Afterlight: Simple, Subtle Photo Editing Brilliance

As any photographer will know, regardless of what equipment they possess, or the quality of their technique, camera-derived art is as much based on post-capture processing, as it is on the pressing of a shutter button and all that leads up to it. The iPhone was one of the first devices truly to combine these two halves of image-making into one package, and as a result, iOS is blessed with both good variety and good quality in the image editing department.

Sadly, many of these fine apps don’t make it onto the iPad, or at least not in a format optimized for the larger screen. This is, of course, because few iPad owners use their tablets for anything other than posterity snaps. But as a keen photographer myself, I’m often left wishing that I could utilize that large ten-inch expanse for some editing; let us not forget that Apple, themselves, manufacture a Camera Connection Kit to facilitate the uploading of externally-taken images.

So imagine my joy when I discovered recently that Afterlight (formerly Afterglow), the iPhone editor of the discerning applier of filters, had been updated to version 1.9, and optimized for iPad in the process. How well has it made the transition, and can it set a new benchmark for photo fiddling on the biggest brother of the iOS family? I set about finding out…

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The Basics

Before we approach the subject of filters, I need to address the basics — picture taking and simple editing, that is. And, I have to say, this is certainly a department in which Afterlight knows what it is doing.

On the left, a link to Afterlight's camera; on the right, access to your iPad's gallery.

On the left, a link to Afterlight’s camera; on the right, access to your iPad’s gallery.

Images can be loaded from the iPad’s Camera Roll, or you can take a photo using Afterlight‘s in-built camera. Should you choose the latter route, you’ll find what is, essentially, the default camera app, with the addition of a self-timer.

Image loaded, you’re swiftly moved into the editing suite. Tapping the second icon in the dark grey main menu (the first is the undo control) causes a sub-menu of editing tools to spring up in an Instagram-like manner. Every single adjustment in Afterlight is represented pictorially, so you’ll initially need to tap on everything to see what it does.

Afterlight's menus are very beautiful, and they are packed full of features.

Afterlight’s menus are very beautiful, and they are packed full of features.

What you’ll find are adjustments for exposure, contrast, fade, saturation, highlights and shadows, along with more advanced stuff like RGB adjustments for high, mid and low tones. All of these are controlled with sliders which range from 1-100, meaning that the minutest, most subtle of adjustments can be made with accuracy.

The sliders provide excellent control.

The sliders provide excellent control.

The range on offer here can’t compete with the comprehensive tool palettes found in apps such as Photoshop Touch or Photogene. However, if you’re the kind of photographer whose style is reliant on heavyweight editing, this app probably isn’t to your taste anyway. Additionally, the quality of Afterlight‘s adjustments is most definitely print-worthy, and image degradation is kept to a minimum.

Filtering

The real engine room of Afterlight is its selection of filters. If, at this point, your mind’s eye has turned to thoughts of lurid emulations of lomography, then you need to think again. What we have here is a more natural, organic, subtle range of effects, which mirrors the reality of film — each brand has its slight quirks of tone and contrast, but nothing over the top.

The filters provide subtle toning, and can be toned-down further with the provided intensity slider.

The filters provide subtle toning, and can be toned-down further with the provided intensity slider.

The vast majority of the filters are Afterlight originals, which, together, amount to a sprawling list. However, there are also ten custom filters, which are the creations of some of the world’s most respected iPhoneographers, such as Russ and Schude.

Once again, each effect is accompanied by a slider for intensity adjustment, and it’s also worth noting that the app permits the application of multiple filters, adding in much the same way that layers are added in the desktop version of Photoshop.

Film

If you want to go down the retro route in a major way, you can also utilize the Textures menu. Available here are layers of dust, light leakage and (for the price of an in-app purchase) instant film-style aberrations. To ensure a look which is customizable and organic, there are the options to rotate and flip these layers, as well as a range of sub-styles (e.g. a choice of light leak colouring) to choose from. As always, an intensity slider is at your disposal too.

