4 Go-To Photo-Editing Apps

There are an overwhelming number of photo-editing apps out there. Where to begin? We asked 4 photographers who love shooting with their smartphones to each recommend their #1 go-to app in their mobile editing toolkit. While these photographers have their top favorite, they often use multiple editing apps in conjunction to create their final images and share them on social media platforms. Here are their insights. Feel free to share your own favorite photo-editing apps in the comments section too.

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by Tracey Clark

First and foremost, Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing app and social media platform. Whether you choose to share with a small group of hand-selected followers (through a private account) or the entire community of Instagram members (a public account) makes no difference; just keep in mind that Instagram was made for sharing. The editing tools are included in the app simply to help you visually improve what you are sharing. That said, I find the editing tools included plenty powerful and almost all I ever need to edit my iPhoneography. The level of ease, effectiveness, options, and creative control all work together to make Instagram my photo-editing app of choice. With a few simple clicks, a basic snapshot can be elevated to a tiny (shareable) work of art.

(left) Image before editing, (center) Editing with filters in the Instagram app, (right) Final edited image

And because of the social nature of the app, Instagram offers users all kinds of ways to connect to one another. For example, you can mention other users in your notes on a photo, other users can comment on your photos, or you can use the private message option. The ability to gather with other members around a specific hashtag is another example of the social networking power of the app. The use of hashtags is one way to sustain smaller communities that can exist within the broader community of Instagram. Searching hashtags is a great way to discover other photographers, while tagging your own photos is a great way for your photographic work to get discovered too.

Tracey uses hashtags when posting her photo on Instagram to increase discoverability of her work.

Available for iOS, Android, and Windows
Price: free

Tracey Clark is a photographer, writer, instructor, mother, and the founder of Shutter Sisters, the online collaborative photo blog for women with a passion for photography.

Follow Tracey on Instagram @traceyclark


by Kara Stokes

Camera+ is an editing app made by tap tap tap, a developer who has a handful of seemingly popular games I’d in all honesty never play, but not much in the way of photography apps. This would normally make me dubious, were it not for the fact that a dear friend and wildly talented photographer recommended it to me. Huddled over her cell phone one day, she showed me her favorite editing recipe, and from that moment on I’ve been hooked.

The interface is incredibly easy to navigate and presents you with three main areas of editing: Scenes, The Lab, and Filters. If you can remember back to those dark days before we had smartphones, when we all carried around clunky point and shoots, you’ll recognize the scenes settings—options like Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent, Sunset, Beach, Night, and so on. Camera+ takes it a little further, including options for Food and even Text. My personal favorite, Backlit, makes otherwise muddled images pop as if it’s adding an extra, magical layer of HDR beyond what your phone can provide. The Lab features all the standard editing tools—everything from straightening to exposure controls to temperature—but I don’t spend too much time in there. The beauty really lies in the filters, which allow you to make your images pop in a unique and diverse way.

The Camera+ app in use: (left) editing the image using layered filters and (right) the info panel listing basic details and all edits made to the image.

The emphasis here is on bright and vivid effects, which makes it a nice complement to VSCO Cam, the app that covers all your needs as far as subdued analog-style image editing goes. This is not to say Camera+ doesn’t mimic analog too. The one big difference is that Camera+ focuses on light leaks and toning, rather than on the look of vintage faded film stock. Thanks to the ability to layer your filters and pull back their strength, just as you would with an adjustment layer in Photoshop, you can make completely unique editing recipes using the core 36 filters. The only downside is that your recipe can’t be saved and reapplied to other images. The info panel, which could theoretically serve as the bridge to refer back to favorite editing recipes, had some errors in accuracy of editing info too. That said, the benefits of this app far outweigh its flaws, making it an app that should be in the arsenal of every serious Instagramer.

Before (left image) and After (right image) editing with Camera+.

Before (left image) and After (right image) editing with Camera+.

Available for iOS
Price: $1.99 (iPhone) and $4.99 (iPad)

Kara Stokes is a Producer at Swanson Studio, a commercial studio, in Portland, OR, and a graduate of the Professional Photography Program at the New England School of Photography where she studied portraiture and architectural photography.

Follow Kara on Instagram @karalouisestokes


by Elyse Lebel

In my initial trials of mobile photography, I was an Instagram evangelist. Everything was deserving of an Instagram filter. For instance, take a cup of coffee. Place it on a wooden table. Add a book (preferably a classic, like The Catcher in the Rye or Jane Eyre) and a pair of hipster glasses, as to give an illusion of intellect and worldly sophistication. Take a downward shot. Add the Amaro filter. And, suddenly, I was sipping a cup of joe on the Champs-Élysées. Life was wonderfully oversaturated and overexposed. But, then, my friend introduced me to VSCO Cam and my oversaturated and overexposed world was completely turned upside down. (Editor’s Note: Instagram now offers sliders to control the filters’ effects.)

