How to edit photos on Mac and not pay an arm and a leg

How to edit photos on Mac

When you think of image editing, most people think of Photoshop. It’s not surprising since the name of the software has become a verb.

Not everyone wants to spend so much on Adobe’s software. Before it became a subscription-program in 2013, Photoshop might cost $600 per version.

If you want to touch up your images without the price tag, what are your options? Your Mac ships with a built-in image editor called Photos. Other software and platforms offer image editing for free or a low cost.

We’ve created this guide to editing images on Mac without spending a fortune. So if you want to know how to edit photos on Mac? Read on to learn more!

How to Edit Photos on Mac

We’re going to start off with Mac’s built-in Photos editor.

It’s popular thanks to its ease-of-use and integration with other Mac products. Add photos to iCloud and sync finished images across your devices.

Photos also boasts ‘intelligent’ features like grouping photos according to location or time. Face detection finds all the photos you took of specific people.

The image editing tools are basic but they cover the simple functions every image editor should have. You’ll find three main functions when you open an image in the software: Adjust, Filters, and Crop.


Adjust gives you access to basic image adjustments. These are grouped according to type, much as they are in other programs. They are:

  • Light (shadows and highlights)
  • Color (saturation, color casts)
  • Black & White
  • Retouch
  • Red-eye
  • White Balance (warm-up or cool-down images)
  • Curves (contrast adjustments)
  • Levels (tonal balance)
  • Definition (image clarity)
  • Selective Color
  • Noise Reduction
  • Sharpen
  • Vignette (darken the edges to create a focal point)

These give you plenty of control over the basics. Choose the adjustment and move the sliders until you get the appearance you want. With this many options to choose from, you may find you no longer need expensive software like Photoshop.

All these functions work in a ‘non-destructive’ way. That means you can apply the adjustment and roll it back if you don’t like it.

You can even copy adjustments from one image and apply them to another. A feature like this is usually only available in software like Photoshop. It’s helpful if you need to edit lots of images that need the same settings.


Photos offers nine filters to help you recreate three photography styles. Choose from:

  • Dramatic
  • Vivid
  • Black and White

They act like presets, applying a series of settings to your image based on the chosen style.

The filters will boost your image while preserving skin tones. Each of the three styles is broken down into a further three options for extra flexibility.

Filters work the same way they do on Instagram and similar apps. Download extra filters as extensions through the Mac App Store.


This part of the app lets you focus on the composition. You can straighten the image, crop parts you don’t want, or flip it.

If you want to crop an image while keeping its original ratio, you can do that too. Photos includes different ratios, like 5:7, or you can go freeform with its Aspect option.

Looking for details on resizing images on Mac? Check out this guide for more tips on resizing using the Preview app:

Other Image Editors for Mac

You don’t have to rely on Photos for inexpensive image editing. There are other options, ranging from free to reasonably priced.

We won’t focus on how to edit images in them, because they’re all different. Try them out and see which ones best suit your workflow.

Free Editors

Pixlr X offers a browser-based platform for basic image editing. Its adjustments features are very similar to Photos. Extra features include a huge collection of presets (Effects) and extra decorative elements like borders or stickers.

Canva is another popular browser-based choice. It offers basic adjustments like saturation, brightness, and contrast. You can also add vignettes or tints after sharpening your images.

Fotor offers batch processing if you want to add the same edits to a lot of images at once. It also gives you the power to do manual edits, rather than relying on one-click filters. Though it has those too.

For extra editing power, try GIMP. Unlike the other three options, this is a full program. It’s open-source, which makes it free, and it boasts many of Photoshop’s functions. Plugins help expand what it can do for your images.

Inexpensive Options

If you’re strapped for time, then why not try out software designed to edit images automatically?

Photolemur uses AI to improve your images. Drag and drop your pictures into the software and let it get to work. It costs $35.

One of the drawbacks of these image editors is that they often focus on adjustments like contrast or saturation. Fixing a dull or dark image is easy.

They don’t let you perform more advanced functions like removing unwanted objects or changing backgrounds. Photo Clip Mac does exactly that and it starts at $48.

If you want even more control over your edits then try Affinity Photo by Serif. It’s a popular alternative to Photoshop.

Affinity Photo boasts many of the Adobe software’s features, including the option to edit RAW photographs. Pick it up for $49.99 through the Mac App Store.

Choose the Right Editor for You

You can take the best-composed photograph in the world but without editing? It looks dull, lifeless, and flat. You can’t skip the editing step if you want to share images online.

Now you know how to edit photos on Mac. You have a built-in option in the form of Photos, which both organizes and syncs your images with iCloud.

It also gives you plenty of adjustments to touch up and fine-tune your images.

You also have free and inexpensive options to boost your image editing.  Choose the one that suits your processes and your style.

And remember to have fun!

Need images for a new business? Check out our ‘Starting a business‘ articles for more tips and advice.

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