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Apps You’ll Love For Nature Photography

Oh, the images you’ll make with these little software gems!
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This Article Features Photo Zoom

photography apps

Families all over the country give the classic Dr. Seuss story Oh, The Places You’ll Go! to their kids when they graduate from high school. If the good doctor were alive today, he might well have rewritten it for all those graduating from a normal phone to an iPhone:

Today is your day.
You’ve bought a new iPhone,
Hurrah and hurray!

The iPhone has a decent 3-megapixel camera, nothing to write home about. But it has apps! More than a thousand small programs for photographers (most costing from 99 cents to $5) that transform this smartphone into a mini-Photoshop capable of making all kinds of extraordinary images.

My wife Lynette and I have been playing around with the iPhone for the last two years. Had so much fun, we even started a website featuring just our iPhone photos (

The iPhone has become our visual sketchpad, always with us, always ready to help us tweak an image from ordinary to extraordinary.

Lynette just checked her iPhone and found she has 98 photographic apps! Perhaps that’s a little excessive, I only have 79. The reason, besides the fact that they keep making new apps and we’re rather addicted, is that most of these apps only do one thing (or set of things). There’s no all-encompassing program like Photoshop to do almost everything.

So to save you the time and expense of sorting through all these apps, here’s our “Favorites” list by category. Grab one from each category, and you’ll be ready for more fun than you’ve had in an age.

Photogene app

Probably the most popular photo app on the iPhone is Photogene ($1.99). It’s as close to a mini-Photoshop as you can get and handles all the basic darkroom manipulations. You can straighten, crop, sharpen, run Levels, change the color balance, exposure or saturation, and frame your results. Truly, an excellent app.

PhotoForge ($2.99) is another winner that has most of the tools of Photogene, plus many of its own. My favorite is Simulated HDR, which can produce wonderful photorealistic effects.

For someone who just wants to keep it simple, try Perfectly Clear ($2.99). With one click, you can take a stab at all the digital darkroom parameters. Most of the time the results are so good, that’s all you need (and you can always go back and re-tweak them individually).

This Article Features Photo Zoom

TrueHDR appTrueHDR

The iPhone doesn’t have a flash, but there are several apps you can use to lighten the dark areas of your photos. My favorite is iFlashReady (99 cents). It has two settings that open up the shadows of a given shot and one High Flash+ that adds a faux HDR look to your image. This app will make a huge difference in your photographs.

TrueHDR ($1.99) works much like Photomatix, an HDR program we use in conjunction with Photoshop on our computers. Touching the screen of your iPhone on an area to meter will lock in the correct exposure and focus. When confronted with a scene of several stops of latitude, take two shots of the same scene. In one, expose for the highlights. In the second, expose for the shadows. Combine them in TrueHDR, and you’ll be amazed at the resultant image.

photo fx appPhoto fx

There are more apps in this category than any other, but let me give you a few of my favorites. Photo fx includes most of the great photographic filters made by the Tiffen Corporation—everything from Color Grads to Split Neutral Density, Star filters to Polarizers, Night Vision to Infrared. I own most of these wonderful filters in glass from film days and I would hate to tell you what they cost me. Now you can have them all for $2.99.

ArtCamera appArtCamera

ArtCamera ($1.99) is another app featuring wonderful effects. My personal favorites are those imitating famous artists—Monet, Matisse, Bacon, Degas and Picasso. You certainly don’t get Woman in Front of a Mirror when you use the Picasso filter, but what you do get is quite remarkable.

ShockMyPic appShockMyPic

Another app that emulates painting is ShockMyPic (Free). Only one effect in this app, but a great one. It instantly makes any photo look like a van Gogh.

For those of you who truly want to turn a photo into a painting, my favorite is Artist’s Touch ($4.99). Use the app’s digital brushes to paint over one of your favorite images, and it magically transforms into an oil painting, watercolor, charcoal sketch or a mix of several such media. If you like this app, you might consider getting a stylus to help you paint, my favorite being the Pogo Stylus by Ten One Design.

Artist's Touch appArtist’s Touch

AutoStitch Panorama ($1.99) and Pano ($2.99) are my two favorite panorama apps. With Pano you make the panorama in real time. Shoot one photo, wait for it to process and show up in the iPhone, add another to it. It works very well, especially at balancing exposure differences. The downside is that it takes time and battery power to stand there and make the panorama.

