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The 5 Best Photo Editing Software for 2021

Last Updated on Feb. 25, 2021 – by David Morgan
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The Best Photo Editing Software

With the rise of Instagram and other photo sharing platforms, the bar for quality photos is moving up... fast. It may seem like everyone is a professional photographer these days and that it’s impossible to compete with all of those amazing photos but the fact is, anyone can do it! With the power of the right photo editing software, you can transform even the most mundane image into a work of art worthy of sharing and earn accolades on your social media feed.

If you’ve looked for photo editing software recently, you’ve likely encountered an overwhelming number of options. Knowing which software is right for you can be difficult, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the brands and features. Fortunately, we are here to help.

We’ve reviewed and rated several of the most popular photo editing programs based on their price, value, workflow, and features. Our goal is to connect you with a product that meets your needs and lives up to its critical reviews. Here are our top picks for the best photo editing software in 2021.

  1. PhotoDirector
  2. Photoshop
  3. Lightroom
  4. Paintshop Pro
  5. DxO PhotoLab

Imagine if someone combined a full-featured photo editor with a robust organization system into one seamless package. That’s just what CyberLink has done with their award winning photo editing platform PhotoDirector. This all-in-one photo editor packs a ton of powerful features into an approachable workspace that manages to accommodate beginners, hobbyists, and experts, alike.

The software comes with a clean and navigable interface. Its crisp aesthetic makes it easy to find the tools you need and move seamlessly within the application. PhotoDirector takes care of the organizational aspects of working with photo files with the power of AI so that you can stay on top of editing. With its AI powered facial recognition, PhotoDirector can automatically categorize your pictures by the people that are in them.

PhotoDirector Interface

The adjustment sidebar features more than a dozen ways to touch up pictures with easy-to-use sliders and is conveniently displayed right next to your image in order to see your adjustments live. Its full-featured selection of tools gives you everything you need to color correct, resize, stylize, and repair images as well as export to any format you need from social media to print-ready files. 

Along with the familiar exposure, contrast, hue, and saturation tools, PhotoDirector allows you to take even further control by localizing these effects to specific exposure ranges of your image. This can be especially helpful when dealing with a difficult color cast that only shows up in highlights or shadows.

Additionally, you can remove any defects that might come from weather or a less-than-ideal exposure. Tools like the Dehaze, Defringe & Denoise automatically remove unwanted haziness or grain from images, while the regional adjustment tools provide precise editing in specific sections. 

If you’re looking to create stylized images without a tremendous effort, CyberLink has what you need with its guided editing. For example, use "AI Deblur" if the subject of a photo is blurry to put it in focus. They’ve also included the popular “Bokeh” effect that simulates light falloff around the edges of the image to create dramatic contrast that makes almost any image pop right off the bat. 

Other tools include content-aware features that let you move, clone, and remove certain parts of an image to create surreal imagery from your photos. Guided editing also lets you bring your photos to life with photo animation. PhotoDirector can intelligently add motion to a still image simply by selecting the area you want to animate.

CyberLink has integrated several AI tools, too, which simplify and speed up editing. Our favorite is the Person Segmentation tool that automatically selects people in photos so you can edit them or the background. 

PhotoDirector also has advanced layer editing options allowing you to go beyond touch-ups and construct images with multiple elements. With the ability to create layers, you have complete control over the look and feel of photos, whether you need to apply filters, masks, or text to any localized selection in your image. The layer-editing section comes with 27-layer blending modes to combine your elements seamlessly, as well as quick access to the guided editing tools to help you along the way.

Some of PhotoDirector’s tools are unique to the platform. For instance, the 360-degree photo editing option lets you create stunning panoramas by intelligently stitching together multiple images. Meanwhile, the video-to-photo tool helps capture video frames and transform them into gifs or motion stills right in the photo editor.

Other notable features in PhotoDirector include:

  • Sparkle Effect
  • Color Effects
  • Enhanced Shape Editing
  • CLUTs Support
  • Retouching Face, Skin & Body Tools

The award-winning PhotoDirector is a gold standard in photo editing software. You can create, edit, and share content as far-reaching and creative as your imagination. As long as you can dream it, PhotoDirector has the tools to help you make it.

CyberLink continues to update and add new tools to PhotoDirector. Recent additions include: 

Dispersion

Sky Replacement

Light Rays

Light Ray Effects

Glitch Effect

Light Ray Effects

Photo Animation

Light Ray Effects

With PhotoDirector 365 you also get unlimited access to royalty-free photos and music, thanks to CyberLink’s partnership with Shutterstock. 

With all of the essential tools and more included at the price, PhotoDirector stands out for its overall value. It has many of the same  features found in competitors like Lightroom and Photoshop but you only pay a portion of the price.

Best of all, you can try it for free today. CyberLink offers a free download to new users in search of the best photo editing software.

