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How to pick the best photo editor for your life

Lesa Snider | Dec. 12, 2014
Browsing the App Store for new photo-editing software can be overwhelming. There are dozens of image editors, and it's difficult to tell which is the right one for your needs.

Browsing the App Store for new photo-editing software can be overwhelming. There are dozens of image editors, and it's difficult to tell which is the right one for your needs.

If you're already using iPhoto or Aperture, stick with those programs until Photos is released in 2015 — it may be all you need. If you're willing to pay for more features, here are all the big (and subtle) differences between today's top image editors to help you choose the software that's best for you.

iPhoto

This image database and non-destructive editor will be replaced by a new app named Photos in 2015, though it's still one of the easiest places to import, manage, correct, and share your photos. Instead of editing your originals, it stores your edit requests in a database, so you can always revert to your original. It works on a variety of file formats, including raw, and its Adjust panel lets you adjust exposure, color temperature, highlights and shadows (independently), remove noise, and sharpen. A rudimentary healing brush lets you remove small stuff, and you can easily create black-and-whites, add a sepia (brown) or vintage tint, and apply a white, black, or blurry effect to a photo's edges. iPhoto lets you share images via email and social media sites, and create gorgeous cards, calendars, and photo books — you can print the cards yourself, too, which is handy. On the downside, there's no way edit a certain area in your image (you can't lighten teeth, for example), adjustments can be copied and pasted only onto one other image at a time, and you can't combine images or add text. iPhoto also squirrels your photos away into its own filing system, so you can't control the directory structure in which photos are stored.

Price: Free.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Like iPhoto, Lightroom's database lets you import, organize, and edit photos non-destructively, though it uses your file organization structure. Designed for photographers, it sports easy-to-use controls for cropping, correcting exposure, adjusting highlights and shadows, boosting color, adding edge vignettes, reducing noise, correcting geometric and perspective problems, performing precise sharpening, and more. You can copy and paste or sync changes across multiple images, and it has a never-ending history panel, so you can always see and undo what you've done. Lightroom doesn't support layer-based editing (think stackable transparencies), but it has several tools that can be used to affect specific areas of your image. You can remove small objects, duplicate pixels, create black-and-whites, create partial color effects, create color tints (split-tones), apply digital makeup, lighten teeth, and apply changes in a linear or radial fashion, or paint them on by hand. It also lets you create pro-level photo books, printing templates, slideshows, and simple web galleries, plus you can create presets for nearly everything you do in the program (handy for exporting images at certain sizes with watermarks and for uploading to social media sites such as Facebook). Apple's Aperture is nearly identical, and though it'll also be replaced by Photos in 2015, don't switch to another program yet — you'll lose the ability to undo your Aperture edits. Instead, hang tight until Photos is released.

 

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