The cameras in smartphones have come a long way from the original grainy low-res shots they started with. Today’s top-of-the-line phones take such good pictures that photographic capabilities have become one of their major selling points.
Despite the incredible quality images that are achievable, there’s still a lot of room for improvement with photo editing. In addition to the basic features of cropping, sharpening focus or modifying the lightness, there are apps that let you add a softening haze, make the image look like it was taken in black and white or 1960s Kodachrome, and even transform it to look like a watercolor painting, pencil sketch or anime. Many of the basic functions can be done with the programming that comes with the phone, but there are many fun apps to take your photos to the next level.
Features to Consider
• Compatibility – Apps have to be designed to work on a particular operating system, such as Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, Windows phones and others. Many apps are written for multiple platforms, but before you buy one, make sure it works for your system and your device.
If you buy your apps from Apple’s App Store or Google Play, then you will be assured that the app matches your system, but many apps are only compatible with certain devices. These can be only newer models, or phones but not tablets and vice versa. This is especially true in the iOS domain, where apps may work on some iPads and not others, so it is always a good idea to confirm compatibility.
• Price and in-app purchases – Many photo editing apps are free and others range from 99 cents to $20 and maybe more. It’s important to find out if the app is a one-time cost or if you will need to make additional purchases to activate all the features. In many cases, free or low-cost apps give you limited access so you can explore the capabilities and user interface, but if you like it and want full access to all its features, you will have to pay more. Sometimes it’s an additional fee for the “full” or “advanced” version, but sometimes there are many additional small charges on a per-item basis for extras.
• Filters – Filters are one-touch shortcuts used to give your image a certain appearance. You don’t have to do a lot of adjusting; the preset modifications combine to create an overall effect. There are usually built-in filters to use, but they are a popular add-on as well.
Photoshop Express – Adobe Photoshop is the go-to software for professional photo editing, and the company has released an amazingly versatile free version, called Photoshop Express, for use with mobile devices to let you get creative with digital images. It is available for iOS (version 10.0 and up), Android (4.1 and up) and Windows devices (Windows 8 and up), and extremely popular. In the app store alone, it has over 207,000 ratings, giving it an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars. In addition to all the normal editing features you could ask for, the app features text and collages, allowing you to layer parts of different pictures together
PicSay Pro – Available for Android, and costing only a few dollars, PicSay Pro’s unique attribute is that it features speech/thought bubbles, so you can show people and animals thinking and talking like in a comic strip. It has a lot of fun features including stickers (you can “stick on” a tiara, beard, hat, etc.), a Polaroid-style image that looks like one of the old instant photographs with space at the bottom for your note, face-swapping, etc. It is also a very popular app with over 26,000 ratings giving it an average of 4.7 out of 5.
Instagram – As a photo-oriented social media platform, Instagram started out featuring filters that allowed users to upload one of their own pictures or take a new one and give it an amazing look with just a click. The kind of lighting that was once reserved for photo shoots with professionals could be added to a quick shot taken with a phone and immediately put online, which gave users an immediate upgrade to their social media presence—and it’s a lot of fun to look fabulous online. Instagram has grown from being “the latest thing the kids are doing” to an essential marketing channel for all kinds of businesses as well as a key platform for professional photographers and travel bloggers. Opening a free account lets you play right alongside them.
There are all kinds of photo editing apps out there. Any of these will give you a great start at turning your photos into whatever kind of work of art you prefer. The great thing about digital art is that it costs nothing to toss out a piece and start over, so you risk nothing by experimenting—just save the original and work on a copy! I hope you have fun and enjoy making great pictures with whichever app works best for you.