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- January 02, 2020
- 18 min to read
Most free photo editors available on the App Store are quite basic, offering just a limited number of filters and allowing you to easily and quickly liven up your photos before posting them on social media.
Music, TV, and podcasts take center stage. ITunes forever changed the way people experienced. Affinity Photo has become the first choice for photography and creative professionals around the world, who love its speed, power and precision. Born to work hand-in-hand with the latest powerful computer technology, it’s the only fully-loaded photo editor integrated across macOS, Windows and iOS. Photos in macOS Catalina has an immersive, dynamic look that showcases your best photos. Find the shots you’re looking for with powerful search options. Organize your collection into albums, or keep your photos organized automatically with smart albums. Perfect your images with intuitive built-in editing tools, or use your favourite photos apps.
But if you’re an aspiring or professional photographer, you probably need a more powerful app with a broader set of tools to use your creativity to the fullest. Besides, you probably use your Mac for photo editing because working on a large screen makes it possible to adjust the slightest details.
1. Apple’s Photos (Built-in app)
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Apple’s Photos app is included for free on all recently released Macs. It does a good job at organizing your photos, but its collection of photo enhancement tools leaves much to be desired. Hopefully, our selection of the best free programs for photo editing on Mac will help you choose the right app to suit all your creative needs.
2. Luminar (7 days trial)
Luminar is another full-featured photo editor that’s popular with both Mac and Windows users. It can work as a standalone app as well as a plugin for such popular programs as Apple Photos.
Luminar uses Artificial Intelligence to enable sophisticated yet quick photo enhancements. Among these AI features are Sky Enhancer, which adds more depth and detail to the sky in your photos while leaving other areas untouched; Accent AI, which analyzes a photo and automatically applies the best combination of different effects to enhance your image; and Sun Rays, which allows you to place an artificial sun and adjust the lighting to your liking or make the sun rays already in your photo look even more incredible.
Luminar has over 60 filters you can apply to your photos to enhance them in a moment. Luminar also provides a set of powerful tools for cropping, transforming, cloning, erasing, and stamping, along with layers, brushes, and many more incredible features. Luminar supports the Touch Bar on the latest MacBook Pro, making photo editing even more effortless and pleasing.
3. Photolemur 3 (Free Version with watermark)
Photolemur is a relative newcomer on the photo editing market but it has all the chances to win the favor of beginner photographers and hobbyists. Running on Artificial Intelligence, Photolemur is a completely automatic photo enhancer, meaning that it does all the editing for you in no time. It has the simplest interface, with only a few buttons and sliders to adjust the enhancement to your liking and view the before and after results.
All you need to do is choose a photo (or a few) that you want to improve, drag and drop or import them using the Import button, and let the program make enhancements. After it’s done, you can compare the edited version with the original image by using the before–after slider and, if you want, adjust the skin tone or even enlarge the eyes using additional sliders. Pretty easy, huh?
Photolemur also offers a number of impressive styles to touch up your photos and give them a sophisticated and professional look. With this app, you don’t need to stuff your head with photo editing nuances and terms. Just run Photolemur and watch the magic happen!
4. Aurora HDR (14 days trial)
As you probably can tell from the name, Aurora HDR is designed to help photographers enhance their HDR photos, making them even more detailed and beautiful. It’s an ideal tool for editing your photos, with an extensive collection of more than 20 tools including details, tone, mapping, color, glow, and vignette. Each tool has its unique selection of controls to adjust its effects.
Aurora HDR enables you to work with brushes, layers, and masks, and provides a number of automatic AI tools for recognizing and removing noise, enhancing colors, lighting, and details, improving clarity, and adding contrast to dull areas while leaving other areas untouched.
Aurora HDR does a great job dealing with difficult lighting situations and creating full-of-life images while being easy to use.
5. Pixelmator (Trial 30 Days)
Pixelmator is a photo enhancer beloved by many Mac users, as it offers a good combination of a modern and simple interface, the ability to work on multiple layers, and powerful features that take photo editing to a whole new level. With so many editing tools, brushes, and effects, you can enhance your photos to your liking. You can choose between two versions of Pixelmator – standard and pro – depending on your needs. The standard version is great for basic photo editing with its selection of essential tools and filters, while the pro version is packed with extra brushes, tools, and effects that let you push your creativity to new boundaries. You can decide which version is suitable for you according to what features you’re looking for in a photo editing app.
6. Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020 (Trial link)
Photoshop Elements isn’t as affordable as other photo enhancers for beginner photographers. But luckily there’s a trial version available, so you can check it out before deciding whether this app is worthy of your money. Photoshop Elements acquired many powerful features from Photoshop, only Elements is simplified for amateur photographers and enthusiasts. It includes a good number of effects and filters, plus automated editing options for improving lighting, color balance, and exposure, and even opening closed eyes and reducing the effects of camera shake.
