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How to Get Started With Photivo

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How to Get Started With Photivo

What Is Photivo?

Photivo is a free and open source photo editorPhotivo is a free and open source photo editorPhotivo is a free and open source photo editor
Photivo is a free and open-source photo editor

Photivo is a free and open-source photo editor that works across a variety of operating systems. Until quite recently, it hadn’t been updated for a good while, meaning newer camera formatted images were either not working, causing error messages, or being generally buggy. The good news is that in 2020 it got a 64bit update for Windows.

Photivo is primarily a RAW processor; it’s not really designed to be a raster editing suite. It has some good solid functions like filters and editing tools that mean you can get quite a lot out of it. In fact, it’s an incredibly detailed editor, and you’ll likely not do more than scratch the surface of it for a good while.

Let’s take a look at the basics of editing in Photivo.

How to Get Started With Photivo

The main Photivo interfaceThe main Photivo interfaceThe main Photivo interface
The main Photivo interface

Drag your photo into the program. On the left, you can see your menus and tools, your image area where your photo is, and then a zoom bar at the bottom for zooming in and out.

As mentioned, Photivo is quite ‘feature-heavy’, which can be either a blessing or a curse depending on whether you like simplicity or you like a lot of options.

The good news is that the tools are in the order in which they’re supposed to be used and are known in Photivo as a ‘pipe’. For example, straightening your image in Geometry comes before adding aesthetic filters in EyeCandy.

If you change something in a tab, the processing runs again from the top of that tab. If you’re running a lot of processes on a large image, this can be quite taxing on your computer, so at the bottom where it says Manual, you can toggle that on (it will turn green) and then ‘run the pipe’ by pressing the play arrow symbol next to it when you’re ready or by pressing F5.

If you’d like to see a before and after, you can change the preview mode by clicking the downward arrow at the bottom left of the screen. When you’ve done that, clicking on each tab menu will show the related changes, so if you clicked on Camera at the top, that would show you the image at ‘zero’ again.

When you use one of the tab options, the arrow next to it will be green, which makes it easy to identify which options you've used from the many that are available. You can then right-click those and hit Reset if you want to get rid of that effect.

Here’s a rundown of the menus in order.



Camera menuCamera menuCamera menu
Camera menu

You don’t need to worry too much about this tab as it’s likely going to take a lot of the information from your metadata and apply the specific camera/lens settings.

Here you can adjust the white balance if needed and do things like recovering the highlights. If you look at the bar that says Temp under White Balance, it’s not the most instinctive thing, but you can grab that shading and pull it along the bar, like an alternative to a slider. Or you can right-click on it and enter a value manually.

Local Edit

local edit menulocal edit menulocal edit menu
Local edit menu

As it sounds, you can make some targeted local adjustments to your image here. All the other tabs work globally, unless you’ve applied a mask.

To add a new adjustment point, click the green cross under Spot Tuning and click the area of your image that you want to adjust.

Local adjustmentsLocal adjustmentsLocal adjustments
Local adjustments

For example, here I clicked the green cross and then clicked on the sky. Spot then appears in the box under Spot Tuning. I dragged the luminance curve down to a ridiculous amount just so you can see the area affected—and you can see it’s up to the edges of the trees where the lines have essentially sectioned it off.

Again, you can use the shaded horizontal bars as sliders to make brightness, colour, and saturation adjustments.


Geometry menuGeometry menuGeometry menu
Geometry menu

Here you’ve got your usual ‘fixes’, including a similar thing to your regular profile corrections in Lens Parameters.

There’s quite a lot of scope for distortion correction here, and I can see that being particularly useful for wide and fisheye corrections, particularly for older lenses where you might have to manually correct anyway.

As you’d expect, you can also straighten, rotate, crop, and so on. An interesting addition to this is Seam Carving, which is a tool to let you change the scale and aspect ratio of your picture while preserving important aspects of the photo and avoiding distortion.


RGB will be very familiar to anyone who’s used a regular RAW editor as this has a lot of similar features, and is where the bulk of your regular editing will happen. A slight difference is that things like Vibrance and Highlights are broken down into three, each representing a colour channel (RGB). So you’ll need to do more tweaking, but it will give you finer control ultimately.

Lab Colour/Contrast

Lab Colour and Contrast menuLab Colour and Contrast menuLab Colour and Contrast menu
Lab Colour and Contrast menu

As the name suggests, you can find most of your colour and contrast-related options here.

Lab Sharpen/Noise

Lab Sharpen and Noise Reduction menuLab Sharpen and Noise Reduction menuLab Sharpen and Noise Reduction menu
Lab Sharpen and Noise Reduction menu

Options to sharpen your image and add noise reduction. Some familiar filters and some less so. These will take a bit of fiddling and playing around with to find out what works best.

Lab EyeCandy

Lab Eyecandy (filters and stylising)Lab Eyecandy (filters and stylising)Lab Eyecandy (filters and stylising)
Lab Eyecandy (filters and stylising)

EyeCandy is what Photivo calls its stylising filters. The difference between this one and the next is that this option doesn’t work in the RGB colour space.


Eyecandy menu (colour and style - this works in the RGB space)Eyecandy menu (colour and style - this works in the RGB space)Eyecandy menu (colour and style - this works in the RGB space)
Eyecandy menu (colour and style - this works in the RGB space)

More ways to focus on some stylisation and grading. You can change your image to black and white here, for example, or try something like an Orton effect.


Ouput menuOuput menuOuput menu
Output menu

When you’ve finished editing and you want to save your image, you can add things like tags, copyright information, and metadata here. You can also change the size, dpi, and colour space.

Usefulness and Summary

There's no doubt that Photivo has loads of potential, with some very powerful tools. The real question is, how much time do you have? If you're looking to do quick or batch RAW editing, then Photivo isn't for you. If, however, you're looking for something that gives you much deeper, finer control and you have some real time to put into learning how it all works, then you really can get a lot out of this software—and it's free!

I've now spent quite a number of hours 'fiddling' around in Photivo and still feel as if I haven't really made much progress. Now that you have an idea of what each menu is for and some of the basic controls, the best thing I can recommend is to follow through with one of Photivo's example tutorials.

I tried their Fake HDR tutorial, copying their run-through with more or less the same adjustments, and even though my image was very different, it worked.

HDR comparisonHDR comparisonHDR comparison
HDR comparison with original RAW top left

It's not a look I'd particularly want to go for, but I was curious to see if you really could get results that were dramatically different without using every menu and tool, and you definitely can. Working through the steps to something obviously very stylised can be a good way to help you understand which tools do what job, and how far you can push them to get the results you want. You can get the results you want with Photivo, but just be prepared to spend a lot of time learning how.

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About the Authors

Marie Gardiner wrote this. Jackson Couse edited it and published it.

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