Essential Software for Photographers: The Ultimate List (50+ Tools)
As a photographer and a technology person, I hated myself when I was unproductive. For me, "busy" was always the most common word for answering "how are you doing?".
I love photography but many times I just couldn't squeeze the time when friends asked me out for shooting. Well, you can say that is an excuse because time is always there. Indeed, time is always there — depending on how you allocate it.
As time went on, I've learned that leveraging technology is a good way to not only improve my photography skills but to balance work and life. That's why I'm always open to try out new tools.
In this article, I'm sharing the results of my recent research on the essential software and apps for photographers. I use many of these tools on a daily basis; some of the tools listed below are recommended by my photography friends in a local camera club.
To make it easier for you to explore, I put these software services into different categories. Each category includes several noteworthy options (both free and paid), so that you can use this article as a catalog to refer to in your photography pursuits.
We all want to be productive, so we have more time enjoying photography and life. But there are so many things and distractions we have to deal with each and every day. Below is a list of productivity tools to help yourself stay organized, focused, and efficient.
Wunderlist: Must-have to get yourself organized. It's always the first app I open in the morning to get an idea what to do. Wunderlist is a simple and beautiful task management tool that can be used on your phones and computers.
Evernote: A note-taking app that allows you to jot down ideas, to-dos, lists, photos, etc. The coolest part? It syncs across your computers and mobile devices, so you always access these notes anytime anywhere.
Pocket: If you are like me who surf the Internet to enjoy amazing photographs and articles, you'll love Pocket. Like the name indicates, it's an app for you to quickly save a list of articles for reading later with one click.
StayFocusd: If you spend way too much time every day on Facebook or any website, you should try StayFocusd — a Google Chrome extension that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites.
Alfred: I'd admit these days I use Spotlight more often, but Alfred is a very powerful Mac app which lets you access any of your files with hotkeys, keywords, text expansion and more. The drawback — it only works with Mac computers.
Brain.FM: For me, it's like Spotify when I work and read. Brain.fm gives you streaming mucic to improve focus, meditation, and sleep. All compositions are backed up by scientific research.
Roboform: I started using Roboform when I was in college, and I love the app. Simply put, it's a password management tool that saves you creating strong passwords and memorizing them. Alternatives include 1Password and LastPass. See this article for comparison.
Unless you are an amateur photographer, chances are you are involved with a team — be it a professional photography company you work for, or a local camera club you've joined. These tools will help boost your team collaboration and communication while working together on any project.
Google Docs: The best alternative for Microsoft Office software suite. Google Docs is a free Web-based application in which documents and spreadsheets can be created, edited and stored online. The best part is you can share these documents privately with others regardless they have Google accounts or not.
Skype: It's a tool that provides video chat and voice call services. Best to use when your team needs to have a conference call. You can also use it as a chatting tool to exchange messages and documents with teammates.
Asana: It's a web and mobile application designed to help teams track their work. If you have your own photography business and have a team to report to you, you'll find Asana useful. It helps you manage tasks and workflows.
Trello: similar to Asana, but more visual. Trello is the team collaboration tool that creates a shared perspective on any project. You'll love that feeling of moving a card (a task) from beginning to end.
Slack: Slack is a messaging app for teams. It brings all your team communication and files in once place. Integrated with other tools like Asana or Trello, it's even more powerful.
Ah, photo editing software. There are plenty of such software and apps out there for both desktop computers and mobile phones. Depending on the adjustments or edits you want to make on those photos, tools you need can be different.
Preview (Mac): Typically it's for viewing and editing PDFs on Mac computers, but Preview also has basic image editing features such as making basic exposure, rotating and resizing images, color adjustments and conversions.
GIMP: GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a free and open-source graphic editor used for many tasks including painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement.
Canva: If you are a photographer who also blogs or designs, then you'll love Canva. It's a great online tool that makes design incredibly simple, especially when creating marketing materials for your business.
PIXLR: It's a free online image editor which enables you to fix, adjust, and filter images in a web browser like Safari, Chrome, etc. If you're used to using Photoshop, you'll find Pixlr's user interface extremely easy to navigate as they are similar.
PhotoScape: Available to free download on Windows and Mac, PhotoScape is another awesome photo editing freeware that enables you to fix and enhance photos. Fantastic features include RAW conversion, photo splitting and merging, animated GIF creation.
Nik Collection: After Google acquired Nik Software, Google is giving away its software for free. The Nik Collection is a set of free plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Apple Aperture that allows you to do many advanced photo editings.
Photoshop: Without doubt, Photoshop is photographer's go-to photo editor. It has a 30-day free trial will function as a full version under normal use. Price starting from $9.99 US dollar per month in subscription.
Lightroom: Another essential tool made by Adobe for organizing, editing, and sharing your photography. Many photographers and creative designers opt to use Lightroom as it can tackle the complex image management jobs that Photoshop is not capable of. Price of Lightroom is the same as that of Photoshop.
