Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dear Photo Apps

Dear Photo Apps,

You must be proud to know that you rank high amongst my mobile device addictions.  You are important to me because I only use original photos on this blog.  I also happen to love pretty pictures and want to make my photos as pleasing to the eyes as possible.  And that's where you come in.


My blog photos are almost exclusively taken on my iPhone 5 and edited with one of my favorite apps on it (there are a few photos credited to Dear Husband from our point-and-shoot camera).  Many people have asked me which apps I use, so I will share my favorites here, as well as showcase a few new pics that I had a lot of fun creating.

My go-to app is Snapseed.  It is spectacular, and now free!  It comes with a great tutorial to show you exactly how to use the app, or if you're like me, you learn it as you play around with it.  Here are its awesome features:

  1. Automatic: a one-touch auto adjust button that corrects for Contrast and Color, but can be further customized to your liking.
  2. Selective Adjust: adjusts any area of the photo for its Brightness, Contrast, or Saturation; corrects red eye. 
  3. Tune Image: adjusts Brightness, Ambiance, Contrast, Saturation, and White Balance.
  4. Straighten: straightens crooked pictures with a helpful grid.
  5. Crop: crops the photo into 8 different sizes, including original size; rotates cropping area from horizontal to vertical and vice versa. 
  6. Details: adjusts Sharpening and Structure.
  7. Black and White: turns into B&W with 6 preset filters (Neutral, Contrast, Bright, Dark, Film, and Darken Sky) with 5 color filters.
  8. Vintage: 9 preset filters to make the photo look vintage, with adjustable Brightness, Saturation, Texture Strength, Center Size, and Style Strength, and 4 textures. 
  9. Drama: 6 preset filters to make the photo look "dramatic" with adjustable Filter Strength and Saturation.  (For an example, see the third picture from Dear Conference Newbie captioned "Our room with a view".)
  10. Grunge: infinitely adjusts to stylizes the photo via its Style (color variation), Brightness, Contrast, Texture Strength, and Saturation with 5 preset Textures. (For an example of Grunge, see the cover photo for Dear Substitute Teaching 101.)
  11. Center Focus: 6 preset filters to make the center area of the photo stand out with adjustable Blur Strength, Outer Brightness, and Inner Brightness.
  12. Tilt-Shift: Linear or Elliptical settings to make the background blurry, with adjustable Transition, Blur Strength, Brightness, Saturation, and Contrast.
  13. Retrolux: 10 preset filters of different exposures and light leaks, with adjustable Brightness, Saturation, Contrast, Style Strength, Scratches, and Light Leaks.
  14. Frames: 23 preset frames in white and black.
(All of the these adjustments are on a 0 to +100 or -100 to +100 scale.)

If such photography lingo is gibberish to you, then the only way to really understand them is to play around with the app.  As for what I normally do, my first step is always Crop, since I like the square look of Instagram.  Next, I use Automatic to see how the app enhances the picture; I don't always like it, but many times I do.  Then I manually adjust with Tune Image.  Sometimes I use Center Focus to brighten the center of the photo (or further darken the edges of the photo), and sometimes I add Tilt-Shift if I want to blur portions of the photo.

Here is an example of a picture that turned out too dark.  Snapseed was able to keep its background relatively dark while brightening the foreground object to show off the colors of the gradient layered cake:

After editing with Snapseed

Here is a watermelon flower with a warm tone and distracting background vines.  Snapseed neutralized the yellow tone, darkened the background edges, and brightened the center object to draw your attention to the pretty flower.

After editing with Snapseed

Another app I like is Afterlight ($0.99).  It is very similar to Snapseed, but it comes with many more preset filters that do not allow customization.  It also has a good set of Light Leak options.  (For an example of Afterlight's Light Leak feature, see the cover photo for Dear Pot-O-Vinegar.)

Another one of my favorites is Over ($1.99), which adds text and artwork on the photos.  It comes with a decent font pack and a few artwork packs for free, others for in-app purchase.  (For an example of the artwork feature, see the cover photo of Dear Not-Good-At.)  I have used this to write inspirational quotes, song lyrics, a sentiment of few words, or even fun pics as this post's cover picture above (and more below).  

Next, I use PhotoMarkr (free) to watermark my photos (if I'm posting from my mobile device).  Most of my blog pictures have a standard watermark on the lower right corner ( made by Picasa (if I'm posting from my computer).  But with PhotoMarkr, you can place the watermark anywhere, resize it, and adjust its Transparency.  

