We talked earlier about basic photo editing apps. They are easy to use, and quickly step up your photo game. But for the more ambitious photographer, there are more advanced photo editing apps that can produce results that rival digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. Here are five than can help you consistently produce results so dynamic that most won’t believe you shot them with a phone camera.
iOS, Android and Windows Phone
As a powerful photo editor, PicsArt delivers near Photoshop-like capabilities. While its extensive creative control, striking filters, and exceptional image-editing tools are impressive, it’s the well thought-out interface that gives this app its excellent reputation.
PicsArt’s editing capabilities come in eight categories: Tool, Effect, Mask, Draw, Text, Callout, Lens Flare and Sticker. Each of those include several powerful options. For instance, Tool includes Crop, Perspective, Stretch, Clone, , Adjust, and Resize. Adjust allows you to control brightness, contrast, saturation, hue, shadows, highlights and color temperature. And each tool lets the user have extensive control. Just in one example, the Blur effect provides slider control over hue, distance, angle, noise and fade, plus brush size, opacity and hardness. Collages allow you to combine several of your photos into one, adding multiple photos at once or one picture at a time.
There are few free photo editing apps that approach PicsArt’s range of capabilities.
Strengths: Powerful easy-to-use photo editor
Weaknesses: Some effects introduce excessive grain
Price: Free (in app purchases)
iOS and Android
Lightroom is the overwhelming favorite photo sorting and editing program of most serious photographers. So logically, the Lightroom Mobile app extends their desktop software.
Lightoom Mobile makes great use of a smaller screen with two-finger tapping, quick swipes and other gestures for control. By controlling highlights, shadows, and clarity, you can get results like the desktop version. The presets are exceptional, with an undo/redo button to switch between revisions, while a Previous and Reset menu offers further historical control.
Photographers who use Lightroom for their everyday workflow will enjoy having the ability to select images and start basic edits from their mobile device. It’s easy to start those edits on the go, then effortlessly uploading the smartphone images to a Lightroom catalog.
It’s especially handy if you use your smartphone to capture behind-the-scenes snapshots during your shoots. You can snap and share a phone shot to your social media platforms. Then, just sync it to your Lightroom catalog via the Lightroom Mobile app, combining your mobile images with other deliverables into the same collection.
For the Lightroom user, the Lightroom mobile app is an essential piece of kit.
Strengths: Fully integrated into the leading photo editing software
Weaknesses: Limitations of a mobile screen prevent full use of the capabilities
Price: Free (requires Adobe Creative Cloud subscription – 30 day free trial available)
Pro HDR X
iOS, Android and Windows Phone
HDR or High Dynamic Range is an often used professional photography technique. By combining differently exposed versions of the same subject, HDR produces a single image with the highlights and shadows correctly exposed. iPhone’s built-in HDR app will combine two exposures. But if you want a stronger HDR effect, Pro HDR X’s three exposures deliver consistent powerful and natural-looking results.
One downside of any HDR app is that it takes longer to capture HDR photos. This means you don’t want to have any movement in the frame while the photo is taken. HDR combines multiple exposures of the same scene, and if the scene is different in each exposure you will get unpredictable results.
Strengths: Powerful HDR app that creates natural results
Weaknesses: HDR effect looks unnatural if applied at too high a strength
Slow Shutter Cam
iOS, Android and Windows Phone
Long exposure photography lets you capture light trails, motion blur, and better low light shots. Light trails are typically created by moving cars, trains, planes, or any other object that emits light. Motion blur is created by any passing object, most often moving water. This is the effect seen in images of soft stream scenes. All cameras capture these by adjusting shutter speed and light sensitivity.
While the built-in Camera app doesn’t let you control shutter speed and light sensitivity, apps like Camera+ now allow you to control the shutter speed of your photos. Unfortunately, the longest exposure you can create with Camera+ is only 1/2 of a second, not enough to create serious long exposure photography.
However, Slow Shutter Cam allows you to overcome this limitation of the iPhone camera. It digitally combines multiple exposures of the same scene into one beautiful long-exposure photo, and the resulting photos are often breathtaking. While It does a wonderful job of capturing light trails and motion blur, Slow Shutter Cam also improves low light photos. It adjusts the shutter speed instead of inducing noise by bumping up light sensitivity, as the iPhone does.
One note: You also need to stabilize your iPhone. With many options on the market, nothing beats the Joby Gorilla Pod for how well the phone is attached. Also, plan on using your white Apple earbuds for shutter release. Simply plug the white earbuds included into your iPhone, then open the camera app. By pressing the volume up button, you’ll be able to take photos without physically touching your iPhone. This trick is great for further reducing camera shake.
Strengths: Takes beautiful long-exposure smartphone photos
Weaknesses: Right accessories are necessary for good results
Of all the photo editing apps. none is more critical when I take challenging photos than Photo Pills. My amazement started when I first got it. Today, discover new capabilities weekly.
At first, I bought it only to determine sunrise and sunset by location, worldwide. Placing a pin on a world map, it instantly computes daylight and night for date. It also gives civil and nautical sunrise and sunset times, along with the photographer’s beloved blue and golden hours. On the same screen, the direction where the sun and moon rise and fall are displayed. This makes it simple to determine the location to place a rising sun or falling moon directly behind a feature, such as a building or mountain. This makes it simple to scout locations as you plan an upcoming shoot.
The photographic calculators are just as amazing. After inputting your camera and lens, it will show the depth of field for any combination of aperture and focal length. The app also calculates angle of view for your particular camera brand and lens, and can even explore how star trails will look for different exposure times.
One of the most time saving capabilities is the time lapse photography tab. The math required to calculate exposures and how far apart they have to be to fill a certain length of recording is daunting. Input the desired clip play length, time covered, playback speed and image size, the app does all the calculations. In seconds, you get interval, number of images, and memory space required. That calculation is beyond the capabilities of this English major brain. Thanks Photo Pills for doing the impossible! Well, impossible by me…
Strengths: Unmatched combination of vital photo planning tools
Weaknesses: Only available for iPhone