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If you’re a newbie, amateur, or hobbyist photographer, then by definition you aren’t making money from your photos. And if that describes you, it won’t be long before you figure out — if you haven’t already — how expensive this hobby can be.

Most of us don’t have a lot of money to throw at photography, and when it comes down to making a choice, wouldn’t you rather spend your budget on gear instead of software? I know I would.

The good news is that there are plenty of free apps and programs that can get the job done and will suffice until you absolutely need something more professional like Adobe Your Guide to Choosing The Right Adobe Product Your Guide to Choosing The Right Adobe Product When most people think of Adobe, they either think of Photoshop or Acrobat Reader. But the company has a plethora of other useful software packages that most people know nothing about. Read More .

1. FastStone Image Viewer

One of the first settings to tweak on your camera should be switching from JPG mode to RAW mode Budding Photographer? Here's Why You Should Be Shooting Raw Budding Photographer? Here's Why You Should Be Shooting Raw Every dSLR, prosumer and even some high-end compact cameras have the ability to save raw image files. This isn't just a higher quality of image, it's a gift from the photography gods. Read More . RAW images are bigger in file size, but they hold more information and are better for post-processing (assuming your SD card is big enough How to Pick & Buy the Best SD Card for Your Needs How to Pick & Buy the Best SD Card for Your Needs What kind of SD card is right for you? Not all of them are the same, after all. Here are the minimum specs you should aim for depending any given activity or need. Read More ).

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But because RAW images have specialized formats depending on the camera brand, a lot of image viewing programs can’t read them. That’s where a fast RAW viewer comes in handy: you quickly browse your latest set of photos, delete the unwanted ones, then load them into Lightroom or whatever.

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FastStone Image Viewer is the best free RAW viewer you’ll find. It can view, organize, and even convert individual RAW files into other formats if necessary. For me, I just use it as a quick tool for culling unwanted photos.

Supported platforms: Windows.

Alternatives: If you’re on Linux, Geeqie is pretty good. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a good, free, fast RAW viewer for Mac yet.

2. RawTherapee

RawTherapee is a godsend for photographers who can’t afford or don’t want to use Lightroom. They serve the same purpose: the ability to collect, organize, process, develop, and touch up many different photos.

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It’s so good that we consider it to be an app that proves you don’t need Adobe Creative Cloud 7 Apps That Prove You Don't Need Adobe Creative Suite on Linux 7 Apps That Prove You Don't Need Adobe Creative Suite on Linux Adobe has refused to make its Creative Suite compatible with Linux, so how do you edit photos, movies, and audio, create vectors, and more? Well, you create your own open source creative suite! Read More . The learning curve is slightly harder than Lightroom, especially if you’ve never used a digital RAW processor before, but you’ll be able to get the hang of it in no time.

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux. However, Linux builds aren’t officially provided. On Ubuntu, you can use this PPA in conjunction with your package manager.

Alternatives: Many consider Darktable to be even better than RawTherapee, but we chose to highlight the latter because it’s cross-platform whereas Darktable is only available on Linux. Otherwise, few viable alternatives exist.

3. GIMP

If you have even one creative bone in your body, you’re probably well aware that GIMP exists and you know what it does. For anyone who doesn’t know, GIMP is a free and open-source competitor to Photoshop 13 Free Alternatives to Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, & More 13 Free Alternatives to Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, & More What if you don't want to spend $50 per month on a Creative Cloud subscription? The good news is that there are free alternatives available. Here are some of the best. Read More that’s pretty darn good (despite its awkward name).

GIMP can do what Photoshop do, at least on a fundamental level, and you can improve its functionality through plugins Better Than Photoshop? Make GIMP Even More Powerful With These Plugins Better Than Photoshop? Make GIMP Even More Powerful With These Plugins We all know that Photoshop is the premiere application for image and graphics manipulation. It simply does everything you could possibly want, which is the reason why most professionals choose it and why your wallet... Read More , but at the end of the day, Photoshop is the industry standard for a reason.

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Not sure whether GIMP is good enough for you? Check out our comparison of GIMP vs. Photoshop GIMP vs Photoshop: Which One is Right for You? GIMP vs Photoshop: Which One is Right for You? Photoshop is the most popular image editing app out there and GIMP is the best free alternative to it. Which should you use? Read More for more information.

Why do you need GIMP? Well, you don’t. A lot of photographers are happy enough with something like RawTherapee or Darktable mentioned above. But if you want to dip into digital artistry with your photos, that’s when GIMP shines.

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux.

Alternatives: There aren’t many that are on par with GIMP and Photoshop. If you’re okay with a few sacrifices in features, you could try PhotoScape, Pixlr, or Paint.NET.

4. Hugin

Hugin is the kind of program that few people need, but the ones who do need it are so glad that it exists. In short, it makes it easy for you to stitch together multiple photographs into a complete panorama.

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It’s been in development for years, so if you tried it in the past and found it to be too unstable and crash-prone, consider giving it another try. It’s much better now and recommended for general use.

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux.

