Creative photo apps that go beyond the usual filters
If you're one of those people who enjoy bellyaching about people who use Instagram, you'll be delighted (or peeved) to know that the majority of "creative photo apps" out there are more or less Instagram clones. A vast universe of mobile apps now allow you to apply a bunch of similar-looking preset filters, to crop and enhance photos at the tap of a button, and to share your shots immediately via the usual email or social-networking avenues.
It's almost as if all photo apps these days have been run through an Instagram filter. With all that sameness out there, it's hard to find a photo app that does things differently. But such apps exist, and these seven iPhone photography apps are a great place to start getting weird. (Note: If you want to make it eight, check out Cinemagram, which we featured in an earlier story.)
Fotoffiti (iOS, $2)
If you've ever wondered what your pictures would look like if they were spray-painted on a wall, Fotoffiti is the best way to find out without the risk of getting hit by a subway train or chased away by Old Man Garverson. You can take a photo from within the app or import a picture from your camera roll, and Fotoffiti creates a "stencil" out of your selection. You choose a color for the paint, shake the phone (or tap 'Skip') to spray it, and adjust every detail, from the type of wall it's painted on to the contrast and shadow in the image. You can even adjust the "age" of the painting to give it a more-weathered look. Once the virtual paint dries, you can save the image to your camera roll and share your work via email, Facebook, or Twitter.
Popsicolor (iOS, $1)
Unless you're blessed with more coordination and finesse than the average kindergarten student, painting with watercolors can be a living nightmare punctuated by paint trays with gaping holes in the middle of each color, paper distorted by rampant pooling, and overused brushes that resemble chimney-sweeping equipment. With Popsicolor—an app that creates a realistic-looking watercolor "painting" out of any photo in your camera roll—you can avoid this hellish scenario. The key compound modifier here is "realistic-looking," because the app adds the detail and subtle shading that five-year-old fingers probably couldn't. You don't even have to mock-paint anything: You just pick a photo, select a two-color palette, and save the image to your camera roll or email it out.
Decim8 (iOS, $1)
True to its name, Decim8 is less about fine-tuning the nuances of your photos and more about obliterating anything that made them recognizable photos in the first place. Whether you want to call Decim8's output "glitch photography," "post-modern Instagram," or "deliberately ruining your photos," the app applies weird effects to your images. The end result usually looks like the output of a malfunctioning Nintendo, a broken Kindle, a mosaic assembled by a blindfolded chimp, or the mess you'd get after putting all those items in an industrial dough mixer. Each filter creates an interesting look in and of itself, but you can combine several filters at once to ramp up the mayhem. You'll also get radically different effects each time you apply the same filter to the same photo, which suggests that not even Decim8 knows what it's going to do to your pictures.
Kyoobik (iOS, $1)
Before you drop hundreds of dollars on a customized Mah-Jongg photo-tile set, you should probably see what it'll look like by using Kyoobik. This app applies a mosaic effect to a single photo, breaking each image into round, square, triangular, or hexagonal tiles; you can delete individual tiles or groups of them to create custom patterns. You can also tinker with the perspective of your images by applying a "vanishing point" effect that makes the mosaics look as if they stretch back into the screen, or create mosaics out of three-dimensional cubes. And mosaics aren't all you get to play with in Kyoobik; you'll find flowery wallpaper patterns and bubble effects that you can apply to your images, if those sorts of things are to your liking.
Percolator (iOS, $2)
Speaking of bubble effects, Percolator should be your go-to photo app if you want to turn any normal-looking picture into a series of concentric circles, resulting in images that look like a cross between a color-blindness test and Missle Command. A coffee theme runs throughout Percolator. First, you "grind" the image by selecting one to use from your photo roll or by taking a shot from within the app. Then, you "brew" the image by selecting one of eight circular or star-shaped effects. And finally, you "serve" the image by applying a few "texture" and "tone" filters. After you've finished "not actually making coffee," tapping the heart icon lets you save your hot cup of joe-tography to your camera roll. You can also share it via email, Facebook, and Twitter.
ColorBlast Lite (iOS, free)
If you've used a recent Canon or Nikon point-and-shoot camera, you may be familiar with Color Accent mode (Canon) or Selective Color mode (Nikon), two scene modes that let you pick a single color to display in an otherwise black-and-white photo. The free ColorBlast Lite app, however, gives you more control over the color that shows up in your photos than either of those in-camera modes does. You use your finger to paint over areas in a photo, and choose the color you'd like to display; unlike the in-camera modes, this app allows you to change the highlighted color to anything, not just the one that appears in your original shot. From there, you can fine-tune your work by zooming in to portions of an image, using a finer "brush," and adjusting the exposure levels of the image.
One Memento (iOS, free)
One Memento looks like an Instagram clone at first glance, but it has a twist: You get to use this app only once. When you select an image from your camera roll or take a shot from within the app, you have 2 hours to make any edits before the image is locked in and closed to changes forevermore. Once you've selected your shot, your work joins One Memento's growing database, which will cap out at 250,000 photos from various users. Wondering what the point is? Well, the added pressure is supposed to make you think a whole lot more about what you're shooting, how you're composing your shot, and what you'd share with the world if you had only a single photo to work with. This app has a few iffy things to think about: Using it requires you to enter your Twitter username and password, and the terms and conditions give One Memento full royalty-free usage rights for your photo. You can also import existing photos from your camera roll, which sort of defeats the purpose of the whole "you're on the clock" concept.