Enlight Photofox: Jaw-Dropping iOS Photo Edits

Enlight Photofox – Free on the App Store

There are dozens of great image editors for iOS. However, most of them seem to lean towards the Instagram-filter type of edits that have become so popular over the past few years. That’s fine. I love Instagram filters are much as the next person. But today I discovered an app that does the kind of edits I used to think I could only do on the computer. Enlight Photofox is a full-blown image editor with support for transparency and layers.

When I was in middle school, I started to play around with GIMP, a free, open-source alternative to Photoshop. GIMP is hard to work with, but I remember the huge “aha” moment I had when I finally figured out how layers work. See those two little thumbnails in the upper right corner of the screenshot above? Those are my two layers. I’ve imported two images right on top of each other – two of my favorite pictures from my trip to San Francisco last summer – and I can use transparency to let one photo bleed through the other. Layer-based editing is the gateway that opens the power of professional-grade software like Photoshop.

If you’re looking for a free photo editor that goes beyond filters, look no further. Enlight Photofox is the app that will do the job. ••

Bibliography: I found this app from this App Store article, a great tutorial on how to create a double exposure. Go check it out!

Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!


My Tech Changes in 2015

If I’m being honest, 2015 was a really good year.  Graduating high school is always a plus, and I’m loving college.  2015 was also a good year in the technology department for me.  Looking back, there’s been a lot of changes to the devices and apps that I use on a daily basis.  Here are the biggest three.

First up, I finally got an iPhone!  I’ve had an iPod Touch since 7th grade, but I didn’t get an iPhone until just last January.  My iPhone is the device I use most often, for the most things, and it’s absolutely an integral part of my life (maybe a little too integral, if I’m still being honest).  It’s so nice to not have to carry around two devices anymore (a dumb phone and an iPod), and obviously it’s also nice to have a data plan.  Getting an iPhone was definitely the biggest tech event of the year for me, and I’m still loving it.

Next up was photos.  iCloud Photo Library launched way back in October 2014, but, to me at least, it wasn’t useful until Photos for Mac happened last April.  iCloud Photo Library is really great; it’s so nice to just have the Photos app sync on all my devices, instead of having a Photos app full of photos from that device and another app full of Dropbox photos.  Not only that, but Photos for Mac has great support for facial detection, geotagging, and smart albums, so all in all it’s just a great way to organize all my photos.  Thanks to Apple upping their iCloud pricing tiers, I’m still only paying 99¢/month, and I now get 50 gb.  Totally worth it.

Finally, Apple Music launched last June!  I discovered Spotify in December 2014, and I used it religiously for the first half of 2015.  However, when Apple Music came out, I just had to try it.  After the three month free trial, my family decided to keep paying for it.  We ended up on Apple Music mostly because the family plan is actually usable (unlike Spotify’s), but in generally I’m happy with Apple Music.  Since honesty is, apparently, a theme in this post, Apple Music still has a long way to go to be as good as Spotify.  Frankly, Apple Music is still pretty buggy.  However, there are things about Apple Music that are better than Spotify will ever be, like built in Siri support.  Being able to use Siri to control music in the car is definitely my favorite feature of Apple Music.  And as far as the bugs go, I have confidence that Apple will continue to fix those too.  I’ll be patient.

So that’s my 2015 technology year in review.  As I said, it’s been a good year.  What’s your year been like?  Get any cool new gadgets?  Find that perfect cloud service that you’d always hoped existed?  Let me know what kinds of tech you love in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @NickFoster56.  Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!  ••

May App Review: Hyperlapse

App: Hyperlapse
Developer: Instagram
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS

I told you we’d get to this eventually!  As promised (midway through my epic-two-part-near-2000-word write up of iCloud Photo Library and Photos for Mac), this week I’m going to do May’s app review.  This month I’ve chosen to review Hyperlapse, a time-lapse video app made by Instagram.

Hyperlapse has a simple, intuitive design.  Open up the app and you’re greeted with only two buttons: record and switch camera (“selfielapse,” they call it).  The rest of the app is equally simple.  After pressing record, you’ll see a timer that shows you how long the video is in normal time, as well as how long the time-lapse will be (based on a speed of 6x).  Ending the recording allows you to chose the speed (any multiple of 2 from 2x to 12x, as well as 1x).  When you’re done, you can save the video to your camera roll, and then share it.  You can also chose to “Edit later,” which adds a third button to the main screen to access your drafts.

But wait a second: doesn’t the stock camera app in iOS already have a time-lapse setting?  It does, and it works fine.  However, there are two reasons why Hyperlapse is better.

