I spent almost $700 on my first copy of Photoshop, which I justified by saying it was a business expense. I could technically justify it for my then part-time business, but the truth is that it was more of a necessary luxury for an enthusiast photographer.
For you, it might not be practical to chunk down that much cash for a software application, so here are some affordable alternatives.
Gnu Image Manipulation Program is open source software application, which means volunteers collaborate to design and update the software, making it available to the public for free.
As affordable goes, it doesn't get much better than free. For a while, GIMP was better known as a clunky alternative to Photoshop, but in recent years it has been improving. A lot of the interface and commands are somewhat similar. If you are brand new to photo editing, expect a learning curve.
Like most volunteer organizations, GIMP organization encourages donations.
Pixlr Editor is a web-based photo editing program that packs many features similar to Photoshop. You can create layers, brush in effects, and other perks you wouldn't expect from a free, online option. When you are finished, save the completed image back to your desktop.
Pixlr Express is Pixlr's slimmed down online photo editor. If you are preparing images for online viewing or your blog, it will do just about everything you need -- resizing, cropping, overlaying text, and applying filters. Don't look for advanced features like layers, etc.
If you are part of the Apple community, you shouldn't ignore Apple's iPhoto application. It is great for basic photo editing. You can clean up and export your pictures with a few clicks, as you've come to expect in Apple's simplicity first approach.
If you are a Mac user, Aperture is a great alternative to Adobe Lightroom. Apple targets this software to the professional photographer, so it has similar functionality and features to Adobe's offering. Use Aperture to edit photos and manage your storage and workflow. Editing features are fairly robust, and for tasks out of its reach, it will launch any other software editing application for further edits. When you close the outside app, it saves a version of your photo back into Aperture.
Photoshop Elements is powerful enough to do most of your essential editing. It used to be a super slimmed down version of Photoshop. These days, if you aren't editing graphics for an ad agency, you will probably find Elements to be adequate.
If affordability means cash flow, you can rent Photoshop and/or Lightroom for less than $10 per month. These are the industry standards and will satisfy just about any photo editing craving you have. Adobe now offers a rental version of one or both. Sure renting can be a more expensive alternative long term, but if you want the best without plunking down hundreds today, it's worth a look. (The $9.99 offer expires May 31, 2014 and requires a one-year commitment.)
What other affordable photo editing software applications do you use? Share your best and why in the comments.