In addition to all of these awesome features, Photoshop also offers editing modes for beginners, intermediate users, and experts. Beginners will probably prefer Quick mode, as it focuses on essential tools to quickly enhance your photos by improving color, lighting, and other basic settings. Guided mode provides intermediate users with step-by-step guidance with more professional features like artistic effects, skin tone correction, and background replacement. Expert mode gives you full access to the app’s really powerful editing features and is ideal for creating stunning images.
7. Affinity Photo (Free Trial)
Affinity Photo’s interface may seem overwhelming at first, especially for novices, but when you come to grips with it you’ll find that the app is just what you’ve been looking for. Its numerous professional tools, effects, and filters encourage you to get creative with your photos. Among the coolest features Affinity Photo has to offer is a before and after view to compare the original photo with its edited version.
Affinity Photo works with 15 file types, including common ones like PDF, PSD, JPG, and GIF as well as some less popular ones. The app amazes with its abundance of basic and top-notch editing tools, allowing you to tweak your photos using all possible kinds of instruments. Affinity Photo allows you to edit HDR photos, apply artistic filters and effects, play with masks and layers, and create breathtaking compositions by combining several images in one. If you find its interface a bit much and are afraid of getting lost in all those advanced tools, you should probably look for something more suitable for your level. But Affinity Photo is worth mastering.
8. Google Photos
Google Photos is a popular cloud storage service for photos and videos. It can’t boast countless masterly tools like other photo enhancers that we review in this article, but it includes some fundamental features like filters, color adjustment sliders, and transformation tools.
Although Google Photos may not be that helpful when it comes to editing photos, it does a pretty good job at storing high-resolution images and videos with 15GB of free online storage, compared to iCloud’s mere 5GB (which you can upgrade to 50GB for a monthly fee). If you’re planning to go on a trip and take plenty of photos, then it might be smart to sign up for Google Photos to use that extra storage space when you come back.
9. PhotoScape X (Free)
A relatively new photo editing app, PhotoScape X has been gaining popularity with many Mac and PC users since its release in 2008. Its interface is simple but unconventional, with a number of tabs running along the top of the window. Each is responsible for a specific stage of editing. The Viewer tab allows you to browse and organize your photos. After you pick a photo, you can switch to the Editor tab, which includes a broad set of instruments, filters, and effects and a useful feature that enables you to compare the adjusted photo with the original.
The next tabs, including the Batch tab, mainly concentrate on editing and renaming multiple photos at once. The GIF tab allows you to easily create an animated GIF from a group of selected photos.
The downside of PhotoScape X is a lack of selection tools, so all changes are applied to the whole image rather than to a selected part.
10. Gimp (Free)
Gimp is a free open-source photo editing app that has been on the market for over 22 years and is available for Windows, Mac, and even Linux. Unlike many free apps, Gimp doesn’t have any ads or in-app purchases. Its grey interface might seem a little old-fashioned and it may be a bit sluggish when it comes to complex effects, though.
Gimp offers a vast collection of advanced tools that hardly any free photo editor can boast. It has numerous enhancement options such as clone and heal brushes, layers and channels, accurate selection tools, a number of transformation instruments, and, of course, color adjustment controls. Gimp is one of the most powerful tools for enhancing photos and is beloved by so many users for its price (free) and versatility. But if you can’t come to grips with Gimp’s interface, it may be worth paying some cash for a more user-friendly program.
Whether you’ve just taken a weekend trip up North or the European vacation of your dreams, you’re guaranteed to return home with a massive amount of photos, probably a handful of videos, and, if you were feeling particularly artsy, half a dozen time-lapses.
But now that you’re home, what are you going to do with all those pictures? Where are you going to keep them? How are you going to share them?
Enter the Photos app for Mac.
What is Photos on Mac?
The Photos app is a convenient home for all of your pictures and videos. Anything you shoot, Photos will store it and — better yet — organize it, so you can actually find said pictures when you feel like reliving the memories.
In this post, we’ll go over the basics of using Apple’s Photos app. We’ll talk about where to find photos on your Mac and how you can manage your ever-growing photo library. And of course, we’ll cover all the features Apple has built into this underrated app.
iPhoto vs Photos: What’s the difference?
Those of you familiar with iPhoto for Mac are probably wondering what makes its successor so special. And to oversimplify it, Photos is the next step in photo management — and a giant step at that.
Prior to Photos, Apple made two apps for managing pictures and videos. iPhoto, for those of us less experienced in photography, and Aperture, for the ones looking to do some heavier editing. Photos perfectly blurs the line between those two apps, combining the best of both while adding new features like iCloud Photo Library and iCloud Photo Sharing.
If you used iPhoto before, Photos will feel instantly recognizable. You’ll have your pictures, albums, and collections in the main window, a navigation sidebar to the left, and different viewing options at the top. However, a significant point of difference between iPhoto and Photos is the app’s performance. When working with larger libraries, iPhoto had the tendency to lag or choke up and had arbitrary limits that would restrict album and collection sizes. Photos gets rid of those limitations entirely and is able to handle much larger libraries than its predecessor. While the look of Photos may be the same, it feels like a faster and more powerful app.
