5 Essential Photo Apps for Your Phone


The smartphone has not only revolutionized the way we live but also completely altered the landscape of modern photography. If you have any doubts just go to a concert and try to see past the ocean of glowing screens snapping shots or filming their own shaky and out of focus rendition of the show.

Yes, pretty much everybody on the street has a camera on them at all times thanks to their phone. But accessibility is just the surface. If you truly want to see how phones are changing the world of photography you have to look at the apps.

While most of the popular photography apps are simply a portal for people to share their photos with friends and family, there’s actually a lot more to be found. When you get beyond the shallow depths of social apps and your phone’s stock camera and find the apps that can be used as actual tools to help you hone your craft and expand your options, that’s when you find out how to really use your smartphone to really change your photography. And hopefully I can help.

Here are 5 photo apps you need to be using right now:

#1: VSCO Cam (Free)


VSCO Cam has built up quite the reputation among photographers so there’s a decent chance you’ve heard of it already. If you haven’t you need to rectify that immediately. VSCO Cam is likely responsible for about 80% of the best photos that pop up on your Instagram feed and rightfully so. It’s filters and effects are the closest thing to film you’ll find on a smart phone and are definitely your best bet for professional grade photos. While they’re a little guilty of the “Free App Now, Paid Upgrades Later” model of doing things, this is one app where the content is worth the price and you won’t suffer any buyer’s remorse once you see your new filters at work. If you ignore all the other suggestions on this list, make sure you don’t ignore this one.

#2: Snapseed (Free)


Editing photos on your smartphone can be an incredibly tedious task filled with constant mistakes due to chubby finger syndrome, or worse can require using multiple apps to get the job done. Enter Snapseed.

Snapseed is the photo editing app we’ve all been waiting for, most of us unnecessarily because it came out quite a while ago. All the standard editing features are there, but are now easily enhanced by Snapseed’s easy to navigate user interface. This along with a slew of other great features like stylized filters, frames, and even a tilt-shift generator are what make Snapseed the only photo editing app you’ll need on your phone.

#3: Triggertrap (Free)


This one easily wins this list for me personally. Triggertrap is an app that allows you to create a trigger for your camera’s shutter based on any number of criteria. You can set it up for something conventional like a cable trigger or use some of the more unorthodox triggers, like earthquakes, all thanks to it’s handy “Seismic” option. Yes, that’s right, you can set your camera up to be triggered by an earthquake. I can’t think of any practical use for that but it sounds awesome!

Of course, there are more practical triggers you’ll actually use like noise and facial recognition. And on top of all this it has a very impressive time lapse function that allows you to do an accelerated time lapse and even has a “Road Trip” time lapse mode. Triggertrap is the definition of an app that will help you expand your photography.

#4: Photosynth (Free)


There are a lot of great panorama apps out there but for my money the best one has to be Photsynth, especially since in this case that money would be nothing. Yes, not only is Photosynth free but it also does things few other panorama apps do, like offer shooting up and down when creating your panorama rather than just side to side.

A bonus runner-up here would be the app, AutoStitch Panorama. This app works a little differently in that it creates a panorama from photos you’ve already shot by finding the overlapping portions of the images and stitching them together for you. Perfect for situations where you want to create a panorama out of a series of photos after the fact.

#5: Pro HDR ($1.99)


Personally I’m not a huge fan of HDR photography. I think it’s constantly overdone and frequently misused. That said, it can still be a lot of fun to play with from time to time, and what good is photography if you can’t have a good time every once in a while?

That’s where Pro HDR comes into the picture. It sports both a Manual mode for the regular users and an Auto mode for people like me who are just using it as a brief distraction. The app also includes a ton of versatility when crafting your HDR photo that a lot of other HDR apps simply don’t offer. If you’re going to mess with HDR photography this is definitely the best way to do it and have a good time.

In Memoriam: Kitcam/PhotoForge 2

When initially conceiving this list I had planned to include Kitcam and PhotoForge 2. They’re both amazing photo apps and Kitcam is a personal favorite of mine since it offers video filters in addition to photo filters. However as some people may know, Yahoo! recently purchased GhostBird, the company that made the apps, and had them removed from app stores so the technology could be used as part of Flickr.

