Four of the best casual photography and filter apps for iPhone

If you’re a seasoned iPhone pro, or a new user, the vast amount of simple photography apps can be staggering — we pick out four cheap or free ones for you to try.

Camera+

We’re not going to blow the lid off of any secret App Store finds with this first one, but we couldn’t start off a camera app list without mentioning Camera+, which is currently on version 9 and has been downloaded over 10 million times.

Camera+ is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to third party iPhone cameras. While your iPhone will never replace a DSLR, Camera+ does emulate some of those high-end camera features.

Anyone who owns an iPhone 6s or higher can shoot in RAW, and all iPhone users have the ability to change exposure, utilize an image stabilizer, change the shutter speed, and easily focus the image with the touch of a finger. It is absolutely geared toward the beginner, but has enough features jammed into it that more seasoned photographers will love it as well.

Even the post-production editing suite feels quite a bit like specialty photo editing software, which isn’t something that most apps can say.

Camera+ is a $2.99 app, which we think is more than fair for something that has basically set the standard in third party iPhone photography apps.

Hipstamatic

Hipstamatic used to be one of the most popular iPhone camera apps, but fell out of favour sometime around iPhone 4s. Somewhere along the line, the developers of the app have given Hipstamatic a complete overhaul to make the app better than ever.

If you’ve never used Hipstamatic, it’s a bit different as far as camera apps go. Unlike a traditional filter app where you add after you take the picture, Hipstamatic allows you to pick films, lenses, and flashes and layer them together before the picture is taken.

Hipstamatic is designed to emulate the feeling of using a traditional camera with specialty lenses and films. However, the apps more modern incarnations actually let you change the filters in case you’re not a big fan of the result.

The filters are expertly curated and paired together as film and lens in “HipstaPacks,” usually centered around some sort of classic vintage film and camera combo. And, in the new Pro mode, you’ve got the ability to set shutter speed, shoot multi-exposed photos, and there’s a full darkroom suite to edit the images before you share them with others.

If you didn’t get it in its heyday, there’s a price to be paid for Hipstamatic, though, and if you’re not the type to spend money on a camera app, you might want to pass on it. Hipstamatic itself is $2.99, but HipstaPacks range anywhere from $0.99 to $4.99, but many include a large amount of filters for the money you spend.

Darkr

Darkr is designed to emulate black and white large format cameras, the first wave of “modern” cameras that were popular up until the 1950s. Our first few times using Darkr, we wound up with wildly out-of-focus images, images that were overexposed, underexposed, and framed very poorly.

However, with practice, we found that Darkr actually taught us how to frame pictures better, how to compose shots that we might have not thought of otherwise. You’ll snap images with one of three cameras, either a point-and-shoot, a simple manual camera, or a traditional old, large-format camera which shoots pictures “upside-down.”

All three cameras in the app have their own pros and cons, but we think that there’s certainly good reason to use the large format camera when learning how to use Darkr. Darkr also allows you to tone images, change exposure, and manually burn and dodge parts in a simple post-production part of the app referred to as the Darkroom.

If you’re having trouble using the app, developers have included some tutorials that can have you straightened out in no time.

We feel like we need to stress this: Darkr isn’t for everyone, but for those who want to experience something similar to an old large format camera, Darkr’s worth grabbing. We highly suggest that you grab the $2.99 pro package, which unlocks all cameras, the option to work in layers, and the ability to tone the images as well.

April

While April isn’t a camera app per se, it is a good choice for anyone who likes quickly editing and composing pictures they’ve taken with their iPhone. Collage maker April is an incredibly simple app, stark and minimalist, but presents many different layouts for anywhere from one to nine images.

April is split into two separate sections, a standard collage section and a section that is designed to make photos feel more like graphic design pieces or promotional posters. We appreciate the layouts that both sides give, though we’re more inclined to recommend using the graphic design based layouts.

As with the rest of the photo apps we’ve mentioned, April also has a collection of filters that can help edit pictures at the last minute in case something isn’t quite working out.

April isn’t an app you’d use to take pictures, but if you get the urge to shoot images in a series and would like to share them as one image file, this is the app you should be using. April is free, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t snag this one as soon as you can.

Digital Photography Tips

digital camerasDigital cameras today offer superb image quality that competes directly with film.

