Best photo apps in the post-PC era

Apps like Photoshop Express can dramatically improve your pictures
Apps like Photoshop Express can dramatically improve your pictures
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Picture editing software for your computer is as old as PCs themselves, but it’s of no use if you no longer keep your pictures on one.

In the post-PC era, it has become the norm for many of us to upload our photographs from our phones or pocket cameras direct to Facebook, Google Photos or another online service, where they remain secure in the cloud and accessible from anywhere. The conventional hard disk method of storage has become redundant.

But in the digital age, finding a home for your best pictures is only the beginning of an onward editing process. Exposure, composition and colouration are seldom perfect straight out of the box, and with only a few seconds of work you can improve all of those parameters and more - in the process turning an average shot into a great one.

Some cloud services, Google Photos included, have their own basic editing adjustments, but the latest generation of apps for your Android or iPhone takes photo editing to another level entirely.

Creating collages of favourite pictures, photo frame effects and one-touch filters which can turn, for instance, a grey afternoon into a golden sunset, are all now as easy to accomplish as simple crops and the removal of flash-induced red-eye.

Perhaps the most interesting free app now on the market is the miniature version of Adobe’s venerable Photoshop, the go-to programme for a generation of photographers and artists. Photoshop has been through many iterations since it was introduced in 1990, originally for Macintosh computers exclusively, but all have had one thing in common: their extreme costliness.

The new Photoshop Express Photo Editor and Collage Maker, however, is downloadable for free. You pay only if you want to upgrade from the 60 or so effects supplied as standard. Likewise, the companion apps Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Fix are also free for most users, and can be harnessed to improve pictures you’ve taken with your phone, as soon as you’ve snapped them.

If you use a compact camera with wi-fi, you can upload pictures to a phone or tablet and use these apps to edit them there, without the need to turn on your PC or laptop.

Camera enthusiasts can go a stage further with another Adobe app, Lightroom Mobile - a cut-down version of a heavyweight PC programme that allows independent adjustment of blacks, whites, contrast, saturation and all the other components that make up a picture. The phone version of Lightroom is integrated with the built-in camera, so you can preview the effect before you take the picture.

Adobe’s suite of programmes is part of a move towards “owning” your pictures, in the belief that if you rely on their software to view and share your photography you will be discouraged from using anyone else’s in the future. Other vendors, Google especially, are also keen to do this - and in response, single-service platforms like Flickr, a long-established website on which photographers can view and share their work, are fighting back with the offer of a terabyte of free storage space with which to play.

Camera manufacturers commonly offer their own storage platforms, with varying degrees of functionality, and there is a multitude of apps from third-party suppliers which can enhance your pictures with more individual decorations. Many of these are just gimmicks, but phone apps like Prisma and Pixlr are worth investigating.

Programs like these are starting to redefine what photography even is: mere snapshots in time or works of digital art derived from life. The possibilities are only just beginning.