By default, we tend to share pictures as soon as we take them, often unfiltered and unchanged, and there’s definitely something about that spontaneity and simplicity that captures the moment.
However, it also means you’re missing out on the advanced editing and enhancing features available to you on your phone, via a variety of apps—features that are getting better all the time as the software and hardware involved get more powerful.
Here are some great photo editing apps to try. You might be surprised at how well they work and how easy they are to use.
Google Photos is more than a place to auto-upload and back up your photos. Besides all the handy storage and search functions the app offers, it’s also great at editing. Available options start with the expected: cropping and resizing photos, adjusting brightness and contrast, changing saturation and warmth, and boosting the shadows in a picture.
Where Google Photos really starts to shine is with the filters and features powered by Google’s algorithms: You can apply a number of suggested enhancements to improve the look of your photos, create background blurs, and even apply custom brightness and contrast tweaks to the sky (if the app detects a sky in the image, of course.)
The built-in Photos app in iOS is better at editing pictures than you might have realized. Dive into the editing suite in the app, and the first option you’ll see is Auto Enhance, which applies some smart filters to your picture. Then you can manually adjust exposure, brilliance, shadows, highlights, and much more.
Apple Photos also has a useful noise-reduction feature to add polish to your images, and there are straightening and cropping tools available. The app has a host of preset filters that can dramatically change the overall look of a photo, and you can adjust the strength of the applied effect using a slider.
Apple Photos is free for iOS.
Snapseed’s polished and minimal interface contains a whole host of photo editing tools and features just under the surface—start digging around in the app and you’ll discover options for managing brightness, contrast, white balance, exposure, color, and more, as well as more basic tools for cropping and adjusting the perspective of images.
Snapseed also includes a bunch of tools typically found only on a desktop image editor: tools like a healing brush for correcting imperfections and a lens blur option for focusing on one spot in particular. All these tools, plus a wide range of filters, can be tweaked and customized to get your pictures looking just right.
One of the more fun and friendly photo editing apps available, Pixlr gives you access to an impressive number of options. You can do everything from add text labels on top of images to paint out the sky in a photo and replace it with something else. Despite all the advanced functionality in the app, Pixlr is always simple to use.
You can pixelate images, rotate and crop images, remove red-eye, apply plenty of filters and borders, and much more. If you’re stuck for inspiration, the app has some one-tap auto-fix options that intelligently enhance your pictures using the most appropriate settings for the image type (the subject, the lighting conditions, and so on).
Spend a few minutes with Afterlight and you can tell that it’s meant for the serious photo editor—it has a professional, minimalist design, but it packs in plenty of features, from a stack of effective filters to a variety of handy tools that can get your pictures looking better than ever. Sharing and exporting images to your phone or to other apps is also really easy.
It’ll take you a significant amount of time to explore everything that Afterlight has to offer, via the five icons at the bottom of the screen, and they can all be customized to get the right effect. The app lets you shift colors in an image, drop text on top of pictures, create effects like a double exposure, flip photos, and more, and it supports image layers.
You don’t have to have an active Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to use the excellent Lightroom app on your mobile phone. It’s a powerful, intuitive image editor that can prove useful in many situations—whether you’re looking for quick presets to enhance your pictures or want to take more in-depth control over how they look.
The app comes with an impressive list of features: Crop, rotate, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, white balance, saturation, sharpen, blur, dehaze, and geometry tools are just a few of them, and if you don’t want to apply changes to the entire image, Lightroom lets you get clever with selections for editing part of a picture.
One of the oldest and most well-respected photo editing apps, VSCO caters to just about everyone. Whether you want to auto-enhance an image, apply one of the many filters with a single tap, or dig deep into the color, exposure, and contrast of your photo, VSCO has the tools to help you—and it’s all beautifully presented.
The two areas of the app where you’re probably going to spend most of your time are in presets (a carefully crafted selection of filters) and adjustments (everything from skin tone to blur effects). Besides everything you would expect to find in a photo editor, there’s more, including a comprehensive text-overlay feature and a skew tool.
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