While it might not yet be able to compete with a full DSLR camera, for the average photographer the iPhone is going to be all they need to snap plenty of incredible pictures that go far beyond the average selfie. But for as good as the iPhone camera is, it can still only take pictures of things that are there. If you want to edit, retouch, or completely change your photo album, then you need to get a good photo editing app. Thankfully, Apple has a deep bench when it comes to altering your images.
The problem with finding the right photo editing program in Apple’s app store is being able to dig through the offerings that are so user-unfriendly as to be downright user-hateful. You have to cut away the fat to find those that aren’t bulky, cumbersome, and laden with too many menu options to actually accomplish anything. They also need to have an intuitive design that works with the iPhone’s unique structure so when you’re adding in washboard abs, you can do it quickly. So that you aren’t forced to go back to Photoshop, we’ve got the 8 best iPhone photo editing apps around.
Photo Editor by Aviary
Pro: No experience or cost necessary
Con: Risk of crashes and deletion of work
Simply Irresistible: If you’re new to the world of mobile photo editing software, there’s no better place to begin than Photo Editor by Aviary. It is as stripped down and simplistic as any image retouching software out there and what it lacks in power it more than makes up for in easy usage. You’re not going to be able to make sweeping changes that have photographic quality, but you will learn the ropes of photo editing without much cost.
Starting with a big, friendly display, you’re going to be able to see how your retouches will look when the picture is put onto the big screen or printed out, which is very helpful since going from an iPhone to a full photograph is a huge jump in ratio. The ability to quickly slap on filters, stickers, or a few easy effects makes it flashy right from the get-go. In a lot of ways it feels a little like baby’s first photo editor, which can frustrate the veteran with its excessive simplicity and dearth of more complex features, but for late adopters (and yes, kids) it’s a pleasure. Just beware the numerous pay options that they like to throw in your face.
Pro: No in-app purchases or bloatware
Con: Cannot zoom and edit
Touch Sensitive: There’s an impressive pedigree behind Snapseed which may or may not entice users to it. First, it was designed by Nik Software, who has made their bones devising effects for the much-ballyhooed Adobe Photoshop. Second, they were bought by Google not long ago, so they have the resources to throw money at any problem they encounter.
What sets Snapseed way out from the crowd is how wisely it employs the iPhone’s touchscreen, especially if using the iPhone 5 or iPhone 6. Swiping around allows you to change contrast, brightness, color, and other options. Vertical swipes select the option while horizontal movements change the strength. If you somehow manage to get confused, an ever-present question mark is there to answer your queries. It’s loaded with options for special effects, showing off Nik’s Photoshop roots. Everything from Grunge to vintage to alterations in focus completely revamp your images with some simple swipes, pokes, and pinches. If you aren’t interested in doing the work and want to just hit a lode of automatic presets, there’s quite a few to choose from.
For social media mavens, the sharing is dead simple on any platform without the need to paste or save or take any extra steps between snapping a picture of your food and forcing your friends to look at it.
Pro: Currently no cost with tons of free add-ons
Con: Only works in portrait mode for now
Complete Control: Fotor has long been a favorite among the photo editing app crowd, but it was dancing on the edge of obsolescence for a long time, being quickly overtaken by younger, hungrier options. To combat this, Fotor not only upgraded, they also went to a free model that includes a number of free in-app purchases along with a few social components that are new and inventive.
Starting off with 6 picture taking modes that go hand-in-glove with 13 lighting scenes, you can ensure that it always is getting your good side even before you crack into the actual editing process. Once a picture is in, you’re able to dust it with a whole plethora of filters, along with your standard crop, tint, temperature, vignettes, shadow, and other edits.
For captions, Fotor is particularly adept, which makes it popular among the web comic creation crowd or anyone looking to craft a laugh to share out in the Twitterverse, Instagramography, or Facebooktopia. Collage and magazine options let you go above and beyond the staid options to do something a little different with your pics, which is a nice little Easter Egg for those seeking fresh air in the stale photo editing world.
Right now, Fotor is also hosting competitions that let users submit photographs that will be critiqued by professionals which allows you to get feedback and win prizes. A pointless, but fun addition to a fine image editor for your iOS.
Pro: Unique, bright, accessible interface
Con: Troubles uploading photos
Coming Up: Polarr is still a relatively new citizen in this app sector, but thus far it’s making a strong showing and indicates no signs of slowing down. It began as a browser-based editor that works similar to Photoshop/Lightroom, but has now successfully leaped onto mobile devices in a way that thus far has escaped the failures known as Photoshop Express and Photoshop Touch.
Taking a page out of the Instagram playbook, Polarr gives you a lot of pre-sets that you can just hop through if you want to make changes to your images fast and dirty, on the fly. If those don’t appeal, you can build your own to enhance your future pics without the need of taking any additional steps so you can get back to one of your other hobbies.
