If I had a dollar: Look like a better photographer with these apps

“If I Had a Dollar” is an occasional series that highlights one useful or entertaining app per week that costs less than $1. Skip your vending machine soda and try some new apps!

Confession time: I am a below-average photographer. Not only do I have no head for composition or setting, but sometimes it’s a miracle that my photos don’t come out blurry from my uncoordinated shooting skills. But now that my shiny gold iPhone 5s has made it to my front door, I decided to spend my dollar on something that would not only utilize its shiny new camera, but make all my mistakes look like art.

AfterlightScreenshotEnter AfterLight, which was attractive not only because of its great $0.99 price, but also because it has some of the most sophisticated photo editing offerings that I’ve seen in a mobile photo app. And, while the entire content of the app costs more than a dollar due to two in-app purchasing options, neither are necessary to get full functionality from the app — they just provide a few extra filters and a couple of fancy borders.

Users can edit photos taken on the spot or they can upload existing ones. The features are really robust — from subtle things like color correction and sharpening to more obvious features like filters and crops, it’s easy to get down into the details when editing a photo. The level of customization means that all photos can be tweaked to be perfect, but it does require some knowledge of how color correction and contrasting works — there’s no magic “auto” feature that will make photos instantly beautiful. When finished, the photos are easily saved and shared to other networks in a variety of resolutions, including right back to the camera roll.

But there are some downsides. The camera portion of the app seems a bit tagged-on — it works well as a replacement to the traditional camera app found on iOS, but there’s nothing notable that makes it stand out among other cameras. Second, it doesn’t shoot video, panoramic shots, or any of the iPhones added capabilities, which can be a letdown.

HDRCameraPlusWhile there is a similarly named AfterLight in Google Play, it’s a dupe advertising app that is not affiliated with the iPhone version and is certainly not worth anyone’s money. So Android fans, I would suggest using your dollar on the recently-reduced HDR Camera+, which mimics pro camera modes and settings to bring out the best in every photo for just $0.99.

Like Afterlight, HDR Camera+ does provide more editing functionality and filters, which make it a solid replacement for the lackluster Android stock Camera app. In addition, it has nifty features like stabilization and can correct the composition of moving objects.

One downside is that it’s not terribly beginner-friendly, but when many apps are just glorified iterations of the same shoot-filter-frame Instagram popularized in the first place, having a bit of a learning curve is a nice change of pace.

Both apps are elegant, which is nice to know when you’re just spending a buck.

You can download Afterlight from the iTunes App Store and HDR Camera+ from Google Play.

Do you have an app that is worth my dollar? Send it to me at [email protected] with “Dollar App” and the app’s name in the subject line.