Looking for filters for pictures on your iPhone? Shake a tree and digital photography apps will cascade down. Every iPhone photo app is packed to the screen edges with filters for your pictures. You can start with the default Photos app on your iPhone and then hunt around for more advanced apps.
But which one will you choose? Your pick may come down to cost. Or you might stick to aesthetics. So let’s look at the in-built Photos app and then some of the best photo filters apps that can make your snaps pop.
How to Use the iPhone’s Photo Filters
The default filters in the iPhone Photos app are some of the easiest to use. You do not have to install another heavy app and wade through menus. The best way to utilize them is the most obvious one: take good photos on your iPhone to begin with.
There are nine in-built styles to choose from, including three subtle effects for black and white buffs. Pick from three types of Vivid, three Dramatic filters, or the B/W effects of Mono, Silvertone, and Noir.
All photo effects are non-destructive. This means that you can replace or remove your chosen filters anytime without harming the original photo. You can apply the photo effects in two ways:
Pick a Filter, Then Take a New Photo
You can choose a filter and then take a snap instead of post-processing the photo. Any filter can be tweaked later since the effect is non-destructive. Choosing a filter before you click a snap can work well with selfies you want to share instantly.
To do this:
- Open the Camera app on your iPhone.
- Tap the icon with three interlocking circles at the top-right to reveal the row of filters.
- Scroll through the filters that show a tiny thumbnail preview of your photo.
- Select a filter, take the photo. and it will save in the iOS Photos app.
Do note that you can also use the Portrait mode and the Depth Control slider to fine-tune the look of your photo. Portrait mode is available on the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, and later. If you’ve got an older phone, take a look at apps that bring Portrait mode to any iPhone.
Pick an Old Photo, Then Apply a Filter
It’s always better to take a photo and then apply the filters. It helps you catch the right moment and retroactively match a filter to the mood of the scene.
- Open the Photos app.
- Select the photo you want to edit from your albums.
- Open the photo and tap Edit. Next, tap the three interlocking circles icon to open the photo filters carousel.
- Tap on each to experiment with the different color effects, or the classic black and white looks like Mono and Silvertone.
- Don’t want to apply a filter? Tap on Cancel > Discard Changes to come back to the original view in the full screen.
- When you like the final effect, choose Done to save the photo to your gallery.
It’s also easy to remove the filter from a photo, since all filters are non-destructive. You can recover the original photo by removing the effect. Open the photo again and give Edit a tap.
Now, you can choose to apply a different filter or tap on Revert in the bottom-right corner. Choose Revert to Original from the popup menu.
What about Live Photos? You can also edit and enhance the look of your Live Photos if you have an iPhone 6S or newer.
How to Use Comic Book Filters in the Messages App
Want to add a cartoon effect or a watercolor look to your selfie or any other photo? The iOS Messages app has a few “hidden” tricks tucked away.
The good news is that you can use them on older iPhones too, as long as you have iOS 12. The comic book and watercolor filters are buried inside the Messages app. Here’s how it works:
- Open the Messages app. Start a new conversation or open a current one.
- Tap the Camera icon on the bottom of the message screen to open it.
- Tap the Spirograph-star button in the lower-left corner. The button is visible only in the Photo and Video mode.
- Tap the Filters button (red-green-blue) and display the drawer with the photo filters. Scroll to the right and you will find five photo filters that you won’t find in the Photos app: Comic Book, Comic Mono, Ink, Watercolor and Watercolor Mono.
- Select the filter you like. Close the filters with a tap on the cross. Click the shutter button to take the photo; the snap is saved by default to the Camera Roll.
- Tap the blue arrow button to send it as a message straight away. Or tap the Done button to add it to your text message without sending it.
Remember: The Messages app chooses the front-facing camera by default, but you can reverse it to use the rear camera or even shoot video.
This isn’t a proper photography filter because you have to create a message to use the effects. And you cannot use the filter on an old photo in your Camera Roll. So for a better set of filters for pictures, let’s turn to a few third-party apps.
The Best Filter Apps for Your iPhone Photos
Instagram is one of the easiest tools you can use to add filters. But you should consider that Instagram may not always be the best choice; the same goes for Snapchat. There are better ways to add photo filters and effects.
Here are some third-party photography apps with a creative range of filters.
1. Prisma Photo Editor
Prisma turns your photos into paintings using AI. If you are into these photo effects, you’ll find more than 300 art filters and effects in the library. Plus, a new art filter is released every day.
2. A Color Story
With this app you get free filters to begin with, but the real mother lode is in A Color Story+ (ACS+). This gives you access to more than 300 filters and effects designed by top photographers.
You can buy the filters and effects individually, or take a yearly subscription to grab them all. Plus, you can stack the filters on top of each other as layers to create even more aesthetic effects.
3. Afterlight 2
Afterlight 2 is a full-featured photo editor that supports RAW imports and HEIC exports. Behind the editor, you have a growing library of filters that are color-coded by style. It makes them easier to find among the crowd.
Don’t want to go the whole hog? Use Fusions to create your own custom filters. Touch them up with creative dusty effects and light leaks.
Download: Afterlight 2 for iOS ($3)
This app is backed by a powerful editor that can handle RAW and JPEG with equal ease. A clean interface greets you, then you can check out the 12 free filters to start. The filters are not simple overlays, but instead adjustable presets that you can customize to your liking and save.
The premium filters are available for a price.
Download: Darkroom for iOS (Free, in-app purchases available)
5. RNI Flashback
RNI Flashback is the odd one out in this list. There are no filters; at least not on the surface. But as the video above shows, you just press one button to keep changing the look of the photo.
The photo effects are borrowed from analog film processing and the app tries to recreate the way a color film would react to light.
Download: RNI Flashback for iOS ($4)
Make Better Photos With Filters
Using filters is easy. But it’s all about aesthetics, so think before you apply a filter and share the picture. Your future self will thank you when you capture a mood for posterity’s sake.
If you don’t like these apps for some reason, there are more Instagram alternatives to check out. That includes popular names like VSCO, Snapseed, and Hipstamatic.