First is the variable speed setting.  The stock camera app seems to use a 15x speed setting (although it doesn’t actually tell you what it is), which is really, really fast.  Hyperlapse’s default setting is 6x, which usually looks really good (8x is another good choice).  However, Hyperlapse also gives you the option to go as fast as 12x or as slow as 2x.  I like having this extra control.

The second reason Hyperlapse is better is an interesting one.  Hyperlapse is actually doing image stabilization in real time as you’re recording.  This means that time-lapses (which tend to really show off shaking filming) will look smoother in Hyperlapse.  I don’t know much about photography, but apparently it’s also really impressive that it’s doing this as you film, without requiring any extra processing time.  However, there’s one more reason this feature is super cool.  You can record a video in Hyperlapse, then save it at 1x, and it’s like using a steadicam!  Obviously, it’s not quite as good as a real steadicam, but it can give you a little bit of stabilization with no extra effort – all you have to do is record the video.  Pretty neat!

One more thing: Hyperlapse only saves videos in 720p resolution, and not 1080p.  I’m actually OK with this.  I think that 1080p is a little unnecessary for simple home videos; 720p looks fine and doesn’t take up quite so much space.

As you can see, Hyperlapse is a really cool app.  It’s extremely simple, but it adds just a couple key features that are super useful, not to mention missing in the stock camera app.  Time-lapse is a lot of fun, both to film and to watch, and I highly recommend that you try this app out.  Below is the full Hyperlapse of the fooseball game going on in the screenshots above, saved at 6x speed.  But enough about me – I’d love to see what you make with this app.  Send me a link on Twitter or in the comments below.  Enjoy!  ••

Photos Saga Part 2: Photos for Mac

In my post last week, I talked about how I moved all my photos over from Dropbox to iCloud Photo Library.  What got me started on that topic, however, was the new Photos for Mac app.  As I said last week, Photos for Mac had been announced at WWDC last summer, but didn’t actually come out until just a few weeks ago.  After talking about iCloud Photo Library last week, I’m finally ready to talk about Photos for Mac.  There are some problems with the app, which will hopefully be fixed in future updates (is is, after all, version 1.0).  On the whole, though, it works really well, and I’m excited about it.

Open up Photos for Mac and the first tab you see at the top is the Photos tab.  If you’ve used photos on an iOS 7 device, this view will look very familiar.  All photos are shown, in reverse chronological order, divided into “moments” just like on iOS.  Also like iOS (that phrase is the key to this post), this is meant to be the main screen in photos, and it basically does what it promises.  No complaints here.

I’m going to skip next to the third tab at the top, Albums.  Albums is a much more complicated view, but I like the way it works.  At the top of the screen are several auto-generated albums.  This includes “All Photos” (similar to moments but not divided up by time), as well as “Panoramas,” “Videos,” “Slow-mo,” and so on.  This is a nice way to group photos of a particular kind.  Beneath these are the user-created albums.  These include regular albums and smart albums.  Regular albums are just what you’d expect, a collection of photos that you’ve put together.  These albums sync to all your devices over iCloud.  Smart albums automatically include all photos that fit a set of criteria, say, “Date is 4/29/15” and “Camera Model is iPhone 5s.”  Smart albums are great for organizing lots of photos; for example, I have a screenshots album that includes all files with “.png” in the name.  What’s frustrating, though, is that smart albums don’t sync over iCloud, so you can’t view them on iOS.  (Oddly enough, you actually can see them in a browser on iCloud.com.  What the heck?)

Another section of the Albums screen is Faces.  This allows you to tag the faces in your pictures, Facebook style.  To start, click on one of the detected faces at the bottom, and then type in a name.  Photos then shows you a group of pictures and asks you to confirm which ones are of the same person.  As you go, Photos also automatically adds faces that it’s (apparently) more sure about.  This is a cool way to organize photos, but, like smart albums, you won’t be able to view them on your iOS devices.  Another organization feature that has issues is geotagging.  Photos for Mac will let you see photo geotags, but you can’t add them manually.  This seems ridiculous, why should I have to use another app to do that?  The other thing that’s annoying is there’s no master photo map to see geotags; the only way (that I know of) to see a map is to go a photo’s moment and click the location there.  This then pulls up a map of the location.  You can zoom out in moments to see “collections” or “years” and then view a map of that group (which is much larger), but this still seems odd.  I feel like there should be a “Map” option from the albums screen.

