Photographic App-titude: The Best Smartphone Editing Apps to Take Your Photos to the Next Level

Whether you run your image through a simple Instagram filter or tweak and edit it through multiple apps, this blog is for you. Light, colourful, moody or vintage, whatever your style is, chances are you need to make some slight changes to enhance and clean up your image.

This week we put our favourite mobile editing apps to the test including, Snapseed, VSCO, Lightroom and Photoshop express.

Below you will see the raw untouched image of a simple black and white tabletop flatlay. Easy right? It actually isn't as easy as you may think. There are three shades of white plus shadowing, shine, texture and blemishes, all of which need to be carefully considered and treated.

Original unedited image

Original unedited image

Photo editing lingo


Before we start editing this image, let's take a look at understanding some of the terminology you will encounter in these apps:

Lighting: 

  • Contrast - Increase or decrease the difference in brightness between light and dark areas of the image
  • Brightness - Increase to lighten and illuminate or decrease to dull and darken
  • Exposure - Increase or decrease the light in which the photo was taken
  • Highlights - Manipulate only the lighter tones in the image
  • Whites - Adjusts only the very lightest tones in the image
  • Shadows - Manipulate only the darker tones in the image
  • Blacks - Adjusts only the very darkest tones in the image

Colour: 

  • Grayscale - Eliminating all colour. Image is now black and white
  • Saturation - Lightening or increasing overall strength of colour
  • Vibrance - Adjusts the colours in areas that have weak saturation
  • Temperature - To warm or cool image
  • White balance - Setting this point on your image will automatically adjust tint and temperature to make sure your whites are white!

General terms: 

  • Clarity - Sharpens mid-tones and increases the details found in your photo.
  • Filters - A preset look offered by apps that automatically changes the look of the image
  • Gradient - Adding all the various tones between two adjacent colours - think monotonous spectrum
  • Healing/Eraser - To remove marks or blemishes - basically spot cleaning!
  • Noise - Is the fuzzy grainy part of the image. To reduce noise is to smooth it out. Detail can be lost if over reduced.
  • Selective Adjustment - To select a part of the image for manipulation.
  • Sharpen - Enhancing the pixels in an image to define lines and detail
  • Vignette - Reduce colour and fade image around the edges, usually circular 

So now that you know what we are going to be talking about - Let's get started!!

  


Snapseed

Pictured: Using the selective adjustment too to brighten the white tones in the top right of the photo

Pictured: Using the selective adjustment too to brighten the white tones in the top right of the photo

This app has some cool tools! Brightening and increasing highlights worked well, as did the detailing of structure and the sharpening of lines, but the best inclusion by far is the selective adjustment for brightening, contrasting and saturation - just be careful not to over whiten as it can make the shadowing grainy, and as we can see below the larger white plate has a little 'yellowing'. On a positive note, a big bonus with Snapseed is it's healing capabilities work really well! Which brings me to the zoom function - you can zoom in really close to get rid of any small blemishes and add more intricate detailing. The downside? No seperate 'White' or 'Black' option in image adjustments and we found that brightening the image results in a loss of saturation. All in all a good editing app, easy to use and free to download - we give Snapseed a 7/10. 

Snapseed-After.jpg

Photoshop express

Pictured: Brightening the light tones with the 'highlights' adjustment

Pictured: Brightening the light tones with the 'highlights' adjustment

The mobile version of Adobe's Photoshop, this app is one I use daily. It's simple format is easy to use and navigation is straight forward. It's offering is limited but the quality of the adjustments are great. Let's talk noise, well reducing noise that is. This function is magical and is the first thing I do to all my edits, just slide the bar across and you have eliminated the grainy fuzz elements - then shoot on over to sharpen and to add clarity, bringing back the detail in the shot. There is no selective adjustments, but the overall highlighting and brightening work really well to boost those whites. Another plus is the ability to create a collage in just a few clicks. Yes, there is a lack of good filters, but the ability to save previous adjustments makes for quick editing on the go. Another weak point would be the lack of zooming range. Well it may be my knowledge and experience of this app, but in my opinion the final image here is clearer and stronger than the others. My biased (I mean unbiased) opinion is that Photoshop express is sitting pretty at 7.5/10. 

photoshop.JPG

Download the app here: http://www.photoshop.com/products/photoshopexpress


VSCO

Pictured: Fine tuning the image and selecting a VSCO filter

Pictured: Fine tuning the image and selecting a VSCO filter

A really popular photo taking and editing app amongst many professional photographers, VSCO has plenty of bells and whistles - and in our case it sure has produced a pretty great final image. Quite technical and a little overwhelming initially, once mastered VSCO has the editing support to take your photos to the next level! Filter options are the best of all four apps, and if you have a few dollars to spare you can unlock really great premium filters that will do most of the work for you. Contrasting adjustment is great and it's cleaning tools work well too, but one of my favourite inclusions is the quick and easy transfer back to original image view, by tapping the pic. Limited in it's selective point editing, this is probably it's major downfall, and the confusion come 'saving pic' time - all in all it's a pretty flash app, that has a really cool interface, taking VSCO to a 7/10. 


Lightroom

Pictured: Using the gradient and radial selective editing tools in Lightroom for iPhone

Pictured: Using the gradient and radial selective editing tools in Lightroom for iPhone

Pictured: The custom White Balance eyedropper tool to ensure your white tones have the perfect temperature and tint.

Pictured: The custom White Balance eyedropper tool to ensure your white tones have the perfect temperature and tint.

What an app! I have been converted over from PS express to Lightroom for a couple of reasons. First, the specific white and black adjustments in addition to highlights and shadows - this is a fantastic feature and one not seen in the others. Secondly, the custom white balance selection tool, which we used here in this image to whiten the background whilst maintaining the bright black of the plates, which really helps out for those darker shots.  Also worth mentioning is this apps fantastic gradient and radial selective adjustment tool.  Free to download this advanced and easy to use editing app get's our highest score of 8/10.


Conclusion

Snapseed

Snapseed

VSCO

VSCO

Photoshop Express

Photoshop Express

Lightroom for iPhone

Lightroom for iPhone

They're all great apps to use 'on the go' and once you master one, you're usually a convert for life.   Depending on your style and what works for you technically, you can't go wrong with any of them. However after comparing all four, overall we felt that both Lightroom and Photoshop express came out on top - but for very different reasons. Lightroom is superior in it's selective editing, and had greater graphic altering ability, whereas Photoshop express is an all round easy to use app, that does a lot of work for you. Personally, I'm considering having a go at running my image through Lightroom, then Photoshop express! Downloads are located under each summary because we think they're all worth having a go at!

Katie @katiejane_styling