Similar to Instagram, VSCO Cam is a photo editing app for iPhone and Android users, which provides beautifully crafted filters, an array of editing tools, and a haven of inspiring photographs to admire (called the VSCO Grid). Short for Visual Supply Company, VSCO prides itself on not being just any other social network—their goal is not for users to get more likes or comments. Rather, they aim to celebrate skillful photography and promote an appreciation for art. This ideal perfectly manifests itself in the VSCO Grid, an understated sharing platform where you can follow your favorite photographers. Along with your favorite photographers, the VSCO team handpicks new and inspiring photographers to follow as well. Unlike Instagram, you cannot like photographs by clicking a button or post comments; you can only admire. But, if you feel so compelled, you can share a photo you like on your own personal social media platforms. The founders of VSCO have often likened the concept of the Grid to that of a museum. For instance, when visiting The Louvre, you would not post on The Mona Lisa, “Awesome painting skills, Leonardo! [insert clever emoji]” Instead, you analyze the art, savoring its details and timeless expression. However, featuring your art in this VSCO “museum” is a little more selective than in most sharing networks. You have to request to have your own Grid, and then you will receive an email from the Team notifying you of when you can begin publishing to your Grid.

The VSCO Grid: http://grid.vsco.co/

What I particularly like about VSCO Cam is its treatment of photographs; they do not look over-edited. They look clean and authentic, where the filters emulate the aesthetic of analog photographs. If you search #VSCOCam on Instagram you will begin to see what I mean. You will notice the particular subject, composition, and lighting of these photographs, as well as the character and nuances that VSCO Cam helps bring out in these pieces of art. Heck, you may even see a photograph of someone actually sipping a cup of joe on the Champs-Élysées.

Personally, I love when my photos look crisp, clean, and airy. To achieve this aesthetic, I use photos taken with my Nikon D5200 and apply my go-to filters with the VSCO Cam app. However, a mobile device works equally as well. My favorite filters are Hypebeast X VSCO (HB1 & HB2), C1, F2, and the Bright + Clean collection (S1 – S3). In the app, the store has new filters to test out. And, if you are so lucky, you will often find free filters to download! When you are finished editing your photo, you can save to your camera roll, e-mail to one of your contacts, export directly to all of the major social platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Weibo), or publish on your Grid. For anyone looking to become #InstagramFamous, the most effective method is to export directly to your Instagram account. Using VSCO-specific hashtags will not only increase discoverability of your photograph and connect you with the VSCO community, but it will also result in more likes and comments. Some of my favorite hashtags are #VSCO, #VSCOCAM, #VSCODaily, #VSCOWorld, #VSCOFood, #VSCOGood, and #VSCOBoss.

Applying a filter in the VSCO Cam app.

Before (left image) and After (right image) editing with F2 preset in VSCO Cam.

Before (left image) and After (right image) editing with C1 preset in VSCO Cam.

Available for iOS and Android
Price: free

Elyse Lebel is an avid photographer and an Associate Marketing Manager at Focal Press.

Follow Elyse on Instagram @erlebel


by Tom Persinger

Snapseed is a terrific mobile photo-editing app targeted to both amateur and professional photographers. It boasts 15 high-level menu options that range from the simple Automatic and Selective Adjustment, to an assortment of Frames, Filters, Effects, and other important options such as Cropping, Tilt-Shift, Vignetting, Black and White and more. Each menu selection provides an assortment of quality and well-designed sub-options. The app is targeted to photographers who would like to make straightforward edits such as Brightness, Ambience, Contrast, Saturation, and White Balance, those who would like to make more finely tuned, selective adjustments, and those who favor an approach that utilizes various filters (Grunge and Vintage) and layered manipulations. In short, there’s something for everyone to like about this app.

You can open an image from your phone’s photo library or use the in-app camera to create a new photograph. Once a menu option is selected, sub-options are made available either by dragging your finger up and down on the screen to reveal the menu, as in Tuning, or via a menu at the bottom (Vintage). Once selected, simply drag your finger right and left to increase or decrease the amount of manipulation. The degree to which a user can create a unique, signature look with this app is unmatched. There’s also a Compare to Original option that I’ve found to be extremely useful. Snapseed can edit JPG, TIF, and RAW files. I had no issue or lag editing and exporting RAW files from my FUJI X-E2. It has social media integration with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram.

During (left image) and After (right image) editing with Snapseed.

During (left image) and After (right image) editing with Snapseed.

Available for iOS and Android
Price: free

Tom Persinger is a photographer, writer, historian, and the founder of F295.

Follow Tom on Instagram @tompersin

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