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Touch up photos on iOS for free with Adobe Photoshop Mix

Edit photos on iPhone or iPad with the very handy Photoshop Mix


Get the Looks

Photoshop Mix’s Looks are one-click creative effects along the lines of Instagram filters. Some are quite dramatic, such as the high-contrast, grainy colours of Twilight or the washed out sepia tones of Vintage. Others, such as Natural, Brighten and Landscape, are designed to flatter colours without making images look obviously processed.

These filters become more interesting when they’re applied to a limited area of the frame, and this is something at which Photoshop Mix excels. Simply swipe a finger across the image while auditioning filters, and the selected filter will only be applied to the area you’ve selected. Doing so will also reveal controls for modifying the selected area.

There’s a choice of Basic or Smart area selection, with the latter automatically following the contours of shapes in an image. In most instances this gives the best results, but sometimes Smart selection can misinterpret shapes in a photo. In that case, switch to Basic mode, adjust the brush size, zoom in with a two-finger push and define the area you want manually. Switching between Add and Subtract modes is useful for fine-tuning a selection.
Enabling Refine Edges softens the edges of the selection to avoid harsh borders, but does so in an intelligent way so that crisp edges remain sharp and softer or complex edges such as hair and foliage are handled appropriately. It’s nearly always worth having this enabled. Feather Edges applies a blanket softening to the edges of the selection, and can be useful for applying subtle colour tweaks.

Finally there’s the Invert button, which flips the selection. This is useful for when it’s quicker to define the areas of the image that you don’t want to be processed rather than the areas you do. For example, a common trick is to have the main subject in full colour and convert the background to black and white. You can achieve this by selecting the Portrait filter, selecting the main subject and then tapping Invert.

^Applying the Portrait Looks filter to the background helps our subjects stand out

The filters applied in the Looks section will interact with any colour correction applied in the Adjust section, so you may find that you need to return to the Adjust controls. This is where Photoshop Mix’s non-destructive approach comes into its own. Because neither sets of effects have been applied permanently to the image, you can adjust or remove them at any time. It also means you can fine-tune their settings without having to apply the filters over and over again, which would degrade image quality.

^ A combination of Adjust and Looks settings on two layers has let us apply different colour correction settings to the foreground, horizon, boat and sails in this image

Be selective

Photoshop Mix supports two layers for combining two different photos. It also means you can import two copies of the same photo and process each one separately. With the help of the Cut Out tool to remove parts of the upper layer, this means you can apply two sets of colour correction settings and two independent Looks to different parts of the image.

Tap the square with a + symbol at the top of the screen to load an image into the upper layer. This is the job that we referred to earlier that it’s best to do before cropping the image, or else the two layers won’t align correctly. If for any reason you want to swap the order of layers – perhaps to see what’s on the lower one momentarily – just drag one layer over the other.

The Cut Out tool is the same as the selection tools built into the Looks filters, except for an additional Auto button. Tapping this prompts the app to hazard a guess at what the main subject of the photo is. In some cases this might provide a useful shortcut, but if there are lots of errors it might be easier to tap Undo and make the selection manually with the Smart or Basic brush. Cut Out is yet another non-destructive tool, so the pixels you can’t see are hidden rather than deleted. That means you can return this tool at any time to adjust the selection.

The Cut Out tool can also be used to combine two different photos, of course. Achieving photorealistic results isn’t easy, as it depends on the lighting and perspective of the two images being compatible with each other. We managed to get away with it with our duck dropped into a lake (see below) because both photos were taken in overcast conditions and there wasn’t much in the way of perspective reference points in either photo. It was still a bit of an effort matching the colour of the ripples around the duck, which we wanted to keep, with the reflection of the pink clouds. Applying the Warm Looks filter and masking it so it only applied to the water and not the duck did the job.1 Applying a Brighten filter to the foreground and trees helps those areas stand out…2 and feathering the edges of those areas blends the filtered and other parts of the image3 In comes our duck to add some interest to the foreground4 We’ve adjusted colours and cut it out, including the ripples that surround it…5 …and then feathered this selection too

6 Finally, a Warm filter is applied to the ripples to match the pink of the reflected clouds. The duck has been masked out of this filter so it doesn’t become pink too

Server-powered edits

Photoshop Mix’s other tools, located under the More Edits button, are only available when the iOS device is online. They involve uploading image data to the cloud for analysis on Adobe’s servers. It’s an odd approach, but it does the job without too much delay. If these features don’t work, double-check that you’re successfully logged in with an Adobe ID account. Initially we found that the app hung at zero per cent progress, but re-entering our Adobe ID username and password resolved the problem.

The Upright tool is similar to the one in Adobe Lightroom. It identifies straight lines in photos and skews the image so those lines are parallel to the edges of the photo. This often improves the appearance of buildings, removing the sense of perspective that makes them appear to taper towards the top. It can help improve the composition of all sorts of other photos, too.

^ The Upright tool identifies straight lines and skews the image to make them parallel to the edges of the canvas

Shake Reduction is a feature that was recently introduced to Photoshop CC, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find it in a free app. Essentially it’s a form of digital sharpening, but it analyses images to try to identify the exact shape by which pixels are blurred due to camera shake. The app offers three processing results to choose from. In our tests none of them looked particularly convincing, but it’s an interesting tool to experiment with.

Content-Aware Fill is probably the most useful of the three online tools. If there’s something that – or someone who – you’d prefer not to be in a photo, select this tool, paint over the unwanted subjects and tap Fill. The app then clones from other parts of the image to cover up the offending item. It works best for backgrounds with a random texture such as grass and trees. Regular structures such as buildings can make the cloned area much easier to spot. There’s a lot of intelligence built into this tool, though, and the results are often highly convincing. We like photos to have a strong, simple composition, and getting rid of minor distractions can go a long way towards achieving this.

^ Use Content-Aware Fill to tidy up messy parts of photos

Mixed results?

It’s early days for Photoshop Mix, and there are plenty more things we’d like to see included, such as white balance and gamma adjustment, support for more than two layers, and possibly the ability to match colours in different layers automatically. It’s also frustrating that the Undo function is only available while making adjustments to a particular tool, and when moving from one tool to another. It’s an excellent start for this app, however, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it develops.

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