Alternatives to the Adobe Photographer’s Subscription

Photographers – do you know what else there is other than the Adobe Photographer’s subscription

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As of early 2018, Adobe increased the price for the subscription of its full suite of products causing concern to the users of the Photoshop (PS) / Lightroom (LR) subscription that it too will soon cost more.  Because we create our wall art and other products through great photography supported by editing software, we are included in that concern and are looking into what is available to replace Adobe’s subscription to something else.


Currently, there are several major issues in moving away from Adobe:
1) most photographers do not know what else is available.
2) switching an existing workflow isn’t done easily – because we like best what we know best
3) many feel dependent on LR’s catalog (useful for some types of photography)
4) batch processing is important to wedding, senior, and baby photographers
5) using layers and adding text is important to many people


For those looking to make a change, below are some of the current main desktop contenders for replacing LR and PS. Most of these contenders are affordable, purchased products, much like the “old days” of Photoshop and Lightroom (although one also also offers a monthly subscription).  All are cheaper than the Adobe subscription, have extensive tutorials/videos, and all work on both Mac and Windows.  Also included are two software tools that are not contenders for replacing the subscription, but are excellent for editing (as a plugin or stand-alone).


In early 2018, there is nothing that totally replaces PS or LR.  Several of the contenders lack one or more functions that make leaving Adobe impossible.  Some companies are working on these “missing” pieces, others are not.  Replacing just PS is different than replacing just LR.  For PS, the most important of these pieces are layers and text. For LR, the most important of these pieces seems to be a digital asset management system (catalog).  These are the main things preventing people from leaving Adobe as they would require the use of an additional software editor.


Any change will require learning new processes, which for some people is not something they want to do.  These people will stay with Adobe no matter what else is available.  But if things continue as they are, it won’t be long though before PS and LR have some serious competition, which in the opinion of many is a good thing.


Some of the contenders include:

Luminar 2018
DxO Photo Lab $97
On1 Raw 2018
Capture One Pro

And (not discussed below)
Corel AfterShot Pro (fastest RAW processor)
ACDsee Photo Editor (Windows only)
Radlab (gorgeous effects and lightning-fast processing


This software is becoming the biggest contender to LR and PS and is evolving quickly.  Luminar handles RAW files, supports layers and layer masks, blend modes, noise reduction, a fog filter, lookup tables, de-hazing, cloning, cropping, noise reduction, sharpening, intelligent filters, local adjustment tools (that allow you to apply effects to your entire image, or just a portion of it), batch processing, and has a history panel.  The adjustments are powerful (and should be applied subtly).  You can customize the Luminar workspace. Luminar 2018 has well over 30 tools and functions not found in the new Lightroom CC Cloud version.


Luminar does not yet have the ability to add text, so you will need other software to add text.  As of this date, the RAW processor (filter) isn’t a full-featured as Adobe Camera Raw, but it is constantly improving. Also a digital asset management module is due out soon.  Luminar runs most of the Adobe PS plugins will work as a stand-alone application or as a plugin for Photoshop or Lightroom.


Available on Amazon or from
The initial cost is $69 & there is a free trial


Luminar’s companion is Aurora HDR, which many people are using it to enhance single single RAW files.  It is much easier to use than Photomatix and provides many of the same attributes, such as: the ability to align the images, to reduce chromatic aberration, and to reduce ghosting.  It has batch processing via presets. Aurora HDR provides luminosity masks for controlling the bright and dark areas of the image.  It also has layer masks, local adjustments, a gradient filter (which acts much like the one in LR), a crop tool, color toning, 8 of the most used blend modes, the ability to see/correct clipping via the histogram, is a plug-in with popular host programs, and links seamlessly to Luminar.


Available from
The initial cost is $99 & there is a free trail


As in most of life, the good comes with the bad.  The good thing about this software is it’s integration with the popular Nik filters & control point technology.  The bad thing about this software is that it does not have an asset management system.


The DxO Photo Lab’s RAW converter produces files with high sharpness, low noise and a wide tonal range.  It also provides these editing capabilities: dehaze, black and white, highlights and shadows, cropping, vignetting, sharpening, white balance correction, batch processing, but it has no pano or HDR merge capabilities and you cannot alter the metadata.  You can customize the workspace, make virtual copies, and do HDR effects from a single RAW image.  With the add-on, Viewpoint, you can use control points or automatic corrections to fix keystoning defects in your images – including distortions located at the edges of wide-angle photos.


Currently, you will need to use other software to add text as well as do compositing with multi-layer images – which may be a good reason not to leave Adobe just yet.


Available from
Initial cost is Essential $97 / Elite $150 (Viewpoint $59) and there is a free trial

Note: this software was formerly called DxO OpticsPro.


Easy to use and very good at making selections, this software include non-destructive editing with layers, luminosity masking, levels, curves, clone tool, heal tool, noise reduction, white balance, color and tone enhancers, black and white, HSL, hair masking, shadows and highlights, background replacement, good edge detection, and more.  Additionally, it has effects that you can paint and blend into your image – including textures, borders, an HDR look, lens blur, glows, film looks, etc.


Unlike many of the other contenders, this software has an asset management system that, after culling is complete, lets you catalog photos for fast searching and viewing. It also has metadata templates and batch renaming.  You can also do HDR and panoramas in On1.


Currently, you will need other software to add text, but it is on the planning board for a future upgrade – making On1 a real contender for replacing Adobe.


