How to edit photos in Adobe Photoshop Express

Photoshop Express is a free smartphone download. That probably sounds too good to be true when you consider how much the full-blown Photoshop image editing application costs on Windows or a Mac… but that’s only half true.

While Adobe is clearly using the free download as a way to drive sales of add-on effects and tools, the complimentary application itself is surprisingly powerful and extremely easy to use.

Photoshop Express started life as a Flash-based application on the internet, which was used by many blog editors to tweak their images prior to uploading them to their sites. When Adobe decided to port it to the iPhone and iPad, though, it had to rewrite it from the ground up, as the iPhone is famed for not running Flash. The result is a sprightly, responsive and highly capable application that’s perfect for making quick and surprisingly sophisticated edits on the go, without the cost of upgrading to iPhoto.

Adobe Photoshop Express can work either with images you take directly inside the application or previously-shot photos stored on your Camera Roll or synchronised through Photo Stream. Your first task on launching it is therefore to decide where the asset you’re going to edit should be drawn from.

Adobe Photoshop Express

We’ve selected an image from our Camera Roll that we’d taken previously and now want to edit before uploading it to the web.

The first thing you’ll notice when you take or open a photo are the two buttons at the bottom of the screen. The first, the box with the arrow pointing out of it, is the Share control.

Adobe Photoshop Express

This lets you upload your image directly to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or Tumblr, send it to for further work or email it to your contacts.

If you want to edit your image before sharing it, tap the pencil icon to open the editing tools.

Photoshop Express editing tools

The editing tools are broken down into four primary categories. The buttons for each of these run across the top of the screen. They are, in turn, cropping and orientation (the double set square icon), luminance, which incorporates exposure, tint, saturation and so on (the sun icon), filters (the half shaded circle), and effects and borders (the stars).

Adobe Photoshop Express

Tapping any one of these drops down a menu from which you can select sub options. Notice that in the menu the over the page, where we have dropped down the filters menu, the last option – Reduce Noise – has a plus in one corner. This indicates that the tool is a premium element that must be bought separately as an upgrade.

Adobe Photoshop Express

You can still use it, but before you save the results you need to make an in-app purchase. We’ll come to this when we look at effects and borders, later.

At the bottom of the screen there are four other buttons. The cross cancels the current editing operation, the backwards- and forwards-pointing arrows undo and redo your last operation, and the down pointing arrow touching a block saves your edited photo.

Any time you’re working on an image, you’ll see three other icons in this space.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Again, the cross, which sits on the far left, cancels the edit. Holding down on the two overlaid frames at the centre of the toolbar calls up the original image again so that you can compare what you started with to what you have now, and the tick on the far right of the bar applies your edit.

All of the tools work on a frame-wide basis and are controlled simply by dragging up and down or left and right on the screen.

For example, in the image below we have selected the brightness and contrast tool from the second drop-down menu – luminance.

Adobe Photoshop Express

The individual controls for brightness and contrast have been split out so that dragging to the left darkens the image and dragging to the right lightens it.

At the same time, dragging down reduces the contrast in the image, and dragging up increases it. Because we don’t need to put our fingers on the actual bars themselves at the top and left edges of the screen, we can simultaneously make the image both brighter and with a sharper contrast by putting a finger somewhere around the centre and dragging up and diagonally to the right.

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