What software features to look out for
There are lots of packages available, some expensive/subscription, some free. All have pros and cons in terms of features and ease of use.
Tim Keane has made a brief comparison of Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom and the free MS Photo.
Besides these, other software commonly used by photographers for image manipulation includes (among others see HERE for a range of other software) DxO Photolab, Topaz Studio, Affinity Photo, Luminar, Paintshop Pro and open source and free applications like GIMP, Dark Table and Raw Therapee. Many of the paid software makers offer free trials so you can spend some time assessing and comparing the packages. Some packages have particular strengths or functionality that is not present in the other software. There is no need to restrict yourself to just one. Many of them also provide plug in functionality that allows, say a Lightroom user to directly send an image to, say, Luminar or Topaz or Affinity Photo, and place the edited file back in the LR catalog after your edits in the other program are done. Alternatively you can edit in one package, and save to a TIFF that you can open and edit in a different package to take advantage
Some of these provide file management (also referred to as digital asset management or DAM) as well as image editing. File management can be a great boon allowing you to find images down the track. If your selected editing software does not provide this function I recommend you explore a file management package to complement it. Adobe Bridge (free) has some powerful functions, allows you to preview, rate, add keywords, manipulate file metadata, and open files with editor programs. There are many other packages to consider – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_organizer gives a good overview.
No matter what software you use, take some time to read the documentation and learn how to use the software. If the software includes file management, then it is sensible to use these functions if you want to reorganise your files, especially for packages like Lightroom, where the catalog contains information about where files are stored. If you move files using your operating system file management, Lightroom will no longer be able to find your files until you tell it where they have gone.
As Lightroom and Photoshop are the most commonly used software for image editing, these feature in the examples in this website. However usually the general principles will apply to other software packages, though with different user interfaces.
I have outlined some of the available packages below. These are very brief outlines of these applications as I experienced them. These are not detailed reviews. You can search the internet for up-to-date detailed reviews.
Available together in the Adobe CC Photography plan for a monthly/yearly subscription, this is the most commonly used photo management and editing software and has a wealth of online resources. It has amazing tools and a good user interface. For many users Lightroom alone gives them powerful image management and editing workflows with an effective user interface. Photoshop adds huge creative power to image manipulation (at the expense of complexity and a lot of learning how to use it). It is easy to flip images from Lightroom to Photoshop for more complex edits, then return the edited image to Lightroom for further editing or file management. I will assume the use of the desktop versions of these applications rather than the mobile or cloud based variants in my descriptions of how to use the programs in this website.
Many people dislike the subscription payment model. Adobe CC photography plan (includes Lightroom+Photoshop) is currently (2020) about AU$15 per month. However, compared to the typical investment in cameras, lenses, filters, lighting, bags and other accessories, SD/CF card media, computers, monitors, printers, backup drives, insurance … the annual subscription cost of the Adobe software (which provides continuous access to all the updates) isn’t overwhelming. Nevertheless, there are many viable alternatives out there for free or reasonable one-off cost for a perpetual license.
Free and powerful/ Windows. OSX, Linux. Similar to Photoshop in what it can do. Huge numbers of add-ons to add filters etc. User interface not as sleek, and needs an added (Free) package (eg RawTherapee, UFRaw or DarkTable) to open Raw files. However if you can spend a little time to install GIMP and learn the ropes, you will have a very powerful, very flexible and very extensible image editor for an unbeatable price. https://www.gimp.org/
Another free and powerful application for Windows. OSX, Linux. Raw Therapee is to Lightroom what GIMP is to Photoshop. It provides outstanding raw file editing but, at present, no local adjustments. File management includes sorting and filtering based on metadata, rating and colour labels, though the digital assets management functionality is much less than LR provides.
Darktable is another free, open source application available for Windows, OSX and Linux. It has file management with filtering and sorting, keyword tagging and metadata editing, a powerful non-destructive image editing workflow (for both RAW and non-raw formats) with a comprehensive array of adjustments available. It also has local editing /masking.
Powerful filters, layers, masks. Presets for easy automated global changes. Unique AI based tools. can add textures with blending modes, and composite different images. Automated sky replacement. File management including Albums. One-off purchase (unless you upgrade to a newer version). Luminar (https://skylum.com/). Plugins to allow it to be used with some other software. Extensive training resources and online manual.
Basic file browser with indexing of photos; virtual image copies; images can be organised by Projects; star rating; no support for keyword management and other digital asset management functions. Powerful filters, layers, masks. Collections of preset edits to quickly try and modify. One-off purchase (unless you upgrade to a newer version). https://www.dxo.com/dxo-photolab/ Standalone or plugin.
Powerful filters, layers, masks. Compositing, Powerful Raw file editing; PSD editing and smart object support. Retouching tools; content aware in-painting brush; HDR and focus stacking; It lacks digital asset management, and doesn’t appear to allow a non-destructive raw workflow (it does not save the edits in a sidecar file or database – you edit and save an output file, so if you want to re-edit the raw file, you start again from scratch – I think some edits may be saved in layers in an output PSD or TIFF file) – One-off purchase (unless you upgrade to a newer version). affinity. https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/photo/.
Capture One started life as software to support Phase One’s high-end digital cameras, in particular in tethered image capture situations, but is now available for most makes. It is a superb professional Raw image processor. It is feature rich, with a layered image processing model. It has image management/cataloging functions, though not as good as Lightroom’s. One comparison of Catpure One and Lightroom is HERE and reviews are HERE and HERE. Capture One is available on a monthly subscription model and is more expensive than LR/PS, but there are cheaper or even free options if you use Sony or Fujifilm cameras.
Please let me know if you would like me to add/review any extra software for this list