These cameras look and act like traditional cameras with a few extra features. Tricky camera designs are quickly leaving the marketplace because photographers want to take pictures and not be bogged down by hard-to-use technology.

Many things about digital cameras are identical to film cameras, a few things are slightly tweaked from film expectations, and a number of features are unique to digital photography. Some of the big differences can actually help you take better pictures than you ever did with a film camera.

For quality results from any camera, the basics of photography still apply no matter how an image is captured. A tripod is always important if slow shutter speeds are needed and big telephoto lenses are used. Fast shutter speeds remain a key way to stop action, and f-stops continue to affect depth of field. The important parts of a scene still need to have the focus centered on them, and dramatic light always helps make for dramatic photos.

The “digital” in digital camera has caused even experienced photographers to worry that this new technology will be difficult to master. But consider this: No beginner ever picked up a camera and knew what all the controls did. For the serious photographer, f-stops and shutter speeds were definitely not instinctive.

Types of Cameras

Digital cameras come in a variety of forms, from point-and-shoot pocket cameras to advanced digital SLRs. There is no right or wrong type, though a specific one may be best for you and your photography.

Simple point-and-shoot digital cameras can give surprising quality when they have the right lenses and sensors. Because they are totally automatic in focus and exposure, they just have to be pointed at a subject and clicked. They have limited capabilities for controlling the image, although even very inexpensive cameras often have white balance controls. Some are exceptionally compact, able to fit easily into a shirt pocket, making them ideal cameras to keep at hand so you won’t miss a great photo opportunity.

Advanced point-and-shoot cameras are similar in that they mostly rely on automatic controls; however, this group tends to add special features to make the cameras a little more flexible. Such features include exposure compensation, more white balance controls, limited manual settings, and more. Still relatively inexpensive, these cameras can be a good introduction to digital and are perfect for the families of serious photographers.

Interchangeable-lens, digital SLRs offer all the controls of a 35mm SLR, including lenses that give you a wealth of focal-length possibilities. These cameras are definitely bigger than the other digital cameras. They include complete and extensive photographic controls, the best in image-sensor and processing technology, high levels of noise control, and more. The LCD panel on the back of an SLR can be used only for reviewing images, since the sensor cannot provide “live” images due to the mirror design.

Shoot It Right From the Start

The way to get the best photos from a digital camera is to do it right from the start. Yet there is an idea that one doesn’t need to devote much effort when you have the computer to “help.” This idea has sometimes reached almost surreal proportions. A couple of years ago, a digital photography article in a major news magazine said software was available that would automatically transform amateurs’ photos into images that would rival the best of pros. That software never existed, nor will it, because good photography has always been about art and craft; about understanding the tools of the craft and using them well; and about perception and the ability to capture an image that catches an audience’s attention and communicates well.

Just remember that digital photography is still photography.

The Basics

The most common mistake people make is camera shake. When you move the camera inadvertently at the time you press the shutter, you risk the chance of blurring your image or reducing the sharpness of the image. Keep it steady!

Exposure

Most point-and-shoot cameras have a simple exposure override facility, normally allowing you to overexpose or underexpose your picture. So if the subject is predominantly dark, experiment by overexposing to compensate. If the subject is predominantly light, then underexposure is the way to go. Try taking a test picture, look at it on the screen on the back of your camera, check the histogram, and adjust your exposure compensation. Don’t be afraid to shoot four or five versions, as the LCD screen is not always accurate. You can delete the bad pictures later.

Composition

A very basic rule of composition is known as the rule of thirds, or the tic-tac-toe rule. Imagine your viewfinder or LCD monitor divided into nine equal-size squares, like a tic-tac-toe grid. Compose your picture with your subject center-positioned at one of the four intersecting points. This should help you compose more aesthetic portraits.

Zoom

Your point-and-shoot camera will probably have an autofocus zoom lens. You will discover that the ability to zoom in on your subject is fantastic. Get bold. Use your zoom lens and compose your picture with the subject filling your frame. To start with, I’d be surprised if you don’t get a lot of pictures that are small in the frame. When you look through the viewfinder, look at the whole picture frame and how big the subject is in your picture, not just into the eyes of the person you’re photographing.

Changing the Point of View

Another thing to consider when taking your picture is your point of view. A picture can be more interesting when taken from an unusual angle. Don’t be afraid to lie down and look up at your subject, a particularly dynamic approach when photographing pets or children and also less threatening to your subject. Equally, you could try climbing up to a higher viewpoint and looking down on your subject. Better yet, try both and then delete the one you like less.

