How to Make Good Photos Look Great!

Today, digital cameras, memory cards, and computers have replaced film, flash bulbs, and darkrooms. Tasks that used to take days can be done in hours—with superior results. Of course, you still need to take photos. The iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel camera, and the iPad 2 has a camera as well. If that's not sufficient for your needs , you'll need to invest in a stand-alone digital camera. The good news is that you can take care of most of your photo editing needs with your iOS device and a few well-selected and inexpensive apps. Say goodbye to darkrooms, expensive equipment, and caustic chemicals. (Because of its larger display, the iPad is the best iOS platform for photo editing, and I tested these apps on my iPad. However, most of the apps discussed in this article are also available for the iPhone and iPod touch.)

Adjust light and color

Not long ago, you had to spend a lot of time setting up a shot. That meant fiddling with heavy lights, light meters, and other expensive equipment before you took the shot. If your photo turned out badly, you were stuck with it. Now, with digital cameras, all you need to do is make sure your subject is in the frame and snap away. Most of the rest can be handled in editing.

PhotoPalI tested three photo editing apps, all of which offer fantastic tools for fixing the light and colors in your photos. FotoEditor (iPad only: free,, PhotoGene (iPad version: $3.99,; iPhone/iPod touch version: $1.99,, and PhotoPal (iPad only: $1.99, use a similar system of sliding scales to control the color balance in the photo.

Not only does PhotoPal offer fantastic light and color adjustment tools, but it's iPad-friendly interface makes it easy to use

Additional sliders are available to control brightness, contrast, and gamma balance. Photogene and PhotoPal offer a significantly greater level of control, including color correction, sharpness (also known as denoise), color "temperature," and more. Photogene can even display exposure information as a histogram for advanced users. However, an autocorrect feature, standard in most desktop photo editing suites, was nowhere to be found in any of these apps.

Of the three apps, I found PhotoPal to be the easiest and the most intuitive to use. The interface offers large, well labeled, and well-organized buttons..

Crop, resize, and edit photos

We've come a long way since the days of cutting and pasting photos with scissors and glue. There are quite a few powerful editing tools available on desktop computers and a number of respectable editing apps for your iOS device. 

FilterstormFilterstorm (All iOS devices: $3.99, does not offer the most bells and whistles, but it does give you the basic photo editing tools. In addition to rotating, resizing (called "scaling" in this app), and flipping, Filterstorm can also straighten your photos (a fantastic feature that aligns crooked photos for novice photographers). I also really liked the app's cropping feature, which puts an adjustable box around the whole photo. Simply slide the borderlines to set your cropping area.

Filterstorm makes cropping and resizing photos a breeze.

PhotoPadPhotoPad (All iOS devices: free, has an easy-to-use interface with large buttons and includes standard editing tools like rotate, resize, and crop. More importantly, the app lets you access adjustable paint brushes and a red-eye correction tool to fix unsightly blemishes on your photos. This app was developed by Zagg and includes a feature that lets you send your photos to Zagg to have them converted to ZAGGskins, which can be applied to the back of your device ($19.95,

PhotoPad makes it easy to remove evil red-eyes from your digital photos.

PhotoGeneLike the other apps, PhotoGene (referenced earlier) lets you resize, rotate, and crop your photos. It does not have the best cropping tool of the group, but I really appreciated the 3x3 grid displayed on the screen along with the dimensions of the cropped photo. This made cropping an easier and more intuitive experience. Photogene also features a Retouch menu that offers heal/clone, red-eye, and blur tools. Unlike the rest of the app, I found these tools to be a bit less intuitive to use.

PhotoGene, with its myriad of tools and effects, was among the most recommended photo editing apps I tested.

I already talked about how much I like PhotoPal's interface. The large buttons make the app finger-friendly and easy to use. PhotoPal offers all of the basic tools in its Edit menu. The red-eye reduction and spot healing tools were extremely intuitive—the easiest to use out of all the apps I tested. Just place the tool over the area you wish to fix and hit the button. Cropping is similarly easy to accomplish with this app. I did not like the fact that you need to grab the corners of the box rather than the sides to resize the cropping area, however it does give you the professional 3x3 grid (including a black dot in the center to help guide you as you work). Overall, I found PhotoPal's tools to be the most complete and easiest to use out of all the apps in this category.

