Photo Apps: The Top 10 for 2011

Christmas is almost here and many of you might be getting a nice new shiny iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. I have a feeling the Apple servers will go down for at least part of the day when lots and lots of people are trying to download apps, apps, and more apps. I’m sure the EA Games will dominate the top of the charts with their 99 cent sale (guess they have 8 of the top 10 iPad apps right now), but what about those interested in photography? What should you run out and grab?

Quiet Breakfast: Used Percolator and ScratchCam FX
Quiet Breakfast: Used Percolator and ScratchCam FX

Here are my suggestions for iPhone, iPod, and iPad users. Remember that apps that are just for the iPhone will generally run on the iPad with no problem – but will only take up a small portion of the screen (or ‘fuzzy’ in when you hit the x2 button). Apps that are only for the iPad won’t run on the iPhone. Universal apps look good on both, and if you have an iPhone and an iPad you only have to buy the app once to run it on both.

One thing I will mention is that the camera is not as good as that on the iPhone (or iPod Touch), so I find the number of photos I take with my iPad are miniscule compared to my iPhone. I end up doing more editing on my iPad since the extra size of the screen really helps. For this reason my top 10 list will be a bit different for the iPhone and iPad.

I’ll basically run through a quick description of a lot of apps that I regularly use, and eventually narrow it down to the top 10 list (much harder than I thought).

The first thing you have to buy for $0.99 is Camera+ (for iPhone). This has been the top seller in photography, and in the top 10 overall for a long time. The “clarity” scene is worth the price all by itself. I bought the analog filters (an in-app purchase) and really enjoy those, particularly the silver gelatin filter.

Camera+ a shoot/filter app. It lets you shoot photos with more features than the built in iPhone camera (or just import photos from your camera roll) and then lets you apply numerous effects.

Instagram (for iPhone) is insanely popular, and I’ll admit I still haven’t signed up (maybe tomorrow!). It is also a shoot/filter app, but has a significant tie in with the social world. You can follow friends/users, like photos, comment on shots, and get great ideas from other popular shots. I have an Instagram screen saver on my Mac and it shows some really interesting shots to say the least.

Now, if it’s time for a more complete photo editor. There are a number of these. I won’t go in to great detail here. I’d suggest Snapseed (Universal), Photoforge2 (Universal), Photogene2 (separate versions for iPhone/iPad), or Filterstorm (Universal). Luminance is a relatively new app and, like the others, is really well done. I have a tough time saying that I could live with just one.

Snapseed is unique in how you choose the tools you are going to use and how you make changes to the settings, and they have a way to select regions of a photo that is great. It was truly designed for use on touch devices and incorporates horizontal and vertical swipes for most adjustments. Apple selected Snapseed as the iPad app of the year, so it is clearly a good app. The iPhone version is identical, but smaller icons and such. Luminance is also along the lines of Snapseed, but has a full timeline so you can jump back to a prior state (Snapseed won’t let you go back after applying an effect).

Photoforge2 and Filterstorm are the most complex and they include layers and a wealth of Photoshop-like filters. Photogene2 is also a full-featured editor that has been around for a long time. The iPad version, in my opinion, is currently the better of the two versions (the iPhone/iPad app are a bit different in terms of GUI and features), but I use both.

There are a few utility apps that I can’t live without. These are TouchRetouch (separate versions for iPhone/iPad) and Image Blender (Universal). The first lets you remove unwanted things from your photos, and the latter is the ‘quick’ way to blend things. AutoStitch Panorama (iPhone) lets you stitch multiple photos together.

I’m sure professional photographers wouldn’t mention these apps which create unique effects, but I’m just a casual guy and I enjoy them for creating ‘artsy’ work on my iPhone. ToonPaint (iPhone) creates a unique cartoon effect. Percolator (Universal) is truly unique. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Let’s just say it uses bubbles that allow you to create some fascinating shots. Tiny Planet Photos (iPhone) will wrap your world into a tiny planet or put you deep inside a tunnel world. WordFoto lets you turn your photos into words.

Although not quite as unique as those above, there are a number of apps that have interesting effects – just choosing the randomize feature with some of these apps can keep me occupied for hours. These include Plastic Bullet Camera (Universal), Grungetastic (separate iPhone/iPad), ScratchCam FX (iPhone), Lo-Mob (iPhone), and PictureShow (iPhone). Noir Photo (Universal) lets you convert daytime shots into interesting night shots.

Specialized photo apps are another category in my mind. Slow Shutter Cam lets you do light trails and long exposures (manual and automatic). ProHDR allows you to get high dynamic range photos (I’ve started playing with Top Camera for this, but have been using ProHDR as my favorite for a long time). Diptic and PolyMagic let you do framing of multiple photos (I really don’t do this very often, but do have these two apps). Color Splash (separate iPhone/iPad) lets you keep the color where you want it. Tilt Shift Generator (separate iPhone/iPad) lets you get that blurred look as if you have a tilt shift lens on your DSLR camera. Halftone (Universal) lets you give a newspaper/comic look to your photos.

Panoramas are another specialized photo app. I tend to not use them, but having a 360 panorama app available in your toolbelt is a good thing. I’ve tried a number of these, but PhotoSynth was picked as an Apple iPhone app of the year, so I’ll go with that one for the moment (although I personally use Panorama 360).

And finally…here are my lists (in no particular order).

My Top 10 for the iPhone

My Top 10 for the iPad

There are more than 5000 photo apps out there so my list is by no means a complete list of what you may want on your iOS device. For every app I suggested there are always alternatives, or if there aren’t yet I’m sure someone is working on one. I have hundreds of photo apps. Do I really need that many? No, but it is fun to use them. 🙂

There are many other lists out there. From a true professional photographer you can check out Scott Kelby’s list. Apple also put together their top iPhone/iPad app list (you’ll have to scroll down for the photo category).

No matter what apps you end up getting, I’m sure you’ll enjoy taking some photos! And happy holidays to all of you great readers 🙂

Here are links to the rest of the apps that I mentioned above (in no particular order).




One Reply to “Photo Apps: The Top 10 for 2011”

  1. While having a fun app to edit your photos is fun, if you’re a photographer looking to take and/or schedule those perfect pictures, check out GoldenPic.

    GoldenPic grabs your GPS coordinates and automatically provides you with the location, weather and moon phase, in addition to the times for the Golden Hours, Blue Hours, Sunrise, Sunset, Moonrise and Moonset. If that’s not enough, it also lets you change the date and find the times for any location in the world and even save your favorite locations.

    To find out more info about GoldenPic, visit:

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