Smartphone cameras aren’t just for quick snaps and selfies anymore. Phone cameras have improved substantially in recent years, and apps both for phones and to support traditional cameras have proliferated.
If you like to manually adjust camera settings, you’ll love Manual, $2 for iOS. Instead of relying on a phone’s camera to guess the right settings, users can tinker with shutter speed, white balance, exposure bracketing and more.
The live-updating graphic at the bottom of the viewfinder image could even help create a final photo that’s more pleasing to the eye. The controls are a bit tricky — they’re small so they don’t get in the way on the screen — but there is still a lot to like here. If you need to take a photograph but your fancier camera is at home, Manual is a useful alternative.
Choosing settings on a traditional single lens reflex (SLR) camera is an art mastered by professional photographers. The $2 iOS app Expositor can remove some of the guesswork for non-pros. The app calculates exposure settings based on information you provide about your surroundings: Are you in outside light or a brightly lighted studio? The app helps you know what that means for your shot.
You can also change the camera speed and exposure, and the app will show how your choices will affect the image. If you’re learning about photography or you love to plan the fine details before picking up your camera, this gets the job done.
On Android, the free Photo Tools by Hcpl is a bit like Expositor, but contains many other calculations that could help you plan a shot or choose the camera’s settings.
It includes features like a depth-of-field calculator and flash exposure calculator and has a section that lets you work out settings for taking time-lapse shots. The app’s interface is so stark it can be boring, but it is easy to navigate. Some reviewers complain the app’s information is too basic or a little inaccurate, so it may be best used as a training aid.
That little hand-held device that you may have seen a photographer use as an adjunct to a camera is a light meter. With LightMeter Free on Android or Pocket Light Meter on iOS (also free), your smartphone can replace a traditional light meter. LightMeter has an old-fashioned look, and Pocket Light Meter has a modern and minimalist design.
Although the apps feel different, they work in similar ways to suggest the right settings. Smartphones apps aren’t as precise as dedicated light meters, however.
If you’re shooting outdoors, the angle of the sun or even the moon can change the look and feel of photos. That’s when you can benefit from an app like the Photographer’s Ephemeris, which costs $9 on iOS. Based on location information, the app can calculate the angle of the sun at any time of day and date, and can even show you how shadows will fall at a given time.
This app is jammed with information, but its interface is slightly old-fashioned. Still, it could prove invaluable for things like planning a landscape photo shoot. On Android, Sun Surveyor Lite is a pretty good equivalent, and while it has fewer features, it is free.
How can we talk about professional photography without mentioning Photoshop? It’s criticized when used to distort images of models, but it’s also frequently used to smooth out mistakes. The more basic Photoshop Express software has been translated for both iOS and Android devices, and it’s free, with paid in-app upgrades. Photoshop Express is automated and is ideal for quick improvements to photos taken with the phone.
For iPads and Android devices, there’s also Photoshop Touch for $10. It has more of the image editing tools of the "full" PC software. Of course, this means it’s also more complex. Sometimes its menus and icons can be bewildering, even for experts. But if you need to edit photos taken on the camera without a computer, this is the app to do it.
I prefer Afterlight, which is $1 on both iOS and Android. It has some sophisticated image editing tricks, and its interface is much more intuitive than Photoshop’s. For access to Afterlight’s full range of features, you need to make in-app purchases.
We may like our camera’s automated systems. But a few apps can help you add a human touch to your photography.
Fresh for Apple’s new iOS operating system, Roxie Keyboard replaces the stock text-entry system with one that predicts the kind of emoji you may like to add into the text as you write on your iPhone. It’s fun, possibly to addictive levels, and free.