The Enthusiast Photographer's Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud

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Photographer's Alternatives to Photoshop Creative Cloud

No Creative Cloud
Text and images © Ian Pullen

I've been looking at the many photography related applications and want to suggest the best enthusiast photographer's alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud.

Adobe's announcement that the Creative Suite series was coming to an end to allow them to concentrate on their Creative Cloud range provoked no little comment and reaction. There were plenty of photographers who made it clear that they were unhappy that they would no longer buy their software outright and that if they stopped paying their subscription, they would cease to be able to use the software.

If you're one of those in that camp, I'm going to share some suggestions of other non-cloud software options that could be alternatives for photographers.

While Photoshop users, with the help of the Adobe Camera Raw plugin, can handle both raw conversion and image editing, I'm looking at separate applications for these two aspects of a photographer's work flow. While on paper, Corel PaintShop Pro X5 also covers both aspects, in practice I've found its raw conversion capabilities too lightweight to be used seriously.

On the next couple of pages, I'm going to offer my suggestion for the best free package of raw converter and image editor and also the best option for those who don't mind splashing the cash. These are obviously my opinions only and others will surely disagree, however I will try to explain why I've reached these conclusions. On the final page, I'll highlight the also-rans so that you might consider whether they might be a better option for you.

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Best Free Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud for Enthusiast Photographers

Free Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud
Text and images © Ian Pullen

UFRaw and GIMP

While there are several very powerful and fully featured free raw converters, GIMP is pretty well the only real option available when it comes to picking a free alternative to Photoshop.

Considering some of the free raw converters that are available, UFRaw may seem a surprising choice, however the more focused feature set leads to a simpler interface that in turn should lead to a smoother work flow.

It offers enough power to handle the most important aspects of raw conversion and in an easy to understand way. Anyone with a bit of experience of raw conversion and/or image editors should be able to jump right in and make a reasonable job of processing their raw files.

Once you've finished your initial work in UFRaw, you can save the file and then move onto GIMP where you can make further image adjustments, particularly localized adjustments, which aren't an option during the raw conversion process.

Photographers should find that GIMP offers a fair alternative to Photoshop, though there are some important differences. For me, the biggest is the lack of adjustment layers, meaning that you are making adjustments directly to the image so that you can't turn them on and off. You can compensate a little by working on multiple versions of the image in the same layered file, but it really doesn't offer the same flexibility.

Also focusing on layers, while GIMP offers layer groups, you will find that the way it applies blending modes to groups differs from Photoshop.

To get the most from GIMP, you'll want to add some plug-ins that will increase the power and make it more of a match for Photoshop in terms of features. A few that I'd suggest that you look at are:

  • UnsharpMask2 - Bring a greater degree of control to your sharpening, sharing some similarities with Smart Sharpen.
  • Resynthesizer - Brings features similar to Content Aware Fill.
  • EZ Perspective - This allows you to correct perspective distortion in your images.
  • Wavelet Denoise - Brings additional noise reduction controls to GIMP.
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Best Paid For Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud for Enthusiast Photographers

Paid For Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud
Text and images © Ian Pullen

Lightroom and GIMP

The first surprise in this pick has to be that GIMP is the favored image editor, even when put up against paid for alternatives to Photoshop. That does underline how dominant Adobe have become in this market segment.

Corel's PaintShop Pro, Serif's PhotoPlus and the Mac only Pixelmator all have their strengths, but for anyone making the move from Photoshop, GIMP does, in my opinion, offer the best balance in features and power. As shown earlier, with the option to add plug-ins, you can add even more features as you require. I also considered whether Photoshop Elements might be a better fit here and while it scores highly for its familiarity, GIMP still has the edge in power.

The second pick is perhaps also a surprise as it's actually included within Adobe Creative Cloud. However, Lightroom is also a stand-alone package that can be bought outright and it is an excellent raw converter. It treats its users to a well considered interface that encourages a progressive work flow. It may not look feature rich when compared to an application like RawTherapee, but the tools are easy to use and I believe that you'd need quite some experience using RawTherapee to achieve the same level of results that can be produced in Lightroom, even by new users.

When you consider the other features, such as exporting galleries for web pages, making slide shows and setting up images for print, it also starts to look quite reasonably priced.

Related: Should You Switch From Photoshop to Lightroom?

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Other Photography Software to Consider

Other Photography Software to Consider
Text and images © Ian Pullen

While I've made my picks on the previous pages, there are some other great applications that you may want to consider and which you may regard as superior to my choices.


  • RawTherapee - If you enjoy having granular control over every aspect of your raw conversion, this could be the best choice for you. However, with so many different controls, to realize the full power of this app, you will need to invest some time into learning how all of its features work.
  • Photivo - This also offers a huge array of tools and controls for you to get your head around, but again an investment in time learning this package will be well rewarded.
  • Darktable - For Mac users, this raw converter is feature packed, though it may not come with the most intuitive user interface.

Paid For

  • Aperture - Mac users only, but this offers a very well priced alternative to Lightroom.
  • Capture One - In a similar vein to Lightroom, but aimed more at professional users and comes with a heftier price tag.
  • DXO Optics Pro - Another raw converter that comes at a similar price to Capture One, but is designed to make automatic corrections to photos captured by a wide range of camera and lens combinations.
  • Photoshop Elements - It will be very familiar to any Photoshop user and with the addition of add-ons or plug-ins such as Elements XXL, can come pretty close to the real thing.
  • Pixelmator - A low cost, Mac only image editor which has a very well presented user interface.
  • PaintShop Pro - A reasonably priced Photoshop alternative, but ultimately lacking the power and features.
  • Serif PhotoPlus - Again reasonably priced and with a reasonable feature set, but doesn't quite come together as a convincing option.