It's amazing how much a little post-processing can improve a digital photo. If you're serious about getting professional-quality photos from your camera, you definitely need to learn how to post-process your photos on the computer to get that “professional look.”
Most photographers, when they want to buy post-processing software, immediately think that they need Photoshop. While Photoshop is a fantastic program, most photographers will be happier with Lightroom as their first post-processing software. Almost all professional photographers use Lightroom and Photoshop. These programs, working together, will equip you to become a digital photography ninja.
Lightroom is designed to be a simple-to-use program that allows you to–very quickly–go through all the pictures from a shoot, make the most common edits, and export the photos for posting on the web or other uses. Lightroom is built for speed and simplicity, but it has become so feature-rich that I am usually able to finish editing 90% of my pictures in Lightroom without even passing the photo to Photoshop for the deep in-depth edits.
Seriously… you're going to love Lightroom. The good news is that the price of Lightroom was recently dropped significantly to just $149. I would HIGHLY recommend choosing Lightroom as your first post-processing software option. Eventually, you'll probably want to pare Lightroom with Photoshop so you can do more in-depth edits as well.
Lightroom will allow you to remove blemishes and soften skin, adjust color and exposure, straighten the horizon, crop, add filters, etc. One of the most powerful features of Lightroom is presets, which allow you to use a one-click preset to apply a certain “look” to your photo. This makes editing a shoot FAST!
Lightroom has only a few limitations. It doesn't have some of the in-depth editing tools that Photoshop has, and it doesn't allow for the use of layers.
Lightroom is like a race car, and Photoshop is like an 18-wheeler. Lightroom is for quick and dirty editing of a shoot, categorizing your images, and allowing for search of your entire photo library. Photoshop is slower to use but is incredibly powerful in creating any effect you could possibly imagine on your photo.
If you shoot mostly landscape photography where you only take a few images per shoot, Photoshop may be the best option for you. Photoshop is a program that all photographers will want to use eventually because it has amazing advanced tools for editing photos, but it isn't great for most photographers as their first piece of post-processing software.
The full version of Photoshop costs $699 on Amazon or buy it from B&H Photo. Photoshop is expensive because it is SOO feature-rich. No other editing program compares to it in terms of the feature set of tools.
Photoshop Elements is one of the best-kept secrets in Photography. 95% of what you get in the full version of Photoshop can be had in Photoshop Elements… and did I mention that Photoshop Elements only costs around $80 on Amazon or at B&H Photo?
So why would anyone buy the full $700 version of Photoshop when Photoshop Elements is 95% as good and costs less than 1/7th the price? For professional photographers who are serious about getting the best possible tools, the full version of Photoshop is the best choice. The full version of Photoshop runs faster, has more advanced layer features, the tools have advanced options, etc.
Seriously… don't throw down $700 on the full version of Photoshop until you are a SERIOUS photographer and know the software well enough that you can point to specific reasons to upgrade. I recommend starting with Photoshop Elements. There will be enough for you to learn that it will take you about 2 years to master. By that point, there will be another version of the full version of Photoshop and it might be time to step up to the full version then.
I can't recommend Photoshop Elements highly enough. If I were starting out as a photographer today, I would buy Lightroom and use it for 6 months until I fully understand it. Then, I'd buy Photoshop Elements and start learning how to do some of the in-depth edits.