Learning to edit photographs can almost be as intimidating as learning to use a camera. Luckily, there's some great photo editing software out there to help you get started. No matter what type of camera you're using, an editing tool exists to fit your needs and style. This list of the best photo editing tools for new photographers is full of great resources to get you started on the way to gorgeous shots!
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Editing Starts in the Camera
For me, editing has always been a huge part of my photography. That's partly because I didn't know how to capture the shot I wanted in the camera. So, I'd find myself spending hours editing shots to achieve the look I wanted when I first snapped the shot.
Over time, I've learned to control my camera better, which allows me to manipulate aspects of a photo such as shadow, light, and color. It's safe to say that learning more about my camera has decreased my editing time A LOT. I now spend much less time in post-production.
This is why my best editing tip is to practice shooting as often as possible. Play around with the settings, camera controls, composition, and style whenever possible. Shoot day-to-day scenes and other low-stakes shots so you're less worried about getting the perfect shot and more focused on learning to shoot.
Photo Editing Software for Digital Images
For readers looking to for the best photo editing tools for digital images taken with a DSLR, I have only one suggestion: invest in Lightroom. Yes, I know it can be costly, but it's been SO very worth the investment.
Not only has Lightroom forced me to learn how to edit photos, I've also learned a ton about photography simply by learning to use Lightroom. And unlike Photoshop, Lightroom is user-friendly, easy to use, and instinctive.
What do I mean by instinctive? Once you learn the basic principles of editing (contrast, clarity, exposure, light/shadows, and color), editing in Lightroom becomes a breeze. You'll find that, over time, the editing process will get easier as you develop an editing style. Once you do, the sky is the limit!
Anyone looking to invest in Lightroom has two options for purchasing the software. You can either subscribe to Creative Cloud, or you can make a one-time purchase of the Lightroom software. Here are a few tips to help you decide which is best for you.
Want to Read My Complete Lightroom Comparison Guide?
Lightroom can be used in two ways: via a Creative Cloud subscription or stand-alone software. Choosing which will work best for you is as simple as deciding what type of editing you're most likely to do. Creative Cloud subscriptions can be used across multiple devices, including computers, tablets, and smartphones.
A subscription will also include access to other cool Adobe tools such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and more. If you're a blogger, you may want to consider a Creative Cloud subscription; it will give you the greatest flexibility and access to other software that you'll find helpful for creating blog graphics, videos, and more.
Hobby photographers who simply want a place to edit their DSLR shots may find Creative Cloud overwhelming. Instead of paying a monthly subscription, consider a one-time purchase of Lightroom 6 software which you can easily install on your primary computer.
To be honest, this is how I started. And personally, I think it was best for me at the time. I tend to get distracted by bells and whistles, so having access to the other products likely would have delayed my progress with learning Lightroom.
The biggest downfall to stand-alone software is the lack of flexibility and connectivity we've come to expect. For example, you can't access the software via the web the way you can with Creative Cloud. So making edits on multiple computers really isn't an option. Plus, the Lightroom iPhone app functionality is very limited without a subscription to Creative Cloud. Just something to consider.
Free Online Photo Editing Software
If you're looking for free photo editing software you can use online, then I recommend Pic Monkey. Their free photo editing tools are sufficient for all your basic editing needs. The biggest drawback is the inability to save and return to projects. But it's still a great tool to get your feet wet with editing!
Photo Editing Software for Smart Phones
Many people nowadays get their first taste of photography while using a smart phone camera. In fact, I talk to many people on Instagram who shoot only with their smart phone! Smart phone cameras have improved tremendously over the past several years, making it easier for new photographers to get stellar images without the cost of buying a DSLR.
Editing smart phone photos isn't that much different than editing images taken with a digital camera. Basic principles of editing still apply even when it comes to smart phone shots. Use this list of the best photo editing tools for smart phone photographers to get started!
I couldn't make is list of smartphone photo editing software without including my favorite app for editing photos: Lightroom. Not only does the app have everything you need to create stunning photos, you can sync it with your Creative Cloud subscription to get instant access to your presets and brushes! I personally think the app might be the best way to learn to use Lightroom. It has all the necessary tools for basic edits without all the bells and whistles. If you're still on the fence about purchasing Lightroom or subscribing to Creative Cloud, then download the free Lightroom app for an easy introduction.
When it comes to editing smart phone shots, there are a couple of apps I use regularly. Lightroom is definitely one, but I find that Photoshop Fix is even better. Photoshop Fix has really cool tools such as spot heal, skin smoothing, and more. Like the Lightroom app, Photoshop Fix is free to use.
A Color Story
A Color Story is a fun editing app that makes it super easy to create the dreamy, colorful Instagram pictures that are so popular now-a-days. The free app comes with basic filters, and themed filter bundles are available for purchase. In addition to filters, the app has plenty of editing tools such as light curves, shadow controls, and more.
Like Lightroom, VSCO is another fan favorite. And like A Color Story, the free app is filled with plenty of filters and tools to get you started. But filters and other add-ons can quickly add up. What I like about VSCO is that the in-app camera gives you complete control when shooting, unlike the native camera in most smart phones. You can control ISO, white balance, exposure, and more right in the app. However, it's not as user-friendly as another cool camera app that I recommend.
Camera+ has long been my favorite smart phone photography app. Shooting in Camera+ is more like shooting with a DSLR than with a smart phone. The app allows you to manipulate settings as if you were shooting in manual mode on a DSLR. You can even set it up to display settings like ISO, levels, and more in the live view. Camera+ is available for FREE, as well as more robust paid version.
Let's face it. If you're planning to use your photos on Instagram primarly, then you better be prepared to take it up a notch. Instagram is crowded with incredible photos, so yours need to stand out. Animation is the latest Instagram trend that pros are using to stand out in the feed. And with Plotagraph, a new photo editing software app for smartphones, you can too! Animating your still photographs has never been easier thanks to Plotagraph. In just a few simple clicks, you can create moving images that will wow.
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Need More Help with Your Photography?
Remember, editing starts in the camera. If you're feeling lost and not sure where to start when it comes to photography, consider checking out my other photography posts to see what other great tips and tricks I've learned over the years.
If you still want more, think about enrolling in an affordable photography course or purchasing a reliable photography text (see my recs below). You can also sign up for my photography email updates and get a printable copy of my 16 top tips for improving your photography skills!
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