Mobile Photography Apps

On Monday, I started a 4 part series on mobile photography. I believe that photography is, on the whole, the original social media & agree with the assertion of photo critic David Campbell that it's time to move beyond the "illegitimate vs. legitimate" photography arguments. Mobile photography simply represents yet another shift in how people seek to explore, contextualize and share their world and, at this point, the shift is pretty much solidified and the "new" tools aren't that new anymore. With that in mind, I decided to share the apps I love most, as well as how & why I use them.

The iPhone Camera

Since upgrading to the iPhone 5, I rarely use another camera app. There was a time when I wouldn't touch the native camera app because there were better options. I still wish I could control exposure independent of focus area, but that's a small complaint considering the positives.

My top 3 favorite functions:

1.Lock Screen access - The iPhone camera comes with this build in advantage over other cameras. Having the option to skip the steps of unlocking the phone & navigating to the app I'm looking for helps me get shots I'd otherwise miss. Combine this with firing the shutter with the volume button & you can get super quick (and incredibly covert) with the photographs you take.

2.AE/AF Lock -  I may be slow on the uptake, but I just discovered this one. Instead of just tapping where you want your focus & exposure to be measured, you can hold your finger in that spot & the focus square will flash several times, then an 'AF/AE Lock' message will appear in the bottom of the screen. Now, both your exposure & focus are locked. This comes in super handy when you're trying to pan across a frame in video or while shooting panoramic images.

A  E/AF Lock means exposure & focus won't change when you adjust your frame.

AE/AF Lock means exposure & focus won't change when you adjust your frame.

3.Panorama - Speaking of panoramic images, this has to be my favorite new feature in iOS 6. It does in seconds what still takes me a half hour (or more) to do using Lightroom & Photoshop.  I've found that this works best when you figure out where your center of frame will be, grab focus and exposure information from that point, lock it in, then sweep across the scene from left to right, making sure your center of frame lands where you meant for it to. It can take a few tries to get one just right, but when you do, my word. The results are incredible.

A recent panorama of an empty American Airlines Center

A recent panorama of an empty American Airlines Center

Next week, I'll dig into how I've been using Panorama on Instagram, an app I love, but that locks you into a square format.


This is the first app I ever paid for ($4.99) and it was worth every penny… but, as of this past December, it's now free in the App store. It's also available on Android, but I don't know much about that version.

The great thing about Snapseed is it let's your replicate Lightroom-style editing using a touch interface. Snapseed was created by the fine people at Nik Software, which was recently acquired by Google.

Nik offers afantastic series of plug-ins (for Lightroom, Photoshop & Aperture) that I use often. One of the crossover benefits that Nik brings to Snapseed is a scaled down version of their U-point technology, an incredibly intuitive masking tool, is built into the app. Basically, it allows you to precisely control where the enhancements are being made. Granted, you're not getting the full power of U-point in Snapseed, but to have anything remotely close to this on a mobile device is very exciting.

In Snapseed's Selective Adjustment, red marks the area where adjustments will be applied.

In Snapseed's Selective Adjustment, red marks the area where adjustments will be applied.

I love Snapseed because it offers a ton of flexibility but isn't complex to use.


VSCO, which stands for Visual Supply Company, bills themselves as "the gold standard for digital film emulation'. They make presets for all your popular photo editing tools, which I've never used. However, when the iPhone app launched last year, I jumped on it for one reason: the simplicity of the interface.


Editing photos in VSCO is dead easy and the results are always beautiful. I typically use this app as a final stop before sharing. Also, the grid view of the library is fantastic for dialing in my Panogramtastic Portraits prior to posting them on Instagram.

Hopefully you found this information helpful. But remember, the key to great mobile photos, just like in all forms of photography, isn't in the tools you use. The best investment you can make as a photographer will always be the time and energy you spend shooting. And that's probably the single greatest contribution mobile photography has made to the craft. You're never without your camera and the tools are easy to operate, so the chance you'll experiment has never been greater. Now, go shoot!

Honorable Mentions:

Instagram - I hesitate to even mention the billion dollar Facebook acquisition, despite it being my primary point of sharing. Ultimately, it didn't make the top 3 because I only use it to share photos. Most of the creativity and editing happens before the images ever get to Instagram.

Camera + - having the ability to manipulate exposure and focus separately makes this a must have app, even if you don't use it for every photo.

PhotoForge2 - this app has almost too many options. But, if you need levels & curves, or any of your more Photoshop like adjustments, it's a great app. The Pop! Cam (in app purchase) is also pretty cool.

Rays - every once in a while, you just need to dial up the drama on an image. Rays allows you to add some atmosphere and play with the existing light in interesting ways. Use sparingly.

Flickr - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the new Flickr app. It's long overdue & I'd avoid using any of their presets to fix-up your photos, but I'm a huge fan of the horizontal scroll for perusing your friends latest posts. I hope more apps move this direction in the future.

So there you have it. My three favorite mobile photo apps and a little about each. Please feel free to use the comments to recommend your own favorite mobile photo apps or ask any questions you have about anything you've read here.

Part I: The Original Social Media

Part II: Mobile Photography Apps

Part III: #panogramtastic

Part IV: Kyle Steed