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A List of Free or One-Time Payment Alternatives to Adobe Subscription Programs

A few years ago, Adobe moved to a subscription model for their Creative Suite, a decision that was fraught with controversy, particularly since many creatives felt it was a money grab. If you prefer to work with software that is either free or that only requires a one-time payment, here are some great alternatives.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a robust and highly capable image editor that offers a wide array of functionality that covers the needs of the majority of photographers. Features include layers, brushes, channels, filters, automated correction tools, plug-in support, gradients, cropping, noise reduction, and more, all packaged in a fairly standard interface that does not take long to get used to, especially if you are coming from Photoshop. Better yet, because the program is open source and highly popular, there is a huge support community, and development is continually being pushed forward.

I love Affinity. It is everything Photoshop for iPad should have been, and it has been around for longer. In fact, I generally prefer it to Photoshop simply because I love editing on my iPad. The combination of one of the best screens I have ever seen and the Apple Pencil make for a great experience. Affinity comes with all the tools you would expect and lots of advanced features, including a range of selection tools, unlimited layers, dodge and burn, curves, gradient maps, liquify, healing brushes, and way more.

Luminar 4 is another favorite of mine. It is less a one-for-one Photoshop replacement than Affinity and GIMP, but depending on the type of editing you do, it could be all you need (or potentially even better suited to your work). It has features like layers, non-destructive editing, standard tonality adjustments, noise reduction, dodge and burn, and more. Its marquee feature, however, is its AI tools, which can be used for portrait work, landscapes, and more. Its AI sky replacement feature is particularly impressive.

PortraitPro is obviously oriented toward editing portraits, but if that’s what you use Photoshop for, it is a great alternative. Like Luminar, it offers AI features, but also gives the user great control over where and how much they are applied. Features include face sculpting, skin retouching, skin lighting, makeup application, eye and hair retouching, and more. The more expensive versions offer increasingly powerful batch-processing capabilities. If you shoot a lot of portraits, it’s worth taking a look at, especially for its time-saving potential.

Capture One is the choice of a lot of pro photographers, both as a Lightroom and Photoshop replacement. Known for its fantastic color rendering and robust tethering, it also has cataloging and the standard editing tools you would expect, including cloning, healing, sharpening, noise reduction, tonality control, curves, masking, and way more. If you are looking for an industry-standard program, this is the one. You can also buy a version for a specific camera brand for cheaper than the full version.

RawTherapee is a powerful free option, and if you don’t need the organizational features of a catalog, it is a great alternative. It offers features like exposure adjustments, curves, advanced highlight recovery, HDR, graduated filter, sharpening and noise reduction, chromatic aberration correction, HSL adjustment, color toning, and more.

If you are used to the Lightroom interface, you will have no trouble feeling at home in darktable. It has a ton of fantastic features, including GPU acceleration, all the standard basic adjustments, curves, advanced toning systems like an Ansel Adams-inspired zone system, color control and correction, sharpening and noise reduction, liquify, spot removal, and more.

When the pandemic hit and I had to move all my teaching online, I had my electronic music students learn Audacity. If you are editing audio for your video work, it likely will cover all your needs. It features multi-channel recording, 16-, 24-, and 32-bit support, support for LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST and Audio Unit plug-ins, unlimited sequential undo and redo, fade-in and fade-out controls, pitch and tempo alteration, noise reduction, equalizer and filters, standard effects, and more.

A popular pick among professionals, DaVinci Resolve features a wide array of capabilities for video work, including standard editing tools, support for HLG, fantastic color correction, audio editing tools, and more. Features like built-in picture-in-picture, image stabilization, dynamic zoom, and GPU acceleration make it an advanced tool sure to fit the needs of lots of users.

While costlier than some other options, VEGAS Pro Edit 17 offers a very complete experience and is used in many professional productions. Such features include stabilization, planar motion tracking, nested timelines, picture-in-picture, multicamera editing, velocity envelopes, automatic crossfades, advanced color grading and matching, LUT export, Boris FX Continuum Lens Flare 3D, mesh warp, advanced transitions, multitrack audio editing, surround sound editing, multicam audio synchronization, GPU acceleration, and much more. It is expensive, yes, but it is a very deep and powerful application.

Relatively new to the scene, Olive isn’t as fully featured as some other options, but it still offers a fairly complete basic experience. All the normal NLE tools are there, along with some promising features, such as the ability to move and scale elements directly instead of using inputted values and GPU-accelerated previews. One thing to note is that it is still in its alpha stage, so it may not be fully stable.

KDenlive has been around a while now and features lots of tools that should satisfy the needs of a wide range of video editors. Such features include multi-track support, wide support of a range of audio and video formats, title tool, a large effects and transitions library, proxy editing, audio and video scopes, keyframes, and more.

Did I miss anything in the article? Tell me about it in the comments!

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