With phones like the iPhone 13 Pro, Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy S21 Ultra packing cameras that can give DSLRs a run for their money, it’s no wonder we take so many photos using just our phones. But when we get back from our day trip in the hills or our walk around town, it’s easy to just forget the images we’ve taken that day and let them gather dust further and further down our phone galleries.
CNET Tech Tips
Doing some creative photo editing can be a great way to get more out of your photography. And it doesn’t even matter if you have the latest, greatest phone with the best camera setup on the back or an older, cheaper phone; the iPhone App Store and Google Play Store on Android are jam-packed with great free and paid photo editing apps that can give your existing shots a whole new look, all from the comfort of your favorite squashy armchair.
I’ve rounded up a selection of my top picks, so have a read, make a cup of tea and settle down for an evening editing session. You can even turn your favorite shots into a photo book.
You can also check out these creative ideas to flex your photography muscles at home if you want to shoot and edit something new.
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Free on iOS and Android.
Google-owned Snapseed offers a wide range of exposure and color tools to make tweaks to your images, but also has plenty of filter options, from vintage styles to modern, punchy HDR looks. You can layer the effects up to create some interesting edits on your image. And best of all, it’s totally free.
2. Adobe Lightroom
iOS and Android, some functions available for free, or $5 per month for full access.
Adobe Lightroom remains an industry standard for professional photographers and the mobile version is much the same. You’ll find no stickers, animations or emoji here, but you will get fine grain control over your image and the same set of tools you’d find in Lightroom on desktop. It’s the app I use the most to edit my own images on my iPhone and iPad, not least because the images sync in the cloud, letting me start on one device, and continue on another.
3. Adobe Photoshop Express
Free on iOS and Android.
Photoshop Express has many of the same features you’d find in Lightroom, including exposure, contrast and color editing options, but strips out some of the pro tools and cloud syncing and, crucially, ditches the subscription fee. It’s a great tool for tweaking your images to bring out their best, but you’ll also find a decent selection of filters and overlay textures, as well as tools for making cool collages from your images.
It’s not as open to wild creativity as other options on this list, but it’s a solid editing app at a price that’s hard to argue with.
iOS and Android, $8 a month or $30 a year.
Prisma doesn’t deal with subtle filters and basic image corrections. Instead, its trippy filters will transform your images into often bizarre artistic creations. The results have a painterly effect and indeed many filters are inspired by artists such as Salvador Dali and Picasso. The filters are strong, and while you can tweak them, not every filter will work with every image. I found some to be more suited to portraits while other filters worked best with landscapes.
But it’s great fun to experiment with and when you find a photo that works, it really works.
iOS only, $8 a month or $48 a year.
Bazaart’s montage and collage tools let you combine multiple different elements — from photos, to text, to graphics — and layer them all up to create a finished work of art. It has tools that let you instantly erase the background from behind a portrait subject (I was amazed at how well it worked!) in order to put in a new background or layer up multiple effects. It also has a huge variety of templates to create gorgeous collages for Instagram stories too.
There are so many different ways you could try and composite different images together that the only boundary will come down to how creative you’re feeling. Head over to Bazaart’s Instagram page for some inspiration.
Edited in Photofox.
Like Bazaart, Photofox has powerful tools for removing subjects from background that let you composite in new backgrounds, or apply awesome effects. I particularly like Photofox’s dispersion effect, which makes it look like your subject is bursting into particles (trust me, it’s cool), as well as the glitch effects and the double exposure that overlays two images on top of each other.
As with Bazaart, there are endless possibilities of what you can do by layering and compositing different types of images and applying different effects to each.
iOS and Android, limited functions for free, or $20 a year with a seven-day free trial.
VSCO began life making color grading presets for Lightroom and its roots are clear in the app today. Rather than offer stickers and animated GIFs for Snapchat enthusiasts, VSCO is all about the more artful filmic color filters. The app has a huge range of presets available, including looks designed to emulate classic rolls of film from Fujifilm, Kodak and Ilford.
It’s got a great selection of black-and-white filters too, making it a great choice to experiment with if you’re into your moody monochrome shots.
iOS and Android, limited functions for free or $48 a year for the whole suite.
PicsArt has a huge range of editing tools available to you, from basic adjustments like exposure and contrast, through to cinematic color grading and dramatic filters that transform your images into painting-like pieces of art. There are loads of options for both the tone and shape of your face in selfies — I won’t go into the ethics of using these tools for “beauty” purposes, but I had fun in using the tools to intentionally transform my features into bizarre proportions.
There’s a whole Instagram-style social sharing element to PicsArt as well, if you’re interested in that. Personally I was mostly interested in the editing options.
Make sure to check out my guide on creative at-home photo projects, see our whole catalog of awesome tips and tricks for better phone photos.
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