26 October 2021
Macs are popular with photographers for many reasons, including their high-definition displays and excellent color reproduction. They also come with the more than capable Photos app. Apple used to sell the powerful Aperture app too, but it discontinued that a few years ago. This is in stark contrast to its pro video suite, Final Cut Pro, which continues to be popular among professionals.
Thankfully, companies such as Cyberlink and Adobe offer Mac users some great alternatives. But which Mac photo editing software is right for you? Should you just stick with Apple Photos?
The best photo editing apps provide complete control over the appearance of images. They’re also intuitive for novice users. These programs have the power to transform average photos into works of art you’ll be proud to share everywhere.
In this guide, we pick out ten of the best Mac photo editing apps available right now.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 is a premium photo editing app for photo hobbyists who don’t want the hassle of complex Photoshop techniques and would rather avoid paying a subscription. Adobe’s experience shines through with this suite of robust but accessible editing tools. With an easy learning curve for beginners, there are numerous features in this software to make your photos pop. The best part is that Photoshop Elements 2021 for macOS grows with the user. As you gain more experience, you’ll gain full control over all its features.
Photoshop Elements features artificial intelligence to analyze images, apply automatic effects, and create collages. There’s also a useful organizer you can use to label and find photos by keyword, tags, and star ratings.
The latest version of Photoshop Elements includes nifty features that allow you to layer motion graphics on static images, move and resize objects, and adjust facial features with great detail.
There aren’t too many changes in Photoshop Elements 2021 compared with the previous version, but the overall ease of use and fun creativity make it really hard for us not to include it in our list.
It’s great for all levels of users, as it provides three interfaces: Guided Edits, Quick Edits, and Expert Mode. And when you’d like to analyze and tweak your images, you can rely on Adobe’s Sense AI to do this quickly. Finally, the new subject selection tool enables you to do fast cut-outs of individuals and pets.
There’s probably no better tool to touch up multiple photos at once than Adobe Lightroom CC. Besides being a Mac app, it’s also available for iOS, and photographers can edit pictures anywhere because Lightroom CC runs in the cloud.
Lightroom CC is a significant upgrade to Lightroom Classic. It’s way cleaner, faster, and much nicer to work with than its desktop-based cousin. Transitioning from Lightroom Classic to Lightroom CC might not be as easy for existing users, especially considering the cost of online storage.
Adobe Lightroom CC edges out Adobe Photoshop in providing tools for organizing your photos. We like how it puts our photos in one large, searchable catalog, offering premium-quality image enhancements, adjustments, and one-click presets.
If you’re a busy photographer, you may not have time to wrap your head around Photoshop’s in-depth image manipulation tools. Photoshop is also built for designers, illustrators, and artists, so its complexity is understandable. But if you appreciate simplicity and ease of use, Lightroom CC is a lifeline you’ll always be grateful for.
Finally, Lightroom CC shares the same raw processing engine as Adobe Camera Raw, the default for most photographers. However, you should be prepared for decent but not excellent detail rendition or noise control.
Adobe Photoshop is the current king of photo editing software. This design and editing software suite actually began the modern image revolution, introducing us to the world of layered image editing and a slew of breathtaking visual effects.
Today’s Photoshop features some of the most advanced tools you’ll find in photo editing software for Mac. They include AI-powered neural filters, live shapes, sky replacement, and pattern preview features. And you get even more control over photos you keep in the cloud.
There are a number of new capabilities seasoned photographers will really enjoy. Like the Super Resolution raw enlargement tool, support for Apple Silicon-based Macs, and 70 shiny new Camera Raw presets.
Affinity Photo is a cross-platform photo-editing app, which works really well on Macs. It doesn't have too many advanced capabilities, but offers robust tools for editing no matter the resolution of the photo. Affinity Photo’s tools also make RAW processing possible within the interface. There’s no better way to describe this software than to say it packs a punch for the excellent price of $50. As a pro photographer, you can score a bargain, getting it for as little as $25.
The learning curve for this photo editing software is steeper than for most others, but you’ll be more than happy with the feature set. Besides, if you’re familiar with Photoshop and enjoy its unique controls, Affinity replicates many of those, including layers and paintbrushes. You can even read and edit Adobe Photoshop PSD files, so you’ll find it easy to switch between both programs.
Affinity features HR, focus stack merging tools, and panorama. If you have to work with both raster and vector images, you’re in good hands; Affinity has layer editing to give you the Photoshop feel you’re probably used to. Plus it offers a good selection of brushes, which can be customized as necessary.
The Affinity Photo editor has a few drawbacks, including its non-typical and sometimes confusing interface, and an absence of import tools, photo management tools, or design templates. The dealbreaker, though, might be the photo adjustment tools, which don’t really compete with Photoshop.
There’s plenty of room for this image editing software to become awesome. And the company is reviewing many third-party Photoshop-compatible plugins to determine which fit into the Affinity ecosystem.
Billed as the best free photo editor for your Mac, Apple Photos is a simple, free editor that’s excellent for making your pictures top-notch. Granted, it’s not as comprehensive as many paid programs. Yet, it offers a plethora of tools to touch up, tweak, and share your photos.