Now I can finally get to the second tab at the top of Photos: Sharing.  iCloud Photo Sharing has been around for a few years now, and from what I can tell, it hasn’t been updated in a few either.  iCloud Photo Sharing has obviously been designed for a pre-iCloud Photo Library world.  Here’s how it works: when you share photos, they begin uploading into a shared album.  They stay there forever, and they don’t count against your iCloud storage.  Basically, they operate entirely separately from your iCloud Photo Library!  This really needs to be updated.  After going on that backpacking trip a few weeks ago, I wanted to share some photos.  However, even though they had already uploaded to my iCloud Photo Library, I had to wait for them to reupload to iCloud Photo Sharing!  This is ridiculous.  If I want to share files that are already in Dropbox, the process of creating a link is instantaneous.  Apple really needs to work on reconciling iCloud Photo Library and Photo Sharing to work better together.

The final tab of Photos for Mac is Projects, which allows you to create and order prints, photo books, cards, and other items, Shutterfly-style.  This is a neat feature, but I don’t see myself using it much.

The last thing I want to talk about is Windows support.  There is no Photos app for Windows, so you can only see your photos in a native app on iOS and OS X.  You can, however, view your photos in a browser on Windows by going to iCloud.com.  This works well enough, but it’s a little slow.  Also, you can’t view shared albums on Windows at all.  This is odd; it seems like allowing iCloud Photo Sharing on Windows would actually drive customers to the Mac.

I think that about wraps it up.  Photos for Mac is miles ahead of what I had before, and so far I’m super happy with it.  I hope that Apple will continue to improve both the app and iCloud Photo Library as time goes on.  Apple seems to be serious about wanting to be the home for your photos, and if they keep it up, I think they just might succeed.  ••

Photos Saga Part 1: iCloud Photo Library

The wait is over – Photos for Mac is here!  Ever since I found out at WWDC last summer that there would be a new Photos app for the Mac, I couldn’t wait for it.  I don’t have iPhoto, and I was trying (and failing) to find a reason to pay $15 for it (I didn’t get it free with my Mac because I bought the Mac used), so the idea of a free app got me excited.  I was also excited about the fact that Apple was going to pre-install it on every Mac with the OS X Yosemite update.  This put Photos for the Mac on a level plane with Photos for iOS, which made so much sense.  Unfortunately, we learned at WWDC that Photos for Mac wasn’t going to come until “early 2015.”  So basically, I’ve been waiting almost a year for this.

Photos for Mac is actually just a part of a bunch of new features centered around photos from Apple this past year.  It started with iCloud Photo Library, which launched in beta last fall with iOS 8.  I tried iCloud Photo Library briefly at the time, but it was a little buggy (it was a beta, after all), and it seemed kind of useless without a Mac app.  So I decided to wait, keeping my photos in Dropbox for the time being (see my posts on Carousel and Dropbox vs. Microsoft OneDrive).  Carousel is pretty good, but I hated having discrepancies between my main Carousel photo library and the photo library in the Photos app on iOS.  What I really wanted was photo cloud storage that tied into an official Apple Photos app, both on the Mac and iOS.

So when Photos launched earlier this month and iCloud Photo Library came out of beta, I was super excited.  I immediately got ready to move my photos to iCloud.  I have just under 8gb of space in Dropbox that I’ve earned over time.  I was using about 5.5gb for about 15 months’ worth of photos (I don’t keep the videos in Dropbox – since they’re all 1080p there just isn’t room, and I care more about the photos anyway).  In iCloud, you start with 5gb of storage, but I was already using about 2gb for device backups.  Fortunately, you can upgrade to 20gb of iCloud space for only $0.99/month.  The larger iCloud storage plans are priced way higher than Dropbox, but I really like this super-entry level tier.  It should give me plenty of space for a few years to come.

Having upgraded my plan, I went ahead and imported all my photos into the Photos app on the Mac.  As I said, I’d been curating my photos library in Dropbox, making sure everything was there, and not worrying as much about the photos stored locally on my iOS devices.  So basically, what I wanted to do was just import my single Camera Uploads folder in the Photos app.  To avoid duplicates, I first deleted all the photos off of my iPhone and iPad.  Then I copied my Camera Uploads folder (leaving the original intact for safekeeping) and imported it into the Photos app on my Mac.  I had just under 3000 photos in Dropbox, so it took a few minutes, but pretty soon everything had imported and I was ready to go.  Success!

