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Do you ever get the urge to step out of the reality captured by your photos in order to express a concept or to convey a surreal atmosphere? There are a number of apps that allow you to apply optical effects that distort reality and help you to create views of the world that are conjured up by your imagination.


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Decim8 (also available for Android) applies 27 different digital distortion algorithms that can be combined however you choose (but usually more than 2, or 3 at the very most, don’t give you particularly good results). You can’t apply parameters to the effects but they do have a randomness factor that means that every time an effect is applied to an image, the result is homogeneous but different.  Basically, you apply the effect to an image and, if the result is interesting, you save it; if not, you try again until you obtain the desired result (usually 4-5 tries are enough). Some people aren’t comfortable with this random aspect, but it often works as a creative stimulus, and let’s not forget that randomness was an integral part of the aesthetics of Dadaism and, in part, of Surrealism.

The effects give very varied results that go from surreal to abstract to cyberpunk. The first photo in this post, a view of the Royal Palace of Turin, was created using Tribomb; the second, a self portrait entitled ‘What makes a man?’involved a combination of Graboid and Kompliance. My other favourite effects are Precog, Glassdagger and Doctor Ocular. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the apparent complexity of this app, instead just experiment a bit with it: it could end up being a permanent part of your editing workflows, as happened with me.


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Also available for Android, this app allows you to distort images flexibly using the touch screen to apply the effect. It is really good for obtaining surreal effects, such as those in this photo.


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An app for iPad that is a bit difficult to use on the smaller iPhone screen, Gridfilter is a unique concept: it divides the image into a grid of little squares and allows you to apply different effects to each individual square. It has 51 different effects and you can obtain very different results. The photo above is an example of applying geometric elements to a pictorial photo of a beach.

Deco Sketch

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Deco Sketch (also available for Android) allows you to add geometric patterns to an image. With 130 styles divided into 10 brushes, you can draw circles, triangles, squares, rectangles and other shapes, with the option of setting the colour palette based on the colours present in the image. It is an app that requires a bit of work at the beginning, but the unusual user interface is actually very powerful and allows you to create, in very little time, elaborate geometric motifs.

Lens Flare

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Lens Flare is a simple and intuitive app that allows you to add light and reflection effects to your photos. This can allow you to intensify a slightly weak sunset or to introduce futuristic elements, such as in this photo of a beach transformed into the vision of a post-nuclear future.

Slow Shutter Cam

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Any camera can be used to obtain ‘blurry’ creative effects by using long exposures. Slow Shutter Cam allows you to take pictures with long exposure times using three different modes: Motion Blur to highlight blurring in a photo, Light Trail to capture light at night, creating lines (as seen in this photo taken of a moving rollercoaster at night) and Low Light to take pictures in conditions with insufficient light. It is recommended to use a tripod (the Manfrotto Pixi, together with a Klyp+ cover, is ideal) unless you want to take the blurring to extremes.

Suggestions for using creative effects

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It’s easy to get carried away with special effects and be tempted to use them as a filler to revive uninteresting photos, but it is difficult to obtain good results in this way. Conversely, effects should be used sparingly and as part of an image project, and not as a random extra or to add a bit of ‘spice’. You must first outline your desired objective and then decide on the steps and tools needed to achieve it, for example:

  • I want to transform the view of a sunny beach in August into a minimalist and almost abstract image:
      • I take the picture with Slow Shutter Cam, Motion Blur mode (Blur Strength Medium, 1 second Shutter Speed).
      • I apply a pictorial effect using Glaze (Sailboat).
      • I apply a sky-blue gradient to the top part (Landscape Enhance – Blue skies) using Mextures to enhance the unreality of the image.
      • I create a white pattern around an existing reflection using Deco Sketch, to provide a stylised version of reality.

    It is important to familiarise yourself with the apps in order to understand the effects they provide and to give you the basic tools for outlining a creative image editing project.

    I hope that this article helps you with your photographic creations and that it has enriched your digital toolbox and opened up new pathways for your creativity.

Davide Capponi

Davide Capponi is a photographer who is passionate about mobile photography and image editing. His works have been exhibited in Italy and abroad and published in Italian newspapers and magazines. He is a founding member of the New Era Museum, neweramuseum.org. You can contact David via his blog davidecapponi.com, on Instagram instagram.com/rubicorno, on Facebook www.facebook.com/davidecapponi.iphoneography and on Twitter twitter.com/Rubicorno.

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