If you want to improve the quality of your portrait photography, you’ll need the right photo editing software for the job.
I’ve already written a guide to the software for editing photos but this article focuses on retouching and managing images of people.
I’ve been a wedding photographer shooting portraits for around ten years, so you can trust my recommendations below.
The best software for portrait photographers should include the following features:
- Wide selection of image editing tools
- Skin smoothing, blemish removal and other portrait-specific retouching tools
- Batch processing tools
- File management
- Advanced organization and tagging
- Compatibility with other 3rd party software/plugins
- Printing and sharing options
- Face tagging (ideally AI-powered)
- Face and body adjustment features
- Layers and masking support
- Presets and actions
- Tethered shooting
(See below for why each feature is important and what exactly you need.)
All software should also include standard photo editing features such as straightening, exposure adjustment, cropping, etc.
While most editing software can be used for portrait photography, I’ve included a select handful that really stands out.
Now let’s dive into the recommendations.
Table of Contents
What is the Best Editing Software for Portrait Photography in 2023?
1. Luminar Neo | Editor’s Choice
- Powerful AI and standard editing tools
- Best-in-class AI portrait retouching tools
- Skin defects removal tools
- Easy to use
- Useful ‘For this photo’ automatic AI edits
- Expandable functionality via extensions
- Available for one-time payment or subscription
- Extensive camera and lens support
- Realistic fake bokeh tool
- Regular updates
- No full-screen editing
- Lacks keywording/tagging
- No tethered shooting
Luminar Neo is an AI-powered non-destructive photo editing software by Skylum.
It’s one of the easiest editors to use, making it perfect for beginners.
The AI analyses each image and provides suggested edits in the form of a ‘For this photo’ preset that adapts to each image.
It also includes plenty of advanced editing tools to keep professional portrait photographers happy.
You can also purchase ‘extensions’ to expand Luminar’s capabilities, making it ideal for portrait photographers.
Luminar Neo is available as a one-time purchase or a subscription, meaning you can start using it, whatever your budget.
The only downside is the lack of keywording and tagging, but you can still catalogue your shots with albums, folders and favourites.
There’s also no tethered shooting for studio portrait photographers, but that’s no essential for everyone.
Why is Luminar the best software for editing portrait photography?
Aside from being dead easy to use, the range of high-quality image editing tools on offer in Luminar Neo is outstanding.
The portrait photography-specific AI tools include the ability to smooth skin, perfect smiles, enhance eyes, remove blemishes, reshape bodies and more.
Luminar’s machine-learning AI algorithm makes performing complex portrait retouching a cinch – you literally just drag sliders.
There’s no need to mask eyes, lips, or hair… the AI does everything for you, saving you hours of time.
(You can even change your model’s eye colour with the click of a button, with all edits looking realistic and natural).
The bokeh tool is also great for blurring the background behind a portrait when you didn’t have access to that fast large aperture lens on your photoshoot.
Best of all is its price and the fact that you can own Luminar Neo outright with no annoying subscription fee.
While professional studio portrait photographers may prefer specialist editing software like Capture One, for everyone else, Luminar is a great option.
2. Adobe Lightroom
- Powerful editing tools, including AI masking
- Excellent image management & cataloguing
- Efficient cross-device image sharing/editing
- Essential cloud backups for peace of mind
- Smart Previews save space and increase speed
- Fast and easy online gallery creation
- Excellent mobile app for phones and tablets
- Camera and lens profiles regularly updated
- Subscription model doesn’t suit everyone
- Can run slow on older computers
- File organisation can be confusing for beginners
Adobe Lightroom is the industry-leading photo editing and management software for Mac and Windows users.
It includes an offline app named Lightroom Classic and a web-based app simply named Lightroom.
There’s also a free mobile app which allows you to edit and manage your images on a phone or tablet.
All your wildlife photos, edits, keywords and other metadata are synced across all your devices and backed up in the Cloud.
Lightroom is available as a subscription-only, which may deter some portrait photographers, but the cost is worth it for all the useful features and upgrades.
Lightroom offers all the core editing features, plus some powerful AI features that help speed up your workflow.
Why is Lightroom great for editing portrait photography?
It has the widest selection of professional image editing tools while still remaining relatively simple to use.
The latest masking tool uses AI to recognise and select the subject, saving you hours of time.
Facial recognition is excellent, thanks to Adobe Sensei, and the cloud syncing across your devices is worth the subscription cost alone.
