Looking for something to do while in coronavirus lockdown? I have just the thing — it’s simple, satisfying and doesn’t have to cost you a penny. Your phone’s gallery is bursting with photos you’ve taken over the years, desperate to see the light of day again and get a fresh new makeover. The iPhone app store on iOS and Google Play store on Android are full of creative apps that can give your existing shots a whole new look, all from the comfort of your sofa.
I’ve rounded up a selection of my favourites, so have a read, make a cup of tea (or that hot new dalgona coffee everyone’s talking about), and settle down for an evening editing session. You can even turn your favorite shots into a photo book while in quarantine.
You can also check out these creative ideas to flex your photography muscles at home if you want to shoot and edit something new.
Google-owned Snapseed offers a wide range of exposure and color tools to make tweaks to your images, but also has plenty of filter options, from vintage styles to modern, punchy HDR looks. You can layer the effects up to create some interesting edits on your image. And best of all, it’s totally free.
Adobe Lightroom remains an industry standard for professional photographers and the mobile version is much the same. You’ll find no stickers, animations or emoji here, but you will get fine grain control over your image and the same set of tools you’d find in Lightroom on desktop. It’s the app I use the most to edit my own images on my iPhone and iPad, not least because the images sync in the cloud, letting me start on one device, and continue on another.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Photoshop Express has many of the same features you’d find in Lightroom, including exposure, contrast and color editing options, but strips out some of the pro tools and cloud syncing and, crucially, ditches the subscription fee. It’s a great tool for tweaking your images to bring out their best, but you’ll also find a decent selection of filters and overlay textures, as well as tools for making cool collages from your images.
It’s not as open to wild creativity as other options on this list, but it’s a solid editing app at a price that’s hard to argue with.
Prisma doesn’t deal with subtle filters and basic image corrections. Instead, its trippy filters will transform your images into often bizarre artistic creations. The results have a painterly effect and indeed many filters are inspired by artists such as Salvador Dali and Picasso. The filters are strong, and while you can tweak them, not every filter will work with every image. I found some to be more suited to portraits while other filters worked best with landscapes.
But it’s great fun to experiment with and when you find a photo that works, it really works.
iOS only, $7.99 a month or $48 a year.
Bazaart’s montage and collage tools let you combine multiple different elements — from photos, to text, to graphics — and layer them all up to create a finished work of art. It has tools that let you instantly erase the background from behind a portrait subject (I was amazed at how well it worked!) in order to put in a new background or layer up multiple effects. It also has a huge variety of templates to create gorgeous collages for Instagram stories too.
There are so many different ways you could try and composite different images together that the only boundary will come down to how creative you’re feeling. Head over to Bazaart’s Instagram page for some inspiration.
Like Bazaart, Photofox has powerful tools for removing subjects from background that let you composite in new backgrounds, or apply awesome effects. I particularly like Photofox’s dispersion effect, which makes it look like your subject is bursting into particles (trust me, it’s cool), as well as the glitch effects and the double exposure that overlays two images on top of each other.
As with Bazaart, there are endless possibilities of what you can do by layering and compositing different types of images and applying different effects to each.
VSCO began life making color grading presets for Lightroom and its roots are clear in the app today. Rather than offer stickers and animated gifs for Snapchat enthusiasts, VSCO is all about the more artful filmic color filters. The app has a huge range of presets available, including looks designed to emulate classic rolls of film from Fujifilm, Kodak and Ilford.
It’s got a great selection of black-and-white filters too, making it a great choice to experiment with if you’re into your moody monochrome shots.
PicsArt has a huge range of editing tools available to you, from basic adjustments like exposure and contrast, through to cinematic color grading and dramatic filters that transform your images into painting-like pieces of art. There are loads of options for both the tone and shape of your face in selfies — I won’t go into the ethics of using these tools for “beauty” purposes, but I had fun in using the tools to intentionally transform my features into bizarre proportions.
There’s a whole Instagram-style social sharing element to PicsArt as well, if you’re interested in that. Personally I was mostly interested in the editing options.
Make sure to check out my guide on creative at-home photo projects, see our whole catalogue of awesome tips and tricks for better phone photos or see how the iPhone 11 Pro captured Scotland’s beauty in my epic road trip.