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We Tested the Most Creative Photo Editing Apps — Here are the Results

Being a photographer stuck at home on lockdown means getting creative.

In search of ways to stay inspired and make the most of the gear we've got, we decided to test out some of the photo editing apps photographers like best.

With budgets tight and shops closed down, it feels like the perfect time to see what kind of magic you can work with what's at hand: your phone.

Our app test results show that you don't need the latest, flashiest phone for great mobile photography. With an interesting subject and a solid editing app, you can squeeze beautiful photos out of almost any old phone.

There are tons of both free and paid photo editing apps out there. But we wanted to try out some of the more unconventional editing options—the apps that feel geared towards photographers seeking unique results.

Armed with her iPhone 7 camera roll, our intrepid test photographer (and Pexels social media guru) Wendy Wei tried out A Color Story, Afterlight, Polarr, and VSCO.

Here's what she thought of these photo editing apps, with a behind-the-scenes look at her edited results.

Before editing with A Color Story: Another day, another coffee, a bit forgettable

After editing with A Color Story: Warm and vibrant tones, you can almost taste the cappuccino

Photo by Wendy Wei · View Photo

A Color Story

The backstory:

A Color Story has quickly become the app of choice among the Instagram influencer set, beloved for its ability to brighten up even the most drab photos. A Color Story takes a fresh approach to photo editing, with filters that enhance the colors of an individual photo, so each edit feels unique.

A quick look at the 2 million+ colorful shots collected in #acolorstory shows off images that feel nicely spruced-up, but not overly edited.

While A Color Story is free, and comes with a solid set of editing tools, many of the filters and tools it offers come as paid extras.

Still, the base app can offer good results, especially for social media, and it's available for both iOS and Android devices.

Wendy's take:

Wendy loved the unconventional filters that this app offers, which lend a hip and modern look to photos.

A Color Story also features HSL curves and touch tools that allow for precise, customized editing. It's crafted to find the best colors in your photos—key for creating a cohesive Instagram feed.

In fact, A Color Story even has a grid feature that allows you to directly see how your edits fit into your existing feed. All in all, it's a perfect app for touching up shots for your IG, and the results just might be nice enough to share beyond the grid (on Pexels, perhaps?).

Before editing with Afterlight: A beautiful sunset, shot on iPhone

After editing with Afterlight: The same stunning sunset, but with that vintage, shot on 35mm vibe

Photo by Wendy Wei · View Photo

Afterlight

The backstory:

Released in 2019, Afterlight is a newcomer on the photo editor scene. This free photo editing app is available for iOS and Android.

What sets Afterlight apart from other photo editors is its film-inspired tools, which allows you to add grainy analog texture to your phone shots, or even fake a double exposure. It also comes with over 100 filters and loads of interesting textures and overlays.

Of course, Afterlight also lets you adjust curves, saturation, and the other typical tools you'd expect from a photo editor.

Wendy's take:

Wendy loved that Afterlight lets you easily add textures and layers, such as dust and light leaks, to replicate trendy film looks with your phone photos.

While some of the film-inspired editing apps out there are admittedly a bit cheesy, Afterlight's film effects are realistic and fun to play with.

She also appreciated that Afterlight comes with three sets of quick and easy presets that are free and versatile for lots of different editing uses.

Before editing with Polarr: Just potatoes, normal day at the grocery

After editing with Polarr: Not just potatoes! Mystery, atmosphere, shadow

Photo by Wendy Wei · View Photo

Polarr

The backstory:

Launched in 2015, Polarr is an all-purpose, free photo editor with a super-cool vibe. It comes with a plethora of photo editing features designed to appeal to both pros and beginners.

It's conveniently available basically anywhere you'd want to edit photos: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android. This sets it apart from many other free editors which are only available on your phone. If you enjoy the Polarr interface, you can also edit on your desktop and even within our browser.

As with many photo editing apps, the base app is free, and you can pay to access extra features.

Wendy's take:

Just like in a real DSLR camera, Polarr shows your settings and histogram. This can be helpful for seasoned photographers looking for a quick and easy way to edit in-phone.

Polarr comes with lots of fun and unique presets such as 90ʼs modern film, 90ʼs art film, vintage, infrared, and atmosphere, allowing for fast editing.

You can save and share your presets that you make for a streamlined custom editing process.

Before editing with VSCO: Nice shot, feels a bit bland

VSCO

The backstory:

The app that started it all! VSCO is basically the original phone editing app.

Initially released back in 2011 as VSCO Cam, it quickly rose to enduring popularity. In recent years VSCO pulled off the enviable feat of drawing in a whole new generation of young photographers, with "VSCO girl" becoming the definer of a familiar teen aesthetic.

More than an app, VSCO is also a community, where photographers can share their work and connect. As an app, it offers filters, standard editing tools, and an easy-to-use interface.

The VSCO photo editor is free to use, but paid VSCO members get access to more presets, editing tools, and community extras.

Wendy's take:

Wendy notes that VSCO filters are a fan favorite—they're pretty universal and work for any photo. There's a reason this app has survived the test of time. It's simple to use and the results are reliable.

VSCO comes with only a limited amount of customization tools, allowing for basic adjustments. This can be good or bad depending on your photo editing needs.

Beginners are likely to enjoy VSCO due to the ease of use, and more established photogs might also find it a fun option for quick in-phone edits, like those moments where you just need to brighten up a shot before sharing.

The final verdict

While each of these photo editing apps has something fun and unique to offer, Wendy said that Polarr would be her top pick.

Polarr comes with the most free features of these four photo editors, and Wendy also appreciated the ease of editing that the histogram settings offer.

Say Thanks To Wendy Wei
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Written by the Pexels Team · Apr 17

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