2. Photoshop

Photoshop Interface

The fact that people talk about “photoshopping” an image as opposed to “editing” an image says everything you need to know about Photoshop’s cachet. The platform serves as a high watermark in the industry with its powerful features.

Photoshop is considered a ‘go-to’ option for professional designers. The advanced photo manipulation tools cover everything from typography to 3D modeling to drawing. This means there is quite a bit of a learning curve so be prepared to invest not just a bit of money but a significant amount of time into learning how to use it. 

Notable features include:

  • Layer Editing
  • Selection Tools
  • Pen Tool
  • Vector Masks
  • Retouching Tools

Budget-conscious consumers might balk at the price of Photoshop. The $33.99 per month price tag means you can only rent and never own the software at a premium cost. If you're willing to commit to top-of-the-line costs and hours of hard work, though, Photoshop is your choice.

3. Lightroom

Lightroom Interface

Lightroom is a good choice for professional photographers.The platform has two applications: Lightroom and Lightroom Classic. Lightroom offers an all-encompassing option, while Lightroom Classic has highly specialized features. Custom ISO-based presets and local hue adjustments cover some of the latest additions.

Its main focus is organization and color correction. If you are wanting to use layer editing this is not the choice for you. Lightroom's main job is to make your photos look better.

Adobe has gradually added more smart tools to Lightroom, such as automatic face detection. The software detects, recognizes, and tags individuals, saving you time when organizing your images. Once you tag all the faces, Lightroom lets you create smart albums that update when you upload new photos.

Worthwhile features include:

  • Camera-based corrections
  • Gradient and brush adjustments
  • Streamlined photo management

4. PaintShop Pro

PaintShop Pro Interface

Don't want to commit to Photoshop or Lightroom? PaintShop Pro is here to fill the void. The reliable software comes with wide-ranging features such as 3D modeling, typography, and camera shake reduction. This toolkit gives you all the resources you need to edit and enhance your photos on a budget.

The newest version comes with a split effect that enables you to view the before-and-after versions simultaneously. Underwater and aerial photographers can take advantage of the Sea-to-Sky tool that fixes blemishes in water or air-based images. 

Other PaintShop Pro features include:

  • Smart upsampling
  • Smart style transfer
  • 360-degree photo editing
  • Various design templates

PaintShop Pro still has a basic photo correction mode, though it’s pared down from its original version. The tool enables auto-correction and a close look at histograms for color and lighting. The smart controls make it easy to adjust unbalanced histograms and white balances.

5. DxO PhotoLab

Dx0PhotoLab Interface

DxO PhotoLab ranks favorably among the most established photo editing software programs. The latest iteration continues the tradition of automated corrections and editing tools. The software features Nik U Point so that you can edit within a local selection.

The standout feature is the DeepPrime noise reduction. DxO PhotoLab uses artificial intelligence to improve raw photos during the import. The before and after difference is equivalent to two ISO stops on a camera.

Check out the ClearViewPlus tool if you opt for the Elite version of DxO Photolab. It removes unwanted haze or grain from landscape photography so that you don't have to create masks independently. The process leaves you with a crisp and clear image within seconds.

Other DxO Photolab features include:

  • Batch renaming
  • Lens and camera-based autocorrection
  • Localized adjustments
  • Haze removal

DxO Photolab welcomes users of all ability levels. The platform comes with a slick, understated interface that you can toggle when in Customize and PhotoLibrary. It offers many of the same tools as Lightroom, though the latter Adobe product has greater flexibility.

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Photo Editing

You don't need to be a professional photographer to benefit from photo editing software.  Each software application offers a distinct set of benefits to users. For instance, Photoshop works best for seasoned veterans who want to edit on a granular level. While PhotoDirector offers an affordable way to fine-tune photos, whether you're creating a family album or posting on Instagram. These photo editing programs will make a visible difference in the quality of the final product.

Here are the overall features and specs on these five different photo editing software:

software comparison
Software

PhotoDirector

Photoshop Lightroom Paintshop Pro DxO PhotoLab
Price $54.99/yr $239.88/yr $119.88/yr $99.99 $199
Color Correction & Photo Retouching Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Layer Editing Yes Yes - Yes -
Object & Background Removal Yes Yes - Yes -
Photo Filters & Creative Effects Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
People Beautifier Tools Yes Yes - Yes -
Photo Management Yes, AI powered - Yes Yes Yes
Photo Animation Yes - - - -
Video-to-Photo Yes - - - -
Automated Person Segmentation Yes Yes - - -
Sky Replacement Yes Yes - - -
3D Modeling - Yes - - -
New Features Release Regularly Yes Yes Yes - -
Royalty-Free Photos & Music Included, from Shutterstock Extra Cost for Adobe Stock Extra Cost for Adobe Stock - -

If we could only pick one photo editing software, we would have to choose PhotoDirector. The all-in-one platform offers a comprehensive array of tools, consistent updates, and incredible value. You can try PhotoDirector by downloading the free trial today.

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