The top five free editing apps every photographer needs

By Geoff Harris

If the best camera is the one you always have on you, then for many readers, it’s likely to be their smartphone.

With today’s phones offering astonishing picture quality compared to only a few years ago, make sure you are getting the most out of them with the best smartphone editing apps. There are thousands out there, but these are the ones you really can’t do without.


If I was only able to use one editing app on my phone, it would be this. Snapseed is really versatile, and incredible value considering it’s free. After opening an image taken with your phone, you can easily apply Styles, such as Portrait, Smooth, Pop or accentuate, but the real business end of the app is found under Tools. Tools will help to perfect the image, from cropping and straightening to removing spots and scratches. It’s the creative tools which really impress though.

Tune Image enables you to tweak essentials, such as Brightness and Contrast, etc, but this is only the beginning. My favourites are Rotate, which enable you to straighten slightly wonky images, and HDR-scape, which is a great way to bring out drama and detail. Please use it sparingly, though, or the end-result can look contrived and garish. You can create further atmosphere by using Black and White or Drama, or add a vignette (where the four corners are darkened to draw attention to the main subject). It’s possible to create quite sophisticated looking double exposures too, and adding text is really easy. Don’t forget too that you can stack effects on an image, in a similar way to layers in Photoshop, so you can produce an impressive new result each time you edit a photo.

Available for iOS and Android.

Adobe Photoshop Camera

This is the new kid on the block, and has only been available since June, but it’s really grown on us. Not to be confused with other Photoshop or Lightroom apps, it’s basically a series of filters and lenses that use the company’s ‘Sensei’ AI technology to create some impressive effects. You can either add these as you take the shot or apply them later. We particularly like Spectrum, which splits your image across, you’ve guessed it, multiple spectrums, and Duotone, where you can add some really classy colour toning. Color Echo can create some quite sophisticated looking digital art from your images, too.

You need to slide your finger along the screen to reveal the full range of options within each lens/filter and it’s well worth experimenting. It’s also easy to adjust shadow, highlights, clarity and other key exposure settings (look out for the rather esoteric icon top right) or save out your masterpiece. Some of the filters, such as Pop Art or Billie Eilish, are a matter of taste.

Available for iOS and Android.


There is much more to black and white photography than simply converting a colour image, and it’s important to be able to learn to ‘see’ in black and white. Hypocam is useful as it gives you a black and white live view of the scene in front of you, so you can see which parts of a scene might work best in mono, and then enables you to keep all your subsequent black and white editing and toning within the app. Even better you can apply a range of black and white presets as you shoot, emphasise yellow, red, green tones, and grain and so on – there is a lot of creative control here. Further filters and textures need to be paid for, but it’s a great starting point for mono smartphone photographers – you will need to spend some time getting used to the slightly cryptic interface though.

Available for iOS and Android.

Open Camera

Open Camera is another relatively advanced tool that will be a useful addition to the arsenal of any serious smartphone photographer. Working in place of your default camera app (the one which opens automatically when you try and take a picture) it enables you to adjust exposure compensation, white balance, focus modes and other key parameters. Advanced video recording modes are also available, as are voice control and timer features. While many newer phones have advanced photo controls built-in, particularly those from Huawei, this is still a very useful app, with an impressive amount of features considering it is free.

Available for Android only.

Adobe Spark

This is a another useful app that should be better known, as it’s a convenient way to create graphics or even a very basic website for your photography. The app is free, but more advanced features are only available if you are an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, which many Photoshop and Lightroom users already will be (Adobe is also offering a free two month subscription to the full Adobe Spark service). When it comes to making a clean, simple website, the app works pretty well, and you can use specific themes and fonts to make your page look consistent, adding links and buttons. It is a good way to make graphics from your images too.

Available for iOS and Android.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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