Best Mac photo editing software

Here are some of the best free and low-cost photo editing software for Mac. Try these Photoshop-like apps for editing images.

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  • iPhoto alternatives
  • Apple iPhoto
  • Apple Aperture
  • Photoshop Lightroom
  • Photoshop Elements
  • Lyn
  • Corel AfterShot Pro
  • Google Picas
  • Cyberlink Photo Director
  • Pixa
  • Pixelmator
  • Unbound
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Best alternatives to iPhoto

iPhoto will be replaced by Photos for Mac in early 2015. The new app that will take its place is Photos for Mac, but although Apple has given some public demos of the new Photos app we’re still not entirely sure what features will be added or lost along the way (and past experience proves that Apple is often perversely fond of removing popular features from our favourite apps).

iPhoto is designed primarily for organizing your photo collection, and its photo-editing tools have always been relatively modest. That probably won’t change with Photos, so this is a good time to look at some of the rival apps that provide greater editing power than iPhoto – especially as one of the main contenders, Photoshop Elements, has recently had an update.

For this reason, now is a good time to look at some alternatives to iPhoto. Here we round up some free or low-cost editing apps that allow you to organise and alter your photo collection.

There’s plenty of choice too, with simple, affordable options such as Pixelmator vying for attention alongside more advanced and expensive editing programs from big names such as Corel, Cyberlink and Adobe.

Read: Why Apple is discontinuing iPhoto and Aperture

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iPhoto will be replaced by Photos for Mac in early 2015. The new app that will take its place is Photos for Mac, but although Apple has given some public demos of the new Photos app we’re still not entirely sure what features will be added or lost along the way (and past experience proves that Apple is often perversely fond of removing popular features from our favourite apps).

iPhoto is designed primarily for organizing your photo collection, and its photo-editing tools have always been relatively modest. That probably won’t change with Photos, so this is a good time to look at some of the rival apps that provide greater editing power than iPhoto – especially as one of the main contenders, Photoshop Elements, has recently had an update.

For this reason, now is a good time to look at some alternatives to iPhoto. Here we round up some free or low-cost editing apps that allow you to organise and alter your photo collection.

There’s plenty of choice too, with simple, affordable options such as Pixelmator vying for attention alongside more advanced and expensive editing programs from big names such as Corel, Cyberlink and Adobe.

Read: Why Apple is discontinuing iPhoto and Aperture

Apple iPhoto for Mac

As we mentioned on the previous slide, Apple has announced that iPhoto will be replaced by Photos for Mac in early 2015, bringing with it a number of features. For some iPhoto users, especially keen photographers and those with big libraries the news caused concern. As yet we know little about what to expect from Photos for Mac, everything we know so far is included in this article: What to expect from Photos for Mac.

Price: Free with all new Macs – or £10.49 upgrade, From: App Store

Pros: Automatically organises your photos for you, simple tools for adjusting brightness, contrast and colour settings

Cons: Very limited editing tools and filter effects

Photo-Organising: The great strength of iPhoto is the way that it helps you to quickly organize your photo library. When you import a batch of photos from your camera, smartphone or any other device, iPhoto automatically organizes those photos into ‘events’ – sets of photos that were all taken on the same day. Its Faces option allows it to scan photos and detect people’s faces so that you can quickly locate and label pictures of a specific person. There’s also a Places option that can use GPS location data to display a map showing the sites where you’ve taken photos.

One important feature that sets iPhoto apart from most of its rivals is the Photo Stream option that allows you to automatically share photos across any Mac, PC or iOS device that is linked to your personal iCloud account.

Photo-Editing: The editing features in iPhoto are fairly limited, primarily focusing on basic tools for adjusting exposure, contrast and colour balance. They’re straightforward to use so you can easily improve the look of your photos, but iPhoto doesn’t have the more precise editing tools found in some of its rivals.

Filters And Effects: This is probably iPhoto’s weakest area, as it only offers a very limited assortment of creative filters and effects. There are a few old standards, such as sepia and black-and-white effects, but if you want to get creative with your photos you should really look elsewhere.

Read:

Apple Aperture 3.5

Apple is also set to discontinue Aperture, its software solution for professional photographers. Where previously Aperture might have been considered a good upgrade from iPhoto, professional Mac users may have to look elsewhere for an alternative. We look at Alternatives to Aperture here.

