iPhoneography 101: Essential iPhone Camera Apps

An iPhone, using Apple's included Camera app, can produce amazing photos, and for most people the Camera app is more camera than they'll ever need. But the Camera app is akin a pocket point-n-shoot, you don't have a lot of control over the camera and if you want a bit more from your iPhone's lenses then you need to step beyond Camera app comfort zone. With the latest iteration of iOS camera apps from a huge variety of companies can now offer control over many functions of your iPhone's camera hardware, including how sensitive it is to light (ISO setting), shutter speed, even triggers for external flash.

In this first of what I hope will be many articles, I'm going to take a look at the basic tools an iPhonographer might use to get the shot he or she wants. I've got a lot to cover so lets get to it.

Cameras Apps

To consistently get great photos you have to have as much control as possible over the process, and that mean you need a camera that lets you tweak its settings. You own an iPhone so you've got more camera choices than you shake a snake at.

Which one is best?

That's a loaded question, but in general, it depends on what you want to do. Here are three camera apps I like, there are others that are just as capable, if not more so, but these fit into three categories of shooting styles; casual, hobby, and serious.

Hipstamatic [44.5 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 6.0 or later, Free (in-app purchase upgrades)]

For the casual shooter one of the first iPhone camera apps is still one of the best, Hipstamatic.

What makes this app a perennial winner is its simple interface and the cornucopia of options it offers. You can purchase virtual lenses and filter, simulated film, flashes, you can even change the way your camera looks. All are in-app purchases, but you can just use the included options to get you started.

The idea behind Hipstamatic is to make your digital photos look more like analog shots. The effects can be quite dramatic and you get them without playing around with filters after you shoot.

The app offers an impressive array of sharing options too including the usual suspects (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, so on) or you can order prints or just save them to your library.

PureShot [5.3 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 8.0 or later, US$2.99]

PureShot elevates your iPhone to equal many pocket cameras. With it you can adjust and lock exposure and focus, shutter timer and minimum shutter speed, white balance, even the crop format. The touch and tap interface works well letting you move the focus and exposure points before locking. And its hard to miss the big orange shutter release button when you're ready to snap the shot.

Serious shooters will want their pix saved in TIFF format, which means there is very little processing performed by the camera on the photo. Apple's Camera app and most other camera apps only produce JPEG files.

The reason is because once the camera produces the JPEG photo it throws away any unused or unneeded photo information to make the JPEG file small. Often there is info you can use in that tossed data that could have really improved your shot. TIFF file preserve much of the photographic info so you can pull out details in your post processing app of choice.

645 PRO MK III [6.7 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 8.0 or later, US$3.99]

If you want serious control then take a look at 645 PRO MKIII. I'm aware of no iPhone app that offers more control over the iPhone's camera. For instance, you can choose to save your photos to a folder within the app. Choosing the in-app folder allows for slightly faster file saving. There's a bracket mode the lets you pick 3 exposure points in a shot. When the shutter is released the camera will shoot 3 shots in rapid succession, each using one of the exposure points, but all using the same focus. Bracketed shots can be processed as HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos. You can, of course, find plenty of apps that will produce good HDR images, Apple's Camera does does a great job, but again, it's all about control.

What make 645 PRO MKIII serious is its selectable modes. Again, there are other apps that offer modes and I'm sure they are great. I'm most familiar with this app because I've used it for so long.

These mode are new as of iOS 8 and it truly turns your iPhone into an honest to goodness photo taking tool. Choose shutter or ISO priority modes, or go fully manual (yes!). Get real light metering, manual focus override, you can even control an external Bluetooth flash. Like how you've got things set? Save it as a customized setting for later use. There's so much this app will let you do that you can be serious about leaving your dedicated camera at home, even if you're a pro.

You should be aware that TIFF photos PureShot and 645 PRO MKIII offer as output are essentially "camera raw" meaning that there is almost no processing done on the photo these apps take to make them look better. TIFF photos may look dull, colors may be somewhat muted and contrast may be low. This is normal, it is what the camera has recorded, a reference point from which you will work from to produce the final photo through post processing.

Post Processing Apps:

Now that you've shot you pix you'll want them to look their absolute best. You're ready for post processing. As with camera apps, there are so many post processing apps that it'd be near impossible to write even a few words about them all, but here are two of my favorites.

Snapseed [28.3 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 5.1 or later, Free]

SnapSeed lets you grab an image from your Photo Library and have your way with it. Crop formatting that includes different aspects ratios? Crop away. Basic exposure adjustments? Brightness, contrast, white balance and more are all there. Filters for cool effects? It's got them.What nice that it will open and process TIFF files. What also very nice is that while it offers the same basic adjustments as any other post processing app might, it goes one better by allowing you to tweak specific areas using its Selective Adjust feature.

I mentioned filters. With SnapSeed you can get as filter funky as you wanna. Pay special attention to the Drama, Center Focus and Tilt Shift filters. These can make a ho-hum photo art house worthy.

SnapSeed can save your processed shots in the highest quality JPG available, which is great when you want a really big print.

FilterStorm [12.2 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 5.1 or later, US$3.99]

If you need to get a bit more involved with your tweaking, but want to stay away from your laptop or desktop and Photoshop then you should give FilterStorm a try.

The app was recently updated and the user interface, which I liked before the update, has been made even easier. Tool tabs are aligned along the r side of the screen and will disappear at a tap to allow a full view of your photo.

Of course you get the standard adjustment tools, but you also get a dedicated BW conversion tool, curve adjustments, tone maps, and a complete suite of masking tools.

Yes, this is a serious app. While can be used on the iPhone I recommend using it on an iPad if you have one. The extra screen real estate comes in handy, especially since Filterstorm can handle RAW files from your DSLR at full resolution.

If fact, there's so much you can do with Filterstorm that there are video tutorials available to help you get the most out of it.

That should get you started. More iPhoneography next week so stay tuned.