18 Photography Apps Each Smartphone Photographer Should Consider
If you stop to think about it, that little eye on the world on the back of your smart phone is a technological wonder-- particularly if you grew up in an era when leaving the house or office meant nobody could reach you until you surfaced somewhere with a land line. Even when compared to point-and-shoot digital cameras of just a few years ago, these cameras which are constantly with us keep advancing at an incredible rate, creating images often indistinguishable from those taken with our DSLRs.
But it's not perfect-- and never can be--.since perfection means drastically different things to different people, Thanks to ambitious app creators, though, we can trick out our smart phone cameras with a seemingly endless supply of options. From filtering and sharing, to editing and correcting, if there's something you want your smart phone camera to do, chances are there's an app for that.
I don't think there could ever be a definitive list of the best and worst-- what follows are my own personal impressions. Also, this is not a ranking. The apps listed appear in no particular order.
I guess this one goes pretty much without saying (yet I'm saying it anyway). Combining the ease of retro filters with social media, Instagram-- if based solely on the numbers-- is the reigning champ of photography apps. Available in iOS and Android platforms, Instagram currently boasts over 150 million users in 25 different languages. Like many photography apps, Instagram allows for live filtered previews for taking in-app photos, as well as importing your own photos from the Camera Roll for post processing. If you're anything like I am, you've latched onto two or three filters that you actually use and never give the rest a second thought. Available free for both iOS and Android.
This is, by far, my favorite photo app. I almost never take in-app photos, preferring to use my iPhone's native camera for capture, and apps for editing. In addition to a wide variety of cropping tools, all of the filters (scenes) and presets are customizable by adjusting their intensity or by stacking them. Since these edits are happening on such a small screen, an intuitive, user-friendly interface is essential for me. Camera+ has that. This app gets high marks for ease-of-use. Available only on iOS ($1.99 for iPhone and $4.99 for iPad).
Speaking of user-friendly interfaces, Pocket Light Meter is a great tool for both seasoned photographers, as well as those working on their lighting skills. I realize that a lot of photographers-- mostly those who first came into photography in the digital age-- look at light meters as if they are fossils from a bygone era. They'd rather rely on bracketing, test shots, and their camera's LCD to achieve proper exposure. Personally, I'd rather take a quick meter reading to give myself a good starting point. Pocket Light Meter helps me do that, collecting accurate ambient readings, based on user-input values for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Available for iPhone only, $1.99 to remove ads-- $5.99 to remove ads and buy developer a pint.
FMP is another great light meter app. This one comes in particularly handy for people shooting with vintage film or lomography cameras. With a retro, analog feel to it, users have the option of taking reflected or incident light readings, displaying accurate shutter speeds after adjusting aperture and ISO rings. A timer function helps with slower shutter speeds and long exposures. Available free for both iPhone and iPad.
This was one of my very first photo apps when I got my first Android smart phone several years ago, and it was the first photo app I installed when I switched to my iPhone a few years after that. With six vintage or toy cameras/effects to choose from, anybody who has ever had an appreciation for film or old cameras will have fun with this app. Available for both iOS and Android platforms.
By now you may be noticing a pattern. My favorite apps have clean, simple, interfaces, and CameraBag is no different. Large-size previews of easy-to-apply filters are nothing new, but CameraBag's slider control allows for easy, intuitive adjustments to the intensity of the filters. The slider control can be set to adjust exposure, shadows, highlights, vignettes, color temperature, and contrast. With over 60 in-app filters, plus an online "style library," the possibilities seem endless, yet not overwhelming. Available for both iPhone and iPad.
While I still use Hipstamatic once in a while, updates and in-app purchases have let this app get a little out of control. Designed around a pretty wide assortment of vintage themes, each "Hipstapak" includes camera skins, flashes, films, and filters-- all of which become interchangeable with each other. With ten different Hipstapaks to choose from you can see how having so many possibilities at your fingertips can get a little unruly. On the positive side, prints can be ordered directly from within the app.