While you can still use the apps if you purchased them prior to being pulled it’s still unfortunate that new users won’t be able to get these great apps. We have yet to see how the purchase of GhostBird will play out for Flickr but if the apps are any indication I highly recommend you keep an eye on what Flickr’s up to in the coming months.

Image credit: HDR Sunset, Costa Rica by kansasphoto

  • LuAnn Hunt

    I have ProHDR and love it for my Galaxy III when I want to bump up the color and capture a more realistic photo when the light is not so good. I also have SnapSeed and LOVE IT! I use it exclusively on my iPad. I upload my Galaxy photos via DropBox then edit quickly. It’s a great little program on the fly–especially for phone pics.

  • Mattc0m

    Any good apps (like VSCO Cam) for Android? Not really any mention what OS they’re for. Would appreciate any pointers. :)

  • Tyler Magee

    VSCO cam is pretty good :)

  • Igor Ken

    HDR should be illegal.

  • Igor Ken

    Anyway another great app is PicTapGo and don’t forget CameraPlus!

  • olemwold

    Shuttersnitch is a must have for on the fly deliveries back to base.

  • JayBorah

    Great list. I’d agree with Igor that “CameraPlus” is a must-have. For arranging multiple photos on a page, I use another app called “Layout” that seems to offer more options than most of the other grid-style apps.

  • Eric Omori

    Afterlight > VSCO

  • severin matusek

    I recommend EyeEm for sharing high quality photos and connecting with the best mobile photographers out there. Available for iOS & Android.

  • priority9

    Pixlr Express is another good app. Free and available both OSs.

  • mishobaranovic

    I agree. EyeEm is a great alternative to Instagram especially as you can post in non-square format. As for camera replacement apps, I use ProCamera because it remains the fastest and most stable way to get quality photos.

  • Patrick Ahles

    While Triggertrap (the app) is free, you do need a cable (about $30).

  • Koontz Photography

    I highly recommend PicTapGo

  • tedjerome

    You need the special cable if you want to use the cable-triggered functions, but there are many other triggering methods in this app that do not require the cable.

  • Patrick Ahles

    And which methods are that? Triggertrap needs to talk to your camera. Right now it can only do that using a cable…

  • tedjerome

    Both Bang and Timelapse work with the iPhone camera, for starters.

  • Patrick Ahles

    Got me there, I was only thinking about the connection to a “real” camera! ;)

  • moshy

    I already had VSCO Cam in my phone but hadn’t used it (I have too many other camera apps haha!) but will give it a go…
    After opening the app I saw they have a special on at the moment where they have all 16 presets in a pack for US$5.99 (cost me $6.50 in Australia) so much better than getting them at 99c each.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Hate the fake HDR filters. You can spot them instantly, and it signifies lack of originality.

  • Richard

    I came to the comments hoping to see someone promoting Afterlight. I absolutely love it. Finally found the only photo editing app I need.

  • Ug

    On cases like this it’s essential to mention, on what OS app is awailable… Just sayin’…

  • Trent Levitt

    Lapse It for time lapses is pretty good. It’s free.

  • Kodachrome64

    No 645 PRO Mk II? It’s a must have. It’s little brother, PureShot, is nice too.

  • Doris

    Yea, whereas whining about HDR is the height of originality.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Whatever Doris. You love HDR fake filters, I don’t. I prefer photography and thoughtful treatment. Don’t call that whining.

  • Tromploiel

    I am moving to Hawaii next week so I am excited to see if the seismic part of Trigger trap will really work.

  • Ron Scott

    I am not seeing how Triggertrap is all that useful with my iPhone camera. Apparently you have to be in the Triggertrap app for it to activate the shutter. However it provides you no preview to frame you photo. So you do what? Frame the photo, launch the app and then trigger? How does that work efficiently? Am I missing something?

  • Jason

    I don’t like overly done HDR – especially the “painterly” stuff, and the HDR used to cover up a bad image, but if done well, it can be pretty good and useful.

  • DiScire

    as far as panorama apps go, I’d vote for 360 (occipital).

    you get a free webpage for all your panoramas that also pan up and down and all around you. but the greatest thing is that if you have a smartphone or tablet with a gyroscope built in (iphone etc), that you can then hold the smart device like a window and look through it all around you. instead of just using the fingerswipe.
    I tested a lot of panorama apps, and 360 beat ALL them all, hands down…

  • Malaysia

    xnexpress or pixlr express