Learn how to make your posts on Instagram and beyond look unique with the help of these photo apps recommended by photography tech expert Jamie Carter
Do you post your photos to Instagram, facebook and Twitter? While some photographers are uncomfortable in doing so because of copyright worries others are perfectly happy to use their smartphone to take, edit and share photos on as many platforms as possible. Cue the humble smartphone app, the newest and most innovative which can help you do things like add a watermark to prevent copyright breach and, just as importantly, make them really stand out from the crowd.
Some of the latest mobile apps for photographers help you edit your photos, change the depth of field, add motion, create some unique-looking distortion and even drop-in a ‘fake’ sky. Incredible? Unethical? You decide. Here are some of our favourites to get you started…
Depth of field in photography is more important than ever in the age of social media. Why? It’s a trend.
That blurry background – something referred to as bokeh – is achieved on a DSLR by using a fast aperture (at least f/2.8), a long focal length and a long distance between subject and background. However, it’s also something that can increasingly be faked using smartphone apps and software that use artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse and simulate the same effect. A free app on iOS and Android, Focos has such an AI engine, which calculates the depth of field automatically, adds a bokeh effect and adjusts the apparent aperture size. It works with new photos and also with photos already on your camera roll.
All you have to do to get a ‘fake’ blur in the background of your photos is to select something from your camera roll. The AI engine then just chooses the subject – usually the closest face to the camera in a portrait shot – then subtly blurs the background. A Focus Pro suite of extra features, which includes the handling of RAW images, non-portrait photos and myriad advanced aperture effects, costs £1.79/month, £6.99/year and £10.99 for lifetime access.
2 Adobe Lightroom: Photo Editor
Although there are a lot of apps available for editing, Adobe Lightroom: Photo Editor is one of the best if you’re going to upload to social media. That’s because you can set-up a watermark to automatically be added each time you export an image ready to upload.
A free app that’s loaded with both shooting and editing features, and for both Android and iOS smartphones, it gives you a simple camera that controls only exposure – much like your smartphone’s built-in camera app – and a pro camera that gives you full manual control over everyone that can be tweaked on a smartphone (so, not the actual aperture). You can capture as raw DNG files and make adjustments to exposure, contrast and highlights, etc. both on a basic level and to areas of the image you select by touching the screen. Each time you export a photo you can choose the size of your watermark, its position, its opacity and even whether to use a drop-shadow.
Although Adobe Lightroom: Photo Editor is free Adobe does give some extras to subscribers to its Creative Cloud subscribers. The Creative Cloud Photography Plan (£9.98/month) gives you access to the desktop/laptop versions of both of Adobe’s flagship editing suites – Lightroom and Photoshop – and on Adobe Lightroom: Photo Editor lets you sync your exported images via the cloud, edit raw files and make use of some exclusive perspective corrections and healing tools.
You don’t need Nception, but its oddly distorted super-surreal effect could be just what your social feed needs … just occasionally. A free app for iOS, Nception will distort your images and create surreal mirror images in every way you can imagine. We’re talking reality distortion effects in various flavours applied either to photos and videos already in your smartphone’s camera roll or live in real-time via the app’s built-in camera.
Although you can export some images – and as PNGs as well as JPEGs – all have a watermark across the top, albeit a fairly subtle one. It costs £1.79 to get rid of that watermark and to allow export of a myriad other oddly shaped distortion templates.
Although Nception will work its weird magic with any photo you care to let it loose on, it’s worth thinking about what it can offer when you compose your photos. For example, if you have a lot of cloudy sky behind your subject it can create a ‘floating’ effect just by mirror-imaging the top half of your image. However, you don't need to think about composition much because its built-in camera will show you exactly what it can do in real-time.
Photographers go to great lengths to capture motion. A fast shutter speed will freeze your subject and keep it in sharp focus, so in an effort to accurately capture what’s happening in, say, a waterfall image it’s common for a photographer to use a slower shutter speed to blur a moving object. Motionleap turns that on its head by offering to animate your smartphone photos. It uses a 3D picture editor, but it’s largely a manual affair; you select the area you want animated and the direction you want the motion to flow, then export as a video, as a gif file or direct to Instagram.
The duration can be from six to 60 seconds and the quality can be set to 1080p to 4K. Used sparingly it can look incredible – particularly on waterfall and river shots – though at £20.99/year, £6.99/month and £69.99 lifetime purchase it’s very expensive.
Is Instagram a photo sharing app? Although long ago embraced by photographers as a platform to remix and share their work, the world’s largest photo sharing website has by now transitioned from still photos to entertainment and video. While photographers can use it for whatever they like, it’s worth bearing in mind that younger users will often expect video. Adding motion to a photo is a good way of meeting them halfway, though be careful about your choice of photo.
We’ve all arrived at our dream photography destination only to find a grey overcast sky has rolled in from nowhere. Or maybe you meant to get up for sunrise but couldn’t get out of bed. Cue PICNIC, a relatively simple app of intelligent filters that analyses your images, figures out where the sky is and suggests no fewer than 33 suggestions for what the sky could look like instead.
It’s all here, with everything from its trademark ‘picnic’ preset that fakes a blue sky to less impressive filters like the ‘aloha’ tropical beach look. Some, like ‘aurora’ – a simple and dull green wash to the sky – and ‘rainbow’ look a bit naff, but the exquisite starry sky added by ‘night’ and the sunrise-like ‘daybreak’ filters are impressive. The intensity and brightness of the filters can be tweaked. As well as working on the look of your photo library, PICNIC also includes a camera so you can start faking skies in real-time.
Is it ethical to add an entirely new sky to your photos? Yes, absolutely – as long as you let your viewers know what you’ve done. Be honest and upfront about what you’ve done and what app you used and no-one can accuse you of creating ‘deep fakes’ online. After all, if using any kind of AI is considered unethical then we’re all going to have to stop using smartphone cameras and even the ‘auto’ mode on manual cameras!
- AuthorJamie Carter
Jamie Carter is a journalist and author focusing on stargazing and astronomy, astrophotography, and travel for Forbes Science, BBC Sky At Night magazine, Sky & Telescope, Travel+Leisure, and The Telegraph.View all articles