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3 Must-Have Smartphone Apps: VSCO, Snapseed, Lightroom Mobile

Lightroom, VSCO, Snapseed Compared

Today’s smartphones are in every way a mini-computer capable of packing everything we need to leave our cubicle and head for the unknown. The only thing that it needs is an AC mains adapter and a constant Wi-Fi connection. Provided we have those two we can go wherever our eyes and legs can take us and be truly free.

For the 21st century photographer, the smartphone is indeed a quintessential apparatus. He cannot even plan a trip, let alone find tickets and a place to sleep or a way to contact civilization in case of need. But beyond those obvious tasks and others that you may envision, the smartphone is also a great tool to edit your images.

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Today we are going to look at a few apps, which further the utility of our trusted smartphones beyond just the daily uses that we do. Specifically, I am referring to the ability of our camera to be a full-fledged photo editor.

Sometimes we don’t want to wait until the end of the day when we reach back home to edit our images. I am not referring to the Instagram filters here. I am talking about old-fashioned manual post-processing of your images. Thanks to improved technology our smartphones now have the power to do that. Post-process images on the go.

This discussion takes into account that you have a smartphone that comes with a fast processor and a built-in memory that is at least 3 GB. You need around 16 Gigs of storage to run these applications along with the space that your phone’s operating system will consume.

Ok, with that usual caveat out of the way let’s take a look at the three photo editing apps.

1. Lightroom Mobile

Lightroom for me does almost 75% of all my photo editing work.

That is unless I am doing some serious retouching and or editing work. It is great that I am now able to carry my favorite photo editing tool wherever I go.

What can I do with it?

cropping an image in Lightroom mobile

Well, to start off you can select any image in phone storage and edit it starting with cropping it. While cropping, you can keep the same aspect ratio in which you shot the image or change it around as per your requirement.

While dragging an image, the grid line comes up automatically. This tool enables you to position the key aspects of your image, such as a beautiful flower, or a lighthouse or the eye of the model closest to you coinciding one of the sweetest points.

Lightroom for mobile crop aspect ratio

Aspect can be free, allowing you to make a selection as per your choice. Or else you can keep it locked just to ensure that the crop conforms to a particular aspect ratio you prefer. There is also an Auto-Straighten tool that comes in handy at times.

Lightroom for mobile

You can also change the orientation of the image, which comes in handy for flipping or rotating an image on its axis.

The rest button resets all changes. When you are happy with the results, just click on the OK sign and the changes will be saved.

Lightroom mobile offers a bunch of selection editing options for your images. You can change the White Balance of your pictures, alter the Temperature, Tint, do Exposure Compensation, Tweak the Contrast, Highlights and Shadows and lots more just like you would do with a RAW image on your desktop.

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Quick Post-Processing Tutorial with Adjustments

The contrast was adjusted to -21, Whites to -22, Blacks to -28, Clarity down to -34 and I pulled down saturation all the way to -100. Pulling the saturation down allowed me to subtract all of the colors and turn the image into a Black and White one.

post processing in smartphone

Of course, there are a bunch of other ready tools to work with. These are your standard built-in filters you’d no doubt be familiar with if you are a user of the desktop version of the application.

lightroom for smartphones

Then there are the advanced tools such as Vignetting, Tone Curve adjustment, Split Toning, Lens Corrections, and Dehaze. It is quite easily one of the most powerful tools you can use to edit your images on the fly.

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how to post-process using smartphone

One final tool that I would like to mention about is the Selection tool. You would find it at the bottom right of the application and is that selected circular icon shown in this image below.

Post-processing with a smartphone

This tool is the standard radial filter and graduated filter built into one. When you choose this tool, you have two further options, Radial Selection or a Linear Selection. The Linear selection tool can be dragged vertically or horizontally depending on your preference. Once the selection is made, you can then go ahead and tweak the image using a bunch of options as already explained above.

