The Best Mac Software for Photo Editing

The Best Mac Software for Photo Editing

Can't stand Adobe monthly fees any more? It's a nice time to look for some alternatives for editing your photos. I want to assure you that there are really good software solutions for that purposes, and some of them are even free!

Of course, Photoshop is the king of photo editing applications, as its incredible range of consistency and useful features make it the main tool for professionals. Still, not all people who want to work with images, have costs to afford this Adobe's product due to expensive subscription.

However, that guys are not monopolists and there are other tools for making your photos breathtaking.

You'll surely be pleased to learn that there are lots of alternative apps that are the same good as Photoshop. Here are the best ones that I can mention. And they are really good, believe me, as I've tested all of them!

Before we begin, I'd like to mention that I will talk about really professional products with flexibility and power as their main features.

I have nothing against software with filters alike to Instagram ones, but you could read about such simple apps in one of my previous articles. And today, I'll tell about software for people who work with pictures every day and take this hobby or work seriously.


1. Pixelmator 3.6

mac photo editing image5
This is an app without over-complicated tools that the majority of users doesn't need, but with the same usefulness, for example, support for CMYK spaces that can be used for pro printing. It was launched by macOS enthusiasts and became one of the most powerful competitors for Photoshop.

Pixelmator can be used as more that simply picture editor. People create original art with its shape tools and creative brush. However, we are interested in editing images, do you remember?

This can be done easily in Pixelmator. If your goal is adjusting levels, tap on the 'Levels' icon in the window called 'Effects browser' and drag it to the top of the pic window. Adjust layers with the newly appeared dialog box.

If removing a zit from someone's face is needed, choose the 'Heal' tool and get it to the blemish. Voila! It's gone!

In general, I haven't found anything wrong with this editor, it performs greatly and has all the functions that are needed for the fruitful work.

One more notable thing about Pixelmator is using MacOS OpenGL and Corelmage technologies. It means that processing of effect is really fast. Surely, it also depends on your Mac's hardware, by the way, note, that this program works with MacOS 10.9.5 or later. It can't be installed to older systems.

As for the app itself, it offers a quick access to the Photo library and supports sharing photos directly in your social media.

There is also a special warp plugin. So, I'd like that MacOS included this editor out of the box.

You may ask: 'What about its weaknesses?'. The answer is: working with RAW formats. You can edit them just as JPEG, PNG or TIFF, but there will be no advanced options, as this app wasn't designed for that (like Capture one pro, for instance). Such defects as lens aberrations won't be removed easily here, as the image was already processed for rendering.

That's why rescuing poor exposed images will be nearly impossible.

I also noticed the lack of a history browser. So, you won't see which edits were made. The way to see them is tapping Ctrl+Z and then undoing the changes.

It is one 3rd-party application that supports the file version system of MacOS, that allows you reverting back to another earlier image version with the 'File' menu.

Long story short, I'd say that Pixelmator could get to the 'Enthusiast' group rather the 'Pro one' due to all minuses I've listed above. Nevertheless, I have a feeling that soon they will fix this issues, as Pixelmator is an app that usually changes rapidly.


2. GIMP 2.8.16

mac photo editing image3
If you ask some graphic designer about this application, he won't tell you much except the fact he tried it and got back to Photoshop. I bet every second person will tell you such answer!

But why do people call it Photoshop's clone and say that its features for image editing are the same powerful?

The answer is that GIMP is really similar to Photoshop and it has the same features, but there is no familiar to us user interface, and things work in totally other way.

Let's pretend yo need to move a certain image area. In Adobe Photoshop, you need to use one of its selection tools, and drag the selected area with the move tool. As for GIMP, everything is more complicated. You need to use the selection tool, hold down Shift+Option(Alt)+Cmd without switching to other tools, and drag it all for creating a floating layer for selection.

Some people say that this application is intuitive, but I can't agree with them at all. Maybe it was inspired by Photoshop's features, but it hasn't got even a bit close to its interface. Even several years ago, you had to install the X11 software to run GIMP on Mac. Though, they have fixed that and made new versions of app more suitable for MacOS and familiar to users (as well as mode of a single window, just like it's done in Photoshop).

Nevertheless, they didn't fix blocking by Mac's Gatekeeper, maybe they have forgotten to sign the certificate. It means that you'll have to right-click the app for the first time and select 'Open' to make Mac's security think that the program is safe for the system.

The app doesn't support CMYK, but its developers don't care, though users often complain about that.

