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Photo Editing
Apr 2023

How to Choose the Best Photo Editing Software for Beginner Photographers

12 min read

I remember when I got my first digital camera. I was a junior in college, and I took pictures of everything: my friends, my new puppy, my family. It was a blast, but there were some pictures that just didn’t look right. They needed extensive edits and I had no idea what to do or how to do it. 

That’s when I learned that I could actually edit my photos — and that there was photo editing software out there to help. It was wonderful to know I could fix those photos, but… honestly? Learning how to use photo editing software was not fun! I had to try out the different options, decide which one I wanted to use, and then learn how to use it. The learning curve was steep! 

If you’re in that stage, trying to find the easiest photo editing software (or the most robust), I want to help. In just a minute, we’ll take a look at some of the best photo editing software for beginners, their features, and how to use them. 

But first…

What is photo editing software?

Photo editing software is any kind of software you can use to manipulate or edit your photos. Also called Image editing software, these tools let you improve your photos with various tools, like color and contrast manipulation, object removal, or added effects.

Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard software for photo editing, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest photo editing software to use, nor the most beginner-friendly. The good news is, there are lots of other options out there — you just have to find the one that’s best for you.

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Why should I learn how to use photo editing software?

You care about your photography skills and the quality of your work. You want your photos to be as close to perfect as they can get. But sometimes, getting that perfect shot isn’t enough. 

Maybe your flash didn’t fire, somebody walked into the edge of the frame at the last second, or a stray hair flew into your subject’s face. Photo editing software can fix these issues, so you don’t have to scrap all of your beautiful (but imperfect) photos.

In short, photo editing software can save you time and money — and make your clients happy!

Engagement photo of couple in the woods

What features should I look for in photo editing software?

With any photo editing software for beginners, it helps to learn basic photo editing skills like:

  • Adjusting the exposure
  • Adjusting the contrast
  • Adjusting white balance
  • Cropping
  • Straightening
  • Erasing objects 

As for other features, it depends on what you want to do with your photos and what you want to learn as a photographer. There are lots of photo editing software options that range from free and simple programs to intricate, professional-level programs.

How long does it take to learn to use Image editing software?

There’s no set time for learning how to edit photos, but I’d say that understanding the basics can take as little as one hour! It depends on how you learn to use the photo editing software of your choice.

Think about how you like to learn something new and make sure your photo editing software supports it. Do you like seeing everything laid out in video tutorials? Would you rather read in-depth FAQs? Or maybe talking to a fellow photographer is the most helpful way to learn a new skill. 

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The best photo editing software for beginners

It’s the ultimate showdown! Let’s decide on the best beginner photo editing software! My picks are divided into two categories below: free photo editing software and paid photo editing software. 

Free Photo Editing Software

Free photo editing software is a great choice for beginners. You can play around with the features and learn new skills without investing a ton of money in a professional-grade, paid software option.

#1: Fotor 

Fotor is a free online photo editing software. It has basic photo editing features every beginner photographer needs, like cropping, resizing, enhancing, and removing objects. Fotor has a 4.7 user rating in the Apple store and 4.4 on Google Play.

#2: Photoscape X

Photoscape X has a free and Pro version. Unlike Fotor, you need to download the program to your computer. You have a much wider range of photo editing tools than Fotor with the free version of Photoscape X; however, it could get confusing and overwhelming. 

#3: Pixlr Editor

Pixlr Editor is a free online photo editing software with a Premium option. The free option is very impressive and reminded us of an alternate version of Photoshop. So, depending on your skill level and user interface preference, you may like Pixlr Editor’s range of features. 

When choosing free photo editing software, make sure it meets your needs! Your software may not work with every file type or have the photo editing features you were hoping to use. It might be full of ads or promote the premium version too often. 

Engagement photo of couple on a beach

Professional and Paid Software Options

If you find that photo editing software for beginners is too basic or not right for you, check out some of the professional, paid software options below. Take advantage of any free trials before finding the best photo editing software for you.

#1: Paintshop Pro

Paintshop Pro by Corel has been around for a while. They advertise themselves as a “complete photo-editing studio with graphic design tools and pro-level results.” You can turn images into animation and even edit videos with their Photo Video Bundle. 

#2: Adobe Photoshop Elements

Adobe Photoshop Elements is as powerful as Photoshop, but more beginner-friendly. You can get step-by-step help for any edits you want to make. Unlike other Adobe products, you only have to pay a one-time fee and the software is yours.

#3: Capture One Pro

Capture One Pro is similar to Lightroom in that it can do everything from organizing and culling to editing.  If you like shooting directly into your computer with tethering or need to collaborate live with others, Capture One Pro might be for you.

#4: Adobe Lightroom 

You’ve probably noticed by now that Adobe is the leader in photo editing software! This is what many photographers, including myself, use most of the time. Adobe Lightroom is cloud-based, so you can work via your desktop, mobile, or online.  Lightroom Classic, on the other hand, is the desktop-focused version of the software, which helps if you store your photos on your computer. 

#5: Luminar Neo

I like Luminar Neo for its range of AI-powered tools and user-friendly interface (which has even won awards). I like how it’s organized into three tabs: Catalog, Presets, and Edit. This helps me find what I’m looking for really quickly. You can pay a one-time lifetime fee for Luminar Neo and it’s yours forever.

Engagement photo of couple in the woods

How do I pick the right photo editing software for me?

There’s no right or wrong answer when picking the best photo editing software for you! If you need help making your decision, think about the following factors. 

Supported file types

Shooting in RAW is going to give you the most flexibility in editing a photo. If you choose to shoot in RAW, make sure your software can handle those types of files. 

User interface

The user interface is my deal breaker. No one wants to open up their photo editing software and feel lost or overwhelmed! Pick one with a simple interface that’s well-organized, so you can find the tools you need right away. 


Honestly, I still don’t know what every single tool in Photoshop does. But when you’re a beginner, you don’t have to. Find software that does the basics that you want to master well — and go from there. 

Engagement photo of couple walking in a field

Supported platforms

I didn’t include some photo editing software options in our lists because they were only for Mac or only for Windows, and I wanted to include both. 

If you stick to one or the other, it might not be a problem, but think of other ways you’d want to access the software. Maybe you like to edit on the go with your iPad or smartphone. Pick software that gives you the access you need.


Consider two factors when looking at user reviews: the overall score, and the total number of reviews. The score will tell you what people think, of course. Too low? Look for another software. Average to high score? Browse through the reviews and see what people are really saying about the software.

Next, consider how many reviews there are. The more reviews, the more popular and trusted the score will be. If there are only a handful of reviews, there’s probably not enough information about the software. 

Engagement photo of couple in a field by the water

Free Trial

Almost every piece of software offers a trial period, so take advantage of it! Try more than one photo editing software. That’s the best way to figure out which one is right for you.

Take your photo editing skills to the next level

You’ve chosen the best photo editing software for you. Congrats! Photo editing software can help you turn a “meh” photo into the gorgeous image you hoped to capture.

Take some time to get a feel for the software. Watch or read tutorials to learn your basic tools. After some time, your confidence will grow, and your editing skills will start to feel more natural. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to learn new features and tools to take your photo editing skills to the next level.

And when you’re ready to publish those gorgeous gallery images? ShootProof is there to help.

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Written by Bryan Striegler  | Images by Jimmy Bishop of Gideon Photography via Two Bright Lights | 


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