Who says the iPad wasn't meant for creation? Sure, you can't exactly run Final Cut Pro or Adobe InDesign on Apple's tablet (nor would you really want to), but the device has come a long way since 2010. One category of apps that demonstrates the iPad's creative prowess is its growing selection of photo-editing software.
Indeed, there are now a ton of apps that let you manipulate images on your iPad with no shortage of vintage filters, quirky effects and single-purpose gimmick apps. Those can be fun, but we wanted to focus on the super-popular, fully-featured editing apps that seem best to supplant desktop options for some users.
Let's be honest. You're probably not going to walk around town holding up your iPad to take photos. If you do, we assure you that you'll look ridiculous doing it. It's also unnecessary. With syncing options like Photo Stream and Dropbox and the camera-connecting accessories available for iPad, you're free to snap photos on a more appropriate device and then access them on your iPad, where the editing experience keeps getting more and more delightful.
To anybody who's accustomed to just about any digital photo editing software, Process will seem a bit unconventional. That's because the usual on-screen conventions for editing photos have been abandoned in favor of a system in which changes are made by adding "Processes" to the image. All the standard adjustments you'd likely make to an image – blur, brightness, contrast, curves, highlights, etc. – are each available as a preset called a Process, which once applied, can be adjusted manually.
Process has its limitations. You can only apply edits, effects and filters to the entire image and can't drill down, use brushes or tweak individual details. It's not the most capable app out there, but it has an incredibly simple interface, making it a breeze for pretty much anyone to use.
PROS: Super-simple UI, intuitive controls and commonly-needed adjustments.
CONS: Limited functionality.
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4. Photo Forge 2
If you're looking for a more Photoshop-esque editing experience, Photoforge 2 is a solid choice. It's popular among professional photographers who need a mobile solution for quick edits. In addition to all the typical photo adjustments like color balance, curves, contrast and the like, Photo Forge lets you add Instagram-style effects and simulate specific lenses, film types and processing techniques. Unlike most iOS photo editing apps, this one supports layers like those popularized by Photoshop on the desktop years ago.
Photo Forge 2 is rather powerful, but all those features are packed into an interface that's anything but intimidating. It's a cleanly designed interface with intuitive controls.
PROS: Feature-packed, supports layers, masking and high-res photographs. Upload photos via FTP.
CONS: Occasional performance issues reported by some users.
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Everybody loves SnapSeed. It has one of the highest ratings among photo apps in iTunes and constantly gets rave reviews. It's very good. Its super-simplified interface and grid of common adjustment options is reminiscent of Process, but with far more capability and granularity packed into each option.
SnapSeed's touch gesture-based functionality takes full advantage of the iPad's form factor, desktop editing conventions be damned. Swipe your finger up and down to select the type of adjustment you want to make, then slide across the image to the left or right to tweak its intensity. You can even make selective adjustments that target only one part of the photo and blend it seamlessly with the rest of the image. Stuff like this can get pretty tedious to try and pull off in Photoshop.
Like Process, SnapSeed doesn't give you total control, but what it does give you is enough to generate some stunning images.
PROS: Intuitive, touch-based editing, selective adjustments and no price tag.
CONS: Not a fully-featured photo-editing app. It has its limitations.
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2. Adobe Photoshop Touch
For awhile there, it looked like Adobe had given up on mobile photo editing, as app after app one-upped its underwhelming Photoshop Express app. Then it launched Photoshop Touch.
Photoshop Touch brings many of the desktop's apps most useful features to a more minimalist, easy-to-learn interface on the iPad. It's no CS6, but Photoshop Touch supports such desktop staples as layers, the magic wand tool, the paint brush, clone stamp, text, gradients and a range of filters. That's all in addition to standard stuff like saturation, brightness/contrast, color balance and noise reduction.
Realizing how unlikely you are to hold up your iPad to take photos like a goofball, Adobe went beyond the device's local Camera Roll and integrated Photoshop Touch with Google Image Search, Facebook and its own Creative Cloud.
PROS: Familiar Photoshop interface, but more simplified and intuitive. Integration with Facebook and other photo sources. Built-in tutorials.
CONS: Typography options could be better. FTP export would be a plus for pros.
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Photogene is another app that often gets a nod from professional photographers. It's easy to see why. Like Photoshop Touch and Photo Forge, Photogene is a feature-packed app that supports the kind of workflow that pros need to tone, resize and adjust their photos. And again, like those apps, it's easy to use and reasonably priced.
Of all the pro-level iPad photo-editing apps, Photogene seems to have packed the most options in. Unlike Photoshop Touch, Photogene doesn't support layers or making granular selections within an image, but it more than makes up for those shortcomings with a huge selection of manual and preset editing options. You can do the one-size-fits-all Instagram-style filter or make modifications manually. Photogene lets you FTP images to a server, which will allow it to fit into the workflow of pros on the go.
PROS: A wide range of adjustments, filters, effects, presets and export options, including FTP.
CONS: No layers
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Other Noteworthy Options
There are plenty of other options. Apple's iPhoto and Aviary's iPad app (which is free) both deserve serious consideration by anybody who wants to edit photos on their tablet. Luminance and Gridditor are worthy of the hype they've received recently as well.
Which iPad photo-editing app is best for you? It depends on how serious of a photographer you are, how much control you want, and how much you're willing to pay for an app. Photogene, Photoshop Touch and Photo Forge 2 are good enough to work for pros (most of whom will undoubtedly still turn to the desktop for serious editing needs), but all of the above options are accessible enough to be used by beginners.
Lead photo by Flickr user nayukim.