There is whole host of image editing software applications available for photographers. In this article I briefly introduce several of them; some are free, some come at a price. The good news is that if you are not hooked into one of the major vendors, you can get started on editing your images at no cost.
Read on, and find the best image editing software for your needs and budget.
This article provides an introduction to the apps so you can investigate further and make your own choice. For how to edit architectural photography images, please see “How to #2: Edit architectural photography images”. For more on architectural photography in general, our “Architectural photography – Introduction” article provides a great starting point.
All trade marks mentioned in the text belong to their corresponding owners.
I am starting with the free apps. Why? Because free is the best value you can get. Why spend a fortune, or get tied in to a subscription when you don’t need to? Why not try out the free apps and see whether any of them meets the needs and demands of your own photography work flow? Some of the apps listed are open-source applications. I have never had a problem with open-source apps, but many IT adminstrators view open-source as a potential security issue. If you are going to install open-source software on a corporate computer, or on one of your own devices that connects to a corporate network, make sure to get approval from your network administrator first.
Capture One Express
Edit: 02 April 2022: Capture One is doing away with the single manufacturer options of its software and pushing everyone to Capture One Pro. Some users will be eligible for a free C1 Pro version. For more on Cature One Pro please see the “Paid apps” section below…
From the makers of Capture One Pro comes Capture One Express. Perhaps not for everyone, but if you own a Sony or Fujifilm camera, this could be just what you need to get started. Just sign up with an email address and you will receive your download link in your inbox.
As you might expect, the Express version does not come packed with all the tools you will find in Capture One Pro (see below in the Paid apps section for more info). As a way to get editing for no cash outlay though, Capture One Express is appealing.
The Fujifilm version offers auto adjustments, styles, and Fujifilm film simulations, while the Sony version offers auto adjustments, editing and styles.
Darktable is an open source photography workflow application, and RAW converter, providing a zoomable lighttable for viewing, along with digital darkroom capabilities.
The app offers the all-important non-destructive editing, so that your original images remain unchanged, and professional colour management, among other capabilities.
If you don’t want to commit to subscription for Adobe’s Lightroom, this could be a good app to get you up and running.
GIMP, or the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a free, open source image editing program with some serious features, supporting image editing, graphic design, and artwork creation. In the right hands, GIMP stands up well against its competitors that cost a great deal more, such as Adobe’s Photoshop.
GIMP features include support for layers, and the application offers a range of filters, curves, while supporting customizable brushes. It also supports perspective adjustment, an important consideration for architectural photographers.
GIMP presents an excellent starting point for photographers, providing an excellent feature set along with the availability of comprehensive support documentation.
Hugin is an open source panorama stitching application. Architectural photographers often have need to create panoramas, and while there are several commercial applications available that will do the job, Hugin does it for free. It also supports perspective correction in a single image.
HitFilm Express is a free video editing application that offers pro-grade effects tools. With more and more architectural photographers offering video services, HitFilm Express presents an excellent tool to support video production.
It allows film makers to incorporate video from smartphones, DSLRs, or professional video cameras. The application also allows film makers to reframe GoPro footage and adjust 360° photos. The program will also support editing of Drone footage.
If you are considering video production, HitFilm Express is definitely worth considering. You will need to create an account to download the software.
Adobe’s applications are recognized as industry leading. Applications include Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro. All these applications are considered by many to be the gold standard, but that doesn’t mean that alternatives do not exist. There is a wealth of information and courses available online targeting Adobe’s applications, and I will not be adding to it here.
Adobe used to offer standalone desktop versions of applications, but switched some years ago to a subscription model, which does not suit everyone.
Affinity Photo is picking up awards and some excellent reviews, and is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with, at a price point that other software providers would do well to take note of (£48.99 as of January 2021).
Affinity Photo packs in a huge range of features, but my own experience of it has been less than perfect. While some editing actions work well, I have experienced several program crashes on a Windows machine when trying to load files for either HDR merge or panorama stitching, and also when loading single images.
Browsing images within a folder is another area that could be improved. You might find Faststone viewer a useful aid. Browse images in Faststone and send the target image to Affinity with a single click.
One big positive with Affinity software is the usage licence, which allows a user to install the software to several computers, as long the platform (Windows or Mac) is the same.
Capture One Pro
Edit 02 April 2022:
I’ve used Capture One Pro (C1) for a number of years, but across recent upgrades a few bugs, or perhaps I should call them undocumented features, have crept in to the software. The color editor tool for example is, on my Windows-based machine, unusable when docked, I submitted a support ticket but the team is unable to fix the issue without me spending time preparing logs and submitting them, and then I would have to go back and forth testing etc. While I like Capture One Pro I do not have the time or the inclination to be the company’s unpaid software tester! The last major upgrade (Capture One 22) did not fix the issue either, in fact it looks like more errors may have crept in. My original comment (see below) about the after sales service should now be taken with a pinch of salt, the service level has unfortunately slipped…
To make matters worse, the Capture One development team has publicised its focus for this year as being on Apple’s new systems, along with an apparently all-singing iPad app – I use Windows and Android…
While good, Capture One Pro is the most expensive software application that I use, but to have to pay these high prices to subsidise the development of the app for 2 platforms that I don’t use is, firstly, an insult, and secondly a driver that pushes me to abandon the software in favour of a more cost-effective solution that doesn’t penalize me for my choice of platform. Capture One development team take note, I am not the only Windows/ Android user out there. I am hardly likely to rush out and buy a new Apple computer and iPad so that I can use Catpure One’s latest features when my other apps continue to improve and work fine on my chosen platforms.
Capture One Pro is an exceptional application that offers digital asset management, catalog or session modes, tethered shooting, excellent colour management, and a full range of image editing functions. Its pricing reflects the quality of the product, costing £20/month on a subscription basis, or £299 for a perpetual license (prices correct as of January 2021). Upgrades are significantly discounted.
The workspace is customizable to suit the working practices of the photographer, and a wide range of available styles, and the support for LUTs enables image editors to become productive quickly.
The application supports layers, but lacks the versatility of layers found within some other applications.
Capture One does not (yet) set out to be a direct replacement for applications like Adobe Photoshop, and is the application of choice for many professional photographers. It is supported by a range of video tutorials, while after sales service is commendable.
On1 Photo RAW
On1 Photo RAW has evolved considerably from its early iterations, and now covers image editing across devices. The application supports layers, including allowing for compositing, and comes complete with a wide range presets and filters. It supports plugins and LUTs.
The application offers an AI masking functions, and several useful masking options. It also has good image browsing capabilities, and is supported by a comprehensive video tutorial library.
On1 comes in at a subscription price point of £7.26 per month, or a one-off cost of £90.90 (prices correct as of January 2021).
Edit: 02 April 2022 – The On1 team continues to enhance the capabilities of its product, making it even better value for money!
PTGUI is a paid panorama stitching application that is both very fast in operation, and easy to use.
The software is available in personal or pro versions, and also offers a free trial version. The free trial embeds a watermark into the final image, as shown in the image to the right.
The personal version costs around £133, while the pro version can be purchased for around £264, as of June 2021.
The software can handle 360° spherical views, and the pro version enables the production of HDR panoramas.
PTGUI is definitely worth considering if you are going to produce panoramas/ virtual tours as part of your output.
PTGUI processes mutli-row panoramas easily, as shown in this panorama of the Sage, Gateshead.