Your iPhone is a serious camera, but to make the most of it, you need to use some third-party apps. The built-in Camera and Photos apps are fine, but they just aren’t up to scratch compared to the best photography apps out there. Let’s take a look.
Update, 9/28/21: Checked content for accuracy.
If you want to take great photos, you need to take control of the camera you’re using; you won’t get your best photos in auto mode. While your iPhone has a fixed aperture lens, you can still decide on the shutter speed, ISO, focus, and white balance.
Halide (Free) is the best camera app out there. It’s got simple one-handed manual controls that work even with an iPhone 13 Pro and small hands (I should know), RAW support, live Portrait mode, depth preview, focus peaking, a live histogram, and a great auto mode for when you just want to take a quick snap. It’s the complete package.
There are lots of great image editors out there but Google’s Snapseed is the pick of the bunch. It’s got a host of powerful global adjustment tools, RAW support, filters, and saved styles, sure; but where it really shines, is with local adjustments. The selective Control Point adjustments let you fine-tune different areas of your image quickly and easily; there’s no need to try and carefully paint things in with your big clumsy finger.
The other thing is that Snapseed is free. There are image editing apps out there that are as powerful as Snapseed but they all either cost money or lack features found in Snapseed.
Adobe Lightroom CC is technically free but you need to either pay $4.99/month to unlock all the mobile features and get 100GB of Cloud Storage or $9.99/month for the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan (which also includes the desktop versions of Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as 1TB of storage). The free version is fine, but it’s the paid versions that make it a really useful app.
Lightroom isn’t just an image editor. It’s a catalog app, an export studio, and much more. For professional photographers, it’s the center of their whole workflow. Adobe Lightroom CC brings all that to your iPhone and, if you’re a Creative Cloud Subscriber, will sync with Lightroom on your computer.
If you’re just shooting photos with your iPhone, you can skip Lightroom, but if you want to use your phone as just another part of your photography workflow, it’s the only app to go for.
Filter apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic (remember Hipstamatic?) were the first good image editors on the iPhone. If you took a low-res photo and slapped a filter on it, thing could actually look pretty decent. Now photo editing apps have moved on, but there’s still a place for a really good filter app. That’s VSCO (Free, with a membership option).
The difference between VSCO and lots of other filter apps is that the people making VSCO have a lot of experience with what they’re doing; VSCO started out as a company that made presets for Lightroom and Photoshop that emulated classic photography films. They still do that, but now they’ve brought that same knowledge to mobile filters. This means that instead of getting some ill thought out, high contrast/high saturation filter, you get ones that are inspired by specific films, looks, moods, or culture.
VSCO comes with plenty of free filters but there are also in-app purchases for specific looks. There’s even a subscription if you want to unlock all the premium filters in one go.
Nothing ruins a photo faster than a power line, photobomber, pimple, or other distraction. TouchRetouch ($1.99) is the quickest way to get rid of them.
It’s simple: select a retouching tool, paint over the area you want to retouch, and the app will do the rest, intelligently replacing what you want gone. You can quickly remove street lights, cables, people, or anything else you can imagine from your photos.
SKRWT (Free, with in-app purchases)—no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either—is an app designed to fix one thing: the perspective distortion you get from using a camera to take photos of buildings and landscapes.
You know when you try to take a photo of a monument and because you’re having to tilt your camera back to get everything in frame, it ends up looking kind of funky? SKRWT fixes that with a few quick taps. It’s perfect for making your vacation photos look a million times more professional.
And now, for the most boring possible inclusion on this list. The best place to share your iPhone photos is … Instagram (Free).
As much as I’d love to have some cool recommendations here, the reality is that Instagram is the best photo-driven social network around. Hell, it might even be the best social network around. If you want to share your photos with friends, family, and the public at large, it’s the only app to use.