The Lightroom app is the best mobile photo editing app available, with an advanced camera and many of the desktop software’s tools.
Portrait photographers love the ability to batch edit hundreds of images at once, with AI edits adjusting per photo.
Exporting is also fully featured for a portrait photography workflow, with keywording and tagging helping you stay organised.
You can use tethered capture in Lightroom with supported cameras, meaning your images can appear in the Lr catalogue right after you shoot them.
Paying for the Lightroom Photography Plan means you also get Photoshop, making the subscription even better value for money.
3. Adobe Photoshop
- Powerful editing features
- Powerful facial adjustments
- Efficient layer-based editing workflow
- Best-in-class blending modes
- Can be accessed as a plugin via Lightroom
- Ability to perform virtually any image edit
- Great iPad app
- All edits synced to the cloud
- Subscription only
- Can’t import multiple RAW photos at once
- No batch editing
- No image management
Adobe Photoshop is the world’s most famous raster graphics and image editor.
Created in 1988, Photoshop has become the industry standard for digital art.
Although the user interface is complicated, once you’ve mastered the basic functionality, you can do pretty much anything with Photoshop.
Using layers and smart objects, all edits to images are non-destructive, meaning you can make infinite adjustments without affecting the original image.
PSD files can quickly increase in file size but contain all the various editing steps and image data for you to return to.
For portrait photographers, importing RAW photos to Photoshop individually requires Adobe Camera RAW, which is included with your Photoshop subscription.
With the Photography Plan, you also get access to Adobe Lightroom, which is more suited to organising and managing images.
Why is Photoshop great for editing portrait photography?
To really take your portrait photos to the next level, it’s hard to avoid Photoshop.
It’s the industry standard photo editing software for good reason – you can do virtually anything with it.
It’s also the number one layer-based editing software, and the iPad Photoshop app lets you do it all on the go – ideal for travelling portrait photographers.
The select subject tool is one click away and super handy for isolating your model for local editing.
Content-aware fill is a feature unique to Photoshop and can be handy when you need to expand the canvas behind a portrait subject, for example.
Face aware liquify allows you to add a subtle smile, enlarge eyes or even adjust the shape of the face. Or, leave it to AI with the Neural Filters.
Photoshop isn’t suitable for image management or metadata tasks, but you can use Lightroom for all those tasks.
4. ON1 Photo RAW
- Wide array of editing tools
- Frequency separation for natural skin retouching
- Great-looking adaptive presets
- AI-powered keywording
- Easily remove blemishes, whiten teeth enhance eyes etc
- Can be bought outright
- Multiple culling.viewing options
- Lightroom & Photoshop integration
- Tethered shooting support
- Confusing UI
- AI features can run slowly
ON1 Photo RAW is an all-in-one photo editing tool for portrait photographers.
It offers photo organizing, photo effects, masking tools, retouching, LUTs, HDR, layers and more.
It’s a popular Lightroom alternative but doesn’t offer as good cross-device editing or as intuitive features.
ON1 offers a wide selection of presets for portrait photography that can be previewed and applied to any photo.
It offers good photo management, with powerful cataloguing and organisation features built in, including star ratings, color labels likes and keywords.
ON1 Photo RAW is available as a one-time purchase as well as a subscription.
Why is ON1 suited for editing portrait photography?
ON1 features a wide range of image editing tools like Lightroom but also offers layer-based functionality like Photoshop.
Photo organization is taken care of, with multiple ways to cull and view your photos quickly.
You can apply star ratings, colour labels, likes and keywords to keep all your portrait shots organised.
Keyword AI uses semantics and metadata to suggest keywords for you automatically.
Machine learning analyses each face retouching the skin, eyes and mouth for professional results.
You can even make independent adjustments for each face – useful for group photos.
NoNoise is useful for high ISO portrait shots and Resize helps you enlarge your cropped photos without losing quality.
5. Capture One
- Wide array of editing tools
- Best in class tethered shooting (wireless too)
- Excellent colour adjustment tools
- Advanced skin tone editing
- Styles and presets
- Time-saving smart Adjustments
- Convenient online collaboration
- Powerful import and export recipes
- Handwritten annotation support
- Integrates well with Photoshop
- Steep learning curve
- iPad app isn’t free
Capture One has long been a favourite with professional studio photographers for its best-in-class RAW processing engine and tethered shooting capabilities.
