Did you know your phone has more technology in it than the Space Station? Ok, I didn’t even try to verify that but they are amazing – like, seriously amazing. We’ve reached a point in mobile photography where, at least for mobile viewing purposes, you can have imagery that stands up to the top-of-the-line cameras. The same things apply to shooting and editing photos on any platform: the more experience, knowledge of light, and practice you have the better your images will be to start with. Here are some very general editing ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ that can step up your mobile photography game at any stage.
I want to give you a little heads up about me and mobile editing: I’m obsessive, but I also love it. It’s therapeutic and I find myself editing for fun on car and plane rides. Not everyone will love it, and for those people, your patience might run too thin too quickly and your mobile photography game might always feel a little weak. It should be stressed that for most people mobile photography is a hobby, even for professional photographers, shooting with our phones is something we do when we aren’t working (and sometimes when we are).
Here we’ll go through an editing progression going over a few of my favorite apps, my workflow, and some quick things you can do or avoid doing to get those likes, err… I mean artistic gratification.
First: Shooting Apps
First, normal level – standard camera app on your phone. Second, nerd level, ProCam. If I remember to switch over or have time I’ll use ProCam because I can manually adjust focus and exposure and lock it. The main reason though, is it allows my iPhone to shoot in RAW, or more accurately, DNG. I’m not sure what phones have that option now but I know both the iPhone7 and iPhone7+ have the option. Shooting RAW on your phone will allow the most room for editing, but will also need the most room on your phone so you’ll need something bigger than 32GB if your plan is to make shooting and editing RAW on your phone a regular thing.
There is plenty to be said elsewhere about how to shoot with your phone or how to take good photos in general, so we won’t address thst precisely. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that if you do mix up DSLR images and phone images you’re going to need to put in a little work to make sure the phone images aren’t a huge eyesore on your feed, assuming eyesores are something you’d want to avoid.
One more thing is for people who tend to post mostly or all phone shots: try to maintain similar kinds of exposure to further brand your feed with consistency. I feel like a neutrally balanced exposure tends to feel very boring and I believe it is because when you just take a shot that has been automatically focused and metered it’s no different than the bajillion images taken by anyone else on their phones; it’s the automatic feature and gets lost in the feed of images that have no aesthetic intentionality. I tend to either slightly over-expose or under-expose in both my professional and mobile photography, and that’s on purpose.
Second: Lightroom Mobile App
This is where I edit my DNG files. It’s a very robust app but probably a lot more than most people will want to do as you can do nearly everything that the computer software can.
This is where I do basic light adjustments, and you can very easily adjust curves, which is huge for a consistent look. It also allows me to add the same subtle split toning I tend to add in all of my photography, and about the only place where I could find to adjust my blue to be the teal that my eye loves so much. The Lightroom Mobile app is a good starting point to get the image either finished or ready for some more stylized toning.
Second – Part B
If you don’t want to go down that road I suggest Snapseed. Snapseed is a fantastic and very intuitive app and has adjustment brushes as well as great image sharpening. There are a lot of other effects in this app and it has some really good black & white options as well. If I don’t want or need to take an image through Lightroom I’ll go through Snapseed. If I feel I want to just add a little sharpening to an image (usually when I’m bored on car rides and have a lot of extra time) I’ll still just use Snapseed for sharpening alone.
It may sound stupid but, I have a few apps that I use for one effect only. Photo Wizard for radial blur, ReTouch for clone stamping, LensDistortions for flare and light leaks, and Filterstorm for layering and masking (super intense app otherwise). These are all to taste and I use them sparingly, but I don’t ever leave them for the last line of my workflow because if they aren’t a part of the image when it gets the final coat of paint it will look very obviously placed on top of a finished image. Sometimes I’ll even add these effects first if I know there’s one I want.
One thing I’d suggest is that if you want your images to be cleaner and easier to look at(and ‘like’) do some cleaning up with a clone stamp tool, whether you use one in another app or ReTouch. Ben Sasso has a great tip about squinting your eyes at your image and see what pops out as distracting. It’s a great way to see what you might want to edit out of a shot that doesn’t need to be there.
Fourth: Final Toning With VSCO Cam
I’m sure none of you have heard of VSCO Cam… oh wait, you ALL have heard of VSCO Cam? Well, it’s used a lot, and it’s really impressive and can be a great tool. Even though it’s dropping some scratch, I’d suggest buying the filters in their bundle package and seeing what kind of style you like, there are lots of options. My main jams are C8, A6, J2, M5 (lots of people’s go-to), and B4 for black and white. I own all except for the most recent ones, and I literally only ever use those ones. Once I’ve done everything else and bring it into VSCO, though, I don’t want to crush all of the colors or over stylize it so I tend to bring the filter slider down to somewhere between 6-10. Just adds a little consistent blending over the whole thing.
Finally. Only using Instagram filters, or over-using them is… well… awful. Opinions are whatever, but I hate them and they are mostly made fun of. All of that being said, there are very rare times I’ll use a filter on top and bring the slider down just to try it out. Mostly, once I’m posting, if something has changed in my mind about light or saturation I can make a final adjustment before posting.
Check out the video below for a sped-up sample edit.