As well as support for the ProRAW format, better retouching features, and a vibrance slider, Photos offers a slick and understandable interface that has great plugin support under the hood. It also has face recognition and auto-correction.
Apple Photos syncs in the cloud, so you can connect your photo library across multiple devices. If you ever feel like you need more room, iCloud storage is quite affordable.
The program supports batch operations and macros, which we found to be especially useful when we converted multiple files, rotated them, or removed their metadata. As soon as you connect a memory card to your Mac, Photos will pop up an Import screen. It can also handle camera files from digital cameras such as Nikon’s NEF and Canon’s CR3.
Syncing allows you to edit Live Photos with the editing tools in Photos, and once you import your photos, the software offers automatic organization. You can apply ratings, keyword tags, and locations to any photo.
Another open- photo editing software, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) allows you to read the computer source code and change things to suit your needs. Many GIMP features are attempts to mirror Adobe Photoshop and other paid apps as much as possible.
Some of GIMP’s most useful features include the ability to create layers, edit layers, filters, exposure controls, and so on.
GIMP’s power lies in its highly active community of users who are continuously improving the quality and functionality of the software. Recent versions of GIMP are more user-friendly, but overall, there’s still little guidance compared to other photo editing applications for Mac.
Pixelmator ProPixelmator Pro is an advanced photo editing tool. This pro version picks up where the original Pixelmator for Mac left off, with a brand new interface.
The new design displays the image more than the tools. However, every tool you need to create the perfect photo is present. Though there are no floating tools overlaying your image, you have a full view of your photo with the tools nestled in the sides. You can hide them when you need to.
Keeping the image front and center allows the tools to blend in with the black border. Sub-tools are see-through until you click on one to access all customizations. In case you need to quickly view the photo without the tools, click the photo edit icon in the top-right of the screen until it completely disappears.
You can hide all your tools and the interface by choosing “Hide Interface” from the View section of the App Menu. The Pixelmator Pro’s tools include excellent photo adjustment tweaks and various brush styles, sizes, and textures. Your washed-out photos will pop with vibrance using the non-destructive color adjustments. The mosaic and wave effects are impressive too.
Cyberlink PhotoDirector 365 is a photo workflow and editing program with a smooth interface and powerful tools. Beginning life as an alternative to Adobe Lightroom, it’s since grown to include more advanced features, similar to Adobe Photoshop.
Cyberlink is always adding new and essential features including guided edits, layers, masks, painterly AI filters, and text kerning. AI sky replacement, GIF animation, and people masking are some of the newer effects.
If you opt for a PhotoDirector subscription instead of the one-time purchase, you qualify for Shutterstock content. It doesn’t offer RAW camera profiles and geotagged maps, but it more than makes up for this with its non-destructive workflow and collection organization.
This photo editing software is a comprehensive photo workflow solution, which can deliver excellent results.
The maker of this software has an excellent pedigree in the photo editing software market. The current iteration of PhotoLab, PhotoLab 4, is cast from the same mould as previous DxO products. You can expect automatic lens and camera body-based image correction, bleeding-edge image tools, and unparalleled noise reduction.
One unique feature we found impressive in the PhotoLab 4 is that it incorporates Nik U Point local selection technology for awesome local adjustment tools.
The secret sauce for the DxO PhotoLab’s resounding noise reduction is a blend of DeepPrime. On top of this, there are other new features such as batch file renaming, an edit history panel, a workspace you can customize, and a watermarking tool.
Luminar 4 offers a rich set of tools for organizing and managing your workflow from a decent, modern interface. The unique retouching tools present within the software are unavailable elsewhere and allow for extensive and unrecognizable revamping of your favorite photos.
The most exciting feature of Luminar 4 is its ability to produce realistic, non-destructive edits to JPG and RAW format photos from your computer. So you can quickly do portrait enhancement, AI sky replacement, one-click Looks, and so on without the kind of hassle you might get with other editors.
With Luminar 4, feature upgrades are quite numerous; you can either use it as a standalone photo editing app or as a plugin for Adobe Photoshop CC or Elements. It also plays well with Apple Photos.
One of the better parts of Luminar 4 is that it’s available as a one-time purchase. Besides feature and performance updates, the cost covers bug fixes and support.
Photo editors have so many features, it’s not practical to list all the potential things that could sway your decision. But here are a few key things to look out for.
Every Mac owner looking to select the right photo editor needs to consider a few things and make a few trade-offs.
Key considerations should include your level of expertise, budget, and preferred storage. There’s no point investing in a photo editing program such as DxO PhotoLab 4 if you’re on a lean budget; the free and open-source GIMP might be a better fit, especially if you want to get your hands dirty with code. If you don’t, macOS ships with the tidy Apple Photos app, which is also free but has plenty of options for many photographers.
A Mac software expert with over 3 years of experience in applying solutions to Mac software issues. My speciality is ensuring an easy-switch from Windows to macOS for new Mac users.