The 6 Digital Editing Apps I Can’t Live Without [Photos]

If there is one hashtag that I will never, ever use it’s #nofilter.


Because I love filtering. I live for filtering.

And with the amount of digital editing apps out there today, you can easily create any look, vibe or feel with your Instagram feed. It all depends on how you want to express yourself.

Aside from subject matter and lighting, finding a consistent filtering process for your photos can really help give your pictures a coherent feel as you start to curate your feed.

And the sky’s the limit:

You might not stick with one style all of the time. If you shoot outdoors then winter can be a whiter more minimalist look while autumn and spring have a lot more chances for pops of colour. I personally like to go with whatever the seasons give me while others really curate their feed with a specific colour palette. Either works and by playing around, you’ll figure out what’s best for you.

screenshot_2017-01-23-20-43-182  screenshot_2017-02-02-12-03-462  screenshot_2017-01-23-20-44-532 L-R: @letsmosy during spring – fall – winter


The first thing I noticed when I started taking a lot of online photography courses is that very few photographers use Instagram to filter their photos. Gone are the days of throwing Nashville or Walden onto a photo and just posting it.

While a lot of the big-time photographers use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom which is both a desktop and mobile app, you can do quite a bit with free (or cheap) photo editing apps on your smartphone.

Note: I use Android so the following apps are all available for Android and iOS. If you have an Apple product, there are actually even more editing apps out there to choose from.

VSCO: this is the big one. VSCO (pronounced “Vis-co”) is both a camera, an editor and a photo community and is the main app that came up when I started learning about digital photography. It is still my go-to app to this day. VSCO itself is free but in its store you can buy additional preset packs (filters they’ve created for you). I use VSCO for most of my filtering and cropping needs. I won’t go into how to use it, this tutorial can help you with that, but a few tips for creating consistent photos:

  1. Pick a few presets that you always use. This is easier once you’ve used the app for some time so I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the various presets and seeing which ones you’re drawn to. Once you have an idea, you can actually move your favourite presets to the front of the preset editor (Smiley Face, on the bottom right – Settings – Preferences – Preset Order). It’s a little time consuming but makes your life much easier than scrolling through every single preset every time you edit a photo.
  1. Use similar toolkit items each time. I make the exact same toolkit changes almost every time I filter a photo: first I Crop and adjust the horizon with Straighten. Then I take Temperature into the blue tones, Tint into the greens and add about +5-6 Fade. I will also use Brightness, Contrast and Desaturation depending on the photo. I do change it up sometimes, but for the most part, those eight tools are the bulk of my toolkit process.
  1. Copy edits. When I’ve finished filtering a photo in my studio, I’ll sometimes leave it in there so I can copy and paste the edits to other photos later. You simply click the photo so it’s highlighted and then hit the ellipses (…) in the bottom right of the menu that pops up. Click “Copy Edits” and then unhighlight the photo. Click on a different photo, hit the … and choose “Paste Edits” et voila! Sometimes you’ll still have to tweak the photo but this is a good start and can really streamline your filtering process.

While I use VSCO for a range of edits, I use the following apps for just one or two incredibly handy tools.

A Color Story: I like to think of ACS as the whimsical editor. I don’t personally use their filter packs that often because I prefer less colourful photos in my feed. Where I use ACS the most is in the Effects toolbar, specifically Color Fog.

Color Fog basically overlays a block of colour over the top or the bottom of your photo. I dial it pretty far down so you only get a hint of colour but I find it can add a real sense of whimsy to a photo. I sometimes use Flare/Bokeh or Light Bursts but again, way dialed down.

A nice feature of the app is once you’ve saved your photo, there’s an option to Save Editing Steps so you can apply the exact same changes to future photos. And again, the app is free but you have to buy additional filter packs and effects. Below, the picture on the right has some Coral fog on top and a hint of Turquoise at the bottom.

Processed with VSCO with a1 preset  20161204_150055

TouchRetouch: if you’ve ever wanted to erase something from your photo, be it a shadow, a leaf or a sign, then TouchRetouch is your app! It’s pretty straightforward – you highlight the area you want to erase and click go. You’ll have to play around with the highlighted area sometimes as it can distort other parts of your picture but this is one I use frequently. There is a free version and a version that costs $2.59 – the difference is the free version lowers the quality of your photo somewhat while the paid version does not. Below, I used TouchRetouch to remove a small sign from the bottom right of the photo.

screenshot_2017-02-02-12-46-272  img_20161212_115916

Snapseed: Snapseed has a bunch of tools, but the one I use is Selective. This tool allows you to select a specific area of a photo and increase brightness, contrast and saturation. It’s a great way to make a small area of a photo “pop”!

Processed with VSCO with a1 preset  screenshot_2017-02-02-12-56-112  Processed with VSCO with a1 preset

SKRWT: if you shoot architectural shots with a lot of lines and love symmetry, then this is the app for you. SKRWT does a bunch of cool tilts and alterations that help you get your lines to the perfect symmetrical angles but what I mainly use it for is flipping images. It’s a simple change but it can really make a difference with how a picture flows in my feed.

screenshot_2017-02-02-11-34-212  screenshot_2017-02-02-11-34-162

Handy Photo: I use this one for its Magic Crop tool which actually allows you to extend the borders of your photo. It generally only works with plain backgrounds that are all one colour but it’s a handy tool (get it?!) to have in your arsenal. It costs $3.99.

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset  Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

I hope you’ll find some of these apps and tools useful. I use at least one of them every day and have really come to enjoy the filtering and editing process. The more you try things out and play around, the more you’ll refine your own process and feed. If you have any other photo apps that you love to use, drop me a comment – I’d love to hear about them! Until next time, happy filtering!

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7 thoughts on “The 6 Digital Editing Apps I Can’t Live Without [Photos]

  1. I have used VSCO before and i love it. or at least when I was taking photos and editing them all the time! I’ve been thinking about starting to take photos again and I’ll definitely check out your editing apps. You’re right the Instagram filters just don’t cut it anymore! haha

    • Thanks for the comment, Olivia! Yeah, once you go VSCO, you never go back 🙂 I have to admit, after filtering in VSCO, I will sometimes add a little bit of Lark, Moon or Ludwig in IG but that’s it. I can’t imagine using anything past Perpetua – which makes me a bit of a filter snob perhaps? Anyway, good luck with getting back into photography! I hope you enjoy it!

  2. I love VSCO so, so, so much for editing my photos before sticking them onto Instagram (I love a pretty Instagram aesthetic, I just can’t help it). But this was very well written and very enlightening and I will definitely be checking some of these out.

    • Thanks so much, Bronte! I know what you mean, I’m obsessed with nice IG aesthetics. It’s not just about the individual picture but how it fits into the whole – and I love when you find a new feed that’s just killing it!

  3. I found your post really helpful! I have been looking for more information about filter and editing apps and this was exactly what I wanted. I had searched but was overwhelmed with the amount of apps available, and not knowing the merits of each made it quite daunting. I will have to try a few of your suggestions. I also really enjoyed your examples

    • Thank you, Liz!! So glad to hear – I hope you find some of the apps useful. When I started out and did my own searches, the articles were definitely overwhelming and I didn’t like half of the apps that they recommended. Most of the ones I use now, I found through the recommendations of other photographers in articles and online classes. Enjoy!

  4. Pingback: The Tao of Instagram: My IG Philosophy – Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

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