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Photography

How To Use Your iPhone Like A Pro: Post-Processing

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This post is part of a series called How To Use Your iPhone Like a Pro.
How to Use Your iPhone Like A Pro: Hardware Add-Ons
When and How to Use Your iPhone on the Job (and When Not To)

Earlier in this series we learned how to take awesome photos—and video footage—with your iPhone’s camera. I’ve even shown how to push what’s possible with your iPhone by using hardware add-ons. In this tutorial you'll learn how to get the most out of your captures after the shoot.

The iPhone is an awesome tool for post-processing images but, unfortunately, it doesn’t have the power to properly work with videos. If you want to truly get the most out of the great footage you capture with your iPhone’s camera, you need to export it to your computer and edit it in a program like Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer, or Adobe Premiere.

What Is Post-Processing?

There’s more to post-processing than just sticking a filter on every photo you take. It starts with selection and organisation.

Not everything you capture is going to be worth editing. The first stage is to go through everything you’ve captured and pull out the great ones. How many you pull out depends on how many photos you take. For me, it’s maybe 20% of the pictures I take with my iPhone but only about 5% of those I take with my DSLR.

Not everything you capture is going to be worth editing.

The second step is to actually edit the selected images. This can be anything from a slight tweak in crop to a full fashion retouch. Again, how much editing you do is entirely personal. It depends on your style and the individual images.

The final step is to do something with your images. This may be to send it off to a client or simply file it properly. With your iPhone, it’s likely to be to share it online.

All three stages can be done on your iPhone using a couple of different apps.

Selecting and Managing Photos

Adobe Lightroom Mobile was released earlier this year. It’s available on both iPhone and iPad. My fellow Tuts+ author Andrew has written a great introductory article for Lightroom Mobile. You need to be signed up to Adobe’s Creative Cloud to use it, but if you are it’s free.

While Adobe designed Lightroom Mobile to be an extension of your main computer workflow, it works even better as the hub in your iPhone photography workflow. You can set Lightroom Mobile up to automatically import new photos from your Camera Roll. Once imported, photos can be flagged, rejected or given a star rating with clever gesture controls. It’s really quick to go through a batch of photos and flag the good ones. Photos can then be sorted by flag or star rating so you can pull out all your chosen shots.

lightroom mobile
Picking a photo in Lightroom mobile on the left and sending it to another app for more editing on the right.

Even better, from Lightroom Mobile you can open any photo in another editing app that supports iOS’s Open In feature. So long as you save the edited image to the Camera Roll, it will be reimported back into your Lightroom Mobile catalogue.

You can also select your best images just using the stock Photos app on iOS. With iOS 8 you can add photos to your Favourites by tapping on the little Heart icon. The Favourites album is separate to your iPhone’s Camera Roll so it’s a good way to pull out all your best images.

Processing Photos on Your Phone

Lightroom Mobile, as well as being great for selecting your best images, is also my go-to app for simple corrections and adjustments. Lightroom’s entire basic panel is available in Lightroom Mobile: you can alter white balance, exposure, contrast, colour and crop. Some of Lightroom’s presets are also available but they’re not particularly good and there is almost no control over how they’re applied. If I want to make significant changes to how an image looks, I send it to another app.

Basic Image Processing

My, and many other photographers’, iPhone image-processing app of choice is VSCOCam. VSCO make some of the best Lightroom presets you can buy; they’re extremely accurate recreations of specific film types in Lightroom. VSCOCam brings their ample post-production experience to your iPhone.

The app is free with a limited number of presets, or filters; more are available as in-app purchases. They’re affordable and add some great options. What sets VSCOCam apart is the quality of its presets. They are extremely subtle and well designed. As long as you dial the preset strength back a little in most cases, you’ll end up with great images that don’t look over-processed or as if they’ve had a big nasty filter thrown on top. You can perform basic image adjustments too to further tweak your images.

VSCOCam is also a camera. It’s good but not as good as my top pick, Manual.

vsco snapseed
VSCOCam in use on the left and local adjustments being done with Snapseed on the right.

Heavy Image Processing

For local adjustments and heavy editing Snapseed is the best app around. Snapseed was developed by Nik Software who produce a range of standalone editing apps and Lightroom plugins that are popular among professional photographers. Snapseed is so good that Google acquired Nik Software so they could integrate it with Google+.

Snapseed uses Nik’s patented U Point technology to make local adjustments. You place a U Point anywhere on the image and resize it. It selects all the similar tones in its radius. You can then adjust your targeted area’s exposure, contrast and saturation without effecting the rest of the image. If you want to darken a sky or brighten up a model it’s the best way to do it on your iPhone. There’re also some good presets built in that can produce interesting images. It’s a must have and it’s available for free.

And the Rest

There are thousands of other image editing apps out there. Most of them merely add filters of varying quality over the top of your image. There are some good ones available but different apps will work for different photographers. I use Lightroom Mobile, VSCOCam and Snapseed for 95% of my iPhone image editing. For the other 5% I use Camera+, Photoshop Touch and, very occasionally, an Instagram filter.

Sharing Photos With The World And Yourself

There’s little point just taking photos and leaving them sit on your iPhone. The final step of post-processing is to export them. Typically with iPhone photography this means sharing them online.

If you want to share your images with your friends and family, Facebook or Twitter is the simplest option. Instagram is the most popular photo-only social network and there are a lot of pros who use it. The restriction of Instagram, however, is that it’s only possible to post square cropped, low-res images. Flickr and 500px are the best if you want to share your work with other photographers or store a full-res version online.

Flickr and 500px are the best if you want to share your work with other photographers

All the sharing services have their own apps that you can use to post your photos. Better though, is to use Lightroom Mobile or your iPhone’s stock Photos app: you can share to any of the social networks directly from them using the iOS share menu. This keeps all your photo management within one app rather than spread across a few, each with it's own user-interface logic.

Best of all, if you enable Lightroom Mobile Sync on the main installation of Lightroom on your computer all your iPhone photos will automatically sync up there.

Video Post-Processing on Your Phone

As I said at the start of this tutorial, video post-processing isn’t great on the iPhone. There are plenty of apps that will let you cut clips together and apply simple filters but the iPhone’s hardware just doesn’t allow for complex editing. A photo edited on your iPhone can be the equal of any edited on your computer as long as you aren’t trying to do heavy Photoshop work. The same isn’t true for videos.

pinnacle video editing
Pinnacle Studio's video editing screen. Image: Pinnacle Studio via iTunes.

There are two apps that stand out as useable if, for some reason, you need to edit video footage on your iPhone: iMovie and Pinnacle Studio. iMovie is simple to use and, as an official Apple app, runs well on iOS. Pinnacle Studio is more powerful but harder to use. It can even handle external audio clips, for example. If you’re just cutting together a couple of quick shots both programs work fine, but the iPhone does not have the CPU, RAM, or disk space for anything more serious.

Conclusion

Too many photographers think of post-production as changing the look of an image. When it comes to photography with an iPhone, that is inevitably just slapping on a filter. There is so much more to it!

Apps like Lightroom Mobile give you the same power you get on your computer to sort and tweak your images. Other editing apps, like VSCOCam and Snapseed, are made by the creators of powerful Lightroom add-ons. Even sharing doesn’t have to be limited to just putting your photo on Instagram.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for post-processing video. The iPhone, great as it is, simply doesn’t have the power to do serious video work. It can capture stunning footage but you need to export it to a more powerful device to edit it properly.

If you use your iPhone for post-processing I’d love to hear what apps you use in the comments.

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