Price: £54.99, From: App Store

Pros: Very powerful search tools, brushes allow you to apply adjustments with great precision

Cons: Limited range of filters and effects, more complicated than iPhoto for beginners

Photo-Organising: Aperture is iPhoto’s big brother, and it’s aimed at the more experience hobbyist or professional photographer who needs to work with really large collections of photos. To help you make the transition from iPhoto, Aperture will allow you to import your existing iPhoto library and it includes the same Faces and Places viewing modes as iPhoto – although your iPhoto events are now renamed as ‘projects’ instead.

However, Aperture provides much more powerful tools for searching through your photo library. You can search using multiple criteria, such as location, date, and file type, and you can even search for specific adjustments that have been applied to a photo. And if your photo library gets really big you can sub-divide it into a series of smaller libraries and then quickly switch between them as required.

Photo-Editing: Aperture provides an extensive set of adjustment tools for improving the appearance of your photos, ranging from simple red-eye removal to more sophisticated options such as chromatic aberration, noise-reduction and edge-sharpening. A key difference between iPhoto and Aperture is that Aperture lets you use brushes to selectively apply these adjustments to specific areas of an image rather than simply applying them to the entire image.

Filters And Effects: Aperture does have a few more filters and effects than iPhoto – but not a lot. There are several variations on the basic sepia and black-and-white effect, and a handy set of tools for adjusting white balance. We also like Aperture’s instant preview option, which shows how each effect will look on your photos. However, neither iPhoto nor Aperture can really compete with the range of filters and effects found in dedicated photo-editors such as Photoshop Elements.

Read

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5

Price: £102.57 (upgrade - £57.64), From: Adobe

Pros: Powerful adjustments tools, brushes for precise editing, Advanced Healing Brush for removing unwanted details

Cons: Cluttered interface and complex tools are more suited to professional photographers

Photo-Organising: Lightroom is quite a bit more complicated than iPhoto, and will probably seem rather intimidating to most amateur photographers. When organizing photos, it allows you to create ‘collections’ of photos, which can also be linked together as ‘collection sets’. You could create a collection for photos from a football match, which in turn could be part of a collection set that includes multiple sports events. There’s also a powerful search filter that lets you search for keywords, dates, and even specific types of cameras and lenses.

Photo-Editing: Lightroom’s Develop mode looks rather like a souped-up version of iPhoto’s Edit mode. The tools panel that runs down the right-hand side of the screen has a histogram right at the top, followed by basic controls for adjusting white-balance, exposure and contrast. Work your way down the list and you’ll find more advanced features such as split-toning and lens corrections. Lightroom also borrows some powerful tools from Photoshop, such as the Advanced Healing Brush, which can remove unwanted elements from an image.

These are powerful tools, but you’ll need a fair bit of technical knowledge to really make the most of them, so Lightroom isn’t the best option for amateur photographers who are used to the simpler tools of iPhoto.

Filters And Effects: If you’re looking for some quick, fun effects to liven up your photos then Lightroom isn’t the best choice. It does include a number of simple presets, such as ‘vignette’ and ‘yesteryear’ that allow you to quickly alter the look of your photos, but it largely assumes that you know enough to experiment and create effects of your own. You can save these effects as presets for future use – which is handy for more experienced photographers, but not for casual snappers.

Read: Adobe Lightroom versus Apple Aperture

Adobe Photoshop Elements 13

Price: £54 or £78, From: Adobe

Pros: Extensive range of powerful editing tools, includes separate Organizer when bought from Adobe; Guided Edits provide help with complex tools and techniques

Cons: More complex than iPhoto, full version with Organizer costs £78.00

Photo-Organising: Photoshop Elements is purely a photo-editing program, but if you buy it directly from Adobe you get it with a second program called Organizer. As the name implies, Organizer provides tools for organizing your photo collection, and is very similar to iPhoto, with options for grouping together events, faces and places

This two-program bundle normally costs £81.00 when bought direct from Adobe, and includes the latest version of Photoshop Elements 13. However, you can also buy last year’s Photoshop Elements 12 on its own, without the Organizer, from the App Store for £54.99. That will allow you to keep on using iPhoto to organize your photos, and switch into Photoshop Elements for more serious editing work.

