Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 offers a number of useful features including one of our favorites: Smart Previews.

Our Ten Favorite Image-Editing Programs

MAY 27, 2014

By Theano Nikitas

While most photographers usually have a go-to image-editing program for a lot of the heavy lifting (e.g., Photoshop), many pros use two or more applications to complete their post-processing work. If you’re in the mood to broaden your photo software horizons, take a look at our ten favorite image-enhancement programs.

Anthropics Technology Portrait Professional Studio
One of the most sophisticated, yet easy to use, portrait retouching applications on the market, Portrait Professional’s Studio version is equipped with more beautifying tools than a plastic surgeon. Thanks to its facial recognition technology, it gives you a quick start to fine-tuning everything from skin tones and texture to the shape of the subject’s face, nose, eyes and mouth. Blemishes are removed, wrinkles are smoothed, teeth whitened and eyes brightened with ease. And, if your subject was slouching during the shoot, you can even elongate his or her neck. At press time, version 12 (PortraitPro) was in development with new and enhanced features and expected to be released soon.

PRICE: $160

Alien Skin Software Exposure 5
Yes, Alien Skin’s programs have always been available as plug-ins, but Exposure 5 is the first of its applications to operate as a standalone program. Exposure 5 offers a wide range of film-based effects (black-and-white, infrared and various color options) as well as the unique looks of alternative processes. Of course, presets can be tweaked and customized. For version 5, Alien Skin has redesigned the user interface; incorporated a visual preset browser for live previews; and added new textures and individual controls for borders, dust/scratches and light leaks.

PRICE: $199

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5
Still available as legacy (boxed) software as well as via Creative Cloud, Lightroom is the go-to editing and organizing app for many photographers. While version 5 isn’t a major overhaul of the program, it offers a number of useful features including one of our favorites: Smart Previews. Enable Smart Previews to save larger-than-average previews (DNGs) for offline editing, so you can leave your external hard drive at the studio but continue editing while you’re on the road. You’ll update the originals quickly and easily when you reconnect the matching external storage device. Other improvements include an Advanced (and adjustable) Healing Brush for painting out unwanted elements like blemishes; a quick and easy tool for straightening images; and the ability to create multimedia video slide shows.

PRICE: Starting at $80

Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud
Regardless of how you feel about Adobe’s Creative Cloud model, Photoshop is still crucial to photographers. The latest additions to this image-editing software include Perspective Warp and 3D Printing. Though neither may be on a photographer’s must-have list, both provide interesting options. Targeting photographers who composite, Perspective Warp readily solves the problem of aligning two or more images shot from different angles so that they look realistic. With Photoshop’s new 3D Printing feature, it’s surprisingly easy to output a 3-D object. Once you have the 3-D model, it’s only a few clicks of the mouse to outsource the 3-D printing via Photoshop or print your own. This might just be the stuff dreams are made of.

PRICE: Starting at $19.99 a month

onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 8
New modules, features and enhancements are all part of the latest version of onOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 8. The suite of photo apps now includes a Perfect Enhance module that offers basic, core adjustments such as brightness, contrast, color cast removal, sharpening and more. A new Browser module provides direct viewing of and access to images from a wide range of sources—from internal hard drives to the Cloud and everywhere in between—without leaving the Suite. Need to get rid of an unwanted element? No problem. Check out Perfect Erase, which uses content-away fill technology. You can customize presets, take advantage of a wealth of new, adjustable filters (HDR, Grunge, Vintage), more easily create masks, batch process files and speed through RAW file handling.

PRICE: $180

Corel PaintShop Pro X6
The latest iteration of Corel’s image-editing software is intuitive and offers a solid range of features, including some notable updates such as 64-bit processing and 64-bit plugin support for faster performance and flexibility. The scripting engine has been enhanced with expanded options for creating your own actions, and RAW support includes the ability to manage and save IPTC data. Many of X6’s enhancements focus on ease of use, including several features for selecting and removing objects, among them Auto Selection, a Smart Selection Brush to create masks, and Smart Carver and Object Remover for quickly eliminating unwanted elements. Adding a new image to a separate layer is drag-and-drop simple and Corel now incorporates Athentech’s Perfectly Clear for single-click corrections.

PRICE: $100 (Windows OS)

Phase One Capture One Pro 7
Although Capture One Pro is best known for its RAW processing capabilities for more than 200 different cameras, this program has a wide range of image-editing features and tools that make it an impressive software solution for pro photographers. Capture One Pro 7 boasts a new digital asset management system (though the older Sessions feature is still available), and is great for direct camera-to-software tethering, which is further enhanced by Phase One’s iOS apps, Capture Pilot and Capture Control, for remote viewing and capture control, respectively. This application is photo-centric, with almost all of the photo-editing tools and features found in Photoshop including levels, curves, nondestructive editing and layer masks—but without the extras that photographers don’t need.

PRICE: $299

ArcSoft Portrait+
ArcSoft’s Portrait+ provides automatic face and feature detection for up to 30 faces in a photo, with detection of 24 key facial points for each face, and a wide array of retouching options. These range from skin smoothing to blemish, shine and dark under-eye circle removal. You can also widen and brighten eyes, slim the subject’s face, apply makeup, whiten teeth and more. While there are one-click simple adjustments using low, medium and high checkboxes, you can also use a manual slider to adjust various options. To speed things along, you can create, save, and apply your own makeup template with custom foundation, eye shadow and more to multiple images with a single click. You can also easily batch process images upon export, which is a great time saver.

PRICE: $250

MacPhun Intensify Pro
Don’t let the name fool you: MacPhun’s Intensify Pro software is not just about fun. At its core are basic adjustments you expect from any image-editing program including exposure sliders for tweaking contrast, shadows, vibrance and saturation, with a separate set of contrast tools for highlights, midtones and shadows, along with offset adjustments for each. Its solid feature set includes sharpness, de-halo and vignettes controls, as well as layers, masking and gradients. In addition to PSD support, Intensify Pro can also handle 16-bit RAW files. And, not surprisingly, there’s a long list of custom presets for black-and-white conversions and creative options. As the name implies, this is a Mac-only program but Intensify Pro can be used as a standalone, as well as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Elements and Lightroom, and Apple Aperture.

PRICE: $60

DxO Optics Pro 9
DxO’s Optics Pro 9 provides a range of functionality but excels at RAW processing and noise reduction. Thanks to its new PRIME noise reduction algorithm, DxO promises a one-stop gain over previous versions of the software. Updates include a revamped interface, 30 new presets, improved highlight recovery and better color rendering. Access to a huge number of lens and camera modules for more accurate corrections is available from within the program. A new export system supports image processing on the fly, so you can immediately start working on another image while the first one is being processed. Cross-platform compatible—and a program that plays nicely with Lightroom, Photoshop and Aperture—the Standard version includes compact, bridge and entry/mid-level digital SLRs; while the Elite version adds high-end DSLRs to the mix.

PRICES: $169 for Standard; $299 for Elite

Related: 7 Hardware Essentials for Your Photo Studio
Our Favorite Gear for Creating Studio-Style Shoots on the Road
8 Great Photo Storage Solutions

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