iphone photo editing tutorial // sarah sherman samuelOne of the most frequently asked questions I get is “what filter and/or photo apps do you use” for instagram. I don’t have one specific recipe as every photo is different but I thought I’d put together a little tutorial with examples and give you my go to filters and apps. And who knows, maybe you can pick up a little nugget of a trick to apply to your own photos. Here we go…

iphone photo editing // sarah sherman samuelFirst I should say… all of my instagrams are iPhone photos and edited on the iPhone. The only exception is when I pull an image from a blog post to announce that there is new content on the blog, which I label with either the photographer (if it isn’t by me) or a “link in profile”.

Secondly, some photos just take a little bit of editing and some I end up spending way too much time on. Here is what I did for this first photo. On the left is straight out of the camera, and on the right is the photo I posted. I usually start with pulling the photo into VSCOcam. In there I choose a filter, for this one I used M5 (other favorites are C3, F1, and G3) and usually I dial it back a bit from the full +12. If you are scratching your head right now I can explain. When in VSCO, select a filter and that automatically puts it on full power, now tap the same filter again and there is the scale from +1 to +12, now you can play with how much of the filter you want to be on the photo.

Once I am happy with the filter choice I save it and then open it in Afterlight. I like the control that Afterlight has on brightness, contrast, and sharpening so I do all that there. I also use afterlight to create the white border around mine to keep them landscape or portrait. You can do this by hitting the bottom right button  that is a black circle inside of a white square. Once in that menu hit the icon that looks like two vertical bars and voila.

iphone photo editing // sarah sherman samuelFor this photo, I skipped Afterlight and went right from VSCO to instagram (I posted this one as a square originally so didn’t use the white bars). I picked a filter, and then brightened and sharpened it right in Instagram. Done!

iphone photo editing // sarah sherman samuel Then there are some photos that need a little extra help. For this one I did my thing in VSCO, followed by Afterlight, then I wanted to get rid of a few of those brown pine needles so I pulled it into touchRetouch. This app is great for getting rid of little unwanted things in a photo. I used the lasso tool, circled the pine needles that I wanted out of there, hit the “play” triangle button and like magic, they disappeared.

iphone photo editing // sarah sherman samuelHere is one more example where I used all three apps. Of course not all photos go through this entire process, many I use a little bit of a vsco filter and then bring it right into Instagram but I wanted to give you my full arsenal. So once again… here I used VSCO for the color (their filters are my fave), then brought it into Afterlight for brightness, contrast, sharpening, and the borders. Then I touchRetouched that little boat right out of there and THEN I posted it in instagram, for a semi-insta instagram. PHEW!

Happy iPhonography x sarah


  • great tips! thanks for sharing! My goto photo editing app is pictapgo, which I also love for filters, brightness, sharpness, contrast etc. There’s always something unwanted in a pic, and now I want to give Afterlight a try!

  • I love using vsco — definitely my go to. I will have to give Afterlight a trip – thanks for the tip! I noticed you mentioning adding white bars in Afterlight for Instagram to maintain the portrait/landscape view. In case you don’t already know I thought I’d share that you can now use portait & landscape photos in instagram by pinching to zoom the photo out or by tapping the little pinch button in the lower left corner. 🙂

    • sarah

      Hi Holly! yes, I know I used that option right when the update came out but I don’t like that you can’t control where the square crops the photo in the actual profile view, so i went right back! haha nutty I know, but I like how they all look together with the landscape/horizontal on the profile page too.

    • Ana

      Great tips, actually I think the photos with the white borders aren’t a great idea and breaks the harmony of the square photos, I much prefer to use the new option and my feed will look seamless…

  • nila

    thank you so much for sharing!

  • Love these tips! I am a huge VSCO fan and had guessed right on that top photo. M5 is a classic. Can’t wait to try the touch retouch app.

  • an aside that I’m sure you’re asked multiple times per day – do you ever sell your photography?

