Guest post: tips for getting started with smartphone photo editing

Andrew is a student at the University of Birmingham, a UoB PhotoSoc committee member and the first IGersBirmingham instablog guest poster! We saw that he had recently delivered a PhotoSoc session on getting started with photo editing using a smart phone, and as this blog is aimed at instagramers of all levels, we thought we’d ask him to develop his session in to a blog post.

So if you are new to instagram or editing on your phone, read on!

The Mobile Studio, by @a_ginnz

I’m lucky enough to say that I travel lots.

I am constantly looking for ways to lighten my load, doing away with unnecessary equipment. Recently I have been leaving behind my trusty laptop and using my phone in lieu of my usual editing suite, a move I have found that I rarely regret.

Why Mobile?

Apart from the obvious benefit of weight and space, editing on a mobile phone brings the benefit of speed. Transferring photos to the phone, editing them and publishing to services such as Instagram or Flickr can be considerably quicker than using a computer. With the advent of mobile photography and more DSLRs implementing tethering or Wifi features there has been an increasing trend of powerful editing software available in the mobile space.

The Apps

The apps covered are by no means the be all and end all of mobile editing. They are only the ones I have the most familiarity with, and therefore can can attest to their abilities. The principles and techniques applied in mobile editing are all applicable to desktop applications, meaning a deeper understanding in either will benefit the other. Note that some of the effects may be hard to see without comparing the sample images against each other, ideally by switching quickly between them. The tools described are ones picked for their impact or uniqueness in terms of ability to change an image.

  • Instagram

The most popular photo sharing application hasn’t been resting on its laurels in recent years. Many users may already be accustomed to the many filters the app offers, however when going beyond filters Instagram still has a lot to offer. ‘Lux’, ‘Vignette’ and ‘Tilt Shift’ are 3 tools I will touch on today, these are tools that are applied at a strength determined by the user with a slider or touch.

– Lux: Lux is an ‘all-in-one’ tool which has the combines effect of an unsharp mask, a boost in saturation and contrast adjustment to make the image ‘pop’ more. This can result in very dramatic and vibrant looking images, especially when the subject has strong lines making it very noticeable when the subject is a building.

-Tilt Shift: A tilt shift is a blue of everything in the image apart from section between two lines, this perspective shift enables sharp focus on a subject or subjects that fall in a straight line or a miniature effect.

-Vignette: The vignette tool allows for the emulation of camera or lenses limit for an artistic effect. This involves a darkening of the edges of the image to put emphasis on the centre portion of the suject. The implementation that Instagram utilises is actually very natural looking and the slider allows for great control over its strength. Portraits can immensely benefit by emphasising focus on the face.

instagram_base instagram_lux instagram_tiltshift instagram_vignette

  • Aviary

I have always described Aviary as ‘Photoshop-lite’, indeed this even more accurate as Adobe purchased the application in 2014, and now runs it alongside its own suite of mobile applications. Since being acquired by Adobe, Aviary has added two very useful tools to its offerings, Blemish removal and Colour isolation.

-Blemish removal: Photoshop is renowned for the seemingly magical abilities to remove imperfections or unwanted items in a photo. With the blemish removal Aviary has gained the same ability, using a finger it is possible to paint over unwanted object to remove as the app will fill in the gap that is left.

-Colour isolation: Taking colour out of certain elements in a scene can dramatically change the way the image looks and feels. A personal favourite of mine is removing colour from everything but the iris of an eye, dramatically emphasises the eye colour without having to change anything else. This can be done by simply using a finger to paint colour back into parts of the image.

screenshot_20161126-235611 screenshot_20161127-000005 aviary-colour_base aviary-colour_removed

  • Photoshop Express

As the name suggests, this is the most advances app out of the three. It shares many of the tools available in the desktop application, and can handle RAW images either from mobile devices or a range of full-fledged cameras. Clarity, Defog and Vibrance will be familiar to anyone who has utilised Lightroom or the Camera Raw editor in the desktop suite.

-Clarity: To get technical what clarity does is increase midtone contrast, in layman’s terms this makes the image look sharper and punchier with brightened shadows more defined lines. Like the Instagram ‘Lux’ effect it is most noticeable on photos with bold lines and edges.

-Defog: In my mind the most ‘magical’ of all the tools here is defog. Created by Adobe for removing fog and haze in pictures it can be useful in many more situations. Defog is like Clarity on steroids, it boosts midtones as well as implementing some very complex maths to remove fog which when used on normal pictures look very contrast-y and sharp. However it is very easy to overdo this effect in particular.

-Vibrance: Another Adobe creation that makes photos look more….vibrant. This isn’t your typical saturation where everything in the image becomes a wash of neon glows, instead more muted colours are given a boost to make the overall image look more colourful in a natural way.

photoshop_base photoshop_clarity photoshop_defog photoshop_vibrance


These apps are still a ways from replacing the desktop suites, advances techniques like masks and layers still aren’t possible, yet the capabilities of mobile apps are no longer entirely basic. This means for many people, their mobile device can be used a powerful and versatile studio, opening up the art of editing to millions of more aspiring photographers.

The Key To It All

Finding a style that suits you, and using various tools in balance to achieve the intended effect is what is important. My personal style tends towards what I feel brings the photos closer to what I experienced, ‘Correcting for reality’ as it were. I believe that as is true about the best camera being the one you always have on you, the best studio you have is one that enables you to achieve the effect you want as quickly and efficiently as possible. Furthermore, smartphone cameras have reached a point where they are becoming extremely capable meaning it is possible to have an all in one solution from shot to post, but that’s a story for another day! 😉

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it informative, happy snapping!


Thanks Andrew – we’re off to download some new apps!