How to Edit Mobile Photography

Processed with VSCOcam with k3 preset

Tools of the Trade

Photography by Mauren Kennedy


Since I made the conscious decision to use my Instagram account as a photography page (rather than a personal feed), the one question I often find myself answering is, “What kind of camera do you use?” Truth be told, I particularly enjoy being asked this question because I can honestly say “I shoot with my phone!”

With technology’s radical growth paired with the rise of the smartphone era in 2007, the slim cell phones we carry in our pockets nowadays hardly resemble the clunky, immobile telephones of the past. Far and away one of the most brilliant features of the smartphone came with the blending of the phone and the camera. Though some mobile phones prior to the smartphone had the capability to shoot and share images, the resolution was often poor and cellular data plans were so small that it was impractical to ever send them.

Long gone are the days of disposable cameras, developing film and mailing photos; now, with only a handful of presses and taps, a high-definition video of a child taking its first steps can be sent instantly to relatives and friends around the world. The smartphone not only revolutionized how we capture and share our most important moments, it allows users to take photos anywhere, anytime.



What’s amazing about modern-day smartphones is that a fully dynamic photographic suite lies in one compact device. From the camera, to the in-house editing options, to third-party applications and programs, smartphones have put photography in the hands of anyone willing and able to learn. Interested photographers can learn about everything from lighting techniques to the proper composition of a photograph. However, acquiring a specific shooting style takes practice—lots of it. Developing a sense of personal style in your mobile photography is imperative for success.

After you’ve developed your personal style, the challenge is making your captured images look exactly how you want them to look. That is where mobile applications and photography filters come into play.

Since there are thousands of photography applications to choose from, it can be overwhelming to figure out which ones are the best. Over the last couple years, I have narrowed down my regular, consistent photo apps to two or three (maybe four, if I’m feeling extra-creative) and I feel like they’re a great place to start learning how to edit on a phone.



​Created by Google, Snapseed is a free app. After a recent format change, the improved app is now more navigable and user-friendly.

Snapseed simplifies the editing process into two factions: “Tools” and “Filters.” Selecting the tools to edit is easy, and it gives the photographer a lot of room to manipulate the image in any way possible. By selecting a filter, the image will take on some type of colored effect, dependent on which filter is selected. In my opinion, I think Snapseed is perfect for fine-tuning any image, and I always use it first when beginning the editing process. However, when I want to add a filter to my image, I usually open VSCOcam.



​VSCO (short for Visual Supply Company) is a free app with a wide array of editing tools for customizability. What truly sets VSCO apart from Snapseed is that it has a much wider and more diverse selection of filters from which to choose. VSCO offers free filters as well as filters at a fee—from $.99 upward. Users can browse VSCO’s entire collection of filters for any image, creating a satisfying experience that enables creativity.



​If neither of those apps is quite your cup of tea, there will always be Afterlight. This was the first-ever editing application I ever had and continuously used on my phone. Although it is not my go-to like it used to be, I will always recommend it to anyone learning how to edit. The format is incredibly simple, yet beautiful, and the filters are unlike any that you’ll find in either Snapseed or VSCOcam.

Whether editing in any, all, or even none of these apps, there is an undeniably untapped world of photographic resources within every app store. Everyday people on social media use these resources to create, inspire and innovate audiences around the globe. With a lot of practice, a little self discovery and the constant desire to learn, it’s easy and incredibly fun to create beautiful, personal content on the devices we always have on us.

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