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The best camera apps for the wannabe Ansel Adams

Published June 18, 2013 7:23 pm

Photography • Consider these mobile choices to turn ordinary photos into the extraordinary.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Say cheese!"

Or not. In the world of digital photography, you don't have to flash a smile. Instead, just digitally paint a grin on your face afterward.

Struggling for hours to get just the right shot under the optimum lighting conditions is so analog. Today, digital photography allows any wannabe Ansel Adams to create a photographic masterpiece in homage to the 20th century landscape marvel. And with a good smartphone camera and the right camera app, the tools are in everyone's hands.

In the past couple of years, editing apps that create different styles of pictures have become much more sophisticated and robust. Here are some of the ones we like, along with ones readers have suggested (sorry, but none are yet available for Windows Phone).

Snapseed (iOS, Android, free) • Whether you want your portrait to look like a faded, scratched driver's license photo or a romantic postcard, this app has it all.

There are 14 different styles and tools, anything from automatic color correction to a feature that creates a faded, grainy film look. Also made easy is adjustment of standard photo toning qualities such as brightness, saturation and white balance. The interface lets the user slide a finger up or down in an easy-to-use set of controls, creating the ability to take a picture and change it on the fly or import one into the app to change later. A downside is that Google+ is the only social network you can upload the picture to directly.

PicsArt Photo Studio (iOS, Android, free) • This is as full-featured of a camera app as you can find. There are scores of effects available, from a pastel-styled portrait to simulated paper. It also can add distortion effects such as pixelating a facial image or creating a focal zoom. You also can produce albums with different layouts.

Once the photo is done, the image posts it to a variety of social networks. There also is a section where users share their photos. The main menu is beautifully designed and similar to the colored tiles in Windows 8 (although, again, there is no Windows Phone version of this app). A downside is that there is a bit of a wait every time you add changes to a picture.

Paper Camera (iOS, Android, $1.99) • This app goes way beyond photo toning and allows you to turn pictures into stunning artwork — sketches, watercolors, colored pencil, comic books and more. You can preview the different effects — 13 in all — in real time, which makes it easy to see what your final photo might look like. However, there is a slight delay between hitting the shutter button and the image actually being captured. The result is a slightly different shot than you were expecting.

For that reason, the best way to use Paper Camera is to take a regular photo, then open that in the app so you can dial in the effects for the perfect picture. Each effect has six different components —contrast, brightness, lines, edges and two effect-specific options. Each effect is controlled by an easy-to-use slider, and there's a reset button that brings the effect back to the default setting. Plus, this is a great app for entertaining kids.

Camera FV-5 (Android, $3.95) • One advanced option on an SLR camera that you rarely find in a phone camera is the ability to do a long exposure. Phone cameras are typically a one-quick-shot wonder with little in the way of professional settings. Camera FV-5 adds some of those functions to your arsenal. It allows you to set up for an "open shutter" long exposure, choose from several light metering modes and change the ISO setting manually.

Pro HDR Camera (iOS, Android, $1.99)• If you've ever taken a photo with both bright and dark parts in the image, and wished your camera didn't have to adjust to one or the other, this app is for you. HDR, or High Dynamic Range, takes two photos — one over-exposed to be lighter than normal, the other under-exposed to be darker than normal — and combines them into a happy medium that more accurately reflects what your eye sees. HDR photos often are much more detailed and nuanced than a single photo trying to compensate for light or dark areas. However, because they are composed of two separate images, anything in motion is a dead end. Even a slight breeze blowing through the trees can cause an awkward shadow effect upon close inspection. But if you're shooting something still, or the slight movement is too far away to make a difference, HDR is a nice option.

Color Splash (iOS, Android, 99 cents) • As with most photo-editing apps, Color Splash allows you to adjust brightness, saturation, warmth and apply a variety of filters. However, its primary purpose is to make some sections of your photo black and white, while leaving others in color. It allows you to make a bouquet of flowers stand out from a dinner table photo, for instance, or highlight your nephew on the soccer field, while making the rest of the scene black and white. It's intuitive, and considering you're using your finger on a small screen to show which parts are color and which aren't, it's surprisingly forgiving, even if your digits are the size of sausages.

Instagram (iOS, Android, free) • Instagram is the 800-pound gorilla in the phone camera world. The photo-sharing social network app is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it allows amateur photographers to shoot anything they wish, apply a filter and make it look somewhat decent. On the other hand, it makes people share an awful lot of really terrible pictures they never should have taken in the first place. But if you're looking to do something with all the pictures you're taking, Instagram is the place to be. It forces users to crop photos to a square, then gives the option of applying one of 19 filters to improve the look (it can be hoped). The user adds a caption and shares the photos with the world (or just friends if you opt for a private account). Viewers can then "like" your photo or leave a comment on it. Many professional or advanced amateur photographers use Instagram to post photos sans filter to get more exposure. Some people use it to post a whole lot of pictures of themselves looking in the mirror. However, if you're selective in who you follow, there are some incredible photos being shared every minute that make the vain posters and spambots a small price to pay for such amazing visual work.

ssherman@sltrib.com

vince@sltrib.com

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