Phone Photography: Processing Apps

Lately I’ve done more phone photography than anything else and it’s a different rhythm I think than using a camera. So I’m showing you how I use my phone when creating photos.

Previously, I showed you two camera apps I used and love because they give you more control over the outcome of your photos in this post.

This time I’ll be talking about two apps I use every time to change the photos a little more to my liking.

Phone Photo Processing

So the photo above does look a little dark and moody but that was what I wanted. She was sad and moody so I took it there. This isn’t a tutorial on how to make a photo dark and moody, it’s on how to use apps to make your photo turn out how you want. You could easily take the steps below and make it a more bright and cheery photo if that’s the style you are going for.

Here is what I suggest – go ahead and get these free apps! Then follow along with this post to try them out and see if you like them. Choose a photo in your library and start following along! Then go play some more – you may even find more goodies within these apps that I don’t use.

I took the photo below as we were leaving a birthday party. Of course Kendall was super sad to leave and this moment of her holding the happy yellow balloon and looking so sad was something I had to capture. In addition, it was a dark, rainy dreary day (thank you Joaquin). But to keep up the mood of sadness and take away from the distracting cars I had to do some processing on my phone. I don’t always push my photos to be so dark but it fit the mood and the feeling I wanted to convey. Heavy sadness but have a bright happy spot within it – the yellow balloon.

the original photo of my daughter taken on my phone

Everything I did below is a standard pattern I follow to process photos on my phone, whether the photo is bright and cheery or darker and more moody. I just turn the sliders in each app a different way.


The first app I use immediately on all my images is Snapseed. I love this app and earlier in the year they updated it with some cool features like a healing brush which allows you to remove items you don’t want in the photo.

Otherwise this is my app I do my basic edits in and I use it to create lens blur fairly often. You can tell if you follow me on Instagram. I like that I can create more focus on my subject creatively with this handy little tool.

Let’s get it started! When you first open the app, there is a screen with a little picture of a phone on it. Click on that and it will prompt you to open a photo. Then you get this screen:


From here I choose the pencil in the lower right hand corner to edit. And you get these options, which if you scroll down are many. I don’t use a whole lot of them because I use this app for basic edits.

Snapseed edit screen

I start with Tune Image and in here you can change the overall brightness, ambiance, contrast, saturation, shadows, highlights, and warmth. Play with these to really get a feel for them.

You can choose which tool here by sliding your finger up or down on the image to make these tools appear, and changing one of the tools by sliding your finger left or right. For example, to add brightness slide your finger to the right and to reduce brightness slide your finger left. Then slide your finger down to change the ambiance. When you finish, touch the check mark. (PS – the wand next to the check is an auto-tune – try it and use it if you like it otherwise manually change stuff yourself).

Snapseed Tune Image

I don’t always use this next feature but for this image I did. If you want to change the brightness, contrast or saturation of only part of your image use the Selective option under tools. When you choose it you will notice the + with a circle around it is blue. Go ahead and touch the part of your photo you want to adjust and it will plop a circle with a B where you touch. Then, you can go forwards or backwards on any of these by moving your finger to the left or right. Choose one of the three by moving your finger up or down. When done touch the check mark. (Mine has a C because I was adjusting the contrast – I upped the Brightness all the way on her face but when you do that you lose some structure so I add it back in with a little contrast).

snapseed selective tool

The next tool I use is usually either the crop or rotate tool, or both. If you need to rotate your image or straighten it slightly then choose the rotate tool. If you need to crop it down or scale it to a square or other size then use the crop tool. Here I only used the crop tool:

snapseed crop tool

I hardly ever use the vignette tool but wanted to use it here to hide the cars and put the focus more on her while also making the photo a little darker (more moody). You can change the size of the vignette by sliding two fingers together to make it smaller or apart to make it bigger. You can increase or decrease the vignette strength by sliding a finger to the right or left.

snapseed vignette tool

Many times I like to use the lens blur tool to concentrate focus on my subject or create a more artful look to my photos. Under the edit tools icon, if you scroll down under everything we just did you will find even more stuff like filters, light leaks and my favorite lens blur.

snapseed lens blur

Here you can change the shape of the circle to an oval by sliding two fingers apart or together, or make it larger or smaller or move it around by placing one finger on the blue dot and moving it. Then if you slide your finger to the right or left you can increase or decrease the blur. Then if you slide your finger down, you can also change the size of the transition or the vignette.

snapseed lens blur 100

At this point I was done with Snapseed, so I went to the top and touched Save. It gives me three different options but for the sake of saving room on my phone, I usually choose the first option which modifies the original photo (no worries though if you want to go back, you can reopen it in Snapseed and delete all the changes).

snapseed save

By the way, if you do want to delete a change go to the top next to the save button you will see a number. This number is how many changes you’ve made. Just touch this then it pops up with the changes. Touch the one you want to delete or change and it will fly out with those choices. Choose and go on!


This app has my heart because a lot of their filters are film style which I love. And they have some beautiful free ones, then there are many others you can buy. If you use Photoshop at all you’ve probably heard about their actions which are also gorgeous!

When you first open it, you get a menu where you can go buy some of the filters under shop, but right now we’re interested in bringing our halfway processed photo into the app to finish it off. Go ahead and choose Library.

VSCO app main page

Next you want to add your photo, so touch the + sign at the top. The app will then open all your photos and you can choose the one you want by touching it which will highlight it in green. Here, you can choose more than 1 photo, only when you’re done choosing, touch the check mark at the bottom.

VSCO add an image

Once you have the photo in your library, it’ll still be highlighted green. At the bottom you have three choices: the first on the left is the filters and adjustments, the middle is to upload the photo to VSCO (another social sharing option), and the one on the right is for saving the photo or sharing on social media. Choose the lines on the left. If you imported more than 1 photo at a time you will have to unchoose all but one of the photos to get this option.

VSCO options

Once you are in, you will see at the bottom all of your filter choices. You can slide your finger to the left to get more. Choosing different filters negates the filter you chose before, so have fun going through and seeing what each filter does to your photo. I have my favorites and here I chose HB2.

VSCO filters

But it was a little strong in contrast for me, but that’s an easy fix. Once you choose your filter you can touch the filter again and a slider will pop up that allows you to decrease the strength of the filter. I decreased mine to +9 instead of +12.

VSCO filter strength

Then touch the check mark underneath and options will pop up again. Next I always choose the wrench, which is like the tools option in Snapseed’s basic edits, but they have some extra tools.


Here I chose the Fade option to +5 (almost always), the Sharpen to +1 (always), the vignette to +4, the saturation to +1, the contrast to -2. There are so many other tools too and I like the color tools at the end, I just didn’t use them here. Then press the check mark.

VSCO adjustment tools

Then I chose the far right option to share/save. I always go ahead and save to the camera roll and sometimes I go ahead and share to Instagram. Other times, I take the saved photo from the camera roll and open it up in Pic-Tap-Go, which is another free app. In this app I choose to share it on Instagram usually in the full float mode so that there is white space around my photo and it is the full photo and not squared.

Final image

That’s it! That’s my workflow for photos I share (and some I don’t, like the old school gas station pumps you can see above – I left those on the cutting room floor).

What other basic editing apps do you use to process phone photos? I’ll have another post up later about some apps I use but not as often.