  • Soyoung

    Love this post! I am an iPhone photo junkie and am always looking for new editing tools. Have you tried Snapseed? There’s a lot that I’m still learning about it, but it seems like a really powerful photo editing app.

  • How are you uploading photos without it being an i-phone photo…? In other words, are you uploading pics directly from your computer? If yes, please please share how!

    • sarah

      Hi Ann, the rare ones I don’t use my iPhone (like from another photographer) I just email them to myself and save them to the phone. So sorry no secrets there. Ha sorry.

    • Thank you so much – I can’t believe I didn’t figure that out on my own, lol! Never thought of it though.

  • Thank you thank you thank you!!! Super helpful.

  • […] is a lot out there about filters, perfect Insta photos, etc. But this blogger’s post on her process was seriously the most helpful I’ve read in a long time, and just plain, made […]

  • Nataly

    Wow, I love your pictures and your site! Just stumbled upon it and I love your style!


  • Jenni

    Hi ! Do you use the camera as is on the iPhone or do you use a camera app (camera + ect) ? Your photos are always so crisp and clean. Do you have trick for getting your focus so spot on. Thanks for sharing all these tips. Xx

  • Hello Sarah, thanks for letting know how you do photo editing of iPhone photos on your iPhone. I really like the overall process. I’ve newly purchased my first ever iPhone 6S and I was looking forward to learn some different photo editing ideas, since I needed to learn how to do editing on phone. So good to know the tools type you’re using to finish photo workshop.

  • Shavonda@SGStyle

    I love that you shared this Sarah. So awesome. I currently use a Samsung Galaxy, but I miss my Iphone so much now that Im really into IG. The photo quality is just so much better on and Iphone. Ive used both VSCO and Afterlight to edit with my Galaxy and I still don’t get the same affect as I would if I were using an Iphone. Im definitely bookmarking this to come back to it when I go back to Apple.

  • Ace

    Just curious, on the last photo what time of day was it? Your photos are fantastic! Thank you!

  • How I Got Serious With Instagram - Part One - The Online StylistThe Online Stylist

    […] iPhone Editing 101 – Sarah Sherman Samuel […]

  • Ericka

    Thank you for sharing your tips. They were so helpful. I was just wondering if you use a standard size iPhone to edit, or a plus?

  • Hey Sarah, great tips! I liked how versitile your photo editing attitude is! It is like the photo itself is telling you what filter to try and what editor can be of help. Just wanted to give you a small tip to try the PicsArtmobile photo editor and collage maker for your next editing experience. I think after trying PicsArt and the features it suggests, you will want to use it to do all your editing!

  • Hey Sarah, great tips! I liked how versitile your photo editing attitude is! It is like the photo itself is telling you what filter to try and what editor can be of help. Just wanted to give you a small tip to try the PicsArt mobile photo editor and collage maker for your next editing experience. I think after trying PicsArt and the features it suggests, you will want to use it to do all your editing!

  • cait b

    Hi Sarah! I love your tips on VSCO filters (thank you!) I have been searching for a photo editing software that has similar filters for my mac, but have yet to find something that is as good. I did see that VSCO has films online that you can purchase for use with Lightroom. Have you found anything that you like to use on your computer that is similar to VSCO?

  • Hi,
    Many many thanks for sharing such a superclass tips. Wonderful explanation and I really appreciate your tips. I personally love taking photos and posting them online. With VSCO, you get just that. This photo editing app was perfect for touching up my photos. This was able to take basic photos and make them look almost professional.

  • Really great article. Thanks for taking the time to explain things in such great detail in a way that is easy to understand.

  • the very nice article it is very helpful. great collection and a lot of good inspiration for getting better final results 🙂 Helped me getting even more beautiful shots. Thanks for sharing!

  • I am an iPhone user also. but I don’t know how to edit better on iPhone. can you suggest me a better photo editing software for the iPhone.

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