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The Best Photo Editing Apps for iPhone
I’m not particularly old, but nor am I particularly young these days. I’m old enough to remember the days of shooting on film, rather than…
I’m not particularly old, but nor am I particularly young these days. I’m old enough to remember the days of shooting on film, rather than on our phones. In fact, I can remember — clear as day — the dark room in my family’s basement where I’d help my dad develop photos. I guess I should say clear as night in this case. While my time shooting on film has largely been relegated to a meandering and nostalgic preamble that precedes my favorite photo editing apps, it offers an opportunity to step back and marvel at what’s possible in this digital generation of photography.
These apps, many that I use on the regular, are quite versatile in editing photos. From intricate metadata information, to removing unwanted objects, and getting the colors just right. Apple has always placed a huge importance on the iPhone’s cameras and the wealth of capable third-party apps is recognition that it’s emphasis was well-placed.
If there is one app I’d recommend from this list beyond all else, it would be Darkroom. There are so many reasons to edit photos — removing background objects, tweaking colors, prepping for social, adjusting metadata, or making yourself look more svelte. Darkroom, caters to a few of these commonalities but at its core, I’d say it is most suited for controlling the look of your photos.
The app has deep and powerful adjustment controls for both photo and video. The cropping tool allows for horizon adjustment, perspective correction, as well as cropping itself. Dozens of filters are baked in that can be customized, tweaked, or full-on created. Of course there are sliders and curve adjustments too.
For social users, Darkroom has the ability to add frames to your photos. These frames can be completely customized from the thickness, to the aspect ratio, to the color. This can allow you to optimally adjust photos for posting on Insta without parts being inexplicably cut off. There’s also a tag engine. You can create and store tags that can be quickly copied out and added to as you publish them.
Other features include deep iOS integration — such as support for Apple ProRAW photos — and the Share Sheet. Everything in the app is non-destructive and can be wound back using the history tab. For photographers, there are few better-suited apps on the App Store. And the updates won’t stop coming.
You’ve never looked better!
Personally, I think you look great. But, if I’ve learned anything from my wife, sometimes you just need that extra reassurance of a quick touchup. FaceTune 2 allows automatically identifies people in your photos and can apply a variety of adjustments to make everyone look their best.
When editing your face, you can use a slider to make yourself look slimmer. It’s a subtle effect but can give you that added confidence. Fabrics — as well as your skin — can also be smoothed, looking cleaner and softer. Everything in the photo can be whitened — even your teeth. The teeth tool will not only whiten them, but can straighten them too.
With the paint tool, you can adjust makeup after a photo was taken. Add blush or adjust your contour. For serious adjustments there is the reshape tool which can help you emphasize or minimize features. You can also change your hair color, remove background objects, add studio lighting, and swap out the entire background as a whole.
I’m not here to advocate for folks adjusting themselves in photos but I’m also not about to shame those that do. There are plenty of applications for Facetune2 and it’s a solid app, regardless of your use.
Quick and dirty Photoshop-quality editing
Photoshop is synonymous with photo editing these days. When someone plans to adjust a photo, they often decry that they plan to “photoshop it,” despite rarely actually using Photoshop. But this needn’t be the case these days. Photoshop Express — available for free — is a great, reliable way to adjust your mobile image.
This lightweight version of Photoshop has many of the expected tools, and is more powerful than most photo apps on the App Store. I don’t want to just list a bunch of granular features, so you may have to explore for yourself. The more specialized features are the ability to cutout or select multiple objects within a single photo, multiple one-touch makeup templates, and eye correction to open eyes, remove redeye, or fix scary pet eyes.
The mobile version is incredibly powerful and constantly gets updates with new features and abilities. Adobe’s tight ties to Apple also helps ensure it takes advantage of new iOS and camera features not long after they launch. It’s a perk not every app has.
Take control of your content
Ultralight is another great choice for a photo and video editor. It’s a gorgeous minimalist app that puts your content front-and-center. Rather than obscuring large parts of the screen with text and controls, it focuses on full-screen editing that makes your image pop.
As you edit, all effects are applied in real time. And it’s non-destructive so everything you do can be undone an instant. One of the more complicated photo editing techniques is applying a selective mask and altering just part of the image. Think selecting just a flower and popping the saturation on just that part of the image, or removing all saturation from the rest. Ultralight does this with ease.
