9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

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They say the best camera is the one that you have with you. Even though I love my digital SLR, quite frequently, I shoot with my smartphone. This is why mobile phone photography is so popular.

There is a collection of stunning oak trees near where I live. Each time I go there, the trees look different based on the weather and time of year. Did I need an expensive $5,000 camera to get these pictures? No, because I know some tricks for shooting with my smartphone.

9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Phone Photography

For these types of images, it doesn’t matter what type of camera you have. If you’ve got a camera, the inspiration, and the time, you can create some great images with your smartphone. Great images come from a good eye and a basic knowledge of composition and light. If you practice with these elements, you can take awesome pictures with any device even if it’s a phone camera. In this article, I will give you some of my favorite apps that will inspire you to have some fun with the camera that is always with you.

Is the era of the compact camera coming to a close?

9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

Either people shoot with their smartphones or they use an advanced digital SLR.  There’s not much in between. Why is this happening?

For the general public, smartphones have more capacity and are easier to use than the current lower-end point and shoot cameras on the market. People are getting better results with less effort. When someone asks for a recommendation on a camera and they only have a couple hundred dollars to spend, I usually recommend that they use their cellphone.

As a photography educator, I find my iPhone to be easier to use and more consistent across multiple models. Some Android models work differently and don’t have the same capabilities as other phones. Some apps don’t work on all Androids, so please take that into account when trying out the apps mentioned in this article.

Smartphone-workshop 9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

The current compact cameras are more menu-driven than most people can handle. And if their photography skills are not up to snuff, it is hard to get past the automatic modes on those cameras. I have had clients in my classes with these lower-end compact cameras where the manual modes do not work at all. These little gadgets are almost as complicated as the advanced digital SLRs, but without the quality results. The only things that are of benefit are their size and price point, but even then it means a smaller lens, a smaller sensor and diminished results.

Smartphone photography

I discovered smartphone photography after attending a professional photographic trade show. I took a little seminar on an app called Hipstamatic for iPhone and I was hooked. I was no longer a photo snob! All of a sudden, I realized I could create stunning photos in moments that would take hours in Photoshop.

Over the next year or so, I shot thousands of pictures on my smartphone and I got really familiar with the ins and outs of this type of photography.

San Simeon Hipstamatic - 9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

I also realized this was the future of social media and photography for the general public. You could create little masterpieces that were appreciated online. They were not high resolution and the use of these images was limited, but that works just fine for most people. As a photographer, you don’t want to post images that can be stolen and easily used somewhere else, so the smartphone low-resolution image size is perfect.

I knew then there was a huge future in this art form for the general public. I continued to research new apps, reading everything I could and staying updated. Here are some of my favorite apps for mobile phone photography.

Shooting apps

Camera+Camera+ for IOS

This app allows you to control separate focus and exposure points, one of the secrets to good mobile phone photography. You can also use additional features such as selective focus, exposure compensation, and exposure lock. I use Camera+ on every picture I take.

Unfortunately, Camera+ is not available for Android.

Big Sur-iPhone  9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

ProshotProShot – for IOS and Android

This app has all of the auto, program and manual modes that Camera+ has and is available for both IOS and Android (as well as Windows phones). With ProShot you have full manual control over exposure, ISO, and shutter speed. The most important aspect here is the ability to separate focus and exposure like you can with the Camera+ app.

My go-to editing app

Snapseed

Snapseed

This app is a must for both IOS and Android users! Snapseed is a go-to app for processing photos. It has such an easy interface, that you can make it part of your normal workflow and literally do your editing in seconds when taking a shot with your mobile phone. There are so many options in this app, but my favorite is the selective contrast and exposure settings. It allows you to go into the image and change exposure, contrast, and saturation in specific parts of your picture. Other settings such as grunge, HDR and Retroux let you create a variety of special effects.

Snapseed is available for both iPhone and Android.

Graphic Apps

wordswagWordswag – for IOS and Android

Are you looking for a simple text app where you can create text overlay or a watermark? Wordswag will help you create professional looking graphics like this in just seconds!

wordswag 9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

Retro Apps

HipstamaticHipstamatic –  for IOS

This app allows you to select “film” and “lenses” in the “classic mode” before you shoot to create the perfect effect. Hipstamatic also added a modern interface with the ability to change your “lenses” and “filters” after you have taken the shot. Find one combination you like to create your own shooting style.

Hipstamatic - 9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

Retro Camera – for Android

Retro

With Retro Camera you can take Hipstamatic-style images with five cameras, five sets of vintage vignetting, film scratch and cross-processing options.