Once you are happy with the edits, you can then move to share the picture directly from your Lightroom app to your favorite social media account or choose to store it in your Lightroom gallery on your phone or upload it to the cloud to be accessible from anywhere in the world. Needless to say, you can also save the image as your home or lock screen image on your phone.

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VSCO is yet another tool for editing and processing your images. There is no way to use the tool without first registering. Which is kind of a pain! Lightroom Mobile still allows you to do that. Having said that registering takes 1 minute flat, including the email verification process.

You can take images from inside the app, just like Lightroom Mobile does. Else, give VSCO access to your image library and then choose the image you wish to edit.

VSCO smartphone photo editor

VSCO’s offers manual editing options. But it is more of a quick filter application for your images. There are a total of 10 free filters that you can choose from.

They each render a particular mood to your images. For more filter options you can click on the Shopping cart icon at the end of the thumbnail gallery. You can download a few more free filters and after that pretty much everything has to be paid for.

VSCO filters

The free options are, however, quite good. There are a few Black & White options as well as a few warm tones which I like.

I have never quite liked handing over my post-processing to filters, and have always preferred to hand process everything I shoot, but there are times when the convenience of a single click is hard to resist.

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Especially when shooting with your smartphone (e.g. when you are shooting on a vacation or a family get-together).

Here is the example showing what I was able to come up with Filter A5:

applying filters to smartphone images

Isn’t it nice?

You can choose to manually adjust the effect of the filter on a scale of 1 to 12 with 0.1 step increments. Which is kind of cool when you are very particular about the effect that you need.

Additionally, there are a bunch of adjustments which you can use with or without the filter effect.

Just click on the Settings icon as demonstrated below:

VSCO settings

You would now be able to do all the basic and some advanced adjustments as well. This includes Exposure, Contrast, Cropping, Straighten, Perspective, Highlights, Saturation and Shadows to name a few.

VSCO smartphone app

VSCO also allows you to publish the edited image to their platform directly. Alternatively, you can choose to save the edited images to the Image Gallery and upload them to various social media platforms.

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3. Snapseed

Snapseed (for Android & for iOS) offers a useful Insights section. This section has a bunch of information for the discerning photographer looking to learn how to use the many filters and options. You can spend some time learning the tricks of the trade.


Alternatively, if you want to get on with it or learn as you go, then hop into the edit mode. Select Open to pull up the image gallery. Select an image, and it will load up in Snapseed. Tap on the Pencil icon as shown here, and a bunch of options will open up immediately.

Snapseed options

In the image above I demonstrated how I could alter the basic adjustments intuitively.

For increasing or decreasing the effect, all you have to do is slide your fingers left to right of your smartphone screen after having selected the parameter you wish to change.

Sliding as against dragging a scale is a lot easier and more convenient too, which is why I like the interface of the Snapseed app.

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Snapseed interface

If you wish to reset a particular setting and want to start over just double tap over it and the effect resets to ‘0’.

There is a brilliant before and after button on the top right of your screen. Tapping and then letting go does a quick before/after view. Also provided is a histogram towards the bottom left corner of the screen. Tapping this gives you a quick perspective of the tonal range of your image.

Another feature that I enjoyed working with is Add text. When editing images you captured on your phone, you would struggle to input words. Snapseed has 32 built-in templates you can choose from to add a line or two of text.

Once finished with the adjustments, click on the Download Icon at top right. It would ask you whether you want to share the image, save a copy to your image gallery or export.

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Snapseed is the smoother of the three apps. A well-designed interface and simplicity make Snapseed win the race.

It would be followed by Lightroom and finally VSCO. Though, I must say that I loved the built-in free filters in VSCO.

Lightroom Mobile is the best regarding functionalities. It has better local adjustment options. But the other two, especially Snapseed is not far behind.

As a matter of fact, I am willing to say that Snapseed wins the race taking into consideration its user interface and the built-in filters.


  • Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. He loves to test and review new photography gear. He has been writing about cameras and lenses for over 10 years now. You can consider him as your "master guide" here at PhotoWorkout.

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