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  • Paul Good

Understanding Common Photo Editing Tools

Have you tried enhancing your posts on Snapchat or Instagram with the filters and photo effects? What is your favorite filter? You might like to change photos to black and white, or put a comic-book style texture over it. How well do you know the features of your phone's photo editing software? Below is a brief explanation of some of the basic offerings you might look for in photo editing software. Some you might already have, others you can easily find in another application. These days automation can help you edit quickly like a pro!

Features to look for:

Auto Red-Eye Removal

A lot of software has this built-in now with varying results. Some will be able to automatically detect where the eyes are and whether or not there is red eye, some you will need to hand select the eyes that need attention. Often the strength of this tool isn't the best automatically, maybe it is too strong coloring too much of the eye black, or maybe there is some lingering red near the catchlight in the eye. This technology has come a long way however and auto detection can help if you need to remove red eye from batches of photos at once.

Dust and Blemish Removal Dust removal is an important feature for scanners with glass surfaces that may gather a few dust particles underneath where you cannot clean. This way you do not have to worry about how the image will appear once digitized. If scanning film, scanners also can employ layers of scanning using different colored lights for each scan layer (called digitalICE technology) and if there are artifacts found on the image these can be automatically ignored or omitted.

Cloning tools and smart removal tools in apps can help to remove cracks, stains, and blemishes on faces. Facial smoothing is a much more common automation in apps today with facial recognition, but you can find powerful apps that offer editing tools for other types of photos as well. Similarly, many apps come with a sort of blur tool that can often work to remove obvious blemishes or zits and help blend them in.

Color Balance and Levels Many smart phones have something similar to the “magic wand” tool in their photo browsing applications where there are editing tools built in. This tool does a basic check for levels of contrast, color hues, and saturation of colors. Enhancing the contrast makes the blacks darker and the whites brighter, making the image have a bit more depth and pop. There will probably also be an attempt at white balancing the image, making sure that there are some highlights that are truly white and shadows that are pure black without a color cast across the entire image. This helps in situations to get real colors of a blue and black dress instead of looking gold and white! Lastly, the color saturation will be enhanced to be more vibrant and lively. 

However, this auto feature will likely not make intense changes to keep the image as natural as possible. That is where you can use your creativity in playing with these individual settings available to you in the editing software. If you are not keen on playing with enhancement sliders, there are usually also auto effects you can choose from that have presets for a certain look and feel.

Noise reduction There are some algorithms being written to help reduce heavy noise (static-like artifacts) in an image to appear more clear. However a lot of automation uses simple smoothing and depending on how much noise is in the image, may only make the image look more blurry.

The best use for this type of tool so far has been for skin smoothing for facial features- that perfectly retouched and airbrushed look. Besides automatic filters on popular apps today, there are tools available in multiple photo manipulation applications.


This is the opposite action of blurring, when you want a photo to be more in focus. Sometimes apps will call this an HD action. Automation can help to find and enhance the contrast of edges, looking for and removing motion blur. Apps are pretty good about selective sharpening, only sharpening things that need more detail enhancement like eyes and hair- but that is because they are good at recognizing faces. Other objects may not yield results as well.You do have to be careful about using these sorts of tools because the overuse can make an image look very unnatural, and things like damage or dust can be seen as an "object" by the software and can get more obvious as well. This is what is called a "sharpening artifact".

Photos can have interesting sharpening effects with a selective blurring tool; making the background blurry, but leaving the subject in focus. This can help trick the eye into seeing enhanced depth and clairty of the subject. Apple introduced this feature into the "portrait mode" of the camera app.

Application comparisons:

Photos app on Apple iPhone Features: -Adjust light and color (auto levels magic wand, contrast, brilliance highlights, color etc.)

-Add filter: pre-set filters for your favorite overlays to brighten or enhance your photos in a moment.

-Crop to a smaller size, straighten, or rotate your photos right in the app.

-Markup: You can add text or use a pen tool to write or draw or even highlight!

Gallery app on Samsung Galaxy Features: -Auto adjust magic wand

-Adjustment: Fit, crop, rotate

-Tone: Brightness, contrast, color

-Effects: pre-set filters

-Drawing: Pen tool

-Add image: add another image to the image you are editing

Google Photos app on Google Pixel, Nokia, Motorola Features -Filters

-Edit: Lighting, color, effects

-Crop and Rotate

Gallery App on LG and other Android phones Features -Exposure: Lighting

-Artistic Effect: Filters

-Color: Color effects and doodle tool

-Adjustment: Crop, red eye, sharpen, face glow

Other Apps to consider for more powerful editing tools

Visage lab

-Red eye removal

-Blemish Removal

-Teeth whitening

-Shine removal

-Eye makeup

Pixlr Express

-Red Eye removal

-Teeth whitening

-Create photo collages

-Color Splash and Focal Blur

-Double Exposure effects

Photoshop Express

-Stickers and captions

-Perspective correction

-Dramatic filters

-Fog/haze remover

-Spot healing


-One-touch enhancement

-Sliders for easy manual changes

-Selective filter

-White balance

-Perspective fixes

-Supports RAW and JPG files

-Free, No ads

Technology is very powerful and our knowledge and feats grow every day, yet it is still not perfect and can often lack the human touch to get it just right. If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or have a photo that needs that extra special attention, let us help you repair, retouch, or recreate any photo you would like!

For professional assistance with any photo restoration, retouching, or recreation, please visit us at

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