All these factors making me sad, as GIMP has honestly incredible set of features. For example, here is a nice healing tool that needs you to Cmd+click somewhere for defining a sample. The clone tool can be used the same way. As for masks, layers and other tools, you'll find them very similar to Photoshop. The main thing is where to find them in GIMP... Yes, this app needs some additional training before the work!

Another strange thing about GIMP is that it doesn't work properly on MacBook Pros. It slows down and we can even watch the whole process 'by parts', what is not very good, when high performance is needed. Maybe it's because their retina displays for which the app is not optimized.

Even cutting a section and moving it became too laggy. But this is how the things are going in the world of open source software. Fixing your own issues is a part of the fun. A few hours of googling and the problem is gone! ;)

Some GIMP users will assure you that there is no better program in the world, but I doubt that they have ever tried something else (I'm not talking about Adobe apps now, as they haven't tried them for sure). You'll need nearly a week to learn how its functions work to use the app smoothly. Maybe, if you do it, you'll enjoy using GIMP. 


3. CyberLink photo director

mac photo editing image8
This application can be named 'a dark horse', as you might know just about its sharing and organizing features. But in fact, there are nice editing tools, including brush tools.

You'll find 6 sections after launching this program:

  • 'Library' is for viewing, importing, organizing tools. Face-tagging or duplicating, or many other useful tools can be found here.
  • 'Adjustment' can tweak colors, tone, white balance, sharpness, etc. Here you can also find cropping and rotating tools, as well as red-eye remover and healing brushes. There is a special manual section that offers you full control on editing. And if you select Presets, you'll be able to apply filters.
  • 'Edit' can help in removing wrinkles, teeth whitening, reshaping subjects. The app helps in removing object from images and fills the background automatically. The HDR tool, filters, panorama creator, watermarking, frames and other useful features can be found here. Very powerful, but too clicky, as it seems to me.
  • 'Layers' supports to 100 ones per 1 photo. Here are tools like Pen/Text/Eraser/Selection/Gradient/Fill/Add shape, and fourteen blending modes can be found.
  • Turn on 'Slideshow' after you've finished your work with the pictures to see the results, or share it to YouTube.
  • 'Print' can not only print your images, but save them to the Cloud services of CyberLink that gives you free 20Gb for a year).


There is a ColorDirector extension for PhotoDirector that helps you with color grading, comes with different video editing tools. Noise reduction, RGB adjustments, sharpening, color replacements, object motion tracking, live histogram, split toning and many more.

'Beautifier' tools (skin shine remover, face shaper, eye enlarger and eye bag remover) help to improve portraits.

If you want to add localised blurred zones, apply motion or zoom effects, use smart blur tools or Bokeh option.

Moreover, this application works with RAW files, so, 50% of problems with light and exposure can be fixed immediately!

All in all, PhotoDirector is a nice alternative to Photoshop for enthusiasts. Anyway, I can't say that the program is suitable for professionals.


4. Acorn 6

mac photo editing image2
At the first glance, Acorn seems to be a bit similar to Photoshop as it used to be some time ago. It has nice features ad curves & levels, adjusting brightness and contrast, masking and layers, filters, and a comfortable toolbar with selection options and brushes.

These are the main points that are needed for editing pics. But if we talk about heavy use of applications, the lack of patch tools or advanced selection can be critical for experts and those who need a really professional app.

As for basic needs, Acorn does its job nicely. Anyway, the interface doesn't looks very similar to Photoshop and some tools are not where you are used to find them.

For example, you need to visit 'Filters' > 'Color adjustment' menu for correcting vibrancy and saturation of a picture.

Filters and effects apply as soon as you select them. It happens quickly, but you get used to it with several working sessions in Acorn.

If you need a software for drawing, this one can fit you, as it has all the necessary drawing tools. It even supports brushed that were created for Photoshop!

It also supports RAW images, you will be able to adjust color temperature or exposure, though, you won't find any tools for fixing distortions here as in the most of apps for RAW processing.

If you like simple and logic software, don't hesitate to choose Acorn. Its price is competitive and not too high.

However, I can't strongly recommend you this one, while others like Affinity exist (I'll tell you more below). So, if this one suits better enthusiasts, the next one will fit professionals too.


5. Affinity

mac photo editing image1
The main point of Affinity Photo is not in a cheap price compared to Photoshop's one, it is the fact that you get this program forever, unlike Photoshop where you need to pay for the Adobe creative cloud subscription every month.

Though the cost of this app is 'amateur', it can offer us a professional set of features, for example, CMYK and Lab.

This color space support is necessary for printing, as I've already mentioned above. The built-in RAW support and an opportunity to open .PSD files here make this app brilliant.