Creative art apps

 Prisma – for IOS and Android

Prisma

Here’s a fun app that will turn your images into works of art in seconds. Lots of different options to create in this app. Each option in Prisma is preset and instant with very little custom editing needed.

9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

Diana

 Diana – for IOS and Android

This app is an easy way to create double-exposure images in seconds. You can create images by selecting specific photos to combine, or you can randomly let Diana select for you. It works better if you have a vision in mind before working with this app, but sometimes a random selection works as well!

Diana app - 9 of the Best Apps to Help You Do Awesome Mobile Phone Photography

Waterlogue – for IOS and Windows 10 devices

Waterlogue

Create beautiful watercolor style images with Waterlogue. Select from a number of different styles to create your own masterpiece!

waterlogue

Conclusion

The beautiful thing about photography with the smartphone is that it expands your creativity and can even help with your Digital SLR photography. You can use more than one app to create even more customized effects. Take each image through a series of apps before getting the final look you want. You never know where you’re going to end up, and you might just like that.

What are your favorite Smartphone apps? Has it changed the way you shoot with your Digital SLR? Which of these apps is going to become a regular part of your smartphone photography workflow?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Holly Higbee-Jansen is photographer, trainer, blogger, and workshop leader who enjoys teaching and the creative process. Her passions include teaching photography workshops in beautiful locations in California, Iceland, Costa Rica and the American West with her husband Mark. Holly also teaches online classes on Lightroom, Photoshop and photographic technique. Get Holly's Free E-Book on "Landscape Photography and the Light" and find out about her newest workshops at Jansen Photo Expeditions.com.

  • Simon Geard

    > Either people shoot with their smartphones or they use an advanced digital SLR. There’s not much in between.

    I’d dispute that. Certainly, the true pocket-sized compacts are a dying breed, because at this point, they’re directly competing with the smartphones people already have.

    But the middle ground of bridge cameras… that still seems to be going pretty strong, lots of them around, popular with those who want something better than their phone offers, but don’t want to carry around a lot of gear. The race for “biggest zoom” seems to be over (won by Nikon), but there’s still some development happening around improving sensors and optics…

  • KC

    Pocket sized compacts are dying off because the lower end ones are not very good. Granted that’s from my perspective and expectations. For the “I just want to take a picture” crowd, they’ll default to smartphones because they fit that need. They’re far easier to work, and the workflow is simpler. For those of us with a bit of experience we’re used to a convoluted workflow.

    What’s needed is a much better solution than what’s out there now. This is a bad example, but the only one I can think of right now: A camera should link as easily to a smartphone or computer as a smartphone connects to a car. When I start my car, it connects seamlessly and automatically to my smartphone (most times).

    Pocket cameras, consumer level cameras, should do that.

  • Rosaleen Harley

    no mention of ProCamera. absolutely the best app! as close to a dslr as possible

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    I agree totally! I find the lower end pocket camera extremely frustrating to use and as a photography educator, they don’t help my students learn the craft.

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    I find the lower end pocket cameras and even the beginner DSLRs to really be frustrating as a photography teacher. We’ve had these cameras fail during workshops and completely useless for challenging exposures. Just my opinion…

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Yes that’s a good one too! I change back and forth on my favorites. This week it’s Lightriom Mobile!

  • Rosaleen Harley

    LR was my editing program before ditching my dslr ? it is still the best for smartphone users who are familiar with it. unfortunately it has now costs involved and cloud based.

  • Snapseed changed my life. I’ll be downloading some of these other ones soon now!

  • Nizmo

    Re:”Either people shoot with their smartphones or they use an advanced digital SLR. There’s not much in between.”
    Mirrorles cameras are in between and their market is growing. You’ve never heard about it? ?

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    I’m lumping advanced DSLRs into the mix with mirrorless. Thanks for mentioning it. I have been shooting with the Olympus mirrorless OMD-EM5 for the last 5 years and I love it.

  • Snapseed is probbably best of all of them, its so easy to use and it has a lot of good features.

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  • Albin

    By coincidence I bought a little Ixus (to be an “always with me” cam) shortly before first smartphone. The Canon was a decent, heavily discounted model as a toe in the water to try shooting without a viewfinder, and though Ixus takes better images a) the LG phone became the “always with me”, and b) I successfully learned on the cheap that I really dislike outdoor shooting into glaring screens, missing an EVF (indoors is okay).

    That said, I’d steer Android users to free, open source Open Camera as a benchmark for sophisticated camera controls, against which to try the paid “pro style” camera control apps. I recently became aware of Google’s own Android Camera app, which is a mindless point/click interface built on a really advanced algorithm – I’m finding it hard to beat.

