Part of our professional development this year was a workshop with the photographer Sam Krisch who showed us the art....yes, art... of phone and tablet app processing of phone photography. The above examples are some I did on the day of the workshop, and the evening after, because it was so addicting I couldn't stop. But please look at his iPhone Adventures page on his website to see his app processed work. I am particularly blown away with the nude in nature. Her skin glows as if he had painstakingly processed it with full software.
If you haven't investigated phone and table app photo processing, or wrote it off as kitsch, prepare to be wowed. Just like artists, app coders have the overwhelming urge to share their creations and it is inevitable that the more people that jump in, the more sophisticated they become. I'm guessing that how I feel about app processing is similar to what gamers feel. It is a combination of your decisions and the decision of the computer. You have to relinquish a certain amount of control and be open to the surprises. You make decisions, the app adds its ideas, you respond, the app responds. It's an adventure. Just like any adventure, you want some control, but still want to be surprised and challenged. And sometimes you arrive at a place that takes your breath away.
Think of the apps as Photoshop Actions that others have written and you have downloaded. These apps do everything from adjusting hue and levels, to adding vignettes (which you can sometimes control with a slider) to blurs and frames. Some apps allow more of your input, like Snapseed, a free app available for both iPhone/iPad and Android that has sliders for adjusting the amount of an effect. Other apps are like a collection of Actions that you can't adjust midway.
Sam started by doing a wonderful curating activity with us. He had printed hundreds of his square format iPhone app-processed photos, some in duplicate and laid them out on several long tables. Our challenge was to curate a collection of 6-8 photos that are unified in some way, and then share our choices and our reasons. This activity alone is well worth hiring Sam as a visiting artist in your school because he comes with all those beautiful prints, but he also demonstrated using the apps, switching from app to app, talking about his decisions. In a longer workshop he also helps with the process, and leads critiques. You can certainly do a curating project without Sam, but I highly recommend including the curating step and use printed photos that really show the beauty of the images.
Discuss composition with students before jumping into the process. Without conscious composition you will have a lot of students liking their photos for the effects alone and they'll spend hours on poorly composed photos. I plan on having my students take the photos and placing the best composed ones in a separate folder before ever touching the apps.
Sam uses an iPhone and iPad and was gracious enough to allow me to share his recommended list of apps. I presently use the Android platform (But, I am about to switch to an iPad because my Samsung tablet is slow and sometimes apps crash.) The list below is a combination of what Sam recommended and what I recommend. As you search for new apps yourself, the ideal ones are those that allow you to process images you have already taken (vs. capture only) and save in the original, or very high resolution so you can create the beautiful prints (unlike Instagram, for example). Many apps have a free, or almost free version with some options, but provide in app purchasing add-ons for a wider range.
Sam's suggestions for iPhone and iPad, more functionality on the iPad:
Laminar Image Editor $. 99
Camera+ $2.99, could be free with coupon from Apple Store ad
Hipstamatic capture only $1.99
AutoStitch, also available for Android, $1.99
Old Photo Pro, free
Pixlr-o-matic, also for Android, free
Image Blender, $2.99
Pro HDR, also for Android, $1.99
Pic FX, $1.99
Ones I've tried for Android. Some of these can save your work at a higher res if you use the tablet version. But my tablet couldn't handle them. Time for a new tablet.
Old Photo, Free
Image Blender Intrafusion, free
Litho, also available for iOS, $.99
Pxlr Express, free
Aviary, also available for iOs, free
I'm pretty sure I'll be updating this list. Please share your favorites with me in the comments. Visit The App Whisperer and iPhone Photography School for more ideas, updates and tutorials.