Best photography apps for Instagram

Best photography apps for Instagram

Filter away

Text: Norman Tan

Image: Instagram | @musingmutley

Ever been on Instagram and thought, "How did they get that effect?" Well, chances are, they used one of these photo apps

After road-testing a whole bunch of image-enhancing apps — spending countless hours tweaking saturation, fussing over contrast and, of course, agonising over filters — here are our top five favourite photography apps to turn your snaps into Instagram gold. Why? Because, as we all know, it didn't really happen unless it's on social media. Warning: Narcissistic shots below.

1. Union

Perfect for combining two or more images to create a mind-blowing pastiche. Choose a background image from your library (or take a photo) and then choose a foreground image to overlay on top. The masking tool allows you to erase unwanted details in the foreground layer as well as determine opacity. Pro tip: Zoom down to the pixel to make editing super fine and sharp. 

Best for: Creating interesting juxtapositions.
In the image below: I've overlayed a building (taken from the free archive of images on available on the app — yes, free!) onto a backdrop of towering palms. Both images at full opacity.

Instagram | @musingmutley using Union (Norman Tan)


Sure, just about every photo app has a black-and-white filter, but if you want the crisp lines and beautiful tone found in analog photo film, nothing beats BLACK. It comes with 11 stunning presets — favourites include Greyscale and P400 — and also allows you to adjust fade, vignette and, most impressively, curves. Super easy to use and guaranteed to be one of your favourites.

Best for: Highlighting the silhouette of objects and gradiation of light in an image.
In the image below: I opted for filter P400, adjusted the curves to darken the background, and increased highlights in order to underscore the tea cup and saucer. Also bumped up clarity for more definition.

Instagram | @musingmutley using BLACK (Norman Tan)

3. Afterlight

The go-to app for hipster-approved filters of the great outdoors. Boasting a diverse array of presets ('option paralysis' is real) you'll find everything from dreamy and desaturated (try Rainier, Captain or Glacier) to warm and rich filters (for example, Elm and Olive). But the most impressive feature? The option of adding light leaks and dusty patinas. 

Best for: Making your life look really awesome so as to induce FOMO.
In the image below: I'm in New Zealand and trying to walk and laugh at the same time. No mean feat. Went with the Glacier filter (quelle surprise!) and added light leaks (most obvious on the left of the picture) to make it look super legit.

Instagram | @musingmutley using Afterlight (Norman Tan)

4. Enlight

This is the mother of all photography apps for your smartphone. In addition to a large bank of filters (analog, black-and-white, as well as Duo that lets you add two presets to one image) it provides Photoshop-like tools (such as Reshape, Heal, and Mixer that lets you combine multiple layers), and also allows you to add text and decals (our favourite is the meme creation option). But for something really artistic, check out the Painting, Urban and Sketch tools.  

Best for: Just about everything, including erasing pesky photobombers. 
In the image below: Decided to turn an otherwise ordinary top-down into a graphic piece of art. Go to Artistic > Sketch > 2B Vary. 

Instagram | @musingmutley using Enlight (Norman Tan)

5. VSCO Cam

The long-reigning image-enhancing app favoured by photographers and wannabe photographers alike — I mean, it has its own community (check out the Grid) and hashtag (#vscocam with over 124 million posts). Favourite filters include: M6 and S1 for a washed out #ootd ; F2 and T2 when you want to amp up the fade and play with shadows; and A5 for top-down coffee shots to accentuate colour and texture. 

Best for: Annoying the crap out of real photographers.
In the image below: I've found yet another blank white wall (yes!) and flicked on M6 (because I like how it desaturates my denim jacket), dropped contrast and temperature to -3, bumped up highlights to +5, and pushed fade to +3.     

Instagram | @musingmutley using VSCO (Norman Tan)

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All images taken with the Apple iPhone 6.
The above photo apps are available for download on the App Store.