Affinity Photo: a Photoshop alternative. It is an image editing software provided by Serif for MacOS (Windows version coming soon). It features true end-to-end CMYK, 16-bits per channel editing, LAB color, raw processing, ICC color management and compatibility with Photoshop PSD files and 64-bit plug-in compatibility. The app is available at an one-time price $49.99 via Mac App Store. Affinity Photo Windows beta is currently free.
Photomatix: Photomatix Pro and Essentials are standalone programs running on PCs and Macs. You can use them to create HDR photos and adjust them to get the look you want. Free trials available, licenses cost $99 US dollars.
Capture One Pro: A great alternative to Lightroom. Capture One Pro is a software package designed to perform as a Raw processing application (currently handle Raw files from over 300 cameras) as well as a host for those who like to shoot with a camera tethered to a computer.
Topaz Plugins — The Topaz lab provides many awesome plugins that give you photo editing superpowers by connecting to software you already own, including Photoshop, Lightroom, and many others. 30-day free trial. Price of individual plugin starts from $29.99.
I learned my lesson the hard way for not backing up data timely. I still feel the panic when I found my computer hard drive died all of a sudden and all my precious photographs were gone. So, make sure to leverage some of the tools below to archive your data. If possible, make multiple copies of those items that mean the whole world to you.
External hard drive: So far this is the most reliable backup solution. You can use an external hard drive to keep an archive of all your photographs. I've used hard disk drives from WD and Seagate, both brands are great. You may also consider SSDs as well since they seem quite popular these days.
Time Machine: Must have if you use a Mac. Time Machine is the built-in backup feature of OS X (now macOS since 10.12 Sierra). To use it, you also need an external storage drive. Again, I highly recommend that you get one. Don't forget to set up an appropriate backup frequency that fits your needs. You may also want to clone Mac drive to add extra backup.
- Dropbox: Oh...Dropbox, I'd say it's more like a productivity tool for me. Dropbox is the most popular and convenient online backup tool for storing and sharing files with friends and colleagues. Basic account is free and includes 2 GB of space, paid account starts $8.25 per user per month.
- Google Drive: Google Drive launched in 2012. It's free to use as long as you have a Google account. The first 15GB is totally free, and you can upgrade up to 30TB with a monthly fee ranging from $2 to $300 a month.
- OneDrive: Similar to Google Drive, OneDrive is a Microsoft service that launched in 2014. You get 5GB free with a Microsoft account. If you have an Office 365 subscription, you have access to 1TB.
- Mylio: It is a free photo organizer software to gather and manage your photo library and sync precious memories on multiple platforms including macOS, iOS, Windows and Android devices. Also, it's my favorite tool to download and back up Facebook photos.
Showcasing your photography is certainly one of the most important things you need to do. It helps build strong exposure for your work and demonstrate your expertise. Plus, you'll get some clients if you are a professional photographer. Here are some tools to create your online portfolio.
Flickr: It is an online photo management and sharing application by Yahoo. If you’re not using it yet, then you’re surely missing out. Not only is Flickr a great way to share your photos, but it’s also a fantastic place to learn from other like-minded photographers.
500px: Similar to Flickr, 500px is a photo community and marketplace for photographers around the world. Through the platform, you not only get a chance to engage your followers with the latest work, but it can also help you get potential clients surprisingly.
WordPress: It's a blogging platform as well as a content management system (CMS) for organizing your website. The easiest way to show your photography portfolio is by creating a free WordPress account and choose a theme that you like, then upload your beautiful photographs to share out with the world.
SmugMug: SmugMug allows you to create a beautiful photo site, share easily, and order personalized prints and gifts. It's a great platform for photographers to show off portfolio and make some money. It offers a 14-day free trial; paid plans start from $3.34 per month.
Wix: Wix is free website builder. No coding experience required. That means you can get your site up running and looking good without hassles.Some templates are specifically customized for we photographers. Premium plan starts from $5 per month.
Portfoliobox: A tool for creating online portfolio websites used by professional creatives like photographers, designers, architects, stylists, models etc. The free plan allows you to host 30 images, 10 products and 10 pages; While Pro plan starts from $6.9 per month.
Photoshelter: Photoshelter is for professional photographers who want to grow their photography business and make a living on their work. With PhotoShelter, you get a customizable website to show off your photography. Price: starting from $8 per month.
Squarespace: Two main reasons why photographers like Squarespace websites are that the platform is quite easy to set up, and you can choose customized photography style templates. However, the $12 per month price is much higher than other options.
Ask yourself, how many memory cards have you ever used for your digital camera? The point is cards come and go — you never know when they are going to stop working and if that happens, your data is at risk. Also, human mistakes may kick in and you accidentally delete some pictures. Anyhow, here are some free data recovery programs you might give a try.
