Among the myriad reasons why smartphones and tablets have largely replaced the stand-alone digital camera for most snapshot situations is convenience. You always have a reasonably high-quality camera in your pocket, and after capturing the moments of your life, you can immediately share them. Very convenient.
But one rarely cited smartphone camera convenience is being able to instantly edit or add effects to candids. Even if a photo doesn’t come out as well as it would have if snapped by a digital camera, an editing or effects app can immediately correct its ills.
As our mobile gear grows more powerful, these editing and effects apps grow ever more powerful as well. They now can seemingly perform magic to transform pedantic photos into pieces of art that would make Annie Leibovitz or Man Ray proud. Here are our top eight favorite photo/effect apps, all available for both Android and iOS platforms.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Like Kleenex and TiVo before it, “Photoshop” has morphed from a brand name into a generic verb for any digital photo editing. Now mobile snappers can get the real thing for free—or at least the basic functions of the real thing, such as cropping, rotating, flipping, red-eye removal and repair, along with 20 one-touch Looks filters and 15 borders and frames. Uses can then share their fixed-up photos via Facebook, Instagram, text or e-mail from within the app. Recently added to the pile of paid in-app advanced add-ons (.99¢–$59.99) in the Photoshop Express iPad version is the free Photoshop Mix, which helps straighten perspective, reduce camera blur and allows the addition of “content-aware” fills. Free, Adobe, adobe.com
Adobe Photoshop Touch
If a bit more mobile editing sophistication is needed than what a free Photoshop app can offer, the designed-for-tablets Adobe Photoshop Touch supplies more of the functionality of the company’s desktop app. This includes layers, masks, selection tools, adjustments, filters and more in files of up to 12MB. In addition, the app includes a slew of features and functions designed for manipulation in the tablet touch-screen environment. These include camera fill, which uses the tablet’s camera to fill in additional layers; scribble selection, which enables the user to define specific areas of a photo to edit; refine edge, which helps capture harder-to-select elements like hair; and the ability to link and sync projects with Adobe’s Creative Cloud or with a variety of other Adobe editing programs. For newbies, the app includes step-by-step instructions and an inspiration examples gallery. $9.99, Adobe, adobe.com
Magazines are always (and mostly accurately) accused of photoshopping subjects to make them look their most beautiful (or, sometimes, to make them less attractive). Facetune brings facial photo fixing both to the amateur mobile masses and those who need professional head shots alike. Photos can be mirror-flipped; smiles widened and refined; teeth whitened and brightened; skin smoothed and rejuvenated; dark eye circles removed; eye color changed; bald patches filled and gray hair darkened; cheek, brow and jaw lines refined; and makeup added. Portraits or selfies can even be transformed into depictions of aliens or have other fun features added. And, of course, the results can be shared via varying social media outlets or e-mail from within the app. The app even provides graphic and video aids for each feature. $2.99, Lightricks Ltd., facetuneapp.com
“Over,” as in overlay (which is what this app supplies), provides a way to lay text and artwork over images to create one-of-a-kind greeting cards, posters and other eye-catching graphics for use on web pages, newsletters, catalogs, scrapbooks, book illustrations, advertising, et al, via a thumb-friendly touch-screen interface. The app—finally made available for Android devices this past summer—features a variety of unique fonts that can be nudged, sized, stretched, rotated and faded in a variety of colors and opaqueness. Users also can add fonts to the app’s collection and, yes, more font and artwork packs are available via .99¢ in-app purchases, as well as a $4.99 Big Bundle, which includes 15 fonts and 14 artwork packs. Finished graphics can be shared via popular social networks from within the app or even sent as a postcard. $1.99, Over, madewithover.com
Photo Editor by Aviary
Aviary has garnered much acclaim by simplifying often complex mobile editing via a simple slider bar interface. Included are a variety of tools to fix or add focus manipulation, illumination and tilt effects, along with de rigueur frames and filters. Among Aviary’s more unique attributes are facial blemish removal, teeth whitening and stickers. As with many of these advanced free apps, Aviary provides a variety of mostly .99¢ in-app purchase options. In September, the company was acquired by Adobe, and the Photoshop developer hopes to add compatibility with its Creative Cloud service. To celebrate the collaboration, Aviary was giving away $200 worth of stickers to users who signed into the app with their Adobe ID. Free, Adobe, aviary.com
This powerful app presents a dizzying two million+ effect, overlay and border combinations, including shades, tones and hues, neon, sparkle and light-leak effects, in just three steps. If choosing from so many effects combinations proves too daunting, the app’s swipe-activated “randomizer” auto selects an effect/overlay/border combination. If two million combinations aren’t enough, in-app effects purchases can add even more choices. Finished photos can be shared through Facebook or Twitter from within the app, and/or stored to a smartphone’s gallery for uploading to Instagram or other social or photo-sharing sites. Pixlr-o-matic is multi-platform—versions are available for Windows and Mac OS X—and a photo is chosen by the developer each day from those posted on Instagram or Flickr tagged with the #Pixlr hashtag for posting on its blog and Facebook page. Free, Autodeck, pixlr.com
Like finger painting on your tablet, the unique Repix app includes 28 virtual effects brushes, including decoration, effect, color and artistic brushes, to enable touch editing to essentially transform a photograph into what looks like a painting. Popular among poster designers, Repix is reminiscent of how a painter paints over a previous painting. Filling out the app’s add-ons are 16 filters, a half dozen cropping presets and a dozen or so frames, all available in an intuitive, easy-to-access interface. The ability to post or share directly to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, e-mail or Tumblr is accessible from inside the app. The best brush and filter collections can be acquired in-app (.99¢–$5.99). Free, Sumoing Ltd., repix.it
The big news for VSCO fans is a completely redesigned version 4.0 newly available for the iPad—no more resorting to a 2x version of the iPhone app. Added to all versions is the ability to sync editing across multiple devices and the ability to go back in time to access previously edited versions. For those unfamiliar with VSCO, the app is known for its large collection of artistic edit filter presets. Each offers adjustable application sliders to elegantly tweak or add effects, including film grain, color temperature, shadows and highlights, along with the standard collection of basic editing options. Users can add a full package of presets for $5.99. The app also is known for its curated VSCO Grid, which includes photos from other users to help spur ideas and where users post their own images, as well as for its VSCO Journal, a social platform where users create, post and share their photographic experiences. Free, Visual Supply Company, vsco.co/vscocam