    The GUIs for camera apps are dramatically different. It’s best to find one or two that work to the hardware capabilities of the phone, and stick with to build a comfort level for fast situational response time, rather than be hopping around to the “latest” – and fumbling around when it counts.

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Great! I hope you find them as fun as I do!

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Great points. So much if photography is being familiar with your camera, whatever tool that is. A good photographer can take great images with most any kind of device. It’s all about seeing composition and light.

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Yes, it’s great app.

  • Jeff Greene

    I work on the Microsoft Pix (iPhone only) team and it is an excellent “point & shoot” camera app that uses AI to create a burst of images, then quickly select and enhance the “Best Image” automatically.
    It will also create a Live Image if there’s interesting motion in the image. Finally, you can convert ANY video to a time-lapse using the the Microsoft Hyperlapse feature. Free on iTunes!

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Thanks for the intro, we’ll check it out!

  • Steve Carr

    Great article. I use Snapseed regularly. I think it is a fabulous app, so much so that I deleted PS and LR mobile from my phone. Going to try using some of the other Android apps you’ve mentioned here…

  • Steve Carr

    I’ve given up on ProShot….it lags, freezes and generally does not work or play well with my newer OnePlus 3T cell. I would like to have another camera app on this phone..do you have any other recommendations?

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Have you tried Camera 360 or VSCO cam? They are both available for Android and iPhone.

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Great! I hope they work out well for you.

  • Pauline

    Great article – I’ve been thinking of reviving my iPhone-ography skills! Has anyone heard of “moment” lenses for smart phones? I was recently told about them but they seem quite pricey (although peanuts compared to that new L lens I’ve got my eye on!!). Also, does anyone have a solution for those of us who can’t see a thing on the screen on a bright day?

  • Steve Carr

    Not yet… I’ll check them both out…thanks!

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    I have not used the “moment” lenses. Let me know what you think about them!
    Here’s maybe an obvious selection on the iPhone screen issue, have you turned up the screen brightness? Sometimes people overlook that option…

  • KC

    Teaching “the craft” has certainly changed over the years. I found it a bit easier with film, maybe because it was more physical and tangible. 35mm was 35mm, 4×5 was 4×5, “auto” wasn’t much of a thing, and you were dealing with fixed film speeds. Digital created variables, and some cameras are more computer than camera. But, I’m always fascinated by the people who create amazing images with cameras with limited controls. I’ll work within those limitations.

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Yes, these phones definitely have limitations. But I never expect DSLR quality and am happy with the results. Sometimes, it looks better than the DSLR until I bring it up on my computer… 🙂

  • KC

    And that’s perfectly OK. Even the best cameras have limitations of some kind, in some way. That’s the fun of it. Finding out just how far you can push the boundaries.

    The real question is what is “quality”? As photographers we pursue that elusive goal sometimes to the point of distraction and frustration. It’s hard for us to step back, to get “outside of our own head” and see our images as the public would see them. Does the final image work? Great! Next image.

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    And the public doesn’t see what we see. I obsess over crooked horizons, noise, and images that aren’t perfectly sharp. Non-photographers rarely see these flaws, but the flaws are just enough to make us crazy!

  • KC

    I spot the flaws in my images – to a degree. Horizons I can correct. I know what ISO “noise” starts kicking in so I set a high limit. Sharpness is something I can sort out in post if it’s not too “off”. I usually have my cameras set to single point focus (not multi-point).

    “Sharp” is actually an interesting topic all to itself, more so in digital than film. With film, it’s all about the lenses. In digital, it’s partly the lenses and whatever “tweaking” the camera makers put into the firmware to correct lenses and the sensors.

    I picked up a new lens recently that’s easily the sharpest lens I own. I have a silly camera and lens test: my dog. Too sharp, or too much in camera “tweaking”, and his fur looks unnatural, like wire.

    Look at some of the images from the “masters” up close. Some are not all perfectly razor sharp.

  • Maha Blair

    Have you printed any of your phone images? If so, what’s the quality like?

  • Maha Blair

    Have you ever printed images from your phone? If so, what’s the quality like? And, what size printed image did you opt to do?

  • I have printed images from my iPhone but they are either quite small, 5 x 5 or so, or they are a type of image that doesn’t really need a sharp image. I have printed a 12 x 12 on wood and canvas. Those substrates give the images a more painterly quality, so tack sharp image resolution isn’t a requirement.

  • Just me

    I have a 16 X 24 stretched canvas hanging on my bedroom wall. Taken with a Samsung galaxy 3.

  • Rona Villanueva

    Thank you so much for these cool ideas.

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