12 Stunning iPad Photo Apps

SEPTEMBER 11, 2012

By Henry Anderson

It wasn’t until Apple introduced the third generation iPad that the device shifted from being a media consumption tool to a media creation platform, one powerful enough for photographers to use on a daily basis.

Apple seriously upped the ante with the new iPad (known informally as the iPad 3) by including a significantly faster processor, increased memory and a screen the company refers to as a “Retina” display. The 2048 x 1536 display has enough resolution that the human eye is unable to see pixelation (when viewed at a normal distance). For photographers this is a huge advance: Photos and images on the iPad 3 appear more vibrant than they do on all laptops besides Apple’s (pricey) new MacBook Pro.

Capitalizing on the device’s newfound power and super display, developers have created applications that enable photographers not only to show off their photos but to edit them as well. These Retina display-enabled apps are the best of the breed for photographers, and it’s now possible to import, edit and send images with no need of a laptop.

Here are our 12 favorite photo apps that have been optimized for the new iPad’s Retina display.

Image Editing

Understandably one of the first applications to capitalize on the new display in the iPad 3, Apple’s iPhoto is a powerhouse editor in a minimalist package. At first glance, it looks like little more than an application to view images. But a single touch of the “Edit” button (nonchalantly resting on the toolbar) launches the program’s surprisingly powerful editing tools, most of which are easier to use than Apple’s Mac-based iPhoto.

For example, a crop can be applied either by dragging a finger across a compass-style slider or by positioning a straight-line tool across a known horizontal line. Other classic photo-editing tools such as saturation, dodge/burn and redeye correction can be applied by simply brushing a finger across a photo.

If the minimalist user interface gets confusing (What exactly does a triangle next to a brush mean?) a press of the slowly flashing “Help” button reveals hovering tips that detail the use of each tool. Click the arrow on any of the tips and iPhoto launches an in-app tutorial.

While the tools are clearly designed to appeal to the amateur photographer, their power is on par with commercial-level tools such as Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. This allows photographers to capture images in the field, adjust them and transmit them all within a single app. If you’ve got Apple’s Photo Stream enabled, images in iPhoto will sync with the Mac versions of Aperture and iPhoto. Price: $4.99

An alternative to iPhoto, Snapseed (by veteran developers Nik Software) is a photo editor for the Instagram set. Snapseed provides classic editing tools such as sharpen and straighten, and a variety of enhancements that are more “artistic.” The “Grunge” tool, for example, makes a photo look like it’s been aged (à la Instagram) and the “Frames” tool provides a nice selection of photographic edges familiar to any user of a Photoshop plug-in.

The interface to Snapseed is slightly less intuitive than iPhoto (but arguably more powerful) as it involves a lot of swipes and gestures that lack the ease of simply brushing on an effect with a fingertip. On the other hand, there are more creative options available in Snapseed than most iPad photo-editing apps, many of which were lifted right from Nik Software’s family of plug-ins.

To help new users, the program thoughtfully provides a sample image and a quick user guide to each tool overlaid on the image. Although, in many cases, it’s just easier to play with the tool than to read the instructions for the appropriate swipes and gestures. Price: $4.99

With an awkward and intrusive user interface, Photogene won’t win any design awards, but it’s a powerful and competent image-editing application that makes the most of the Retina display.

The developer has packed as many features into Photogene as possible, so the tools range from the requisite (brightness, contrast) and sublime (an excellent “Healing Brush”) to the questionable (Do I really need a way to put a thought balloon over the head of my subject?).

Still, if you’re looking for an inexpensive photo-editing app that’s got every tool possible, Photogene is the winning candidate as it does everything the previously mentioned apps do (and more) with an interface that while clunky isn’t so unfamiliar as to be confusing. Price: $2.99

SketchBook Pro
While technically an illustration rather than an image-editing app, SketchBook Pro will be familiar to any photographers who’ve worked in Corel’s Painter.

Designed to emulate natural media tools such as brushes and markers, SketchBook Pro is a great app for creating real-world simulated masterpieces. But it’s equally adept at touching up photos, and offers the ability to create photo-montage and “mixed media” pieces in a way that no other iOS app can touch. Price: $1.99

Adobe Photoshop Touch
The most recent (as of this writing) version of Adobe’s flagship tablet app treads a line between supporting Retina display and not. Images themselves can be displayed and edited at up to 2028 x 2400 pixels (though the default setting is lower, so this must be enabled in the preferences), but it doesn’t currently support the Retina display.

That’s a bit of a glaring omission for an application that’s made by the largest and most powerful creative software developer in the market. Nonetheless, we’ve included Photoshop Touch here because it’s not a matter of if the app will get Retina display support, but when.