Alternatives: We chose to highlight Hugin because it’s full-featured and cross-platform. However, there are two free alternatives that you might like better if you’re on Windows: Microsoft ICE and PTGUI. Both are less powerful but worth trying.

5. Google Photos

Every photographer must learn, as soon as possible, the basics of making data backups 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More . Regardless of how many photos you actually have, how are you going to feel if your drive gets corrupted and you lose everything?

Trust me, you don’t want that happening to you.

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That’s why we recommend using Google Photos. With it, you can store your photos on Google’s servers and access them from anywhere at any time. But the best part? You get unlimited photo storage for free Get Free Unlimited Photo Storage & More with Google Photos Get Free Unlimited Photo Storage & More with Google Photos If you aren't using these hidden Google Photos features, you're really missing out. (Hint: There's free and unlimited photo storage!) Read More . And yes, it counts RAW files.

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Web. The desktop and mobile apps exist as uploaders to Google Photos, with the option for auto-uploads if you wish.

Alternatives: If you already have Amazon Prime, you should know that you have unlimited photo storage with Amazon Cloud 6 Amazon Prime Benefits You Might Be Ignoring Right Now 6 Amazon Prime Benefits You Might Be Ignoring Right Now Scratch the surface. Amazon Prime has so many more benefits that people have forgotten about or simply don't realize exist. Read More , but only for personal use. Or you can use any other cloud storage service, like Dropbox or OneDrive, but they have storage limits.

6. Recuva

I once heard a story of a photographer who handed his camera to his model so she could get a sense of how the shoot was going — and she ended up deleting all of the photos she didn’t like. That photographer learned two important lessons that day.

The first lesson? Never hand your camera over to anybody unless you’re ready to accept whatever happens next. The second lesson? Deleted photos can be recovered if you’re careful and fast enough.

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Using a program like Recuva, you may be able to access the memory inside hard drives, flash drives, SD cards, etc. and recover items that were deleted. How it works is beyond this post’s scope, and it won’t always work, but it works often enough.

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux.

Alternatives: There are several other data recovery tools The Best Free Data Recovery Tools for Windows The Best Free Data Recovery Tools for Windows Data loss can strike at any time. We will highlight the best free data recovery tools for Windows to help get your precious files back. Read More out there, but we chose Recuva for its ease-of-use. If that doesn’t work for you, try PhotoRec or Disk Drill.

7. Wave

If you’re an amateur or a hobbyist, feel free to skip this program — unless you intend to go professional at some point 5 Most Lucrative Careers for a Budding Photographer 5 Most Lucrative Careers for a Budding Photographer Want to make money with photography? There are a lot of potential career paths before you. Here are a few considerations to help you make the right choice. Read More down the road. And as a professional, or even a semi-pro, you’re going to have to deal with clients and invoices. So many clients. So many invoices.

Enough to make you reconsider your photography business 4 Hard Truths About Professional Photography (And Solutions) 4 Hard Truths About Professional Photography (And Solutions) Do you want to start making money with your photography skills? Here are a handful of important considerations to make before taking that leap. Truth is, photography ain't easy. Read More because of all the paperwork and hassle. That’s how bad it can get if you don’t use a tool to help you keep everything organized.

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That’s where Wave comes in. Simply put, Wave is an online accounting dashboard that you can use to track sales, expenses, invoices, clients, and even employees (if you ever pick up another shooter). A lot of it is automated, including reminders so you never forget to pay or get paid.

Supported platforms: Web.

Alternatives: The pickings are slim here. The free alternatives are too simple (e.g. only create invoices) and the other alternatives all cost money, usually by way of a monthly subscription. Avaza and Invoicely are close, but their free plans do have limits.

Which Free Apps & Programs Do You Use?

Photography can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Why spend money every month for professional quality software when you don’t need it? If you’re just starting out, or if you’re a semi-pro on a budget, these free alternatives should be more than enough.

You might even find that you prefer these free alternatives to their paid counterparts, even after you turn professional. You never know.

Which apps and programs do you use as part of your photography workflow? When are you willing to compromise on free software and when do you absolutely need the paid alternatives? Let us know with a comment below!

  1. bob ferguson
    July 14, 2016 at 9:47 am

    irfanview

    • Joel Lee
      July 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      An oldie but a goodie. Thanks Bob!

  2. Joao
    July 1, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    DigiKam is great!

    • Joel Lee
      July 4, 2016 at 1:39 am

      I've heard good things about it but haven't used it yet. I'll give it a go when I can. Thanks Joao!

  3. steve
    June 21, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Polarr

    • Joel Lee
      June 28, 2016 at 2:47 am

      Never heard of this one. I'll give it a try! Thanks Steve.

  4. Zac
    June 20, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Irfanview!

    • Joel Lee
      June 28, 2016 at 2:47 am

      Yes, that's a good one! I personally don't use it much but I know a lot of people love it. Thanks for mentioning it, Zac.

  5. Edgar
    June 20, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    I've only used GIMP, Fastone Viewer and Google Photos. They served me well. I will try the rest one day.

    • Joel Lee
      June 28, 2016 at 2:48 am

      That's great Edgar. When you do end up trying the others, please come back and let us know how it goes. :)

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