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There’s one thing to be said for Instagram: it got us all into a photo-editing craze. Not that editing photos is anything new, but with Instagram in the picture, everyone wants to be editing photos on their smartphones, and if possible, not using those same old Instagram filters everyone else does.
Editing photos on your smartphone is possible, but it’s not always easy. Many apps are too complicated and cumbersome, (e.g., Photoshop Express), some are good but a bit expensive (e.g., the $5 Photoshop Touch) and others, as would happen in a store full of apps, are just not up to par.
I’m not saying there aren’t any good apps out there. My go-to photo editor, Snapseed, is both free and extremely good, and Aviary is another great option for budding photo editors. But is that all there is? I was inclined to think so, when I came across Handy Photo (Google Play/iTunes). For $2, and with an average of 4.4 in the Play Store, Handy Photo sure looked promising. But is it really as good as it sounds?
Note: Handy Photo is available for both Android and iOS. I tested the app on a Nexus 4 running Android 4.2.2.
Handy Photo: In A Nutshell
Like good beer or excellent coffee, Handy Photo is an acquired taste. No, the app is not bitter when you first try it, it’s simply confusing. At first this might tempt you to think the app is no good — it sure had that effect on me — but don’t let the unusual interface fool you: This is not your run-of-the-mill photo editor. This is something better.
Unlike “regular” photo editors like Snapseed, Aviary, and even Instagram, Handy Photo doesn’t stick to the old “picture on the top tools on the bottom” scheme. Your main tools are found on the top right wheel, with additional tools appearing on bottom left or right wheels, and sometimes on a right bar too. This comes in addition to several static buttons that reside on the top left. Sounds confusing? It is, but only at first.
If at any time while editing you find yourself bewildered as to what to do next or how to use a certain tool, tap the ever-present question mark button. This will open a short tutorial specific to the tool you’re currently on, showing you exactly how to use it. Some tools almost require referring to the tutorial to figure out how they work, at least on the first time.
I’ll say again, I know the app looks confusing, but trust me, give it 10 minutes, and you’re not going to want to put it down. Not sure yet? Here are some examples of what this app can do.
Editing Photos: Step By Step
While I’m not going to be able to show you every little thing Handy Photo can do, I will take you through my first ever editing spree using Handy Photo, which showcases most of the app’s prominent features. This was what I started with:
In my case, I didn’t want to crop my photo, but Handy Photo does come with a powerful cropping tool which also offers something calls “uncropping”. This lets you expand your original image beyond its actual size. Handy Photo does this my duplicating and filling in the missing parts, and as you can expect, results will vary.
After cropping, it’s time for the Tone & Color tool. Here you can play with such factors as brightness, saturation, warmth, contrast, and sharpness. The workflow is similar to Snapseed: choose what you want to toggle and slide your finger on the screen to increase and decrease its intensity. Rotate the tool wheel to reveal more options.
On to the Retouch tool! The Retouch tool lets you remove objects from the photo. Simply mark the item you want to remove using the lasso or brush (more brush controls will appear on the right)…
And tap it to remove it. It’s magic! Especially if you do a good job marking your object. I did have to go over my table again to get the result below, marking only the table itself this time.
Next, the Clone Stamp tool is handy for when you want to copy patterns or items over and over again. This can be useful, for example, to color the entire ground in my photo with orange leaves. Here too, you can control brush size, stamp smoothness, and more.
Remember the table I removed? I changed my mind about it, and decided it’s going to be perfect in the photo after all, but only if I can get it to the other side. This is where the Move Me tool comes in. Using the same brush or lasso, mark the object you want to move, at which time you can simply pick it up and start playing with it.
Aside from changing its size and rotating it, you can also change its opacity, saturation and edge smoothness, copy it so you have more than one, blend it with its new background, move it to a different picture altogether, and more. This is a truly powerful tool, and lots of fun to play with.
All this, and we haven’t even looked at filters, textures and frames yet! Trust me when I say there are lots of them, some of which are pretty unique. Not only that, you can customize each filter or frame to perfection, so choosing a filter is only the beginning. The texture tool is especially cool, offering fine-tuned control over the actual grain of the photo.
The Killer Feature — Don’t Miss This!
We’ve been through almost every tool Handy Photo has to offer, and yet the killer feature is one I haven’t mentioned yet: versioning.
Yes, you heard right. Not only can you tap a button at any time to glimpse your original photo, the clock icon can roll back to all previous versions of your photo as well. So if you’ve made 7 changes, and decided you want to go back to the version you had after just the first two, this is very easy to do. The arrow buttons on top are actually undo and redo buttons, and work much more than once. Meaning, you can undo and undo and undo and undo, until you reach your original photo.
Handy Photo‘s only real drawback is its learning curve. Had it not had an impressive 4.4 average on Google Play, I might have given up after a minute or two. Boy, am I glad I didn’t. All it’s going to take you to master this app is a 10-minute playing session with all the tools. Once you get the main idea of tools wheels and how to use them, you’ll forget this interface was ever confusing.
Handy Photo’s developers had a challenge. They wanted to pack the app full of features, while making it easy enough for anyone to use. And believe me, if I managed to perform the feats you’ve seen above, they must be doing something right. Yes, it costs $2, but it’s the best photo-editing app you’re going to have on your phone.
Know of an even better photo-editing app? Want to share your experience with Handy Photo? Tell us all in the comments!