Infinite undo/redo options are a godsend for many the photo meddler who vacillates between thinking they are a genius and believing they are an utter failure. Many advanced options lurk in the wiring of this beast, including HSL channels, split-toning, gyroscope-enabled tilt-editing, and a new gradient filter that works like a dream. Even if you have never touched the original cloud-based browser editor, this is worth a download and look-see.
Pro: Natural alterations in skin tone
Con: Social sharing is limited
The Pro’s Choice: VSCO Cam wasn’t always a photo editing app for iPhones. It began as a film-emulsion emulator meant to work with Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom. That means that instead of being a cutesy little app for the average selfie stick owner, it’s made for shutterbugs with a camera backpack that is stuffed to the gills with lenses. This gives it a minimalist interface that is gorgeous and powerful, but daunting to the newbie who will quickly find themselves lost.
VSCO leverages the greater power and higher pixel ratio of the iPhone camera to maximum effect. With a few two-finger swipes you can adjust the focus on the image, alter the exposure, and adjust the color temperature to warm up that Christmas card photo and cool down those stark images. There’s a huge range of filters and effects, but you’ll need to upgrade to get your hands on them, and even then there’s some extra charges for the really slick ones.
File handling is masterful and it’s easy to take pictures from within the app or import them from an external source if you so desire.
All of your standard tone, color saturation, shadows, contrast, straighten, et al, make an appearance with a quick slider for intensity. Undo functions as well as quick reversion to the original image all allow for mistake-free fiddling without requiring much know-how.
PicsArt Photo Studio
Pro: Can scrapbook and make collages
Con: Overwhelming options
Mass Effects: To begin with, PicsArt doesn’t just turn your iPhone’s camera on, it has a nice digital zoom as well as photography options, so you can simplify your photo editing right out of the gate by taking a better picture. If you choose to import your pictures, you can do it from a camera, your phone’s own file system, snag them right off of Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, or even yank them from some online backup services like Dropbox.
Once the pictures are ready to go, you have a huge range of options, which will be a bit daunting for the neophyte, but are smartly arranged, so once you get the hang of where everything is, finding it, using it, and loving it are a snap. 8 major categories (Callout, Draw, Effect, Lens Flare, Mask, Sticker, Text, and Tool) start you off with a wide array of sub-options to keep any editor happy for days on end.
There’s not just a lot of tools, each tool has some very sleek options built into it. Go into your Blur selection and you can alter direction, noise, hue, hardness, opacity, and other pieces. If you feel like drawing, you can do that with a massive palette of brushes.
Easy sharing, its own social community, a low cost, an easy interface, and beautiful results make PicsArt hard not to love, and certainly an option worth trying.
Pro: Includes contextual tips and video tutorials
Con: Extremely steep learning curve
Mug Shooter: FaceTune specializes in retouching and editing portraits rather than working with landscapes or more artistic shots. That isn’t to say that advanced users can’t get some really sleek functionality out of it, but it requires extensive experimentation. If your raison d’etre is taking pictures of people (or just those of yourself in the bathroom mirror) then the ability to whiten teeth, remove redeye, stretch or narrow your face, and smooth out those crow’s feet, FaceTune will keep you happy.
It’s clear that the idea behind FaceTune is not flashy special effects. That isn’t to say that it lacks the power, instead it prefers subtle photo editing and picture manipulation to the more overt lens flash changes. As you work, you’ll often find yourself needing to do a specific set of actions to get the results you want. The nice thing is that you can save your own customized effects for those that you use most commonly to fit with your photographic style. Filters can be slapped down over the entire image or applied locally, which we found helpful and more than a little addictive.
Importing images can sometimes be tricky, as can finding where the undo function is. This is where the somewhat sticky user interface becomes frustrating. Menu options are not always apparent, features are not always easy to find, and aren’t always where you would expect them to be. While certainly not a dealbreaker, it means you have a climb ahead of you learning to use FaceTune.
Pro: “Animated” recaps of edits
Con: Light on features for the price
Quick Fix: Lightricks is the company behind FaceTune, and they have devised another winning app with Enlight that is more generalized than FaceTune, and works for images that aren’t just of people. The end result is a smart app that cuts away features that very few people use in favor of things more geared toward the average mobile image editor.
The feature-rich interface is rife with tutorials, tips, hints, tricks, and information, making it the ideal place for a beginner to get their feet wet, minus the entry fee. Lightricks has a winning product on their hands that has an easy point of ingress with Enlight. Truly accurate cloning tools along with the ability to repair or “Heal” damaged or incorrect aspects of a photograph make each snapshot as clear in your iPhone as it is in your memory.
The image processing is handled by the LTEngine engine while accurate touch-ups and swipes are done via SafeBrush, which reduces the guesswork when dealing with a small, narrow screen like that of the iPhone.
Built in are a huge array of pre-sets, which gives anyone the option of learning to play with their pics without needing to learn all about hue, saturation, tilt-shift, and blending (although all those features and more make an appearance.) Tack on a load of effects, and you’ll find Enlight to be hours of fun dressed up like a picture editor.