iPhone photo apps that go beyond the lo-fi

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Yes, it is possible to take good photos on your iPhone without shoving it through a lo-fi app. And as cool as it may seem to make your party photos look like they were taken in 1976, one can't help wonder what we will think of them in retrospect.

"iGranny," your offspring will ask in 2050, "why is that photo of you from 2011 so tattered and old?"

"Well, listen close, Hansolo," you say as you take him on your cyborg knee. "In 2011, we had our hands on some incredibly advanced mobile phone and camera technology. And instead of using it to properly record our moment in history, we took photos in applications that destroyed all of the detail to apply an antique effect because we didn't feel like our generation had enough cultural credibility."

Now you made little Hansolo cry, are you happy?

Lo-fi apps have their place, but for photographers who want to use their iPhone for higher-quality image capture and editing, here are some useful and fun apps. Click any screenshot for a larger image.

PhotoForge 2

PhotoForge 2 has all of the basic options that you have come to expect from iOS editing apps, with the added muscle of more serious photo software. PhotoForge 2 can open almost any image type, including raw formats and files as large as 20 megapixels. It edits images at full resolution so you can see exactly what your final photo will look like at any stage during the editing process.

The sequel to the popular PhotoForge app, PhotoForge 2 has most of the features from its predecessor as well as some new updates to prevent crashes when editing large-format files. Curves, levels, brightness and contrast, shadows and highlights, and auto white balance are all available and the app also has over 30 customizable filters that range from sepia toning to vintage 3D. At any time during the editing process, you can access a visual history feature that allows you to see your photo at various stages of the editing process. When you are done editing, you can choose an image size and export your photo directly to social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, Picasa, and Tumblr. The app has complete layer functionality and masks that allows for cool effects, such as color emphasis a-la Color Splash. The layers option also allows for watermarking your images by importing your watermark on a new layer.

Photoforge ; $3 (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)


If you are looking to download just one app to suit all of your basic photographic needs, look no further than Camera+. It does everything—you can take, edit, and export your photos all within the app. The coolest part about Camera+, though, is definitely its capture options. When you are composing your shot, use two fingers to lock the separate focus and exposure points before taking a photo using the normal, stabilizer, timer, or burst mode. The capture feature also gives you a grid overlay so you can obey the ever-important rule of thirds. After you have taken the photo, pull it up in Camera+’s lightbox where you can add filters, digital flash, crop (using its built-in “golden ratio” tool) and put a border on it. In the Scene modes feature, you can choose from different options like Sunset, Portrait, and Backlit to automatically adjust settings for better photos. From there, share it on Facebook, Twitter or Flickr. See our full review Camera+ here.

tap tap tap ; $2 (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)


Create a comic book about your life complete with text and flashy onomatopoeias with the ComicBook app. First, import your existing photos into one of the 30 pre-made layouts. The layouts come in both portrait and landscape mode and can fit up to seven different photos. After you have added a photo and sized it to your liking in the layout, choose one of the nine photo filters like sketch, vibrant, or manga to make your photos look more animated. Once you have found the right effect, add captions and exclamations. You can change the fonts, size, angle, and source of the speech bubbles as well as add some of the 55 different classic comic book graphics. Then *POW!* upload it to Twitter or Facebook!

3DTopo ; $2 (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)


Available on both iPhone and iPad, Filterstorm is an excellent program for editing and enhancing your images. Filterstorm makes good editing extremely easy. To make the blown-out sky in your landscape photo more dramatic, you can curve out the highlights and apply it using a mask brush. There are brightness and contrast options as well as a saturation control. More advanced options include a clone tool, a multi-exposure tool, and border effects. And if you want to see your progress, the app features a 10-step visual history. Once you are done, you can save your edits as automatons so you can quickly apply them to other images to give batches of photos the same unique look. Export your new and improved photos (you can size them up to 3072-by-2200 pixels) and send them to friends over Email, FTP, Flickr, and Dropbox.