After that, I had to let the photos upload to iCloud.  I left my computer on when I went to church that night (it was a Wednesday), and by the time I got home it was finished, so it took around 2-6 hours.  This brings me to an interesting point about iCloud storage.  On each device that’s signed into your iCloud Photo Library, you have two options.  One is “Download originals to this device,” the other is “Optimize device storage.”  The first option does exactly what it says: it keeps all photos, in full resolution, stored locally in that device’s memory.  The other option is more interesting.  It leaves most of the photos in the cloud, only downloading the recent ones and the ones you look at often.  When you’re scrolling through your library, you won’t notice anything unusual.  However, when you tap on a photo, you’ll see a blurry, low-res shot for a few seconds while the full-resolution one downloads.  This doesn’t take long, and it’s actually pretty seamless.

The point of this is to allow you to keep lots of photos in iCloud, while not eating up your device’s storage.  I really like this feature.  I have my Mac set to download originals (for safekeeping), but I just let my iOS devices pull their photos from the cloud.  So far, it’s been working really well.  There’s just one other implication that comes from this: iCloud Photo Library is all-or-nothing.  You can’t have some photos in your library that are synced to the cloud and some that aren’t; you either use iCloud Photo Library (and pay for however much space you need) or you don’t use it.

I’m going to stop here for this week, since this is already much longer than most of my (already long) posts.  I realize that I haven’t actually talked about the app itself yet, and I apologize, but I felt that this post was necessary first.  The Photos app really is meant to be used with iCloud Photo Library, and I thought that it was interesting enough to merit a whole post.  I’ll be back next week with Part 2 of this post, and I’ll have details on how the Mac app actually works.  Yes, next week should be an app review (though I guess Photos for Mac is technically an app), but I’ll push this month’s (mobile) app review out until the next week.  Stay tuned!  ••

iPhoneography is a Real Thing

Last weekend I went on a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail down here in Georgia.  The weather was perfect, and there wasn’t a lot of fog, so the views were stunning.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my iPhone.  Instead, I had my brother’s old Kodak point and shoot from circa 2008.  It’s a good camera, but for some reason it wasn’t giving me the shots I was looking for on this trip.  It was really disappointing.  I did get some pretty good shots, but the lighting was less than great on some of them.  This got me thinking about the iPhone as a camera – not as a cell phone camera that you use to take awful pictures when you don’t have a good camera, but as a real camera.

Apple claims that people take more pictures every day with the iPhone than they do with any other camera.  They say this is because it “makes it so incredibly easy.”  I couldn’t agree more.  I’m not a photography expert, and I don’t know how to use any advanced photography features, but simple things like photo brightness are so unbelievably straight forward on the iPhone.  To adjust the lighting in a picture, just tap the spot you’d like auto brightness to adjust to.  Still not happy?  Slide your finger up or down a bit to make finer adjustments.  This simplicity is what makes the iPhone such a great camera for normal people like me.  There’s nothing to it – you just tap on what’s important and the phone does the rest.

But what about more professional photographers?  There will always be a place for dedicated cameras, but iOS 8 gave the pros more features as well.  Apple now allows manual control of camera features such as shutter speed and white balance.  These advanced features can’t be used in the stock camera app, but third-party apps like VSCOcam can take full advantage of these manual adjustments.  Again, this doesn’t make the iPhone a professional grade camera, but it does open up a whole new world to amateurs looking to dive a little deeper.

“Now wait a minute,” you might be saying, “doesn’t that Kodak camera also has adjustments like that?”  I’m sure it does.  However, when I’m taking pictures, I’m often looking to get a quick shot and then move on.  I tried mashing a few buttons on the Kodak to bring up some sort of controls, but I got nothing.  This is my point about the iPhone, it’s just so easy.  Now truly anyone can take, if not a fantastic photo, a perfectly good photo, and they can do it with ease. This is not a fact to be taken lightly.

There’s one more thing that’s great about the iPhone’s camera, and that’s the ability to share.  The internet is a fantastic place to share photos, and the easiest way to do this is through our phones (since many photos are already stored on there anyway).  In order to share my backpacking photos, however, I first had to go home and plug the SD card into my laptop.  Then I had to import them and let them sync to iCloud Photo Library (more on that in a future post).  If I had taken these pictures on my iPhone, they would have begun uploading the moment I got back on WiFi.  Sure, they still would have taken a while to load into cloud storage, but at least I could have sent a few pictures to people over iMessage while I was waiting to share the entire album.