There’s still much to love in this powerful little application, including the ability to work with up to ten layers per image, a host of editing and correction tools that are familiar to the Photoshop user (and easier to implement with a finger than with a mouse), and the fact that images can be brought in directly from Creative Suite 5 or higher.

Adobe included a number of ways to share images (e-mail PSD or PNG files, upload to Facebook, etc.) and some unique (if questionable) ways to import them. The iPad’s camera can be used to snap a photo for a selection in an image but there’s also a direct Google Images search tool, enabling copyright violation at the tap of a finger.

One of the app’s strongest features is the “Gallery,” a visual sampling of Photoshop techniques with step-by-step instructions to reproduce the effects using Photoshop Touch. Price: $9.99

Portfolio and Presentation

Portfolio Pro
For the photographer (or videographer) looking to use the iPad as a portfolio, Portfolio Pro is one of the most solid choices available.

Developer Nick Kuh takes great pains to promote the “Bespoke Branding” nature of Portfolio Pro, by which he means that the app creates a slide show or presentation that can include a photographer’s logo and branding elements on every page. Match borders and navigation elements to an official corporate color, overlay a logo on each page and embed links to a Web site with ease.

The program is big on features and simplicity of use. With just a few clicks it’s possible to import galleries from Flickr, Dropbox or the iPad’s built-in photo albums. Portfolio Pro can also import images and videos in a variety of formats including JPEG, PNG, TIF, MOV and MP4. The Retina display support means that even when clients zoom into images, they’ll still see every bit of detail in the original photo. Price: $9.99

Apple’s iOS version of its presentation application is only slightly less powerful than the Macintosh version, which is saying a lot since the program runs circles around veteran presentation tools like PowerPoint.

Able to combine high-res images, video, images, text, animations and transitions into a seamless show, Keynote is a stunning way to present a photo story. While it requires more tinkering to make a Keynote presentation than a portfolio using an app like Portfolio Pro, the results can be impressive.

Thanks to the iPad’s ability to run external displays (via an accessory cable) it’s also possible to use Keynote to drive a completely immersive multimedia presentation by connecting it to a projector and a sound system. Price: $9.99

Photo Site Portals

FlickStackr and 500px
For fans of the two most popular photo-sharing sites, Flickr and 500px, there are two must-have applications for the iPad. FlickStackr does one thing—accesses the constant stream of images coming from Flickr—and does it with an interface that’s head and shoulders better than the site itself.

500px’s application likewise accesses the user-curated Web site and does so with the same attention to interface design that has made the site so popular.

For hardcore users of both services, there aren’t really any perfect combo apps that feature support for the Retina display so these separate tools are the best bet. Prices: FlickStackr, $1.99; 500px, free


While Apple’s built-in iCloud support is helpful for users of their in-house iPhoto, it doesn’t do as much good for photographers who store their images on Dropbox or any of a number of other services.

PhotoSync provides wireless transfer between iOS devices, or between an iOS device and a Mac or PC, that’s infinitely better than using a cable and manually dragging files around. The app can be set to transfer images automatically in the background, manually to a drop folder, manually to a helper app for import into Aperture and iPhoto, or via any iOS devices running the app.

PhotoSync can also transfer images to or from Dropbox, Google+, Facebook, SmugMug, 500px, Flickr and many others.

Technically this isn’t a Retina display application since you’re not viewing the images so much as moving them somewhere else. But if you’re using your iPad for editing and displaying, this is an indispensable addition to your app collection. Price: $1.99

News and Media

The Guardian Eyewitness
As the premiere news consumption mobile device, the iPad has seen its share of apps designed to display world-class photos, but none as stunning or as impressive as The Guardian Eyewitness.

Pulled from the pages of the UK’s The Guardian newspaper, Eyewitness started life as the center-spread pages of the magazine, but it’s not a stretch to say that the iPad’s presentation system takes the images to a completely new level.

Each day, users of the free app can browse through the best images in sports, photojournalism and editorial photography, along with full EXIF data and pro tips from the paper’s photographers.

Subscribers to the Premium version have access to additional images chosen by The Guardian’s picture desk and can also view the Eyewitness Series.

In any case, the images in The Guardian Eyewitness are stunning, thought provoking and often life changing. Prices: Free; Premium subscription, 1.49 British pounds (approximately $2.31) per month

Flipboard was already one of the must-have apps for the iPad before it added Retina display support back in March, but now it’s an invaluable tool for any connected iPad user.

Billing itself as a “Social Magazine,” Flipboard takes streams from a user’s Twitter, Facebook and other social media feeds and aggregates them—along with many high-end news sources—into a single, beautiful interface.

With Retina display support, the images from the different feeds are vibrant and powerful, especially in the clutter-free interface the app has cultivated. Price: Free

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