Smartphone Photo Editing

I took this on my iPhone and edited it first with features built into my phone, then used some Instagram tools to get this result.

We LOVE editing smartphone photos and sharing them on social media!  Remember when cell phones flipped open, and built in phone cameras took low-quality, blurry, washed out pictures?  Now, my iPhone has a better camera than the first digital point-and-shoot camera I owned.  Luckily, there also are tons of apps to help you enhance your pictures and make the process even more fun.

I’m no photographer, but today I’ll share some of my tips for making your cell phone pictures look great without any special background or training.

Click through for the details.


You’re going to start by snapping a picture of something worth looking at.

This is the original, unedited photo. It looked nothing like what I saw in real life, so I used some editing tools to enhance it.

Here is a list of some of the tools I use most frequently, and how I used them on the photo I’ve shared here.  Most of these tools are built into the Photos app that comes with the iPhone, but I’ve seen them in almost every other photo editing app as well.  Instagram and Adobe Photoshop Express are both free and also include all or most of the features I mention below.

  1. Crop:  This is a great tool for composition.  In many apps, you can also use this tool to straighten crookedly framed photos.  (If not, look for a separate “straighten” feature.)  Use the cropping tool to get rid of anything distracting or unappealing at the edges of your picture.  Remember, your subject doesn’t always have to be centered.  Try applying the rule of thirds when you can.  In my “after” photo, you can see that the trees are featured more prominently because of the way picture is cropped.
  2. Exposure and/or Brightness:  I have a tendency to over-brighten my pictures, but that’s how I like them.  Do what works for you!  I thought my “before” picture was a little dark, so I made it brighter.
  3. Shadows:  Again, I have a preference for (slightly) overexposed photos, but I like to bring the shadows up in addition to brightening the exposure.  I find this particularly helpful for enhancing portraits, because it makes people look smoother and more rested.  Who doesn’t want that?!
  4. Saturation:  This tool lets you adjust the intensity of colors.  I like boosting the saturation in photos of nature, or anything else where the colors should be vivid.  Sometimes I reduce the saturation in portraits, because it helps tone down redness or unevenness in people’s skin tones.  You can also turn the saturation all the way down to convert your photo to black and white.
  5. Tilt Shift:  This is a blurring tool that doesn’t come built into the iPhone, but you can find it on Instagram (and probably other apps).  You have the option to choose a linear or radial blur, and it helps draw the eye into the part of the picture that remains in focus.  In my “after” photo, you can see the trees naturally create a rounded tunnel shape, so the radial blur was perfect.  I think it helps further the effect of peering into the tunnel of trees.  Actual tilt shift photography is really neat.  It can make the subject look like miniatures/models.  For more about legitimate tilt shift photography, along with some amazing images, check out this photographer’s blog post.
  6. Vignette:  I like this tool for composition as well.  It’s also not native to the iPhone, but I’ve used it on Instagram and Photoshop Express.  It helps to “frame” the  photo without actually adding a frame, by softening and darkening (or in some apps, brightening) the perimeter.  I used a vignette on the “after” photo; you can see how the edges are slightly darker, drawing the eye to the center.


Wow, that was longer than I thought it would be.  I hope you found it helpful!  Play around  with some photo editing tools, and see what effects you like best.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll quickly find that you gravitate toward some more than others, based on your aesthetic preferences.  Let us know if you try any of these tips, because WE LOVE THIS STUFF!


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s