Apply filters and effects

A variety of photography filters and effects have been developed over time, allowing you to deepen the intensity of blue skies, reduce light without affecting color, and much more. However, applying filters and special effects used to be a difficult process requiring the addition of lenses and other equipment to your camera before you took the picture. 

In the digital age, filters and special effects can be applied via graphics programs to enhance your photo after it has been saved on your computer. All of the apps we have discussed so far in this article offer a variety of filters and other effects. However, a few apps really stood out due to the expansive breadth and scope of effects they offered.

PhotoGeneFX PhotoStudio (iPad version: $4.99,; iPhone/iPod touch version: $1.99, offers nearly 200 filters and other effects, broken down into a variety of categories. I was extremely impressed by what this app offered. That said, I was a bit annoyed by the number of in-app purchases required to unlock the full power of this app. While the app itself costs only $4.99 on the iPad, you could easily spend more than double that amount on all the in-app purchases.

With almost 200 filters and effects, FX PhotoStudio offers just about everything you need to turn average photos into works of art.

PhotoGenePhotonasis (iPad version: free,; iPhone/iPod touch: free, is the only app I tested which adds a variety of lens effects into the mix. These are effects that traditionally required hundreds of dollars worth of lenses and hardware, all compiled into a single app on your iPad. The interface on this one was a bit difficult to use on the iPad. Scrolling through the list of available effects and filters can be a bit cumbersome, but the end result is well worth it. I hope a future update might provide an interface that is a bit more iPad-friendly.

Despite its difficult to use user interface, Photonasis is the only app to offer multiple lens effects, such as the cylinder effect shown here.

PhotoGeneiPicEd (iPad version: $2.99,; iPhone/iPod touch: $1.99,; "Lite" version: free, This app comes from the same developers as FotoEditor, but features a much more iPad-friendly interface. iPicEd features an array of color and lens effects. What really makes iPicEd stand out from the others are the myriad of frames, borders, and other overlays that you can use to enhance your photos.

iPicEd features an array of overlays, filters, and effects for your photos. 

PhotoDelightAside from these filters and effects, the most popular digital effect applied to photos is colorizing. With this effect, you can remove all the color from your photos and then add color back to only selected areas. I tested several apps devoted to colorizing. Several stood out well above the rest: Color Splash (iPad version: $1.99,; iPhone/iPod touch: $0.99,; "Lite" version: free, and Color Blast! (iPad version: $1.99,; iPhone/iPod touch: $1.99,; "Lite" version: free, Both were easy to use and rich with features. Photo Delight (iPad only: $1.99, takes colorizing a step further by offering a Smart Touch tool. This allows you to apply colorizing with maximum accuracy.

Photo Delight makes it easy to add complex color effects to your pictures.

Editor's Choice: FX PhotoStudio and PhotoPal

While I was disappointed that no single app offered a complete array of tools, each app mentioned in this article offers some fantastic tools. My Editor's Choice for this article goes to the folks at MacPhun ( Their FX PhotoStudio and PhotoPal offer a wide variety of tools and provide an intuitive and easy-to-use interface well-suited to the iPad. Honorable mentions also go out to PhotoGene, Photo Delight, and Photonasis.

E-mail several photos at once

E-Mail PhotosThe Photos app lets you e-mail images to another person. Simply open Photos, display the desired image in full-screen view, tap the options icon (small box with an arrow in it) in the upper right corner of the screen, and select the Email Photo option from the pop-up menu.

The other day I wanted to send a couple of photos to my grandson from my iPad. Instead of e-mailing them separately, I discovered this shortcut. Open Photos to thumbnail view of the desired folder and tap on the options icon to display the Select Photos screen. Tap on the photos you want to send and a check mark will appear on each selected photo. Finally, tap on the Email option in the upper right corner of the screen. (You can also copy, print, or delete photos from this screen. (Steve Overton)

May-June 2011
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