Enhance your iPhone camera with photo apps

Many special effects, from zooming to fun distortions, are to be had

| Jul 21, 2010

<cutline>Flag picture, taken at friend's Memorial Day picnic, was enhanced using the Photo fx app for iPhone.</cutline>
All of the fuss and Steve Jobs-bashing about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems haven’t mattered much to me since I’m still having fun discovering new apps and learning how best to use my iPhone 3GS that I bought early this summer. Yes, I was a latecomer to the iPhone, but I’m now a converted fan.

See two more pictures Jerry took with his iPhone at bottom of article.

One of the things I like best about the iPhone is having a camera with me most of the time. As an amateur photographer who loves to shoot and post pictures for friends and family both on Facebook and Flickr, my preferred compact camera is the Canon PowerShot A2000 IS, a great yet affordable camera with a 10 megapixels resolution and 6x optical zoom. Still, I don’t always remember to carry it with me, or just don’t want to bother with the weight in my pocket.

With a 3.2 MP resolution in the iPhone 3GS, you can get some pretty good shots … not great, but good enough. A friend asked me if the iPhone could shoot photos to be used in a professional print brochure. The answer to that is clear: No, get a better camera and probably spend a little money with a professional photographer to make sure your business image is as good as it can be.

Add some apps

With just a handful of excellent apps, you can greatly improve the final outcome of your iPhone photographs. The iPhone 4, by the way, has increased resolution to 5 MP, offers a new built-in LED flash and a front- and rear-facing camera lens. All good features that already makes me want to upgrade – as soon as it can quit dropping calls from the present antenna problem.

After reading several online reviews, and there are many, I chose several apps to help me out with my iPhone 3GS photos. A few I now use all the time, a few others only occasionally.

  • CamZoom: This is probably the app I use the most to shoot photos. The iPhone camera lacks a zoom feature, and for most shots, I like to zoom in for a closer shot. The basic app is free with a Pro version for just 99 cents. It gives you up to 5X digital zoom in real time. Sharing options include ability to send the photo by e-mail or post to Facebook and Twitter. Another zoom app that I see recommended in reviews is Camera Genius. My only complaint with CamZoom is that the zoom control is right next to the shoot button, and it’s very easy to accidentally shoot a photo as you are trying to zoom. That’s a fix they need to make.
  • Easily posting photos to Facebook and Twitter is another great thing I love about the iPhone. It’s quick, and you’re able to share a photo almost as quickly as you shoot it. I chose PhotoScatter as the free app (a Pro version also available with faster downloads) to submit photos. Using PhotoScatter you can post your pictures simultaneously to numerous sites, including Facebook, Twitter (via Twitpic), Flickr, Shutterfly, PhotoBucket and Picasa. After posting to Facebook, of course, you have to then go into your Facebook account and approve the photo, but that’s also easily done via your iPhone. Just be aware it’s an extra step you do need to make in order for your photos to appear on Facebook.
  • OK, you’ve shot a picture, but it’s a bit too dark (common with the iPhone camera) or perhaps you’d just like to tweak the colors a bit, maybe even add a special effect. Again, you have many choices, including an app for the popular Photoshop. But I’ve been trying out Photo FX, where you can choose from about 67 different filters ranging from Edge Glow to Sunset/Twilight Temperature to a Wide-Angle Lens. Usually, Photo FX is just a fun tool to edit your photo, including basic crop, rotate and straighten options, and then try some different textures, even layering textures upon one another. PhotoFX has a total of 780 presets with 117 different lighting patterns. So you can kill a lot of time playing around in this app.
  • A simpler, easy-to-use photo effect app is the popular CameraBag, a $1.99 tool that’s fun to try out. To be honest, I don’t use it that much anymore, but it does give you some interesting and simple photo enhancements. It simulates styles from cameras of the past including 1974, a faded, tinted look from your dad’s old cameras; and 1962, a high contrast black and white shot. You can see thousands of photos submitted by users at the web site, www.nevercenter.com/camerabag.
  • Another weak point of the iPhone camera is its inability to shoot in low light or even night situations. That’s why NightShot comes in handy sometimes, giving you more light to your night photos. It gives you three different types of a soft flash to get more light: low, medium and high. For 99 cents, it’s a good app to have when you need it.

There are a slew of photo apps available, and I want to try out a few more, maybe including a tracing app like ToonPaint. A good review of several phone and video apps is on the Brainz blog.

Give yourself a little time to experiment and to figure out each new photo app, and that means shooting several photos in different environments. For any photo that I really like I will usually do more serious editing by downloading to my MacBook Pro and using either iPhoto editing tools or Adobe Photoshop for much more detailed work.

When all is said and done, however, I still love the iPhone camera for its flexibility of numerous photo apps, ease of use and just having it with me nearly all of the time in my pocket. There’s also the iPhone video, but that’s another story for another time.

This article also appears in Jerry Lewis’s blog, Boulder Report.


<cutline>Late afternoon iPhone photo on Haystack Mountain Golf Course in Boulder was taken with NightShot photo app, giving it a bit more light.</cutline> <cutline>Photo of the Boulder Creek Festival on Memorial Day taken with iPhone 3GS.</cutline>