder, albums, tags, places, people, or ratings
  • allows you search through all collections by name or other metadata characteristics
  • lets you edit details in EXIF metadata
  • can apply changes to one or to multiple pictures
  • can adjust exposure, gradient, texture, tones, highlights, sharpening, gamma, RGB channels, noise reduction, vibrancy, temperature/tint, and almost everything else
  • Emulsion app includes some essential tools like a clone tool, cropping, rotation, magnification, and preset filters (you can even add dust and scratches for a retro look)

CameraBag Pro is the robust editing app to apply, tweak, and compare professional filters and adjustments across your photos.

Photolemur, an AI-powered photo enhancer that automates the editing process. 

This app makes almost any photo look better without manual editing, as well as allows to automatically enhance a batch of images at once with drag-and-drop simplicity. The app has 12 smart technologies ranging from color recovery and exposure compensation to smart noise reduction to automatically analyze and adjust your photos.

Photobulk, an app for batch editing: add text/image watermarks, rename, resize, compress photos, and optimize them for the web in a click.

It can be a hard choice, and different photographers - amateurs and pros will have different opinions on each app. It could be worth downloading a few from Setapp to find which you prefer, trying out different features on various aspects of photo editing.

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