Recuva: A totally free data recovery program developed by Piriform. It is able to recover files that have been deleted from your camera memory cards or computer recycle bin. I managed to use Recuva to rescue quite some lost pictures. Highly recommend you keep it in your toolbox. Recuva is only available for Windows PCs, also see this Recuva for Mac post.
Exif Untrasher: Like Recuva is for Windows, Exif Untrasher is for Mac. The app is the only free Mac data recovery tool with a graphic interface. It's specially designed for we photographers as you can only use it to undelete JPEG format pictures from external memory cards or flash drives.
PhotoRec: Together with TestDisk, PhotoRec is an open source file rescue tool designed to recover lost files from digital camera memory, hard drives, and many other storage media. It's compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. The only drawback is that it's a command line tool without GUI.
PC INSPECTOR File Recovery: Another free data recovery program that supports the FAT 12/16/32 and NTFS file systems. Besides recovering files erased from a camera card, the program is also able to find and recover deleted or formatted partitions automatically. It is compatible with Windows only.
Pandora Recovery: It allows you to find and recover recoverable deleted files (pictures, songs, movies or documents) from NTFS and FAT-formatted volumes. The latest update includes recovery of Adobe PhotoShop PSD. Freeware for Windows only.
Lexar ImageRescue: A reliable photo recovery software provided by Lexar that is commonly used by photographers to get back images that were deleted. Note: it's not freeware as you have to pay $33.99 to fully retrieve the found images (see Lexar alternatives here). Compatible with PCs and Macs.
SanDisk RescuePro: Provided by SanDisk for recovering accidentally deleted files from its memory cards, Cruzer usb sticks, and all types of digital media. If you are a SanDisk customer, the software is provided for free. Otherwise, you pay $59.99. The software is available for both Windows and Mac OS. Also see RescuePro alternatives.
If you are unable to view a photo on your computer, it could have been corrupted or damaged. Sometimes you find part of the image broken and it does not show at all. Reasons vary. Try some of these tools to get it repaired. Note: best to make a copy of the photo before you start, just in case.
File Repair: File Repair is a free yet powerful tool to repair your corrupted files. It scans the damaged file and extracts maximum data from it to a new usable file. JPEG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG, and RAW images are supported.
Stellar JPEG Repair: It is a powerful repair software that helps fix corrupted or damaged photographs (in JPEG or JPG format) and image files without modifying their original formatting. Compatible with Windows and Mac. Free trial available to scan and preview files, $39 to buy.
Picture Doctor: A professional tool for repairing damaged or corrupted JPEG and Adobe Photoshop PSD files. The trial version is free and allows you to evaluate whether files can be recovered or not. The full version requires $99 to activate to save repaired images. Windows only.
Remo Repair Video: In case you are a videographer who uses a camcorder or an action camera to shot videos. Then you might need Remo Repair — a great tool for fixing corrupt MOV and MP4 files (including GoPro cameras). Free trial available, $69.97 to buy. Compatible with both Windows and MacOS.
Technology makes our life easier. But it can go wrong and make our life miserable — especially computers we photographers use almost daily. Without proper maintenance, your computer can run slowly thus affects your productivity, even worse; it might crash and endanger your work. To prevent this from happening, you'll need some tools to keep your computer in good shape.
CCleaner: Freeware. Must-have app for every Windows PC user. CCleaner is a small but effective PC speed up utility that helps you clean out system junks that accumulate over time: temporary files, broken shortcuts, and other problems. This protects your privacy and can free up a good amount of disk space.
Bitdefender: The best Antivirus software that is lightweight and powerful. Besides protecting your computer from malware infection, it also stops third-party programs from exploiting your system resources and keep PC healthy. 30-day trial. Price starts $29.99.
HDDScan: A freeware utility for checking hard drive health (you can also use it to diagnose memory card issues). The program can test storage device for errors like bad-blocks and bad sectors, show S.M.A.R.T. attributes and change some HDD parameters. This way you will be able to prevent data loss and know when to backup your files just in case. Windows only.
Blackmagic Disk Speed Test: A useful tool to quickly benchmark and check Mac hard drive performance. If you feel your Mac hard drive is making abnormal noise, use this app to test the write/read speed of your hard drive. Free app for macOS only.
CleanMyMac: Similar to CCleaner is for Windows PCs, CleanMyMac is for Mac machines. Like its name indicates, the app helps clean many type of unnecessary files that are eating up your valuable Mac hard drive space. It also includes several other system utilities you'll like. Trial version cleans up to 500MB; full version starts $39.
What's your favorite software?
I hope you find this list useful. I'm pretty sure there are many other great photography software and apps out there worth mentioning here. Please kindly share your suggestions in the comments below, I'd love to try them out and consider adding to this list — that's the value of an updated resource, isn't it?