Smartphone Photography: Apps, Lenses, & Accessories for the iPhone

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted a lovely set of very close-up photos of flowers and mentioned something about a “macro clip.”  Huh? My interest piqued, I immediately Googled the term and discovered Olloclip.  Hook, line, and sinker.  I plunked down the steep $99.99 for their 4-in-1 Photos Lens + Case kit (they have kits for iPhone 4, 5, and 6 + iPad) and I haven’t stopped snapping.  So what the heck justifies the sticker shock?  Four high-quality lenses that give a little oomph to your iPhone camera and to your creativity.

In the kit: You get four different lenses, 2 of which are cleverly “hidden” behind the other two.  You get a case for your iPhone and an adapter that allows you to secure your iPhone to a standard tripod.  The kit comes with a small bag (that doubles as a lens cleaner) and caps for the lenses.

Wide Angle Lens: This is the lens you want to use to bring more, er, picture into the picture.  Use it for landscapes or group photos.
Fisheye Lens: If you’re looking to add a little funk to your photos, use the fisheye to get that crystal ball effect.
10x Macro Lens: For extreme close-ups.
15x Macro Lens: For extremely extreme close-ups.

Below are photos taken using the lenses described above.  All of these photos were taken with my iPhone and none of them were “retouched.”  You can get the 4-in-1 lenses for $69.99 – no case or tripod adapter – but you do get the bag and caps.  Olloclip also offers a 3-in-1 Macro Lens kit (7x, 14x, 21x) for $69.99.  You don’t get the fisheye or wide angles lenses in this kit.  If you don’t have an iPhone, you’re not excluded from the fun.  Check out this, or this.

Ollo Clip Collage An Unrefined Vegan

Fisheye Lens An Unrefined Vegan

Moss on Rock An Unrefined Vegan

Upside: Hours of creative photo fun.  Maybe I’m goofy, but I feel like the Olloclip lenses improve the look of my smartphone photos.  They fit nicely in your pocket, too.
Downside: Pricey.  And there’s no guarantee that the lenses will fit on future generations of iPhones.  With my unsteady hands, it’s very tough to focus the macro lenses. And speaking of unsteady, Ms. Butterfingers here also has a hard time not dropping the lenses when unscrewing them…

Wood Camera is a lot like Instagram but with many more ways to tweak your photos.  You can really get lost in this application.  Like Instagram you can change the look of a photo with (what I call) layers that give the photo various kinds of looks – washed out, vintage, black and white, etc.  But Wood Camera lets you mess with the contrast, brightness, intensity – and you can add these subtle background layers to give your photos interesting textures.  Crop, tilt, and add borders, too. A reasonable $3.99 in the iTunes App Store.  Share your photos on social media just as you do with Instagram.  Wood Camera does not have a “community” as Instagram does – but hey, how much social media do we really need anyway?!

Barbed Wire Closeup An Unrefined Vegan

Cedar Berries Closeup An Unrefined Vegan

Upside: More fun and more choices than Instagram.  Good price.
Downside:  Another time-sucking app.  Additional effects cost extra.

Yet another fun photo-editing app for the iPhone is Over.  Add text, artwork, and effects to your photos and then share them on your social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.).  I don’t use it nearly as much as I do Instagram or Wood Camera, but it’s fun to mess around with the fonts.  You can purchase Over in the iTunes App Store for $1.99.

Oklahoma Windy An Unrefined Vegan

Upside: A nicely priced photo-editing app to add to your arsenal.
Downside:  Limited effects capabilities.  If you want additional fonts, you have to purchase them separately.

Okay, this one isn’t for your iPhone, but it can improve the look of your iPhone photos.  If you’ve done any research into improving your photography skills, you’ve probably seen many references to Adobe Photoshop.  The idea of getting on a monthly payment plan doesn’t really appeal to me, however.  A really good alternative for those using a Mac is Pixelmator.  Pixelmator is the poor man’s version of Photoshop – coming in at a sweet $29.99 (less than the cost of 1 month of Photoshop).  I ain’t bragging, but I got it for $14.99 during a promotion.  Pixelmator is an extremely powerful image-editing application and I’ve just scratched the surface.  Draw, paint, edit (and improve) photos, apply special effects, create a logo – the possibilities are endless.  You can purchase Pixelmator in the iTunes App Store.  To help me learn the program, I just purchased a video tutorial for $4.99.  One reviewer accurately compared watching the tutorial to “taking a narcotic,” but despite this, it’s already helped me get more out of Pixelmator.