You’ll notice an immediate difference when importing RAW photos into Capture One, particularly in the level of detail and colour rendition.
With recent updates, Capture One is now well suited to portrait photographers shooting large volumes of photos.
New features such as Smart Adjustments and Layer-based Style edits harness AI to speed up monotonous editing tasks.
Unlike the modular interface of other editing software, everything happens in a single window in Capture One.
You can even change and customise the layout to suit your most-used tools and processes.
Why is Capture One suited for editing portrait photography?
Professional portrait photographers love Capture One for its excellent RAW processing results and tethered shooting (also wireless).
The new AI features and updated tools make it all the more appealing, despite the high price tag.
For studio photographers or anyone who needs to collaborate with clients, Capture One Live is especially useful (although it requires a subscription).
The annotation feature is unique and especially convenient for portrait photographers working with clients remotely.
It’s easier to get accurate skin tones without complex retouching using Uniformity sliders for hue, saturation and lightness. which can be applied as local adjustment for maximum control.
For advanced amateur portrait photographers and enthusiasts, Capture One is suitable as long as you can devote some time to understanding it.
How to Use AI to Cull Portrait Photos
One thing that none of the portrait editing software in this guide offer is a way to harness AI to cull your portrait photos quickly and effortlessly.
Fortunately, there’s a great downloadable app called AfterShoot that does just this.
All you need to do is load your RAW portrait photos into AfterShoot, choose some parameters, and then let it run.
You’ll be left with a selection of the ‘best’ photos, as chosen by artificial intelligence.
It’s a great way to remove duplicate photos, which are all too common with shooting hundreds of portrait photos.
You can manually add or remove to edit the selection or just export them all to your chosen editing software to complete the job.
Read more in our AfterShoot review, or see below for a free trial and savings.
How to Choose Software for Portrait Photographers: 11 Key Features
Here are the key features that can make photo editing software particularly useful for wildlife photographers:
- High-quality image editing tools: Portrait photographers often need to make detailed adjustments to their photos, such as removing blemishes or enhancing colours. Look for software with advanced editing tools, such as curves and levels, as well as support for RAW image files.
- Batch processing: Portrait photographers often take hundreds or even thousands of photos on a single photoshoot. Editing software with batch processing capabilities can help you quickly edit, process and organize large numbers of images.
- Advanced organization and tagging: Look for editing software with robust organizational tools, such as keyword tagging, colour coding and the ability to create and edit metadata. This will help you keep track of your photos and make it easier to find specific portrait images later.
- Skin smoothing and blemish removal: This is a common editing task for portrait photographers, and having tools specifically designed for this purpose can be very helpful.
- Layers and masks: The ability to work with layers and masks can be very helpful for making selective edits to your portraits, especially if it’s done with AI.
- Compatibility with other software and hardware: If you use other software or hardware, such as a specific camera or editing plugin such as Luminar, make sure the software you choose is compatible with these tools.
- File management: Consider how the image editing software handles file management and organization, including the ability to create and edit folders, sort and filter images, and create backups.
- Printing and sharing options: Most famous portrait photographers print or share photos, so make sure you look for software with options for exporting images in a variety of formats and resolutions.
- AI image editing tools: portrait retouching is tricky and time-consuming -using AI can make it much easier and faster.
- Presets and actions: Many portrait photographers use presets or actions to apply common edits to their photos quickly and easily. The ability to create your own presets is also a big plus.
- Tethered shooting: this one is more for professional portrait photographers who shoot in studios, but can be a big timesaver and useful to show clients your work in real-time.
Other Software Options for Editing Portrait Photography
The list above includes the best portrait photography software with special features that will considerably speed up your editing workflow.
Here are some more options that could also be used to edit portraits.
- Radiant Photo – AI-powered photo editor created by photographers. Includes an impressive one-click auto-adjustment, plus granular editing features for more experienced editors (Radiant review.)
- Topaz Photo AI – Another AI-powered editing software with sharpening, noise reduction and image enlargement tools (Topaz Photo AI review.)
- Darktable – a popular free editing app with some handy (but limited) features similar to Lightroom. (Darktable review.)
We hope this guide to the best photo editing software for portrait photography was helpful to you.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them below, and we’ll do our best to answer them.
Make sure also to check our guide to the best photo editing software for wildlife photographers.
Good luck with your shooting, and happy editing!