iPhone Photography App Roundup

I've had a lot of people ask me about what photography apps I use, so I figure I'd put together a list of all the photo apps I've used from most to least used.

I’ve rated these apps by how useful they are to my photography workflow and how often I find myself using them. Your mileage may vary:

Gold Medal Winners:

Camera+ — The most used app on my iPhone for photography. One of the thing that sets Camera+ apart from many of the “filter studios” on the market is that you can apply it’s filters partially with an opacity slider. In other words, you may like the blown-out overlay effect, but you can pull it back to 30% to make it a more subtle change.

Instagram — If you’ve never used Instagram, the best way to describe it is Twitter for photographs. The fun is in the social sharing, but Instagram lets you apply various filters and blurring to your photos and then easily share out to other services like Facebook, Twitter, et. al.

Genius Scan — This app is meant for scanning documents, but it’s keystoning feature comes in handy for warping and skewing your photos. Import a photo and you’re presented with something akin to Photoshop’s “free transform” mode. Believe it or not, I use this app on almost every photograph. My hands are shaky and getting a perfectly aligned shot is tough on such a small device. Genius Scan solves that problem for me.

Luminance — This has recently become one of my favorite apps for post-processing photos. There are a handful of tasteful presets (20 or so), but the real magic comes in the effect editing mode. In editing mode, you can add as many of the nine basic filters you want (white balance, exposure, brightness/contrast, hue/saturation, tone curve, color adjustment, split toning, sepia, vignette), rearrange them and adjust all of their respective settings. This is incredibly powerful and perhaps the closest thing to Photoshop’s adjustment layers I’ve found on the iPhone. The icing on the cake is that in album mode, you can press/hold a photo to copy all of it’s layer style to another photo; perfect for when you’re deciding between multiple photos in a set.

Silver Medal Winners:

Pro HDR — This app almost made it into the gold medal category. For those unfamiliar with HDR, think of this as a way to keep all parts of a photo exposed similarly. In other words, if shooting a towering building against a bright sky, the building is usually underexposed or the sky is overexposed; HDR takes multiple photos at different exposures and merges them together. I know HDR sometimes gets a bum rap; but used wisely, this app can help reduce dramatic differences in lightness (and it does a significantly better job than the iPhones out-of-the-box. I use it quite often for landscape shots where the sky is significantly brighter than the ground.

TouchRetouch — This works exactly like iPhoto’s retouch tool. Paint over something you don’t want in your picture, and Retouch does a surprisingly good job of making it disappear. Though I don’t use this app that often, it has a very distinct purpose and it does its job well.

TiltShiftGen — Despite it’s generic name, this little app is very useful. For those unfamiliar with tilt-shift lenses, this app basically gives you the the ability to create a faux lens blur. You can quickly change the size, direction, focal point and feathering of the blur. They’ve also thrown in some handy additional tools like vignetting and contrast/brightness controls.

Filterstorm — This app is a workhorse; there’s a lot of power here. Almost every setting for each of the filters can be tweaked and the filters can be applied partially with gradients and even painted on with your finger. However, the interface makes it somewhat difficult to use and it tends to be slow when exporting photos.

iLoader for Facebook — If you’re not a Facebook user, you can skip this app. However, if you do any kind of photo posting to Facebook, this is a really useful tool. In a nutshell, iLoader makes batch tagging and uploading photos quick and painless. Select multiple photos from your albums, then you can either batch edit titles/descriptions or you can move through your selection one at a time and add captions and tag friends. It then blazes through the upload—I’ve gotten a few dozen photos up to Facebook on 3G in just a few minutes.

Bronze Medal Winners:

Pano — This is a pretty fast and useful little photo stitching tool. I’ve made some decent panoramic shots with it, but the interface is a little clunky and the stitching is often obvious when the photo is blown up. It’s also hard to enjoy a good panoramic photo properly on an iPhone.

lo-mob — Think of this like a photography museum that you can apply to your photos. There’s a giant collection of old photo formats that it recreates with incredible believability. My only gripe is that while you can turn off the border for the effects, you can’t disable the picture cropping and unfortunately some of the more interesting effects are only applied to a rectangular format, despite your original photo size/format.

Slow Shutter Cam — I got excited when I first discovered Slow Shutter Cam because I liked the idea of manual exposure length on the iPhone. Unfortunately, it’s not a miracle app—it uses the video camera to capture longer exposure, so the picture quality suffers some. It’s still a neat app to play around with and it’s really useful in certain scenarios (fireworks, waterfall, etc).

Honorable Mention:

ProCamera — This was recommended to me by a photographer friend. It has a lot of the same functionality as Camera+ and Luminance, so I haven’t spent a lot of time with it; but the interface is rather pleasant and it seems to have a lot of power, so I thought it worth mentioning here.

FX Photo Studio — Another “all-in-one” photo editing suite. It has improved significantly since I first purchased it. The interface is pretty intuitive and it’s got a decent amount of features; however, they’re all things I feel are better accomplished with the previously mentioned apps.

Tiny Planet — This app is easier to illustrate than to explain. It produces an anamorphic cylinder effect similar to the polar coordinates filter in Photoshop. Basically, it wraps your photo around a single point, creating a planet (or tunnel) like effect. It’s more for fun than anything, though I’ve managed to create some interesting photos with it.

Pic Grunger — It’s name is perhaps the best summary. This app lets you add grunge effects to your photos, giving you control over the type of grunge, severity of application and canvas texture. Though the photo treatments produced are often a bit too over-the-top for my tastes, I’ve managed to create some interesting effects with it.

VintageScene — Another specialized app, this lets you make your photos look old and does a pretty terrific job of it. The photo textures and aged, banged-up borders are incredibly convincing and do in fact look like they were pulled out of someone’s attic; however, since it generally produces washed-out photos (albeit authentic), I use this app sparingly.

Diptic — Create comic-book like panels for your photographs, which comes in handy when you’re trying to tell a story with only one photo. I don’t use it too often, but it’s a nicely designed tool with plenty of layout options, border customization and simple image manipulation tools.

Meh:

Hipstamatic — I know Hipstamatic has a loyal following, but I’m not a part of it. Basically, Hipstamatic wants to recreate the experience of an old camera; however, doing anything with it takes way too much time and fiddling. You can’t even import photos and apply the effects. Like a video game that’s so realistic it isn’t fun anymore, the limitations really make this a not-so-useful app for me.

SwankoLab — Made by the same team that created Hipstamatic, this app suffers from the same problem: assuming that the experience of using the app is more important to me that what I want to do with it. It’s a virtual darkroom where you pick chemicals to create custom prints. There are some interesting effects and fun ideas, but you literally have to walk through the whole darkroom and wait for the exposure process before you can see what your photo will like.

CameraBag — This was my first “collection of photo filters” app and I used it religiously for a while. However, with all the new offerings available, this hasn’t managed to keep up and feels very limited and small now.

DynamicLight — Apply lighting effects to any photo. I keep wanting to like this app, but everything that comes out of it ends up looking ridiculously unrealistic and overblow. There is no “subtle” setting in this app.

Photosynth — Microsoft’s Photosynth technology is really fascinating and this app looked promising. The idea is that you aim your camera all over the place the app captures a panorama in real-time by snapping photos and figuring out where you’re aiming with the gyroscope. Unfortunately, the stitching is pretty terrible and I’ve not produced a single usable panorama from it. Amazing idea, neat interface, lousy results.

Photoshop Express — Yawn. Adobe really missed an opportunity with this app. It has a few useful tools like reduce noise and straighten, but I almost never open this app for anything besides those.