Filterstorm ; $4 (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)


Nothing captures the vastness of a landscape quite like a panorama, but taking and stitching together good pano shots can be extremely time-consuming. The free Dermandar app makes the process fun and easy. You capture the photos within the app and it stitches a panorama together as you go. When you start shooting the panorama, you press an on-screen button and move to connect the two sides of a yin-yang shaped graphic that floats over the scene. Once the shapes are connected, wait a split second while Dermandar takes the photo. When it is done, the yin-yang separates again and you can move further across the scene. The app knows what points it needs to tether to, so when you pan across the view, Dermandar is telling you to move farther left or right and to keep your iPhone level. Because of this, it’s really hard to take a bad panorama. Even in a small space like an office, Dermandar makes nearly flawless shots. After you are finished with your scene, send it to Dermandar.com for hosting or to your Facebook or Twitter feed.

Dermandar ; Free (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)

Slow Shutter

Photographers who normally shoot in manual-mode are no doubt frustrated with iPhone photography. For them, the idea of adding a blurring or lightening filter instead of just slowing the shutter speed takes away the art of playing with camera settings. Cogitap’s Slow Shutter app gives some of that control back to the photographer. Since the iPhone camera doesn’t have shutter control, Slow Shutter mimics the effect by layering multiple photos on top of one another. It’s a cool solution that unfortunately caps the image size at 1024-by-768 pixels—small, but big enough for most online purposes. Slow Shutter features three capture modes—Automatic, Manual, and Light Trail. Automatic is relatively equivalent to the shutter priority mode in a DLSR; Manual opens up the aperture all the way, absorbing all possible light so you can adjust the exposure afterwards; and the Light Trail mode is designed for light painting. There is also a manual, Tap To Focus option. When using this app, make sure you have an extremely steady hand or a tripod, because nothing can ruin the magic of slow-exposures more than camera shake. If you are using a tripod, Slow Shutter has a useful self-timer so you don’t even get the shake that comes with pressing the capture button.

Cogitap ; $2 (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)

TiltShift Generator

Turn the view from your bedroom window into a display of miniatures. In TiltShift Generator, you can add a radial or lineal blur—keeping just one part of your composition in focus as the rest fades together. You can then control the contrast, brightness, and saturation before adding a vignette. It is easy to over-do toy camera effects, but if applied correctly to a busy landscape photo, the tilt-shift effect can be a really effective technique for drawing focus to a scene. Non-landscapes can also look good with TiltShift Generator. Because of its hyper-focusing, you are able to make your portrait subject super emphasized in the scene, blurring out the background and surroundings. You can then export your photos straight to Facebook and Twitter when you are done.

Art and Mobile ; $1 (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)

Dynamic Light

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos are dramatic, beautiful, and look super professional—and with Dynamic Light, they are ridiculously easy to recreate with just one photo. This was a stand-alone application for PC before it was an iPhone app, and it has brought its great processing capabilities to the iOS interface. In Dynamic Light, you can take photos or upload old images and apply the app's one HDR feature to make a landscape look epic. You can control the strength and radius of the HDR effect with an incredibly simple interface. You just have to move your finger around the axis in a box of light—the horizontal axis is strength of the effect and vertical axis is the radius—and you can watch your photo change as your settings do. After you have selected the perfect intensity of the HDR effect, you can add an additional filter (but too much and you run the risk of making photos look laughably processed—even for an HDR.) The product itself is one of the best one-shot HDR effects available, and the app works wonders with photos that have a lot of texture.

Mediachance ; $1 (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad)

Go ahead and keep your hipsta-insta-gramatic apps, but expand your repertoire to include these apps as well. They are all extremely easy and can make your photos look great. And for goodness sake, set all of your apps, especially those lo-fi guys, to "Save Original Photo" so little Hansolo can see what life was really like in the 2010s.

[Lauren Crabbe is a Macworld intern and photographer.]

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