Light leak fanatics, rejoice...

Light leak fanatics, rejoice…

I don’t normally go for the “shabby chic” look when it comes to photography, but Afterlight‘s Textures are nicely made, and most have an air of authenticity to them.

On The Border

You’d think, given the iPad’s obvious touchscreen advantage, that the easiest of edits to make on the tablet would be cropping and straightening. Unfortunately, experience tells me that very few editing apps provide anything other than frustratingly fiddly controls for these basic adjustments.

So the question is, does Afterlight fare any better? In some respects, yes, although it still doesn’t offer the perfect solution – it’s a mixed bag.

The crop tool, for instance, works very nicely. More than a dozen aspect ratios are on offer, not counting the option to crop freely. Handily, a live pixel count is always on show at the bottom of the screen, and images can be rotated ninety degrees, and flipped, with a tap.

Image straightening remains an unsolved conundrum on iOS.

Image straightening remains an unsolved conundrum on iOS.

By way of contrast, the straightening tool isn’t exactly a triumph. Afterlight‘s signature slider is, once again, the chosen method of control, and it does allow for minuscule adjustments. Unfortunately, this sensitivity is also the cause of problems, at times, as it is all too easy to mess up your precisely straightened image just by taking your finger off the screen at a slight angle. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, and it is an issue as much to do with the hardware’s sensitivity as it is the app itself, but it is certainly enough to cause occasional frustration.

Framing

Filtering may often be the centre of attention, but artistic framing is just as much in vogue, and Afterlight seems to be an able companion for exploring the creative possibilities a border can offer.

The standard frames available number more than two dozen, ranging from thick white borders — very useful if you want to publish a rectangular image on Instagram — to wacky shapes, such as a clover leaf, and even a ship’s anchor.

Letters and number cut-outs occupy their own sub-menu, and there are also Polaroid-style instant film borders on offer (again, for the price of an in-app purchase).

Typically for Afterlight, each and every frame is adjustable, this time by way of opacity and colour. As a result, artsy masks are possible, where much of the image has an opaque, white layer over it, while the central focus of the image remains untouched.

The clever framing controls allow for a good range of creative possibilities.

The clever framing controls allow for a good range of creative possibilities.

As far as I’m concerned, no other iOS app provides the framing abilities found here.

Output

Finally, after all that effort, you’re probably going to want to share your work with the world, and Afterlight‘s export options are top notch.

Unlike many mobile editors, Afterlight sacrifices outright speed (not that you’d know it) in preference to maintaining the natural resolution of your iPad’s camera. As a result, the edited images you can produce with this app are printable on a pretty large scale.

Images can be outputted at full size, and published to numerous networks.

Images can be outputted at full size, and published to numerous networks.

For the purposes of swift export, smaller sizes are available, and you can publish directly to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Instagram from within the export area, although you can push the finished image to any app you have installed, opening up destinations such as Dropbox and Tumblr.

The Verdict

A confession: I loved Afterlight before I wrote this, so you might think that this review has a slight rose tint to it. In my capacity as an AppStorm reviewer, however, I have to be dispassionate and analytical — yet Afterlight still strikes me as being brilliant.

The basic editing tools are simple to use, yet they provide exceptional control over tone, contrast, exposure and colour. None of the filters on offer stings the eyes, the textures are realistic and genuinely add style, and the selection of frames is balanced nicely between the functional and the artistic. For the sake of fairness, though, I must mention the minor irritation provided by the over-sensitive straightening tool, and it must also be said that if you like your filters to be bold, brash and colourful, then Afterlight isn’t going to satisfy.

For those at whom Afterlight is aimed, though, it pretty much hits the bullseye. In fact, I would say that it is currently the most competent, and most frictionless method of producing high-class imagery via your iPad.


Summary

A masterclass in mobile photo editing. Suits those with subtle tastes, but any user will appreciate its competence and ease of use.

10
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