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BLOG: I’ve gone a bit Instagram mad lately. It was bound to happen – it’s a popular, easy to use platform which makes photos look great, and a lot of my friends are on it.

If you’re just getting started on Instagram, check popular hashtags like #foodporn or #greenthumb to get an idea of what looks really good and try emulate it. Spend some time playing with filters, contrast and blur. Filters I particularly like include Hefe for richer contrast, Lo-Fi for bright, colourful shots, and Valencia or Kelvin for anything with pale skin or food in it.

Sometimes, though, the standard filters don’t quite cut it. I’ve been playing around with various other free photo apps lately, here are three of the best I’ve found for making your Instagram photos pop.

1. Pic Stitch

Positives: It has great filters like Boardwalk and Keylime, and it has 4 ‘enhance’ photos options which can quickly fix problems like a photo being too dark or too strongly backlit. Unlike Instagram, you can also choose between frames.

The 'Negative' frame option. Not one I'd usually use, but a bit different

The ‘Negative’ frame

Pic Stitch’s best features, however, are a) the 74 free layouts and b) the fact that you can make Facebook cover photos with it (click aspect and change to ‘FB cover’).

Pic Stitch Daisies - bottom two Boardwalk and Keylime

Pic Stitch Daisies – 4 squares layout, bottom 2 are Boardwalk and Keylime filters

When you’re done, you can export your picture straight to Instagram, or post it on Twitter or Facebook, or just save it to your camera roll if you don’t wish to share

Negatives: doesn’t exactly subtract from the app, but it includes stickers – fake hats and sunglasses and the like. Best not to use these unless you’re 12, they look a bit tacky.

Verdict: Compliments Instagram well, and is overall a great free photo app.

2. Phonto

Positives: Phonto is an easy to use tool to add text to your pictures. You just load your photo, click where you want text and type it in. Then you can change the colour, the size, the style (and whether you want a background behind your text) and there are loads of font options. You can even install your own font, if there are none you like.

Caption overlaid with phonto

Phonto caption

Negatives: You have to buy the Phonto image pack if you want to do almost anything besides add text to your pictures.

Verdict: Great for text, compatible with Instagram.

3. InstaEffectFree

Positives: You can use this app to sit two pictures on top of each other, and if you want something a bit different it has 80 unusual effects to make interesting pictures. If you’ve ever wanted to draw on a photo, you can do that with this app too.

A photo of plants with a brick effect - the strength of the effect can be adjusted

A photo of plants with a brick effect – the strength of the effect can be adjusted

Negatives: The effects are square and, let’s be honest here, a wee bit gimmicky.

Verdict: Not for the consummate professional, but it is fun. I particularly like that it has better space effects than the SpaceFX app. And it can be exported to Instagram.

You may also like:

Befunky: like Pic Stitch on steroids for photo editing, effects and frames, and you can use it to add text as well. Unfortunately, I’ve found it crashes often, it doesn’t have as many fonts as Phonto, and though it can export to your camera roll or Facebook or Befunky itself, it can’t export directly to Instagram.

Duotone 2 effect. Befunky does have some lovely effects.

Duotone 2 effect. Befunky does have some lovely effects.

PhotoEffect: produces really visually striking images by overlaying a black and white filter over your photo, which you erase to show the colour underneath. It recognises which colour you are trying to display as well and doesn’t reveal the others, which is handy for the ham-fisted. Unfortunately it crashes frequently and it watermarks the final image on the free version.

Splash of green

Splash of green

Instaweather: take a picture out your window and Instaweather superimposes the weather forecast onto it, which you can export to Instagram. It’s kind of dinky, but does have an element of “I have a fifth sense. My breasts can always tell when it’s going to rain” to it.

InstacollageFREE: there are many free layouts on this app, some funkier than Pic Stitch and Befunky though it doesn’t have their other features. It can be easily shared with Instagram and other platforms.

Conclusion: The best thing about all these apps is, of course, that they’re free!

Question: Do you have a favourite free photo app? Always happy to revise my list 🙂


My Instagram user name is @Ciaraleena.

You can find the Instagram logos here.

Recommendations not endorsed by any of these apps or by Instagram.

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