You also might want to check out Adobe Lightroom.  Download the free trial for a test run and then decide if it’s worth ~$110. Don’t want to spend any money?  Your new best friend is

Pixelmator Collage An Unrefined Vegan

Upside: The low price puts this versatile application within the reach of most bloggers.  Loads of creative possibilities to add interest to your photos and to make them look better.  No need to outsource to create artwork or a logo for your blog.
Downside: It has a steep learning curve.  Nearly every YouTube tutorial I checked out began with the words, “If you’re comfortable with Photoshop, you’ll have no problem with Pixelmator.”  Look here, clowns.  If I knew how to use Photoshop, I wouldn’t be watching your @!#* tutorial!  On the other hand, learning can be part of the fun.  Just be prepared to be frustrated for a while.


Studio Neat is all kinds of cool.  The Glif ($30) is a tripod mount and a way to prop up your iPhone for when you want to watch videos while munching on lunch.  The Cosmonaut ($25) is for those looking for a substantial iPad stylus that acts more like a big piece of artist’s charcoal and less like a skinny (read: I keep dropping this blasted thing!) pencil.  Slow Fast Slow ($2) lets you take short, high-speed movies with your iPhone and then manipulate them.  I purchased Frameograph ($5) which is a stop-motion (video above and another one here) and time-lapse (video below which I imported into iMovie to add music, titles, and effects) video app.  To make a stop-motion film, snap photos with the press of a finger just as you do to take normal photos and then change the frame rate and even add music straight from the music library on your iPhone.  For time-lapse, press the start button and your phone will automatically take a photo every 5 seconds until you press the button again.  With this simple app you can unleash your inner Pixar-ness.  I wish I’d had this when I created the VVP film!

Upside: Frameograph is addictive fun. You’ll want to stop motion everything from spreading peanut butter on toast to making the salt and pepper shaker dance the tango.  There’s no learning curve – intuitive and easy to start creating right away.
Downside: You can’t delete individual frames and you can’t add voiceover, titles, or text.  I did have a problem adding music to my videos, but it cleared up when I uninstalled the app and reinstalled it.  I also contacted Studio Neat support and they responded right away.

Now that you’ve got all of these fun apps and add-ons, you’re going to need something to keep that camera steady.  I opted for the Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand because the legs can be twisted and turned for just about any surface or configuration.  It retails for $25.89 and fits iPhones and other smartphones.

Gorilla Tripod An Unrefined Vegan

Upside: Literally very flexible with a nice secure hold on the phone.
Downside: A bit pricey, but I expect to get my money’s worth in usage.  The screw that keeps the clip in place needs tightening often – kind of annoying.  Be careful about placing the legs in such a way as to make it become unbalanced and tip over.

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15 thoughts on “Smartphone Photography: Apps, Lenses, & Accessories for the iPhone

  1. The Vegan 8

    Great informative post Annie! I actually have Adobe Lightroom and did a lot of research before I chose to purchase it. It’s amazing and the possibilities are endless. I have found though, that natural light and the right angle and steady hand can produce the best photo which will need no, or very little editing. I’ve also taken a very plain/verge of crappy photo and really changed the look by getting creative with my editing. It’s so much fun. When I want a specific look, I love to play with Lightroom. I don’t use it for all my photos though. Some of my photos I take with my iPhone, but most with my camera. It’s amazing to me that we can even do all this with a phone! Crazy how times have changed. 🙂

    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Totally agree, Brandi. 99% of my photos are taken in natural light with either no or very little retouching (usually exposure). But it’s very fun to play with effects, etc.

  2. tearoomdelights

    Wow, that’s a great bit of research! When I see the things you can do with a phone these days I feel mindblown. My favourite smartphone accessory is the wee pouch I keep it in, which has a slot for credit cards and a little zip purse for coins. 🙂

    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      That’s why I wrote this post – specifically because of what Angela of Canned Time does with her phone photos. They’re incredible.

      I think that I almost like the accessories more than the phone ;-)!!

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  4. Nikki Spigner

    Annie! You may remember that I’m hyper aware of my lack of photography skills (although, I’ve been sneaking a pic in here and there). Thanks so much for this! So timely!!! I’m going to play with these accessories this week!

    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Nikki, I remember! I’m glad that my post will be useful to you. I’m still learning, too, and in fact am taking an online photography course later this month.

  5. Pingback: Smartphone Photography: Apps, Lenses, & Accessories for the iPhone « anunrefinedvegan » Photography Tips

  6. Brittany

    Wow what a cool post!! I had NO idea all these features were out there for the iPhone, but I did just buy a new camera sooo I probably won’t be splurging on anymore things like this for a bit. I now need to find myself a PC friendly editing system that is a one time thing!

    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      I think Adobe makes Lightroom for PCs, too. Might be a good option for you. I hear great things about it.

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