How to edit photos like a pro without burning a hole in your pocket

To Ado-be or not to Ado-be? That’s the question most photographers have been asking themselves for many years. It’s a question we are asked very often by our students too. And it’s true, the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of products has been the industry-standard go-to among photographers for a long time. However, for a lot of young and budding photographers especially in India, the monthly subscription plan from Adobe is not sustainable. For many years, the alternatives to Adobe (specifically Photoshop) were either far behind or suffered from lack of compatibility. But as technology has evolved, the gap between Adobe and its competition has narrowed.

An Ever Expanding Landscape

Today, technology has come forward leaps and bounds. You can do a lot of basic editing and corrections within a browser for free with solutions like Pixlr without even installing an app on to your device. There are a slew of options out there for every small and big functionality you might require. For photographers there’s a set of essential tools that are required to bring a picture from the camera to a finished product ready to be shipped to the client. Here’s a solution that provides that and more: Affinity Photo.

Goodbye monotone-y! Affinity Photo has a colorful and vibrant interface.
Goodbye monotone-y! Affinity Photo has a colorful and vibrant interface.

Affinity Photo: A Photoshop alternative that punches above its weight

Affinity Photo is a raster-based photo editing software made by Serif that has an impressive list of features to rival Photoshop at a more affordable price. This could be an ideal solution for photographers in the early phase of their careers. It’s also worth trying out for seasoned pros who want to look outside the subscription model of Adobe.

What we like

All Bases Covered

There are a lot of tools photographers use on their images on a daily basis as part of their workflows. Processing RAW images, Making selections, Cleaning up noise, Sharpening, Exporting in multiple formats and so on. Affinity Photo ticks all the boxes when it comes to such essential features.

No Horsing Around! Process your RAW images using Develop Persona
No Horsing Around! Process your RAW images using Develop Persona

A Non-Destructive Philosophy

Whether applying adjustment layers or filters, Affinity Photo defaults any layer to behave similar to a smart object in Photoshop. This means by default most of the changes don’t affect the image in an irreversible manner. In Photoshop this requires an extra step of creating a Smart Object every time.

Robust Algorithms

We are impressed by how well the in-built algorithm performs for many tools. This makes editing a much simpler and less painstaking process.

Some examples: Refining edges while making selections; stitching together images to create panoramas/3-D stitching; removing unwanted objects using Inpainting Brush(Affinity Photo’s version of Magic Healing Brush).

Make precise selections using the Refine Edge tool. Woof Woof!
Make precise selections using the Refine Edge tool. Woof Woof!

Quick Previews

In many parts of the application, you can see a quick preview of how your action is going to affect the image. This greatly speeds up choosing between different options. Some examples: Quick previews of blend modes on hover; All brushes show a live preview; Adjustment section shows previews of presets applied to image.

A Lively Interface

The user interface of Affinity Photo bears striking resemblance to Photoshop, so it retains a sense of familiarity. It is separated into 5 distinct ‘Personas’ based on functionality: Photo, Develop, Tone Mapping, Liquify and Export. We love the vibrant and lively look of Affinity Photo with the liberal use of color in its icon set.

Preview blend modes by scrolling

Value Additions

Apart from the base features that we come to expect from any good photo editing software, Affinity Photo provides a few interesting additions as well. Some of them include:

– Frequency Separation: Automatic separation of image into high and low frequency layer for advanced retouching,
– Support for Nik Collection plugins
– 32-bit workflow for working with HDR images,
– Focus Stacking: Affinity Photo automatically merges the different focus shifted images and also allows you to manually modify which layer is shown.

Get the most out of your images using Tone Mapping Persona
Get the most out of your images using Tone Mapping Persona

Why we recommend it

Bang for the buck

Let’s cut to the chase: Affinity Photo includes all the adjustments and filter options that Photoshop does at a fraction of the cost. As a single software, the value for money you get far exceeds Photoshop. It’s a fairly new solution as well, so we think it will only get better with updates(which are free for the current version of Affinity Photo).

Skill Transferability

A lot of photographers are either already familiar with Photoshop or plan to eventually switch to it when they can afford it. The great thing about Affinity Photo is that it shares a lot of similarities with Photoshop in both the interface and structure, so it’s quite easy to switch between these platforms.

Export to multiple formats using Affinity Photo.
Export to multiple formats using Affinity Photo.

Compatibility with Photoshop

The truth is that Photoshop isn’t going anywhere and our workflows can’t ignore that. You can open PSD/PSB files and Photoshop Smart Objects in Affinity Photo and export to PSD as well.

Simplification

We found that a lot of features we liked in Affinity Photo had one common thread. A focus on simplifying complex functionalities for the user. We could perform a lot of advanced operations like Focus Stacking, Frequency Separation and Liquify using fewer steps than we would have in Photoshop.

The inbuilt Frequency Separation tool simplifies your retouching workflow.
The inbuilt Frequency Separation tool simplifies your retouching workflow.

A pinch of salt

Please note that Affinity Photo does not provide the image library management capabilities that softwares like Lightroom and Capture One do. It’s also important to note that as a fairly new software, it doesn’t have the vast array of learning resources/plugins/support/community that Photoshop does.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for photo editing software, you don’t need to break the bank in order to get what you need anymore.
Affinity Photo is our pick for best Photoshop alternative. We’d love to hear your thoughts.


Special thanks to Arnab Nath, Kavitha Swaminathan and Vivek Mohan