Transferring Digital Images

Digital cameras today come with some way of transferring the photos to the computer. This usually involves some sort of cable, although some cameras are using infrared and other wireless technologies. Direct connection may not be the best way for photographers to get photos onto the computer’s hard drive, however. Many people find a card reader much more convenient.

Keys to Working in the Digital Darkroom

Many photographers have tried to work with image-processing programs such as Adobe Photoshop and found the whole process difficult, intimidating, and tedious. One big reason this occurs is that much of the instruction in books and classes takes the wrong approach for photographers: It dwells on the software and not the photography.

The photo “rules.” This is an important thing to remember. When the software is “in charge,” the focus is not on the image; it is on learning and memorizing all the functions of the program. Many photographers have sat through classes that taught them about such things as selections and layers long before they had any idea why they might want to have such knowledge. This was simply because the instructor thought these things were key elements of Photoshop.

As a photographer, you know your photos and what you want them to do. Sure you might not know everything you can do with an image in the program, but that is less important than why you took the photo. Only you can know this, and your photographic intent will guide you, even through Photoshop, on a sure-and-steady, craft-driven journey that is not obsessed with technology.

Experimenting without fear is another key idea for using the digital darkroom. Often, photographers have had to pay a price for experimenting, and many have gotten cautious and brought that caution with them into the digital darkroom. Just remember that there is little you can do to an image in the computer that can’t be undone. Let yourself go, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

By Rob Sheppard & Bob Martin

From Photography Field Guide: Digital Media and Ultimate Field Guide to Photography

 

Tips for Taking Better Photos on Your Smartphone

iphoneSmartphone cameras have come a long way in a short amount of time and they continue to improve with each new hardware release. But hardware is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to capturing a great shot.

There’s also composition to consider, best practices to follow and custom settings to play around with. If you’re going to use your smartphone to capture memories and record your travels, here are some tips that will help you take your smartphone camera pictures to the next level.

1. Take More Than One Photo

There’s nothing worse than looking back through your photos to find that perfect shot you captured includes a strange photo-bomber and ended up blurry, so don’t be shy when it comes to taking photos with your smartphone. Take multiple shots of the same subject and maybe try a few different angles until you find that perfect picture.

2. Hold Your Phone Correctly

It’s tempting to hold our phones right out in front of us when taking photos, but doing this could make your pictures blurry because your hands and arms are moving. The best way to take photos with a smartphone is by holding it as close to your body as you can, using two hands, and keeping it steady. You can also rest your phone on something like a table of fence to add additional stability.

3. Don’t use the Digital Zoom

Digital zoom is, well, digital. When you use it you’re basically taking a small part of an image and stretching it, then repeating the process multiple times. This can significantly reduce the quality of your photos and cause pixelation, so it’s better not to use it. Instead, get closer to your subject and/or crop down your photo after the fact.

4. Use a Camera App

Most default smartphone camera apps work well, but if you’re looking for something with a little more depth you might want to check out one of the more-specialized alternatives in the app store. These camera apps will usually give you more control, let you tweak more settings and give you more choices when it comes to filters and effects, so don’t be afraid to try out a few and see which one works best for you.

5. Don’t Rely on “Auto” Settings

When you want to capture a quick photo, auto settings usually do the trick. But if you want to take your pictures to the next level, you might want to move beyond the auto settings on your device and get to know some the different options your smartphone camera has to offer.

Adjusting settings like ISO and exposure will usually allow you to take higher quality photos in environments with tricky lighting so they’re definitely worth playing around with. Tweaking the white balance will also help you get ride of the bluish or amber tint that can show up in certain shots.

6. Embrace Editing and Use Your Smartphone’s Special Features

It’s impossible to take a picture that’s perfectly straight or perfectly lit every time, which is where editing comes in. You can always use a program like Photoshop or any number of free alternatives to edit your pictures, but there are also a number of great free apps like SnapSeed (Android/iOS) which will let you edit pictures right on your device.

Once you’re done editing you can use a number of cool camera effects and filters to further enhance your photos. There are almost an unlimited number of effects you can apply, from standard black and white to to some pretty out-there custom filters, so don’t be afraid to test a few of them out until you find one you like.