In the world of RAW photo editing, Lightroom seems to be king at times. It has been around for ages and has grown into the most popular RAW image editor. Its popularity is based on its intuitive user interface, detailed controls over how an image turns out, an in-depth cataloging system that makes it easier to manage your images, and integration with Adobe Photoshop for even more editing.
But despite its greatness, Lightroom is quite expensive if you plan to use it for a very long time. That’s because it has to be subscribed to for a monthly fee. This, obviously, adds up to a whole lot of money over the years which might be okay for professionals but not ideal for people simply looking to convert their RAW images before sharing with friends and family.
Luckily, there are a number of free Lightroom alternatives that such people can use. These range from basic image editors for quick and easy edits to those that let you tweak every aspect of a photo imaginable.
Organize. Edit. Enjoy
For Editing RAW Files
If you want to use Lightroom for editing RAW files, then these are some of the best free options you can use instead.
For people wanting to edit RAW files, it may not get better than DarkTable. This is a fully feature-packed piece of software that you can use for free. The sheer number of tools and controls it has makes you wonder how such software can be free. With DarkTable, you can not only adjust the basic exposure of images but also go in-depth with color corrections and white balance, etc. The software is being improved regularly and has a healthy online community supporting it as well. Some very advanced features like the ability to selectively edit portions of your images are missing, but that can easily be forgiven. If you can get to grips with the cluttered interface of DarkTable, it’s a truly excellent piece of free software.
A fairly straightforward and easy to use RAW editor, LightZone is perfect for those users who don’t want the most advanced features but rather a free editor that lets them improve their images before sharing them. This is done by using one of the many Styles the program offers. These can be used either as one-click solutions to your needs or tweaked in more depth using the many manual controls that show up with each Style. LightZone is not the perfect free Lightroom alternative if you want something very advanced, but for moderate editing, it’s hard to ignore.
Whether you want to adjust the exposure by tweaking the Highlights and Shadows, change the ambiance of your scene by altering the White Balance, or make your image cleaner by reducing the amount of noise, Raw Therapee lets you do it without spending a penny. It’s a feature-packed free Lightroom replacement that has a number of advanced editing tools. It may not appeal to the most advanced users because it lacks some very advanced features, but then again no free editor might. For everyone else, the ability to make non-destructive changes to photos without having to buy anything makes Raw Therapee a very strong free Lightroom alternative.
For Advanced Jpeg Editing
If you don’t need to edit RAW files but want to have advanced tools to edit compressed images, then these are some of the best free editors to try:
The best and quickest way to describe GIMP is that it’s like a free version of Photoshop. It has so many tools and features that most beginners might just get intimidated at first. However, if you stick with the software you’ll soon understand why it’s one of the most popular names in the world of free image editors. GIMP’s extensive control over an image’s various characteristics, from exposure and colors to noise and sharpness makes it perfect for advanced image editing. It not only allows you to visually tweak photos but also lets you create digital artworks and work in layers, a lot like Photoshop. It has a very active community of users as well, making it easy for newcomers to understand the software. With all of these features, it makes a lot of sense for users who just want to edit their compressed photos to use this as a free Lightroom replacement.
The best thing about Photo Pos Pro is that its interface can be geared towards both beginners and experts. If you want to make quick and simple edits, you can choose the beginner interface and you’ll get access to filters and other automated edits. However, if you opt for the more advanced interface, you’ll get a software that lets you do a lot of what Photoshop and Lightroom let you do. You can edit your images in layers and use the very effective healing and cloning brushes. To add to the functionality of the program, you can also make use of various plugins. All in all, Photo Pos Pro is a very solid free Lightroom alternative whether you’re a novice or an expert at photo editing.
If you want a free Lightroom alternative that’s packed with features that make it easy to edit compressed images, then try Pixelmator. It’s an excellent piece of software with good design and very effective tools. Everything from exposure control to color corrections is possible with Pixelmator. It also has a tool that automatically makes adjustments to your photos after analyzing them carefully. This makes the software perfect for users who want quick solutions to their problems. If you wish to remove certain objects from your photos then you can do that as well. Pixelmator, overall, is a strong contender for the top spot in the free image editor niche and does very well indeed as a free Lightroom replacement.
InPixio is another good option for those who want to get some basic to moderate image editing done. It’s a collection of different programs that work together to give you a lot of control over your photos. The main part of InPixio is the Photo Editor that gives you tools to edit your image as well as presets and frames to add some flair to them. Then there’s the Photo Clip that you can use to remove certain objects from your images. Another important portion of the software is the Photo Maximizer 3 that helps clear up images. All of this combined with other useful tools makes InPixio a good alternative to Lightroom for many enthusiast photographers.