Photo-Editing: The editing tools in Photoshop Elements go way beyond anything you’ll find in iPhoto. There’s a set of automatic Smart Fix tools to help beginners get started, and a special Guided Edit mode that can give you step-by-step help with tasks such as restoring old photos or using photographic techniques such as the hazy Orton Effect. The recently-released Photoshop Elements 13 puts a particular emphasis on ease of use, enhancing the standard Crop and Selection tools to speed up routine tasks. It also adds new Guided Edits that provide help with complex tasks such as placing moving video clips inside titles and text, or creating hybrid images that combine colour and black-and-white effects.

A stand-out feature in Photoshop Elements is the Photo Merge tool that allows you to combine elements from multiple photos, and this has also been enhanced in the latest version. The new PhotoMerge Compose tool guides you through the process of selecting and copying elements from one image to another, and can even hide parts of an image to make it look as though one person or object is standing behind another.

Filters And Effects: This is another area where Photoshop Elements leaves iPhoto trailing in its wake. The program’s Filter Gallery has its own editing mode, where you can explore dozens of artistic effects, as well as having fun by stretching and distorting your photos in various ways. Photoshop Elements 13 doesn’t add any new photo effects, but its preview options have been improved so that you can see five versions of your photo that use different filter settings.

Read: iPhoto versus Photoshop Elements

Lyn 1.3

Price: £16.00, From: Lynapp

Pros: Fast, versatile browsing options, simple adjustment controls, works with your existing iPhoto library

Cons: Can’t create albums, no automatic adjustments, few filters

Photo-Organising: Lyn isn’t very well known, as it’s not available on the App Store, but it’s a fast and efficient tool for browsing your photo collection and performing simple edits.

It doesn’t use events and faces to automatically organise your photos, as iPhoto does, but Lyn’s source panel allows you to look straight into any folder on your Mac’s hard disk, or on external devices such as a camera or back-up drive. It can also display the contents of your existing iPhoto library, so there’s no need to start reorganising everything if you decide to switch to Lyn (or just try out the demo version).

You can’t create albums within Lyn, so it’s up to you to keep your photos in a reasonably tidy set of folders. However, you can create links to favourite folders for instant access, and Lyn also provides multiple viewing options when browsing your photos. Its ‘icon’ view shows quick previews of all the photos in a folder, while ‘split’ view also displays a larger close-up of the currently selected photo. There’s also a useful ‘list’ view that displays small previews of your photos along with metadata, such as exposure or aperture setting. Its Inspector panel displays additional editable metadata, including keywords for searching, and GPS data with a maps option.

Photo-Editing: Lyn started out as a simple photo browser, but the current version now includes basic adjustment tools similar to those found in iPhoto. There’s a histogram that allows you to highlight specific colours within an image, and simple slider controls for adjusting exposure, brightness and colour settings. It’s a shame, though, that there are no automatic ‘quick fix’ options, similar to those found in iPhoto.

Filters And Effects: Very basic – just black-and-white, sepia, and vignette effects.

Corel AfterShot Pro 2

Price: £27.99, From: www.aftershotpro.com

Pros: Powerful photo-enhancement tools at a competitive price, metadata browser provides precise searching and sorting of photos

Cons: Complex for beginners, no ‘faces’ or ‘places’ options for organizing photos

Photo-Organising: AfterShot Pro is aimed at more experienced photographers who are confident about working with RAW image files, so it doesn’t hold your hand and automatically organize your photos for you in the same way that iPhoto does. You have to do a bit of work yourself here, by organising your photos into ‘catalogues’ for specific events or projects. But once that’s done you can quickly sort your photos by name, date, focal length, shutter speed and other settings. There’s also a Metadata Browser that allows you to locate metadata within your image files, such as date and time, flash settings, and even the make of camera used.

We also like the way that AfterShot displays a vertical strip of previews alongside a larger view of the currently selected photo. This makes it easy to quickly scroll through your photo library and view full-size versions of your photos at the same time.