It's like some sort of cousin of Photoshop, as it looks a bit similar, however, it has its own 'family tree'.

If you are new to this program, learn the 'Personas' concept. In easy words, it means different operating modes. They are various toolbars, options and panels. I can bet that the one you'll use more often is the 'Photo' persona that gives you access to the main app's toolkit. The 'Develop' persona is useful too, as it is created for pre-processing RAW images (or any other file formats). 'Liquify' and 'Export' personas are clear enough.

Affinity's layers feature works differently, if we compare it to Photoshop. Only one adjustment or filter can be placed on one layer. For instance, you can place a denoise filter on one layer, and add curves changing to the second one. The point of that is saving of all changes done to the image while performing 'pixel layers' editing.

You can feel as a child in a shop of sweets while browsing Affinity's toolbar.

Inpainting brush is very impressive. Remove all unnecessary objects from photos with just a couple of clicks. It works as good as magic.

The app can also combine two or even more shots into one.

I can't say for what can we criticise Affinity Photo, but there is one thing... It's a bit biased towards making new images of great strong adjustments to already existing ones.

Unlike it's competitors like Photoshop and Pixelmator, this app can seem to simple at first, as its power is hidden enough, but it's user-friendly and can be used both by amateurs and pro designers and photographers.


6. Capture one pro 9

mac photo editing image7
The high price of Capture one pro tells us that this is a professional tool. One more proof for this fact is the manufacturer, Phase one, that works with serious camera systems. I also would like to note that this application is created for working with pictures made by DSLR cameras (regardless of a company manufacturer).

They describe this program as a RAW converter and asset manager. RAW pictures are usually large and are used by experts mainly, unlikely TIFFs or JPEGs that are made by average cameras and smartphones. As the name says, RAWs are unprocessed, so there's no WB and many other settings yet. So, you should set it by yourself in some app like Capture one pro. It supports files produced by more than 400 different camera models!

There are 2 ways of importing files into the program. You can create a new session. It's a quick way of working with pictures right from your camera. With this option, you can create several additional file types for your original image. For example, you can get a high resolution TIFF for emailing, and low resolution one for sharing it on Facebook. You can export them into the library. It is nearly a home for your images. So, if you need them there, import pictures to a catalogue from your camera. And you'll get them there another time!

I can say that the process of pictures editing here is alike to polishing a diamond. I mean that you won't find healing brushes or the clone tool here, as it's a feature for making RAW images look perfect, and for other needs it's better to use Photoshop or Affinity.

If your image in not exposed correctly or there are some aberrations,  Capture one pro will surely help. But before starting, please calibrate your screen in order to get the best results.

Capture one pro is more advanced tool than one that helps you to tune the saturation. It helps to adjust smoothness and lightness, hue, etc. There are so many details that make an image perfect, and this program gives you all of them. In addition, this application includes vignetting and HDR adjustment to make images look more outstanding.

Note, that you won't have a chance to apply lens correction, if you open a JPEG file in Capture one pro.

Capture one pro also gives you an opportunity to connect your camera to Mac that is useful for studio photographers.


7. Movavi Photo editor

mac photo editing image4
As Lightroom and Aperture has already shown, there is a whole marketplace for apps for quick fixing of different issues. They may be trivial mistakes and not perfect exposure

I can confess that the market is full of such one-click solutions, but I'd like to draw your attention to Movavi Photo Editor, as it has the same tools, but it's comfortable for professional work.

For example, the Object removal tool lets you define a certain area that needs to be removed or replaced. Magic wand selection will help to make it accurately. You'll get a perfect image, and nothing excess! Clone brush will help in fixing mistakes as well. The Variation slider will help to make your results more impressive.

Background removal isolated an object from everything else, but it needs you to define what you want to keep, and what you are willing to delete too. It can be done properly, if you zoom image, but still, I wasn't much impressed by this tool, as I think that it can be done in Photoshop easier and quicker.

There are other common tools in Movavi Photo editor, such as features for adjusting brightness and contrast, sharpness, exposure, and so on. It can also crop, rotate and resize images.

Filters here are alike Instagram's ones, but I can't say that using them can be called 'professionalism'.

What I didn't like about Movavi Photo editor is the fact that accidental dragging on a trackpad with two fingers makes the picture zoom widely. Unfortunately, I haven't found how I can turn off this feature. I also experienced some lagging of cursor in a couple of moments on my Mac with 16Gb RAM and it disappointed me a bit. So, I can say that it won't be enough for professional usage, but good enough for enthusiasts.