How to Add Photo Filters to iPhone Photos

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The iPhone is the most widely used camera in the world, which means that tens of millions of people are taking many millions of photos with their iPhones every day. How good those photos look depends on the skill of the photographers, of course, but the iOS and its apps also offer some tools to help improve the look of any photo.

Among those tools are filters—predefined styles that you can apply to your photos to make them look a certain way.

Filters can make photos taken with the iPhone appear to have been shot on black and white film, with a Polaroid instant camera, or add any number of other effects.

If you're running iOS 7 or higher on your iPhone or iPod touch, there are a handful of photo filters built into the Photos app that comes loaded on every device. There are also dozens of great photo apps available at the App Store that offer more filters and functionality. Read on to learn about how to use the built-in filters and how to expand your repertoire by getting more.

Using the Photo Filters Built Into the iPhone

The iOS Photos app comes pre-loaded with a handful of basic filters. These aren't likely to satisfy experienced photographers, but if you're just dipping your toe into adding effects to your photos, they're a great place to start.

To use the built-in filters, follow these steps (these instructions apply to iOS 8 and up): 

  1. Tap the Photos app to open it.
  2. Tap Camera Roll.
  3. Browse through your Camera Roll until you find the photo you want to modify.
  4. Tap the photo so that it's the only photo displayed on the screen.
  5. Tap Edit in the top right corner.
  6. At the bottom of the screen, tap the center icon which shows three interlocking circles. This is the Filters menu.
  1. A set of filters appears below the photo, showing previews of the photo with the filter applied to it. Swipe side to side to scroll through filters.
  2. Tap a filter to apply it to the photo.
  3. If you don't like that result, swipe through the menu and tap another filter.
  4. If you've changed your mind about using a filter, tap Cancel in the bottom left corner and then tap Discard Changes.
  5. If you like the photo with the filter and want to use it, tap Done.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When you apply a filter to a photo and tap Done, the original photo is changed to include the new filter. The original, unmodified file is no longer present in your Camera Roll. You can, however, undo a filter.

How to Undo a Filter

  1. Find the photo you want to remove a filter from and tap it.
  2. Tap Edit in the top right corner.
  3. Tap Revert in the bottom right corner.
  4. In the pop-up menu, tap Revert to Original.
  5. The filter is removed from the photo and the original re-appears.

Adding Filters from Third-Party Apps to the Photos App

The photo filters built into the iOS Photos app are nice, but they’re also fairly limited—especially in a world where apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic provide their users hundreds of filters to make their photos more appealing.

Luckily, if you're running iOS 8 or higher, you can add additional filters to the Photos app.

In order to do this, you need to install a third-party app downloaded from the App Store on your phone that includes filters and supports app extensions, a feature of iOS 8 that allows apps to share their features with other apps. Not all photo and photo filter apps support app extensions, so you'll need to check whether the apps you have offer this functionality. If they do, you can add filters from those apps to the built-in Photos app by following these steps:

  1. Tap the Photos app.
  2. Tap Camera Roll.
  3. Tap any photo in the Camera Roll so that it's the only photo displayed on the screen.
  1. Tap Edit in the top right corner.
  2. A number of icons and buttons will appear at the bottom of the screen. If you've got an app installed on your phone that offers extensions, you'll see a circle with three dots in it next to the Done button on the right. Tap it.
  3. From the menu that pops up, tap the More button.
  4. In the More screen, you'll see the list of third-party apps offering photo extensions. Move the slider to On/green for any app whose extensions you want to enable.
  5. Tap Done.
  6. In the pop up menu, you'll now see options for the apps you just enabled. Tap the one whose features you want to use to edit the photo.

At this point, you'll be able to edit the photo using the features offered by the app you selected. Edit and save the photo as you normally would.

Apps With Photo Filters

If you like the idea of getting additional filters to use on your iPhone (to say nothing of all the other features that these apps can give you), check out these photography apps at the App Store:

  • Afterlight—Afterlight is a full-featured photo editing and effects suite for your iPhone. It offers more than a dozen tools to tweak and adjust the look of your photos, over 100 filters and textures to apply effects to photos, frames and cropping tools, and an extension that lets you use all of these tools in the Photos app. $0.99, with in-app purchases Purchase at iTunes
  • Camera+—One of the leading third-party photo apps, Camera+ packs a huge number features. Using it, you'll be able to take photos from within the app, get control over focus and exposure and digital zoom, the ability to add flash to the user-facing camera (something that's not present in the iPhone hardware), tons of effects and editing tools, sharing, and much more. $2.99, with in-app purchases Purchase at iTunes
  • Halftone 2—Do you like comics? Want to make your own but don't know how to draw? Halftone 2 is the solution. This app takes your photos, applies effects and filters to them so that they look like comics art, and then lets you compile them into multi-panel pages. You can even add sound effects and word balloons and captions. $0.99, with in-app purchases Purchase at iTunes 
  • Litely—Another app brimming with filters, visual adjustments, and multiple levels of undo, Litely is designed to make it easy to apply subtle changes that dramatically improve photos. A before and after view on the same screen makes it easy to understand the impact of your changes, while its extension brings the app's features into the iOS Photos app. Free, with in-app purchases Download at iTunes
  • Quick—Unlike other apps on this list which focus on making adjustments to the look of photos, Quick focuses on adding text to photos to create a unique finished product. With a choice of fonts, text styles, colors, and effects, Quick makes it easy to add an extra message to your pictures. IOS 8 support brings its features to the Photos app. Free, with in-app purchases Download at iTunes