Photo-Editing: AfterShot Pro splits its editing tools across a series of tabbed palettes. The ‘Standard’ palette contains a series of slider controls for basic settings such as contrast, exposure and saturation, while other palettes concentrate on areas such as colour correction, tonal adjustments and detail enhancement. These tools work well, but they can appear daunting for beginners. There are some simpler options, such as an autolevel button that can quickly adjust light and colour within a photo but, like Apple’s Aperture or Adobe Lightroom, AfterShot Pro really assumes that you know what you’re doing. It is, however, cheaper than Aperture or Lightroom, so it’s good value if you’re on a tight budget (and there’s a demo version you can try out first too).

Filters And Effects: There aren’t many photographic filters or effects built into AfterShot Pro, but it does include a number of presets that you can use to quickly create common effects such as sepia or black-and-white images, fish-eye lens distortions or boosting the blue in the sky.

Read: Corel AfterShot Pro review

Google Picasa 3.9

Price: free, From: Picasa

Pros: Free download, can import photos from iPhoto library, good browsing and filtering options

Cons: Basic editing tools, interface is a little cluttered, not as fast as iPhoto

Photo-Organising: Picasa doesn’t have the attractive interface of iPhoto, but it’s a pretty efficient tool for organizing your photo collection. It can import photos from your existing iPhoto library or from any other folders on your Mac, and it also allows you to ‘watch’ folders so that any photos added to a particular folder are automatically imported into Picasa for you.

It doesn’t organize photos into events like iPhoto, but you can quickly create your own albums in order to group sets of photos together. Picasa can also recognize faces and use location data to display photos on a map. There are some handy filtering tools as well, such as a slider control that allows you to scan through a particular date range, from 2 days to 18 years.

Photo-Editing: The editing tools in Picasa are fairly basic, but they’re quick and easy to use. A simple set of slider controls allows you to adjust lighting, shadows, highlights and colour, and we like the side-by-side option that displays Before and After versions of your photos while you’re working. There are also some simple tools for removing blemishes, such as dust and scratches, or red-eye, and a text tool for adding captions.

Filters And Effects: There are three small sets of filters that you can use. The first set allows you to make colour adjustments, switching to sepia or monotone, or enhancing lackluster colours in a photo. The second set is a little more advanced, reproducing photo techniques such as the Orton or Lo-Mo effects. Finally, there’s a set of artistic effects that make your photos look like hand-drawn sketches or neon poster artwork

Cyberlink Photo Director 6 Ultra

Price: £79.99, From: Cyberlink

Pros: Good tools for organising large photo collections, extensive adjustment and editing tools

Cons: Cluttered interface may confuse beginners, limited selection of filters and effects

Photo-Organising: PhotoDirector’s Library panel can look a bit daunting for new users, but it does provide a good set of tools for organising large photo collections. When you first import your photos the program allows you to leave them in their original location on your Mac’s hard disk or to create new copies of the photos that you can work on while leaving the originals untouched. You can also add information, such as tags and a copyright reminder during import as well.

PhotoDirector has a face-detection feature similar to that of iPhoto, but there are no ‘events’ or ‘places’ options so you have to organise photos into folders yourself, or group them together as albums within the Library panel. There’s also a ‘Smart Collection’ option that can group together photos using aperture, ISO and other settings, which will appeal to photographers with more extensive technical knowledge.

Photo-Editing: Once you’ve selected a photo in the Library you can click on either the Adjustment or Edit tab at the top of the screen to display the program’s various editing tools. As the name implies, the Adjustment tab includes tools for adjusting tone, contrast, colour and other settings, and you can either apply these adjustments to the entire photo or select one of its ‘regional’ tools to apply them to specific areas or elements within the photo.

Again, the long, scrolling list of tools displayed in the Adjustment palette may appear daunting to less experienced photographers. Fortunately, the Edit mode is a little more straightforward, and displays simple touch-up tools such as a tooth-whitener and an ‘eye blinger’ to add a bit of sparkle to eyes. There are also more powerful tools, such as the ability to create panoramic photos, and Photo Compose, which works like the Photo Merge option in Photoshop Elements and allows you to select and combine elements from different photos.

Filters And Effects: Photo Director’s selection of filters and effects is rather disappointing, with just a few old standards such as sepia and black and white, although it does try to help out with a selection of presets that allow you to apply various colour and lighting effects.