Once available only for the iPad, this app is now also compatible with both the iPhone and Android platforms. While I don't use it that often, it's a great handheld adaptation of the desktop software we all know and love. Unlike most editing apps, Photoshop Touch brings the functionality of layers and adjustments to your handheld devices. Available for both Android and iOS, $4.99 for phone and $9.99 for tablet.
Also from our fine friends at Adobe, PS Express is more basic than PS Touch, but still packs a punch as far as convenience goes. The straighten function is a useful tool that you won't find in very many apps. Available for iOS, Android, and Windows Tablet. Base version is free, but add-ons can get pricy.
Once again, a simple, intuitive interface wins me over-- especially when it can do as much as Wood Camera can. This app provides some great editing tools, including image rotation, cropping, and filters, but its tilt shift correction really sets it apart. Tilt shift distortion is created when the surfaces of the subject and lens are no longer parallel. Think about what happens when you lean back to take a photo of a tall building. The more you lean back-- pulling your lens away from a parallel view-- the more the distortion. This function corrects that. Available only for iOS, $3.99 in the App Store.
Because even "serious" photographers need to flex their whimsy once in a while. This one is kind of quirky, including live-view filters like Cartoon, Halftone, and Sketch. Available only for iOS, $1.99 in the App Store.
Created by SmugMug, this app lives up to its name, perhaps packing in more features than just about any other photography app. Oddly enough, for me that is just as much a downside as it is an upside. If I shoot something with my phone that needs that much editing, I'll usually do it on a computer, rather than tap it out on my phone or tablet. Remember, though, that this is just personal preference. There is no denying the quality of this app. I know a lot of people who love this app and use it regularly. For my phone, I prefer to keep it simple. Available for both iOS and Android. Base version is free, but unlocking full functionality will require in-app purchases.
This app does one thing and does it really well. If you're a fan of shallow depth of field (DOF) this app is for you. Smart phone cameras don't usually create a shallow DOF. With TaDaa, once you have either taken or imported a photo, you can create beautiful bokeh and DOF with just a few taps. Available only for iOS, free in the App Store.
Some of the most common necessary edits are to the face. Face Tune, with its simple, fingertip-driven interface, helps you cover blemishes, whiten teeth, enhance the eyes, and smooth the skin. Available only for iOS, $2.99 in the App Store.
If you like adding text to your images, Path On gives you the option of not only selecting where it goes, but the direction as well. Open your photo in the app. Drag your finger along the path you wish the text to take. Enter your text and the app does the rest. Available only for iOS, $1.99 in the App Store
Just recently released by Help Portrait founder Jeremy Cowart, this blending of photography, inspiration, and social media has the unique aspect of not only sharing images, but connecting users with the inspirations behind the photos and the challenge to see what they can do with similar themes. Currently only available for iOS, $1.99 in the App Store.
Pressgram was launched back in September, partially as a response to Instagram's increasingly confusing terms of service-- particularly as it related to copyright and ownership issues. Pressgram came out of the developer's desire to share filtered images without worrying about how the corporation behind the app might be making commercial use of those images. Similar to Instagram in some ways, the huge difference here is the seamless Word Press integration. Currently available only for iOS, an Android version is in development. Free in the App Store.
TriggerTrap started out as a triggering hardware system, but has since expanded to include a smartphone-controlled app. While the main purpose of the app is to connect to an external DSLR, the free version also offers control over an internal smartphone camera. The free version can do various types of time lapses, as well as trigger the camera with sound, light, and movement.
Wait a minute. A list of eighteen items? Not fifteen? Not twenty? I know-- my sense of balance and order is thrown off a little bit also. This originally started out as a list of my 20 favorites, but it turns out that two of them are no longer available for download. I chose to leave the list as is, rather than pick two random apps out of the air, just for the sake of making a more tidy package.
I have no doubt that I've missed many of your favorites. Feel free to tell us about them in the comments.
About The Author
Jeff Guyer is an Atlanta, GA photographer specializing in commercial and portrait photography, as well as weddings, sports, and street photography. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his work at Guyer Photography.