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The first Apple iPhone, introduced in 2007, wasn’t the first with a camera built into it. Lots of phones had them before, including models from Blackberry, Sony Ericsson, and Nokia, among others. But the features on these other phones didn’t resonate with the general public the way the iPhone’s features did, particularly those connected to its camera, which had just a 2-megapixel image sensor and lacked many basic features found on most stand-alone point-and-shoots. Nevertheless, the earliest iPhone gave the public its first look at a new bond between mobile devices and photography, a bond so strong that it would bring dramatic changes to the photo industry: Less than 10 years later, according to the image hosting site Flickr, more consumers were using iPhones than DSLR cameras.
Yet it wasn’t the iPhone hardware alone that achieved this success. An equally important component was Apple’s App Store, which allowed consumers to download mobile applications—small programs—that could customize the feature set on their iPhone. (This is possible as well for Android phones, which have the Google Play App Store). And that was, and remains, a powerful force for consumers, one that has given countless photographers a new means to express themselves creatively.
Today, more than 14 years after the first iPhone was introduced, developers continue to introduce impressive new apps, including many related to photography. The following five mobile apps are some of the more powerful and versatile photography-related apps that artists can use for brain-storming ideas, capturing and editing all kinds of still images and video, and even creating impressive digital fine art.
Adobe Lightroom Mobile App (iOS & Android)
If you’re looking for a professional-level mobile app for your phone or tablet, Lightroom is an excellent choice. It is quite easy to use, integrates well with Adobe’s desktop version of this app (Lightroom CC), and provides a variety of tools to capture, edit, organize, and share your photos quickly and easily. Most of the editing features on the mobile app are free. However, if you have a Creative Cloud Photography subscription, you’ll also get features like cloud storage, the Healing Brush tool, selective adjustments, geometry tools, and the ability to make edits to RAW images on a phone or tablet. You also get the ability to sync your Lightroom photos on all your devices, including your computer, and to create a customized website to showcase your photos powered by Adobe Portfolio. Pricing: As mentioned above, the limited version of the app is free. The full app starts at $9.99 a month.
Snapseed (iOS & Android)
Snapseed is a photo-editing app that was originally developed by Nik Software (which has created a wide range of filter software and plug-ins) but is now owned by Google. It has been redesigned several times over the years, but it’s still a fun and creative app to use. It is divided into three sections: Looks, Tools, and Export. Looks mimics Instagram’s filter section and provides a quick way to change the color saturation or tone of your photo. The Tools section, the largest portion of the app, gives you a variety of ways to manipulate your photo’s texture, lighting, or tone. You can use a blur filter, add text, or add a frame as well. One of my favorite effects is the Grunge filter, which adds a gritty texture to images. Then, when you’re ready, you can use the Export function to share your creation on social media or on a device like your phone. Pricing: Free.
Prisma (iOS & Android)
When this intriguing photo-editing/filter-based mobile app came out, around five years ago, it made a big splash, since it doesn’t just enhance colors or tones or textures but transforms your photographs into new works of art (sort of). It does this by using a filter algorithm, which scans the image data in a selected photo. It then makes various calculations based on those scans to apply different digital-imaging effects, which can dramatically alter the colors, lines, shapes and patterns of your original photo. Pricing: You can try the app free for three days, then pay $7.99 a month or $29.99 per year.
VSCO (iOS & Android)
VSCO is more than a photo and video editing app. It’s also a social media app, having attracted a very strong photography and creative community. On the production side, you’ll find lots of editing tools as well as preset effects that let you quickly change the look of your image or video clip. VSCO also has filters that recreate vintage looks of film stock, like those from Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, and others. You can use advanced photo-editing tools like HSL and Split Tone and use the Borders function to frame your images as well. If you want to be inspired by the VSCO community, check out the Discover section of the app. And with a VSCO membership, you can take part in one of the weekly Photo Challenges. Pricing: Free. VSCO membership costs $19.99 annually after a seven-day free trial.
Although this mobile app is free (for the basic features), it still provides a plethora of editing tools—perhaps almost too many! You get traditional tools like Crop, Curves, and Flip/Rotate, but also cool ones like Stretch, which allows you to quickly distort your image in various ways, or Motion, which lets you repeat a specific shape that you define by drawing with your finger over the image on your phone. In addition to the Tools section, the app has a deep effects section called FX. Plus, there are other ways to edit or enhance your photo, including Retouch, Sticker, Cutout, Text, Brushes, Draw, Lens Flare, Shape Mask, Frame, and more. Pricing: The basic app is free; you can buy its premium Gold version for $11.99 a month or $55.99 a year.