AutoStitch Panorama appAutoStitch Panorama

Panorama allows you to shoot overlapping photos with your iPhone camera and then bring them into the app later to make your panorama. This allows you to work very quickly in the field. It’s truly an excellent app. Both provide a great way to show the “whole enchilada,” whether you’re a pro on a scouting expedition or sharing a vacation with friends and family.

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Crop'n'Frame appCrop’n’Frame

Crop’n’Frame ($1.99) is like a tiny framer living in your iPhone. Select an image from your photo library from within the app and crop to your taste. Then, just like in a frame shop, you create your own mat, frame and accents with a myriad of styles and color combinations. E-mail or save your completed framed piece from within the app.

Another great reason to use this app is to pick out mats and frames for a real photo (read, not taken on the iPhone, but with your big boy camera) before visiting the frame store. You can put any of your favorite photos on your iPhone and play with Crop’n’Frame until you get exactly what you want. Then just show the finished image to your framer.

Double Exposure appDouble Exposure

DXP, or Double Exposure ($1.99), gets the most use of the 98 photo apps on Lynette’s iPhone. It more properly ought to be called Multiple Exposure, since you can pile nearly unlimited numbers of images atop one another. (Of course, just as in the old days of multiple exposures with film, you need to compensate with exposure by lightening up images so dark areas don’t block up.)

Choose two shots from your library, bring them into the app, and they’ll show up as a double exposure. But wait, there’s more! The best feature of this app (drumroll, please) is blend modes—halfmix, multiply, screen, overlay, softlight, hardlight and difference. Each provides another double-exposure effect.

PhotoCanvas appPhotoCanvas

You also can rotate, flip and add cool masking effects using the turning arrow icon. What doesn’t it do? Well, it doesn’t make coffee, and it doesn’t let you change the opacity of either image in your double exposure. For that, you’ll need PhotoCanvas ($2.99), which works much like DXP, but also lets you control the opacity of the two layers being blended.

The new iPhone 3GS comes complete with video. That’s worthy of a whole separate article, but there’s one app for video that must be mentioned. That’s VideoPix ($1.99), which allows you to take screen grabs off your video clips. One of the major drawbacks of the iPhone camera is that it takes a long time to focus and shoot. The video capture on the iPhone is up to 30 frames per second. Take a video clip of an action, bring it into VideoPix and choose the exact frame you want for your still image. It opens up a whole new world of iPhone images.

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Ezimba appEzimba

Vihgo ($1.99) is a wonderfully artistic photo app with a number of filters that produce stunning effects not found in any other app. It combines color with texture in such filters as sketch, pencil, emboss, impression. It also can add rain, snow, fog and smoke to a photo. If Vihgo provided only that filter pack, it still would be a must-have app for your iPhone.

But it goes further. The most unique attribute of Vihgo is that you can mask an image and apply any of the filter effects selectively to just a part of the photo. Sound like advanced Photoshop techniques? You bet. And it exists in an easy, intuitive format.

If you bought only one app for applying art effects to iPhone photos, Ezimba ($2.99) would be the one. It’s dizzying in its variety, originality and versatility.

It has over 25 artistic effects, over 50 quirky, fun effects they call blends, and a variety of borders, colors, cutouts, fun warps and textures. It even has 3-D effects. There are enough “shiny things” within this app that those of us with terminal AADD (Artistic Attention Deficit Disorder) need never be bored again.

The Animoto Videos (Free) website says this app is “the end of slide shows.” Actually, it’s just the beginning. Upload your photos to the site, choose their music (or use yours), and Animoto will turn your images into the most amazing presentation you’ve ever seen—transitions I can’t even begin to describe, all in sync with the music. You can make 30-second programs for free. Longer ones come with a subscription fee. Try it, it’s truly fantastic. (Or check out some of the ones I’ve posted on

So those are 20 of my favorite apps for the iPhone. There are more coming out everyday. By the time this article is published, there probably will be several new ones that have skyrocketed onto my “Favorites” list. So give this little digital sketchpad a try. It’ll make you feel like a kid again, back to the days when you used to actually read Dr. Seuss.

Oh, by the way, there’s an app for that, too—the Dr. Seuss Camera (The Grinch Edition, $1.99; The Cat In The Hat Edition, $1.99)!

You have brains in your head,
You have apps on your phone.
You can make yourself images
That before were unknown.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(Ninety eight and 3/4 percent