You've probably heard of Adobe's Photoshop CC, to many, the king of photo editing software. But Photoshop is pretty pricey, and takes a serious amount of time to learn. On top of that, it's way more than the everyday-photo-taker really needs. If you want to move on from your phone's stock "lo-fi" filter, there are more affordable, often free, photo editing programs with less of a learning curve.
A personal favorite and a way to whet your Adobe appetite is with Adobe Photoshop Elements, great for beginner to intermediate users. You can expect to shell out around $70 but it's money well spent. Elements offers an easier to use interface than its big brother Photoshop, though, it doesn't include the number or variety of tools. Elements does a great job of locating and organizing all your photos on your computer, adding effects, tons of touch-up options, and more tools to enhance the look of your pictures. If you want to share your moments on Facebook and such, Elements will do that for you as well. You can do much worse for the money. Elements will run on Windows or Mac.
PhotoScape is free and fairly robust, allowing for cropping, sharpening, contrast adjust, batch editing, etc., as well as several filter effects options you won't find in most free software. PhotoScape has also included tools tailored for those with a higher level of editing knowledge, too. PhotoScape's layout is a tad confusing, though, requiring a bit of practice — but not as annoying as the installation process. If you install this software, be aware you may want to de-select the sneaky offer to changing your browser's default search engine and the toolbar that comes with it, you don't need it anyways. You are welcome to switch your browser to Chrome and install that toolbar, but realize it's probably going to track your browsing history more than ever. You can run this freebie on Windows or Mac.
Lastly, if you're ready for a more professional level of editing software while still minding your wallet, GIMP is a great open-source option and well respected. Gimp has come a long ways over the years, but it won't replace Adobe Photoshop CC, if that's what you're thinking. Most hobbyists and more causal users will find GIMP to be everything they need and more. You'll still need to invest some time to learn all the features, and there are some headaches getting it set up on your computer, but GIMP is a great product nonetheless, running on most operating systems.
Taking everyday photos and turning them into works of art has never been easier, and it doesn't have to cost you the price of a new camera either. Mobile photographers, hobbyists and professionals have more photo editing options than ever, reaching far beyond those mentioned here. And little to no cost means it's more accessible than ever before, too.
Brian Koch is an avid techie who's worked in the tech field for dozens of years with Compaq/HP, his own pc business Techpertise, outdoor photography, and more. He has lived with his wife Stacy in Colorado for over 16 years. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions to Brian: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Techpertise.