Where are the photos stored on Mac?
The Photos app maintains pictures and videos in its own library, making it easy to view the content, but confusing to access the actual files. To find the photos on your Mac, you’ll need to find that Photos Library first:
- With the Photos app open, click on Photos in the menu bar
- Then go to Preferences > General
- At the top of the window, you’ll see Library Location. Click the Show in Finder button.
The first thing you’ll notice after you find the Photos Library file is you can’t do much with it. You can double-click it, but that opens Photos again. If you want to find the original files of your pictures and videos, you’ll need to:
- Right-click on Photos Library to open the alternate menu
- Select Show Package Contents from that menu
- Open the Masters folder
- All of your pictures and videos live in this folder, organized by year, month, and date
If you only need master files for a few pictures, you can drag them out of the Photos app directly onto your desktop. Doing this will create copies of the pictures and won’t move or delete the original files. Just don’t forget to find and delete all the copies later, so they don't turn your Mac into a mess. A duplicate finder like Gemini 2 can help with that.
How to use Apple’s Photos app
When you open Photos for the first time, the app offers you a glimpse of what your library will look like with all your pictures and videos imported. You get a quick intro to some of the features and tools, and learn how you can make these memories tangible through printed objects like calendars, photo books, and more.
Macos Photos Tutorial
Once you’ve finished the tour of the app and gone through the initial setup, you’re all set to start importing your pictures and videos!
How to import photos to Mac
There are several ways you can import your media content to Photos, depending on where you’ve been storing it.
From your iPhone or a digital camera
- Connect your iPhone or camera to your Mac with a USB cable. You might need to unlock your iPhone with your passcode, and then tap Trust when prompted to Trust This Computer.
- On your Mac, if the Photos app doesn’t open automatically, go ahead and open it.
- The Photos app will show you an Import screen that has all the photos and videos on your iPhone or camera. If you don’t see the Import screen, click on your iPhone or camera in the Photos sidebar under Devices.
- From here you can either choose to Import All New Items or select a batch and click Import Selected.
From a folder or an external hard drive in Finder
You have a couple of options here. If your pictures and videos live on an external hard drive, you’ll want to make sure it’s connected first. Then, you’ll want to do one of the following:
- Drag the files from your drive into the Photos window
- Drag the files from your drive onto the Photos icon in the Dock
- In Photos, go to File > Import from the menu bar. Choose the photos or videos you want to import and click Review for Import.
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An important thing to know about Photos is that the app copies the pictures and videos into the Photos Library we talked about earlier, leaving the original file either on your device or in its folder.
Because Photos doesn’t remove the original picture after you import, you may end up with duplicate pics taking up precious space on your Mac. And if you’ve taken multiple photos of the same thing from slightly different angles, those will waste even more storage. To keep your photo collection lean, scan your Mac for duplicates from time to time. Gemini 2 can help you find and delete duplicate and even similar photos, so you don’t have to go through hundreds of photos manually. Download it for free and try it out.
Tabs in Photos: Library, Albums, Projects
Have you ever been unable to find a specific picture because you couldn’t remember when you took it? You can remember everything else about the photo, things like where it was taken and who was in it, but not the one thing you need to navigate your files.
The Photos app helps you with this predicament by organizing your pictures not only by date, but also by event, location, and even by people’s faces. In the sidebar, you’ll find a number of tabs designed to make sorting through your pictures easier.
Memories. Photos creates “memories” based on who is in a series of images as well as when and where those pictures were taken.
Favorites. These are the pictures you’ve gone through and clicked the heart icon on, marking them as your favorites.
People. This is where you’ll be able to see all the pictures of you have of specific people.
Places. This is where you can see all the pictures you’ve taken in specific locations.
Shared. This section is where you’ll find all the albums you’ve shared with other people and the albums that have been shared with you. (Check out our guide to iCloud Photo Sharing for more info on Shared Albums.)
Albums. If you want to group certain pictures for easy navigation, you’ll want to create a new album. This section is where you can access those albums.
How to tag people in photos
If you want to tag someone in a specific picture:
- Open the photo in the Photos app
- Click the info button in the top right corner.
- At the bottom of the info window, you’ll see circles with faces at the bottom. Tap on one of those.
- The face will now be circled on the photo. Underneath the circle will be a text box labeled “unnamed.” Click on the text box and type the person’s name.
If the person you’re tagging has already been tagged in your Library, their name should appear under the circle on the photo.
How to share pictures from the Photos app
The Photos app on Mac has made it easier than before to share your pictures. Just select the photos you want to share and click on the Share button in the top right-hand corner. You’ll see a list of options:
- Shared Albums
- and more, depending on what apps and accounts you set up on your Mac
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Tap on your preferred option and proceed to send the pic or create a Shared Album.
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Now that you’ve gotten a feel for how to use Photos on Mac, it’s time to give it a spin. Once you’ve got your library set up and organized, you’ll see how easy it is to relive and share your memories with Photos.