These are some of the many reasons why the iPhone is a great camera.  But there’s one more big one: we always have our phones with us.  I am a person who believes that more photos is a good thing.  Sure, sometimes the good photos get buried in all the junk, but I know that I have often gotten great memories from a shot I took on a whim.  Plus, it’s quicker to pull a phone out of a pocket than to retrieve a point and shoot from a backpack.  This means that I can get shots that I otherwise would have missed completely.  The iPhone is definitely a revolutionary camera.  I for one hope it continues to be.  ••

Ok, so I got some good photos on this trip

OK, so I got some good photos on this trip

August App Review: Aviary

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2014

App: Aviary Photo Editor
Developer: Aviary Inc.
Price: Free
Platform: iOS, Android

Photos are becoming a larger and larger part of the web.  Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – we love to take and share photos.  Photo editing used to just be for photographers, but with the rise of services like Instagram (famous for its filters), people have discovered how much fun it is to be creative with their photos.  Aviary delivers traditional editing tools (brightness, contrast, and so on) as well as some fun new ones (yes, including filters).

Open the Aviary app and you’re greeted with a grid of all the photos on your device.  Tap a photo and you’re taken immediately to the editor, where you’ll see the photo front and center, with all the tools at the bottom.  The Adjust tool give you the “traditional” tools I mentioned earlier, and the Effects tool gives you filters.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  There are tools for rotating and cropping the photo, as well as a blur tool.  There’s also a draw tool and a text tool for making annotations and captions, and there’s tools for fixing red eye and for whitening areas of the photo.  There are several other tools as well (see images 1 and 2).

The one tool I really want to talk about is the Splash tool (see image 5).  This tool is a ton of fun.  Basically, it makes the photo black and white, then allows you to “draw” the color back in to certain parts of the photo.  There’s even a “Smart Color” tool that gives you the accuracy you lose from a touch screen.  For example, if there’s a blue object next to a red object, the Smart Color tool lets you color the edge of the blue object without coloring the red object.  This tool is really enjoyable to play around with, and you can get some stunning results from it.

When you’re done making edits, you can save the photo to your device, and share the photo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.  There’s even a button to order prints of the photo at Walgreens.

There’s one more feature about Aviary that I want to talk about, and that is their API (Application Programming Interface).  Basically, Aviary has made their entire app available to be embedded into other apps or websites.  For example, when using the PicStich App (a collage making app), you can double tap a photo you’re using and get a full-featured Aviary editor right inside PicStich (see images 8 and 9).  This is really nice that Aviary has allowed other developers to use their software to make apps better.

So get creative!  I’d love to see what kinds of cool photos you guys can make using this app.  Feel free to post a comment with an Instagram or other photo link.  Happy editing!  ••

June App Review: Waterlogue

App: Waterlogue
Developer: Tinrocket
Price: $2.99
Platform: iOS

Just to start off, I want to say something.  I really don’t like paying for software.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t pirate it.  But most of the time, a nice program also has a decent, free alternative.  That being said, I heard about this app on the MacWorld Podcast (which I highly recommend, by the way), and I got really excited about it.  Upon visiting the App Store, however, I discovered that it cost money.  I was disappointed, but my curiosity finally got the better of me.  I’m so glad I spent the $3 for this app. Basically, Waterlogue takes a photo and creates a watercolor painting out of it.  I’m sure people have used computers for this before, but Waterlogue’s images are just gorgeous.  Not only that, but there’s lots of different settings to play around with to tweak the image, and the finished products make great wallpapers.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time writing about Waterlogue and instead let the pictures do the talking.  I will however, outline the basic settings.  There are twelve different color presets in Waterlogue.  Some of these involve changes to standard photo attributes such as contrast, but many settings just change the look of the painting in an Instagram-filter sort of way.  The next setting is the “size” of the watercolor.  Basically this is a detail setting.  Think of it this way: the larger the “canvas,” the more detail in the painting.  There’s also a brightness setting, and a border toggle, which gives the photo a 70s-print border with rounded corners (see photo 3), complete with a little paint that “accidentally” bled into the border.  After choosing your settings and a photo, the app goes to work.  It takes a little while for the painting to complete, but Waterlogue adds a nice touch to this process.  First it shows a paint-by-numbers style outline of the photo’s details.  Then the colors slowly fill in, with really nice animation too (in case you didn’t know, I’m a sucker for software eye candy).  Not happy with the results?  Tweak the settings a bit and try again.  Then just export the painting to the photo library or social media.

Like I said, I don’t like paying for apps, but this app got me excited.  I found myself digging through old pictures in order to find photos that would look good in the app.  In order to get you started, here’s my favorite group of settings: Natural, Large, Darker, No Border.  Have fun!  ••