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5 high-end special effects to spruce up your iPhone shots

Dave Johnson | Aug. 20, 2013
How to achieve eye-popping special effects on your camera phone, from tilt shift to color splash.

In the rivalry between digital-camera and smartphone-camera shooting, traditionalists like to say that you still need a digital SLR and Photoshop for certain kinds of effects, such as splash color, tilt shift, and other advanced tricks that were generally impossible to do natively on a phone.

Well, so much for that argument. Thanks to an assortment of clever iPhone apps, you can now achieve all sorts of eye-popping effects that until recently required a high-end PC-based photo-editing package. Here's a roundup of the coolest effects that you can achieve with an iPhone, and the apps that will make them possible.

Lytro-inspired adjustable focus
You might have heard about the Lytro camera. Like something out of science fiction, it takes pictures in which you can change focus after they're taken. You just tap the background, for instance, and it snaps into focus. Tap the foreground, and that comes into focus, blurring the background again.

With FocusTwist, though, you can get essentially the same effect with your iPhone for $2. Instead of taking one photo, which captures many focal points simultaneously (like the Lytro does), FocusTwist takes a series of photos, each with a different focus, over several seconds—so you'll need to steady the phone against something for the best results. You can then tap around within the image on the screen to see different perspectives of the same scene. You can share the photos as well—the images are hosted on FocusTwist's website, where the image viewer lets people play with the focus on their own (it works best in Firefox and Chrome).

Splash color
Now something of a photographic trope, splash color photos are strangely compelling. Any time you see a photo that's mostly black and white with just one element in full color— imagine a bright red apple sitting in a still life photo that's otherwise a completely de-saturated gray—that's splash color. In olden times, creating such a scene required painstaking work with Photoshop layers and masks. Now, you can do it in seconds on your phone.

One of the best splash color apps is called, appropriately enough, Color Splash ($1). You can open a photo from your camera roll or shoot a new image within the app. The photo appears entirely in gray, and you can use an adjustable brush to indicate where you want to add the color back in. It's easy to do and the results are far better than you'd expect from a smartphone app.

Miniature-like Tilt Shift
Tilt shift gets its name from the fancy, articulated lenses used by pros to change the perspective in a photo. Using a tilt shift lens, you can make an ordinary scene look like it's a miniature—homes becomes dollhouses, vehicles become toys—thanks largely to the unusual depth of field these lenses produce.


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