Lastly, if I need to make collages, I use PicStitch, InstaCollage Pro, or Photo Collage Free (all free).  PicStitch is a basic collage app with a variety of dimensions and collage formats.  It does not, however, allow adjustment of spacing between collage pictures, as do the latter two.  InstaCollage Pro has some funky, non-angular collage formats, which can be fun to use.  Photo Collage Free also allows customization of collage spacing by varying its preset formats.  All three apps feature in-app photo editing, which is convenient, although I still prefer Snapseed for that purpose.  There are seriously a ton of collage apps out there, but I like these for their simple and clean features.  Here are two older examples of my collages:

A few crafts from my Chinese Preschool Class
A pre-consuming compulsion only a mama finds endearing

Of course, there are some photography fundamentals that also help make pictures stand out.  I have never taken any photography courses, but based just on playing around with taking photos, here are a few things I always keep in mind:

  • Know when to center an object (usually a closeup) and when to use the rule of thirds (usually longer shots).
  • Know how to use the focus feature on your camera (or in my case, phone) to change focal point and lighting.
  • Know how to take advantage of lighting; natural light is always best.
  • Know how to take photos with a clean background to minimize distraction.
  • Have lots of fun taking pictures.
  • Have lots of fun playing with photo-editing apps.  

The process of making the cover photo of this post was a very fun experience.  With all the farm veggie I have been farming, I thought about making playful photos with them.  You can see the progression each step of the way here: 

Original: tomato on the floor
After Snapseed: 1. rotated, 2. cropped, 3. color/contrast corrected
After Over: added letters/ After PhotoMarkr: added watermark

Here is another:

Original: squash on the floor (after tomato was done)
After Snapseed: 1. rotated, 2. cropped, 3. color/contrast adjusted
After Over: added letters/ After PhotoMarkr: added watermark

And one last one:

After Snapseed: 1. cropped, 2. color/contrast corrected
After Over: letters added
After Photo-Markr: watermark added

Aren't these fun?  You see how it can be as addicting as any other addicting thing in life?

But you and I both know that I'm a cheater and a faker.  I don't own an expensive DSLR, nor do I really have any real photographer knowledge.  I bluff my way through these wonderful apps that make magic out of my photos.  And for my blogging purposes?  They totally work.  The best part?  It's so convenient.  I don't need to be in front of a computer, and with a few swipes of my finger, I can get a picture to reveal the mood I want it to express.  

I'm seriously hooked.  


So, Dear Photo-Editing Apps, I suppose I've moved beyond my first love, Instagram.  Instead of only accessing preset filters, these apps allow a wealth of possibilities, and truly make pictures FUN to play around with.  Did I mention I adore you all?  I. thee. LURVE!



  1. I'm always amazed at how many photography apps have been created. I have a few apps downloaded on my phone, but none are really worthy of sharing, since I don't use them all that often. The quality of photos from my DSLR far outweighs anything my iPhone can produce, so I stick to taking (serious) photos with my camera and rely on GIMP (free) for photo post-processing.

    1. Well, because I cannot afford a DSLR to take serious photos, I have to stick with the convenience of my phone and apps for this hobby. Your photos are always gorgeous, Nilsa, and you are unquestionably a true photographer.

  2. WOW! I am impressed, I need to get better at photo editing! Thanks for the tips.

    1. Thanks, Laura! I had fun with these veggies. Are you taking lots of pics of your garden these days?

  3. I'm horrible at photo editing (really the only thing I do is add my watermark using PicMonkey (website.) I have a Droid, but find blog stuff to be too annoying on my phone, so I always use the PC. You have sparked my curiosity to see what what other free PC programs are out there. Oh, and they do have a Droid version of Snapseed, so I downloaded it and will play around with it. I'll probably still prefer my DSLR camera, but it never hurts to work on alternate skills!

    1. Janna, not editing your photos just means that you take really great ones as is! Also, editing on a tiny thing like a phone is personal preference, and I can understand why you like PC better. There are several free PC photo editing software available--just google it. I have to admit that I'm envious of you all (all three commentors so far, and so many of my other blogging friends) who have a DSLR camera, but I can't let not having one stop me from snapping pics and having fun with them.:)

  4. Too bad I can't benefit from these tips because we do not have an iPhone. For so many years, we were using a Galaxy until it gave up just a few weeks ago. My husband replaced it with a Google phone which has yet to arrive. I don't think Android has the same quality camera though as iPhone.

    Oh, I talked too much I forgot to tell you that you are so creative. :-)

    1. Hi, Imelda! I don't think you need any of these tips because you take *amazing* photos! There's so much more a DSLR can do, and rightly so. I had a Droid Incredible prior to the iPhone, and it had an amazing camera, too. It depends on the phone specifics, I guess. Thank you for your kind words--it's a happy feeling to be creative while I'm having fun.

  5. You sure do know your photo apps! Tks for the recs on the watermarking ones. Loooove the veggie photos. Perfect choices of font

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I had fun with my cameraphone. Sorry for the late response... I have no excuses. :)