With smartphone cameras improving all the time, the photographic possibilities offered by your mobile device have never been greater. But it’s not just new hardware that can help you create amazing images.
Photo software is getting more and more sophisticated and intelligent, as you can see in our rundown of the . But time doesn’t stand still, so below we’ve brought together 10 new apps for 2016 that can help boost your photographic powers. And best of all, they’re all completely free.
Have we missed out your favourite free photo app of 2016? Then please share it with the community in the comments below.
01. Cardboard Camera
Cardboard Camera is a free photo app from Google for iOS and Android. It lets you take what it calls “VR photos”; essentially 3D panoramas that rotate through 360 degrees. You can view these photos using the Google Cardboard viewer, or a similar phone-based VR headset.
To use it, you just open up the app, tap the Capture button and then move your device around in a full 360-degree circle. Cardboard Camera also lets you record sound while you’re taking your VR photo, and makes it easy to share it with friends.
02. Polaroid Swing
Another app expanding our definition of what a ‘photo’ can be, Polaroid Swing was launched as a partnership between Polaroid and Twitter founder Biz Stone. It essentially takes a succession of 60 rapid-fire photos in a single second, then stitches them together into a single frame to create a ‘moving photo’.
This enables you to advance or reverse time as you view the image by dragging your finger across the screen, or by tilting your phone from side to side.
The effect is similar, then, to Apple’s Live Photos or Instagram’s Boomerang, but transitioning between frames in much smoother than with either app. Polaroid Swing is available free for iOS and an Android version is apparently “on its way”.
Film and digital photography functions have long been criticised for a bias towards lighter skin tones, which means people with darker skin colours end up appearing “washed out”. In the modern era, Instagram filters have attracted much the same criticism.
So at a Vox Media hackathon this year, a team of developers, including three black women, created Tonr. This desktop photo app features 10 filters that amplify a variety of darker skin tones rather than washing them out.
"The goal of Tonr is to create filters that affirm that black, brown and other skin tones are beautiful," it they say. "We looked toward deepening the subjects' skin instead of lightening, emphasising the richness and saturation of melanin and playing with interesting colour overlays." The software is open source, so anyone can add a filter to help build up the toolkit on offer.
04. Microsoft Pix
Launched for iPhone and iPad (with an Android version on the way), this free app from Microsoft uses artificial intelligence to improve your shots of people.
When you take a photo, Pix captures 10 frames and evaluates each of them, analysing everything from sharpness and exposure to whether the subject looks happy or sad. It then presents you with what it thinks are the three best images.
Then, before the remaining frames are deleted, the app uses data from the entire burst to remove noise, brighten faces, beautify skin and adjust for colour and tone.
05. Kodak Moments
Even though Kodak no longer makes cameras or photographic film, the phrase ‘Kodak Moment’ has lived on in the popular imagination. So this year the company launched a new image sharing app with the same name, which has been dubbed ‘the Medium of photos’.
The idea is that while most photo sharing platforms are full of noise, this free app for iOS and Android lets you focus on those few images that capture something special.
With a clean and minimal design, the app allows you to post, share and edit your pictures in fairly predictable ways. But the key feature is the elegant manner in which you can create stories beneath each photo. In short, this is more an app for carefully curating your favourites than for posting a dozen random selfies every five minutes.
Flag is a free app for iPhone and iPad that allows you to get up to 20 free 4x6 prints of your photos each month. If that sounds too good to be true, then get this: delivery is also free, and nor is a credit card required.
So what’s the catch? Advertisers like Squarespace and Visa are paying Flag to print ads on the back of each photo, which is certainly something we’d be happy to put up with.
Ads are targeted based on information like the image’s EXIF data, your location and even the contents of the photo. The company stresses, however, that advertisers themselves have no access to any of this information, as “that would be creepy”.
Prisma is a free app for iOS and Android that transforms your photos to look like the work of famous painters, such as Van Gogh, Munch, Mondrian and Picasso.
Unlike similar apps, which simply slap a basic filter on top, Prisma’s uses a combination of artificial intelligence and neural networks to completely ‘repaint’ your image from the ground up, and the results are pretty astounding.
A video and virtual reality version of the app is also currently under development.
08. Motion Stills
As we alluded to earlier, Apple’s Live Photos feature adds a small amount of movement and sound to your images in a way that can be very effective, but often ends up being a big old shaky mess. We’re not sure why rival company Google wanted to help with this, but help they have, in the form of the free Motion Stills app for iOS.
Motion Stills basically goes through your Live Photos, turns them into more stable images, and converts them into regular GIFs, which are much easier to share or post online. A recent update allows you to add text, too.
09. DJI+ Discover
Drone imagery is one of the newest fields in photography right now, so it makes sense that drone maker DJI has launched a social network for drone photographers, companies and clients. The free DJI+ Discover app for iOS and Android highlights photographers, flying hotspots, geo-tagged photos, stores and events in your area, plus there’s a forum in which drone users worldwide can swap tips, stories and advice.
As the name suggests, Foodie is a camera app to help you take better photographs of food. Made in Japan, where snapping your meals is a national sport, the free app is available for and . It includes 24 filters for specific food types, including meat, sushi and cakes, and the ‘best angle’ feature indicates when the camera is positioned horizontally over the plate.