The long awaited follow-up to my recent How to Take Better iPhone Photos article is here! And this time, it’s an equal opportunity iPhone vs. Android article as some of the apps I’m going to showcase are available on each type of device. This article is all about the best photo editing apps for your smart phone. I’ve got a ton of them on my phone. I’ve spent a small chunk of change on them and I really only use a few regularly. They each have their own areas of use.
1. VSCO Cam – available for both iPhone and Android.
My favorite part of vsco is the plethora of options available to me as an editor. While I use all three of the apps mentioned, I usually turn to vsco most often because it just has a particular look I like. It’s one of those indefinable things that draw you to certain photos, and vsco has quite simply nailed it. The beauty of this app is you can use it quickly by choosing one of their (many, many) predefined presets. Or if you’re more picky about a particular photo, you can really delve into the controls available.
Let’s look at some of the predefined presets first. Since it’s a horizontal scrolling function this app uses (at least on the iPhone), it’s hard to show them all. Some are included in the app and others are in-app purchases. When the 2.0 version of this app first came out, I bought a bundle of presets to start out. They have events with free presets from time to time as well.
Each preset “family” has its own properties and they’re described reasonably well. Faded & Moody, for example are each of those adjectives. If you’re looking to build an Instagram following, most of the high end users are using vsco to edit their images and define their own posting style. Or if you just want to keep a cohesive look to your family photos, pick a family and stick to it. You’ll do well and your photo albums won’t look all jumbled. The beauty of vscocam, though, is in the details. Below you’ll find a photo I took on a recent (yes, another) flight. The photo is great on its own as it’s pretty hard to mess up a sunset. But a little extra work by choosing a preset (one of the contemporary looks), then lightening the shadows a touch, then adding a red tint to the shadows at a light opacity goes a long way. Did I have to do any of those things? Nope. But I think molding a favorite image stamps ownership, style, and a little extra pretty.
You’ll see my typical editing habits below – I choose a preset to start the process. (Note: you can also choose the intensity of that preset from 1 to 12, just like the fine tuning options later.) Then I move to the fine tuning options. Basic options such as contrast, brightness and cropping are all here. Options such as highlight recovery or shadow recovery include a scale so you can choose the intensity level. Cropping includes most of the major ratios as presets. There’s also a straightening function – a biggie for me! I rarely go beyond these options, but there are more such as temperature (warmth and cooling), sharpening, shadow and highlight tints as seen on the airplane photo above, etc.
You’ll see my favorite preset (K1) applied to the final image here.
PicTapGo is the easiest of the three photo editing apps to use by FAR. When I’m in a hurry and just want to post an image, this is the app I use. My favorite features of the app are the speed in which I can post and the previews. Unlike vscocam which makes me scroll forever to see tiny thumbnails of the preset preview, PicTapGo uses slightly larger thumbnails and uses the entire screen real estate to show them. This makes corrective editing (like adjusting the contrast or brightness) a breeze. In addition to the easy preset viewing, PicTapGo gives me the option to save my favorite recipes, or combinations of those presets.
Finally – and this is another biggie for me – posting horizontal or vertical images to Instagram is a one step process from PicTapGo. This is great, as I often cannot crop my images to a square format. Using other apps other than PicTapGo, I have to save the image and then open it up in another app to add the white border. PicTapGo does this for me in one step, another way it speeds up my posting process.
While PicTapGo offers less control than vscocam or snapseed, it makes up for it in good image quality and yes, speed of course.
3. Snapseed – available for both iPhone and Android
I hesitated to include this app as I so rarely use it. That said, the two things that I like about it are very helpful so I want to include it. Also, it’s free. It wasn’t when I first started using it, but Google has since purchased it and made it a free download. So if you’re looking for a budget way to edit a photo on a $500 phone, I guess you’ve got it.
The two functions I mostly use in Snapseed? Selective Adjust and Ambiance (under Tune Image). Ambiance just adds a bit of warmth but also adjusts the contrast a bit in a way I don’t see in other photo editing apps. Selective adjust is the main reason I like this app. Sometimes I take a photo and only want one portion of the image brighter without lightening the rest of the frame – Snapseed allows me to do that by using my finger to select an area and create a small mask to affect just that are of the photo. I didn’t showcase selective adjust above because this image doesn’t need it. I did show Center Focus, a sort of vignette you can move around the image to keep the focus on your subject.
The reason I hesitated to include this app is that snapseed can make your images very scary, very fast. They have some built in presets but they’re all pretty much ugly. Yeah, I said it. Ugly. And for that reason, I can’t use them. I chose the two least offensive here as examples. But really, just don’t use their presets. Use the app to selectively adjust and then export the image elsewhere for the rest.
So there you have it – my favorite 3 photo editing apps for your smart phone. I spend a lot of time on my phone, mostly taking photos of Finn. I want them to look great as I print every photo that makes it into my Instagram account. And I’m not afraid to edit to get there!
A few more comparison examples for fun – the order of each collage is original photo, vscocam, pictapgo and snapseed. Each image style chosen to showcase the strengths of the app, not necessarily the only thing that app can do of course.