Re-sizing and enlarging is exceptional – On1 is the owner of the industry standard for photo enlargement software, Genuine Fractals.  This capability is provided by a purchased add on called ON1 Resize ($60).  Also be sure to get the free add-on called ON1 Effects which includes hundreds of stackable filters, presets, borders, and textures.


Available from
$129 (upgrades are $79) (or by subscription)


This relatively unknown software supports RAW editing and batch processing as well as traditional editing processes such as layers, levels, curves, blend modes, frequency separation, black and white, white balance, HSL, healing, shadows/highlights, full liquefy capabilities, HDR merge with tone mapping, panorama stitching, digital painting, full liquefy capabilities, 360° image editing, vector paths plus over a dozen other non-destructive adjustments.  The selection tool is very precise, down to individual strands of hair.  Affinity Photo is built around four working modes, called “personas” each of which contains its own specialized tools: Photo, Develop, Tone Mapping and Export.  Beyond the traditional HDR merging, this software supports RAW Files and has layers where you can add a preset or make various adjustments to your photo.


Unlike some of the others, Affinity Photo also has a focus stacking function.  It also works well with the iPad Pro (as does Procreate).  A processing change to be aware of: Affinity Photo handles RAW processing differently: once you finish the raw processing and click the Develop button, your edits are baked into that pixel layer – so a workflow change is in order.


Affinity Photo is the only contender to the Adobe subscription that contains a text function.  Currently, each of the others need to be used with another program that supports text.  It does not have an asset management system.


Available from
The initial cost is $50


Capture One is aimed at the photographer who needs to do tethered captures and to process large volumes quickly.  Capture One has a good reputation, especially for rendering RAW files, and it supports layers and masking (feathering & refining), the ability to add handwritten notes & drawings directly on your images (exported as a separate layer), and to export crop to path.  Recipes are at the heart of the software – different recipes for different situations (they are often called user presets elsewhere).


Capture One has a type of asset management that includes ranking and keywording.  For adding text, it uses an Overlay Tool (that allows you to display another image (of text) on top of the image that you are editing or are capturing). You will need other software to add text as PS does.


One comment that may be of interest: This is high-end process aimed at professionals – so if Lightroom is too complicated, this one will be way over your head.


Available from
The initial cost is $300 for a single user
Can also be purchased as a subscription, starting at $20/month


Exposure features over 500 customizable presets (which can be auditioned via a mouse-over), divided into 27 categories – including a non-destructive RAW editor, layers, brushes, HSL, white balance, selective adjustments, B&W conversion, noise reduction, gradients, healing, sharpening, and creative focus tools.  Exposure also provides a full editing history (you can Mouse hover over a previous edit to see how the photo looked at that point).


There is no text tool, but Exposure does have an organizer for managing a photo library where you can review, rate and flag photo; assign keywords, fill in basic IPTC metadata (title, caption, copyright, & contact information, and make virtual copies.  It does not let you cull shots to eliminate the ones you don’t want from within the software and it has yet to let you specify what to do with the RAW/JPEG sets before they are copied in.  The review process is easy and useful – you can select several images to change and as you make edits to one, the adjustments can be applied to all of the others.  The software also has a feature that lets you create virtual albums to group related photos that may exist in separate directories, such as shots from a single client captured over several photo shoots.  Adding photos to a collection doesn’t move the files on disk.  Exposure can be used as a plugin for LR and PS.


Alien Skin also makes three other useful products: Blow Up, Snap Art, and Eye Candy.
– Blow up makes edges sharper without introducing artifacts and far exceeds Photoshop’s enlargement capabilities.
– Snap Art lets you experiment with multiple artistic styles and can operate as a standalone application that provides easy batch processing.  In Snap Art, you select a style from one of many presets (such as oil painting, pencil sketch, crayon and watercolor) after which you can use a mask to refine specific areas of interest.  And you can save your own presets (name, category, and even notes) to use later on a a photo (or batches of photos) with a single click.
– Eye Candy (around for almost 20 years) provides effects that work really well on text.  It has 32 effect categories with over 1000 presets so it can create realistic effects that are difficult or impossible to achieve in Photoshop – such as fire, chrome, lightning, electrify, clouds animal fur, smoke, and reptile skin.


Available from
The initial cost is $149 or $199 includes Blow Up & Snap Art
Blow Up ($79), Snap Art ($79), and Eye Candy ($129)


Both Nik and Topaz offer excellent editing capabilities, but are not aiming to replace PS or LR. Both have some outstanding editing processes unavailable anywhere else.


While not a true contender to replace your Adobe subscription, the original Topaz plugins provide some excellent editing tools. Current plugins include B&W Effects, Clean, deNoise, Detail, inFocus, Lens Effects, reMask, reStyle, Star Effects, deJPEG, Simplify, Glow, and impression.  The plug in called reMask is very popular for creating precise selections and masks with ease – down to individual strands of hair.  Topaz introduced Topaz Studio, for creating various special effects, but has retained the original editing plugins.


Available from:
You can purchase as many or as few plugins as you need.
Topaz Studio is free and contains 10 adjustments, but there are over a dozen addition items you can purchase to go with it. As you add to your collection, many of these additions will be offered at 1/2 price, and upgrades are free.


Also not true replacement contenders for PS and/or LR, the very popular Nik presets, with their control point technology, are still working as plugins. Color Efex, Define, HDR Efex, Sharpener, Silver Efex, Viveza, and Analog Efex – all do some awesome things.  As most people know, Nik is integrated into DxO Photo Lab (the control point technology is already being utilized)


Available from: