11 Free Adobe Lightroom Alternatives for Retouchers

By Eva Williams 16 days ago, Lightroom Tips

As a Lightroom subscription costs you $20.99 per month, this solution might be a tad too expensive for budget-conscious users who need to enhance their photos. This is why you might need to find a free Lightroom alternative to edit your images without paying anything. Besides, many retouchers complain that Lightroom doesn’t have an extensive toolset for performing skin edits. In this article, we have rounded up the best replacements for this software that will come in handy for those who need to improve their pictures.

Top 11 Free Adobe Lightroom Alternatives to Work with Images

  1. RawTherapee - (Free) - Best software overall
  2. Darktable - (Free) - Open source
  3. Picktorial - ($4.99/month) - Professional instruments
  4. Skylum Luminar - ($47/one time) - RAW file support
  5. IrfanView - ($12/one time) - Unicode support
  6. Capture One Pro - ($24/month) - Well-developed layers and masks
  7. AlienSkin Exposure - ($129/one time) - Handy cataloger
  8. DxO PhotoLab - ($139/one time) - Convenient automatic lens correction
  9. ON1 Photo RAW - ($7.99/month) - New approach to previewing photos on PC
  10. PhotoDirector Essential - ($100/one time) - Pro-level AI-based tools
  11. Polarr - ($3.99/month) - Allows editing large JPEG files

Popular photo editing programs have been recently much improved. Many trustworthy software development companies released photo editing software that can be used as a replacement for Lightroom. I have reviewed the best options available today to help you find the most suitable Lightroom alternative that has a free version or allows you to test out its features during a trial period.

1. RawTherapee - Our Choice

Suitable for professional color correction
  • Clear interface
  • Fast catalog management
  • Open source
  • Batch image processing
  • It isn’t convenient to work with masks and layers
  • Doesn’t support the latest cameras

Verdict: I believe that RawTherapee is one of the most powerful programs with a huge set of features and parameters for processing photos. It supports a range of formats, including RAW format used by digital cameras. This software is fitted with a rich image editing toolset, which makes it one of the best options for editing photos at a professional level.

An interesting peculiarity of this program is that RawTherapee uses non-destructive picture editing, so you can return to the source file any time you wish. Just like in Lightroom, you can use ready-made presets or create your own, thus expanding the library.

The photo editor has a wide range of tools for color correction, noise reduction, rotation, exposure control, shadows and light adjustment, tone settings, vignetting and much more. However, it has poorly developed tools for working with masks and layers (the working process is simply very inconvenient). Besides, it is rather demanding on hardware, so you need a powerful computer for photo editing.

rawtherapee free lightroom alternative interface

2. Darktable

Open source
  • Zero-latency, zoomable UI
  • Non-destructive picture editing
  • Well-developed cataloger
  • Powerful RAW file converter
  • Isn’t for professional color correction
  • Slow performance if compared to alternatives

Verdict: I like that it's also a free, open-source software that combines many tools for image editing, convenient cataloging and RAW file processing. The photo editor has a simple and quite pleasant user interface with convenient controls.

If you compare Darktable vs Lightroom, you will notice that the former has an impressive choice of tools for editing photos. Its users can adjust contrast, brightness, sharpness, and saturation. Besides, it has tools for changing the exposure and white balance, fixing overexposure issues, and rotating an image.

I can’t help but mention that Darkrable is also available for the Linux platform, and if you have this OS, this is the best free Lightroom alternative for you. As for shortcomings, I will note that Darktable is not suitable for professional picture editing, and some tools require improvement.

darktable free lightroom alternative interface

3. Picktorial

Professional instruments
  • High-resolution picture output
  • Supports batch editing
  • User-friendly interface
  • Ability to tweak colors
  • No layers
  • Free version is limited
  • Only for macOS

Verdict: Picktorial is a non-destructive RAW photo editor that makes it easy to organize and enhance your photos. What I like the most is that you can undo your edits wherever you want without undoing other edits. You can do it when you use Picktorial as a web extension or a standalone software. Besides, you can undo edits even after saving the changes and running the program again.

This free Lightroom alternative is designed exclusively for macOS and is seen as a replacement for Apple's photo editors. It includes all the basic settings and tools that you expect. You can use it for adjusting tones, colors, white balance, clarity, curves and saturation.

The program lets you remove stains or dust, smooth skin, minimize noise or add blur using the “Defocus” tool. Unfortunately, Picktorial does not support layer editing. Each photo editing tool has several editing points that have their own settings.

Besides the paid version of this software, you can use a free one. The premium version costs $9.99 a month, or $4.99 a month when you pay for an annual subscription. It has the full set of tools and includes updates.

picktorial free lightroom alternative interface

4. Skylum Luminar

RAW file support
  • One-click presets for quick picture edits
  • Convenient image control system
  • Suitable for professional photo correction
  • Robust object elimination, clone & stamp tools
  • Poor support for batch image editing
  • Limited free trial
  • Doesn’t have many file management options

Verdict: I like that this program doesn’t require having any professional skills in working with images and comes with an extensive library of presets and templates for quick processing. You can improve image quality and the level of detail, edit portrait photos, remove skin imperfections and export your file in any supported format using this free alternative for Adobe Lightroom.

A simple and intuitive interface includes tools similar to those that can be found in Lightroom, a customizable workspace and a powerful RAW converter. In addition, Luminar boasts built-in layers and the ability to perform masking for accurate color correction. Luminar supports all currently existing RAW formats. This is why many professionals believe that Luminar is a combination of these two Adobe programs.

As for the drawbacks, I should mention that the photo editor processes several pictures rather slowly, which makes it a bit less attractive option in the Luminar vs Lightroom competition. Perhaps, it will be improved in the future because this function is comparatively new.

The latest version of this software comes with an in-built image control library. It’s suitable both for Mac and Windows users. To test out its features, you can use a free trial. As a new client, you can purchase a lifetime license for $47.

skylum luminar free lightroom alternative interface

5. IrfanView

Unicode support
  • Excellent RAW format support
  • Batch photo editing tools
  • Compatible with plenty of file formats
  • Lossless JPG rotation, cropping and EXIF date change
  • Quite an outdated graphic interface
  • No macOS version
  • Some options are difficult to find

Verdict: IrfanView is a powerful editor and photo organizer with excellent support for RAW and compressed file formats. This alternative to Lightroom has a rather outdated graphical interface, but it still remains intuitive.

I think that the biggest advantage of IrfanView is that it supports batch image editing, which is especially important for wedding image editing, and an efficient tool for image cataloging. The photo editor gives you absolute control over your images – you can edit metadata, rename files in batches and add tags.

You can either use a free version of IrfanView or buy a lifetime license for $12. If you choose this free alternative to Adobe Lightroom, you will get a lot of tools for color correction and basic picture editing, such as shadow adjustment, balancing tones, curves, elimination of small defects with the help of brushes and other useful features.

IrfanView is suitable for both beginners and professional photographers. The most noticeable shortcoming is that some tools have a slow response time and have to be improved.

irfanview free lightroom alternative interface

6. Capture One Pro

Well-developed layers and masks
  • Many functions and tools
  • Fully customizable interface
  • Quick import and export
  • LAB readouts
  • Requires good PC configuration
  • Rather complicated for amateurs
  • A paid version is pricey

Verdict: Capture One Pro is one of the most powerful solutions among Adobe Lightroom alternatives as it allows for professional image editing and deep color correction. It supports working with layers and masks, brushes and more. Likewise, it should be mentioned that it is integrated into Phase ONE cameras, and if you are a lucky owner of such a device, you may use it completely free of charge.

The program allows you to edit RAW files supported by the most famous DSLR cameras. Thanks to the special technology, you can capture the image from the screen, edit it and convert it to JPEG, TIFF-RGB, or TIFF-CMYK formats. This photo editor allows you to get high-quality images with clearly visible details and rich colors. Thanks to it, your photos will be clear, without any unwanted noise.

As for the drawbacks, this software requires many resources and a good PC configuration. Capture One Pro has an interface that is rather complex for beginners, but it is fully customizable.

The program has a free 30-day trial and a free app for iPad users. If after using a free version you decide to purchase this software, you can either purchase a lifetime license for about $434 or, if your budget is rather limited, opt for a monthly or annual subscription. It will allow you to use this program after paying $24/month.

capture one pro free lightroom alternative interface

7. AlienSkin Exposure

Handy cataloger
  • 3D color masking
  • Non-destructive layers
  • Supports various presets
  • Suitable for professional color correction and photo editing
  • Slow import speed compared to Lightroom
  • Limited lens-profile corrections
  • Impossible to add face or geo tags

Verdict: I really like that AlienSkin Exposure has integrated image control functions as well as photo enhancing ones, though its control system is a hybrid of a browser and photo catalog software.

The interface and functionality of AlienSkin Exposure will seem familiar to Lightroom users. This Lightroom equivalent does not use the catalog approach, so it is quick and simple. However, it lacks complex organization control provided by a catalog.

The AlienSkin team has been working on effects and plug-ins for quite a while. Today, they introduced Exposure X7, along with an extensive collection of presets and film emulations as a result of their work.

You can purchase a lifetime license for $129 or pay for a bundle that includes Snap Art filters and Blow Up enlargement software. The latter will cost you $149. However, the price for a lifetime license doesn’t cover any future upgrades, so you will need to pay for them $99 and $89 respectively. The software developers don’t use the subscription-based model. You can use a free 30-day trial to decide whether you like the software. There is no need to indicate your payment details to get a trial. At the same time, Lightroom has only a 7-day trial.

alienskin exposure free lightroom alternative interface

8. DxO PhotoLab

Supports automatic lens correction
  • Top-level auto-correction
  • Speedy image editing
  • RAW files support
  • Suitable for professional color correction
  • Weakly-developed brushes
  • Convoluted UI
  • A limited choice of features

Verdict: DxO PhotoLab is a decent alternative to Lightroom as it has a set of tools for editing RAW files. It is based on DeepPRIME AI technology, which allows it to minimize the level of noise and save images without any grain. If you have some experience, you can take high-quality photos at high sensitivity values, however, for novices, it might be a daunting task unless they use pro-level photography gear or advanced software. PhotoLab is also suitable for editing old photos.

Similarly to Lightroom, this program allows you to manage metadata and keywords to organize your photo library. You can keep track of your edits using the Advanced History feature. However, you won’t find facial recognition and geo-tracking options here. Besides, the number of extra features is rather limited. The program has a collection of 40 presets and basic tools.

As for its drawbacks, it should be mentioned that DxO PhotoLab has a weakly-developed catalog system. Its brushes don’t offer much customization. These deficiencies are frequently discussed in DxO PhotoLab vs Lightroom reviews.

The 30-day trial version has unlimited functionality. Then, you will need to buy a lifetime license. There are two types of licenses available Essential ($139) and Elite ($219).

dxo photolab free lightroom alternative interface

9. ON1 Photo RAW

New approach to previewing photos on PC
  • 30-day free trial version
  • Non-destructive picture editing
  • AI-based toolset
  • Integration with SmugMug
  • Export in background mode is too slow
  • Small number of original presets
  • Might be difficult to master without any prior experience

Verdict: If you compare ON1 Photo RAW vs Lightroom, you will see that both options come with extensive sets of options that allow you to edit and crop your images as well as perform local adjustments. ON1 comes with impressive file management features. You can use it to search for images and view them. It allows you to use panoramas as well as edit pictures using layers. The program has a range of selection and masking tools.

It is a perfect solution for those who are looking for a regularly updated software for quick non-destructive editing of RAW photos. Now photographers have a tool that allows them to manage their images, edit them with high precision, apply hundreds of adjustable photo effects, stitch HDR images using convenient tools, use masks and various blending modes, work with layers and many more.

ON1 Photo RAW features relatively powerful tools that allow for correcting image defects, performing color editing and photo retouching. The interface seems to be rather complicated but it is really simple and clear, even for beginners since it offers a smart support system. Like all free alternatives to Lightroom presented here, ON1 Photo RAW has some disadvantages. Unfortunately, the photo preview and export in background mode are not very fast.

To use ON1 Photo Raw legally, you can buy a lifetime license for $99.99. To upgrade from an earlier version, you need to pay $79.99. This is why many users opt for a subscription that costs $7.99 per month (or $89.99 per year). It allows them to get regular updates, use mobile apps, access 200GB of cloud syncing storage, and a set of plugins. If you aren’t sure whether you need to pay for this software, you can use a 30-day trial after registering with your email. There is no need to indicate your payment data to get this version.

on1 photo raw free lightroom alternative interface

10. PhotoDirector Essential

Convenient AI-based tools
  • An extensive set of features
  • Layer-based editing
  • Soft-proofing and tethered shooting
  • Online library of free styles
  • Takes up a lot of space
  • No tethered shooting for iPhones
  • Soft-proofing isn’t available for all printer types

Verdict: I was happy to find out that PhotoDirector Essential is different from the earlier versions of this software as it has an advanced layering system and comes with an extensive set of photo editing tools. You can apply cropping masks to quickly add layers to your pictures.

If you are looking for a free photo editing software like Lightroom that has a streamlined interface and is easy to navigate, this solution is for you. Here, you will quickly find any tool you need. Thanks to pop-up tips, you will easily figure out how to use the available options.

This software allows you to combine images with different exposure levels and customize the tools. In addition, if you need to take group photos, you can use the Video-to-Photo Face Swap feature to ensure that all people in the frame have open eyes and are smiling.

To decide whether this software suits your needs, use a 30-day trial. Then, you will need to pay $99.99 for a standalone version or purchase it as a part of a bundle that also includes PowerDirector and costs $169.99.

photodirector essential free lightroom alternative interface

11. Polarr

Allows editing large JPEG files
  • Suitable for color correction
  • Intuitive interface
  • A lot of tools for digital drawing and design
  • Remarkable brushes
  • Doesn’t support RAW files
  • Incompatible with third-party plugins
  • Limited sharing

Verdict: Polarr is a cross-platform solution that comes with a choice of convenient tools for performing color correction and editing faces. It’s one of the best options on this list when it comes to accessibility and easiness of use.

When editing your photos, you can adjust curves, hues, and saturation. To enhance them more quickly, use the available filters and presets. You can create an extra workspace when working on complex projects. To streamline your workflow, use custom brushes and palettes.

Besides, Polarr makes it easier to design logos and banners. You can use it to work with GIF files, however, it doesn’t support RAW format, which makes it hardly suitable for professional use.

Polarr has a free version with limited functionality. To get access to all its features, you can opt for a monthly ($3.99) or annual ($29.99) subscription.

polarr free lightroom alternative interface

Why Retouchers Stop Using Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom stands out among other popular batch photo editors for its set of photo management options. You can use it to make basic edits and organize your photos in convenient libraries.

However, while Lightroom remains widely used, it doesn’t mean that it will be the best solution for the problems you might face. It’s hardly suitable for users who are on a tight budget. The program has a steep learning curve, but you can’t use it for performing complex photo manipulations. In addition, you need to install it on a computer that has a lot of RAM.

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