Pixa 1.1

Price: £17.49, Available from: the App Store or Pixa

Pros: Quick and versatile organizer, handles a wide variety of photo and graphics file formats

Cons: No face-recognition or GPS options, no editing tools or filters

Pixa is a versatile organizer that works with screenshots and other types of graphics files, as well as just photos.

It doesn’t organize your photos automatically, as iPhoto does, and there’s no face-recognition or GPS maps, but Pixa will appeal to people who prefer to organize their photos themselves. Once you’ve imported your photos you can organize them into ‘projects’ – similar to iPhoto albums – and then group multiple projects together within a larger folder. There’s also a ‘live folders’ option that will monitor specified folders on your hard disk and automatically import any photos that you place within those folders.

You can add your own tags (keywords) to help with searches, but Pixa also helps out by analysing photos as you import them and adding tags relating to the size of each image and the dominant colours within the image.

As well as importing most photo file formats Pixa can also import graphics files such as screenshots and vector graphics files from programs like Adobe Illustrator, so it will be a handy tool for designers who work with lots of different graphics and photo formats. It even adds a special tool to the main menu bar on your Mac that allows you to capture screenshots and web pages to import into Pixa.

Photo-Editing: There are no editing tools in Pixa, but it does include some useful export options that allow you to convert images into different sizes and file formats, and even templates for creating graphics such as iOS icons.

Filters And Effects: None

Pixelmator 3.3

Price: £10.49, From: www.pixelmator.com

Pros: Affordable upgrade from iPhoto, includes a good selection of editing tools and effects, also includes simple vector drawing tools

Cons: Untidy interface, modest selection of filters and effects

Photo-Organising: Pixelmator is primarily an editing program, and it doesn’t include many options for organizing your photo collection. However, it does have a Photo Browser that allows you to view photos that are stored in iPhoto and open them in Pixelmator for editing.

Photo-Editing: Despite its £10 price tag, Pixelmator provides a good range of editing tools, and is a worthwhile upgrade if you’re looking for a bit more power than iPhoto offers. There’s also a 30-day trial version that you can try out first, and the latest version of Pixelmator even supports features such as Handoff so that you can switch between the Mac and iPad versions of the app while you’re working.

Its main tool palette includes a good selection of basic tools, such as marquee selections, eraser, paint-brush, red-eye removal, and a fill tool. There’s a text tool with precise formatting and spacing controls, as well as the ability to freely rotate and resize text by hand. Text is placed on its own layer within the image, and the Layers palette allows you to create additional layers and masks in order to create composite images. The program also includes a basic set of vector drawing tools, including freehand and Bezier pens, gradient fills, and even a slice tool for preparing graphics for web pages.

Filters And Effects: Pixelmator’s Effects Browser provides a modest but useful selection of filters and effects that you can use to enhance your photos. There’s a standard set of filters for colour adjustments and creating sepia or black-and-white photos, along with a variety of blur and sharpen effects. You can apply some fun distortions, such as ‘pinch’, ‘twirl’ and ‘warp’, and there’s also a distortion brush that provides more precision by allowing you to paint these effects onto specific areas, such as a person’s face in order to create caricatures.

Unbound 1.0

Price: £6.99, From: the App Store

Pros: Fast, simple photo browser, works with your existing folder structure, iOS version for syncing across devices

Cons: No editing tools or filter effects, still has a few bugs to iron out

Photo-Organising: One thing that annoys many people about iPhoto is that it prefers to store copies of your photos in its own mysterious library file. That takes up extra space on your hard disk, and also makes it hard to find photos outside of iPhoto itself. Many people prefer to do things their own way, and to organize their photos in a series of folders instead. Unbound is aimed at those people, as it simply works with whatever folder structure you already have set up.

When you launch Unbound for the first time it asks which folders you want to import. Each folder is then added as a separate album within Unbound’s main browser window. You can import additional folders as you go along, or create new albums within Unbound itself and just allow it to create new folders for each album automatically. There’s no face-recognition – just a simple, straightforward text-search option. However, Unbound can play simple slideshows and can also use GPS location data to display photos on a map. There’s also an iOS version of Unbound, which works in conjunction with Dropbox and allows you to sync photos across all your Macs and iOS devices.

Photo-Editing: Zilch – although you can right click on photos within Unbound in order to open them within Preview or any other photo-editing program.

Filters And Effects: Equally zilch.

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