Another cool effect with Ultralight is overlays. There are multiple texture overlays that you can apply to bring your images to life. My favorite of which are light leaks. These can mimic surreal lighting scenarios that are hard to come by in real life and without a large lens. These look natural and can help set your images apart.
Hop on the hype train
I’d heard of VSCO and used it time to time, but I also had no idea how popular the app truly was. I may be dating myself a bit, but my younger cousins clued me into the term “VSCO girl” who they described as someone who takes great photos and adds filters using the VSCO app.
Beyond the gen X slang, VSCO is a professional-level photo and video editor with a ton of features. There are more than 200 presets for editing both types of media and ways to enhance colors, add blur, overlay text, and more.
This app is a modern take on a photo editor that is intended for sharing on social media and digital avenues. It’s streamlined and easy to use and can be as complicated as you need it to be.
Users can share photos with the larger VSCO community and be inspired by shared images. There are even editorials to be discovered on shooting photos and videos. If you’d like, you can participate in photo challenges too. There are apps for iPhone and iPad but also the Apple TV where you can get gorgeous slideshows on the big screen.
Photoleap by Lightricks
Let the colors pop
Photoleap is quite the capable photo editor, but I think it’s most useful for bringing out the colors in your images. Many of its editing features are tuned around adding new colors or bringing out the existing colors in your images. You can change the background, clothes, and other parts of your images. There are vivid, Andy Warhol-like filters that jump off the screen. It also allows you to automatically isolate different parts of the image like a person, the background, and more. Then you can turn various parts of the image greyscale while bringing color to other parts. There are also ways to level up with layers. Combine multiple images together and edit like Photoshop — but without the subscription. There are plenty of great examples of this within the app that can unlock your creativity. Of course, if you want to keep things simple, you can still adjust the individual aspects of images, crop them, share to social, and much more.
Speed and performance you need
If the name Pixelmator sounds familiar, it’s because the brand has been on-stage at multiple Apple events over the years. The company has worked tightly with Apple on new versions of its multiple photo editing applications in unique ways. This Apple-specific app is available universally on Mac, iPad, and iPhone.
That means you are getting desktop-class photo editing on your iPhone. It relies wholly on Apple’s Metal graphics engine for unparalleled performance when editing massive RAW photos. Before even getting into the manual editing, Pixelmator Photo has the unique ability to automatically adjust your photos with one tap. It has a powerful engine driven by machine learning. Tapping into Apple’s Core ML, it will magically enhance your images to look amazing. I’ve tested this with some rough images and Pixelmator Photo still brings them back to life.
This machine learning can be used for cropping photos too. If you want, you can crop manually but the ML feature will analyze the picture and crop to what will look best. This isn’t only faster, but is beneficial for those that don’t have the best eye for where to appropriately crop to highlight the subject.
Track your non-smart camera’s photos
Your smartphone is perpetually connected. When you snap a photo, little bits of information are saved in the file known as EXIF data. This EXIF metadata contains things like the time and date of your photos, what the lens, aperture, exposure, and shutter speed were, and where the photo was taken. If you aren’t shooting with your smartphone, you may not have all that information — specifically the location.
Many hobbies and pros shoot on dedicated cameras such as DSLR or mirrorless models, and when they import them into their phone, they lack much of that metadata. So why would you want this information? It helps you discover, search, and organize your photos. In the Photos app, you can search “Dublin, Ohio” and see the photos taken in that town. Or you can search for a specific date. The memories that the Photos app creates can also be location-based. Or maybe you just don’t remember where you took a photo and you want to check.
The Photos app allows you to customize this data with the launch of iOS 15, but there is a great way to manage the location on these photos that is much more streamlined. You open the Geotagr app and start tracking. Then you go about your day, snapping photos with your dedicated shooter. Once you’re done, add them to Dropbox, Files, or the Photos app on your phone. Geotagr will then compare the time stamp on the photos to your exact location, and add that to each photo.
This is a great way to bridge between a real camera and your smartphone. It allows you to enjoy the benefits of a mobile-shot photo but with the quality of a dedicated camera. Whenever I go on a trip or a photoshoot, this app is always running in the background. It even has an Appel Watch app to make it easy to start and stop. This app won’t be for everyone, but its niche functionality is much welcomed.
But enough about other people's apps.