If you use Windows, then a very good free Lightroom alternative is Paint.NET. It has a very well-designed interface where tools are logically placed, making it easy for everyone to start editing their images right away. The ability to work in layers and to make use of various blending modes makes it a very strong image editor. Paint.NET also supports plugins which means it can be improved in many different ways depending on your needs. One really good thing about the software is the incorporation of keyboard shortcuts which really go a long way in making it quicker and easier to use. For a free image editor, Paint.NET sure gets a lot right in the way of making it a free Lightroom-like editor.
Windows 10 comes with a very solid pre-installed editor by the name of Photos. Unlike previous image viewers Microsoft included with Windows, Photos goes beyond just viewing images and adds some very good editing tools. With Photos, you can easily alter the Light in your images by using a singular slider or going in-depth to change the exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows individually. You can also edit the Color of your photos by changing the saturation, warmth, and tint. Images can also be made more clear with the Clarity slider. Other than these manual tools, Photos also offers some interesting filters for quickly changing the way your images look. The intensity of these can be set as needed to get the right kind of look. If you need some more creativity, you can draw on your images or add 3D elements as well. So if you have a Windows 10 computer and you don’t need to edit RAW files, give Photos a chance as a free Lightroom replacement before you shell out any cash for Adobe’s product.
10. Apple Photos
Just like Microsoft, Apple also includes Photos software with macOS. It’s a nicely designed editor with plenty of tools that should be enough for basic to moderate image editing and a straightforward interface that makes it quick and easy to select and edit images. There are a number of tools including Light, Sharpen, White Balance, Retouch, and Levels. You can open up some categories like Light to bring up more options for granular control over the exposure. Apple Photos is good as a free Lightroom replacement also because it offers image management as well – something that many other free options don’t include. Another very good thing about Apple Photos is that it can supports plugins that add a whole lot of functionality from RAW editing to HDR editing. That is why Apple Photos has become such powerful software that is used by both novices and advanced users.
11. PhotoScape X
PhotoScape X is for those people who want to have more fun with their photos. It does have image editing tools that let you alter the exposure and color of your photos, but what it excels at is its inclusion of more creative elements. For example, with PhotoScape X, you can add clipart directly to your photos to make unique posters or signs. You can also play around with text and even bring in symbol fonts from your computer. Cropping images into a circular shape right from within the software with a simple tool is also possible. All of this is complemented by more tools like Combine, Color Picker, Splitter, and even a RAW Converter. The reason PhotoScape X isn’t on our list of the free Lightroom alternatives for RAW editing is that the RAW Converter is very basic and really not the main focus of the program. Despite that, PhotoScape X is a really fun, yet practical, piece of free software that will appeal to many casual users.
For Editing in a Browser
If you’d like to use an editor that exists purely in the browser, without the need to be installed on your computer, then these are the best options:
For an editor that lives in your browser, Pixlr sure does a whole lot you’d want from a free Lightroom alternative. It has so many tools and controls that it is sometimes difficult to really find a few things. You can do pretty much anything you’d want to your photos with Pixlr from adjusting exposure and color to using layer masks and different blending modes to make the most of your creativity. Pixlr not only works with JPEG images but also has the ability to open some Photoshop files, making it truly powerful in all it can do. It’s compatible with multiple devices, from computers to smartphones. For editing compressed images in a browser, it doesn’t get much better than this.
If you want something with a stellar design, straightforward and logically placed tools, and a whole of such tools that you can use for free in a browser, look no further than Polarr. It has existed for some time now and is definitely a great free Lightroom replacement if you don’t edit RAW files. When you open Polarr, you find all your various options on the right side of the image in the form of sliders. Some of the tools include Vibrance, Whites, Blacks, Tint, and Clarity. Basic tools that change the exposure and saturation are also present, of course. The tools work very well together to create some seriously pleasing images, making Polarr one of the more advanced free image editors available today.
And last but not least, we have Photopea. This browser-based free Lightroom alternative is great for those who don’t want to spend money on Adobe’s products but want something that looks very, very similar to Photoshop. The interface of Photopea will look exactly like Photoshop at first and so will many of the tools it offers. It even supports PSD files for those who want to jump ship completely from Adobe’s products. You can use Photopea for making basic to moderate changes in your images using its vast array of included tools without having to leave your browser.
And with that, our list of the best free Lightroom alternatives for various kinds of users comes to an end. Before you choose any paid editor, it’s always good to try out some free options like the ones in this article. You’ll never know otherwise if your needs actually warrant you spending a whole lot of money on a premium editor or if you can get by just fine with a free piece of software.