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Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

There’s a Filter for That

Smartphone cameras have a number of creative tools to enhance your trail photos. Knowing these tools is the key to unlocking your phone's camera potential. By Erika Haugen-Goodman

Want to bring out the delicate shadows and boost the vibrant greens of that fern? There’s a filter for that. Want to fix the super-bright sky while preserving the earthy tones of the trail? There’s a filter for that, too. Want to enhance the natural — okay, you get it. The thing I often need to be reminded of is that phones can do a lot of the heavy lifting for us when it comes to correcting errors or even just making a photo stand out from the others. 

Hiking photography is hard. You’re often competing with really bright skies and dark shadows in forest canopies, or midday sun. The beauty of filters is that they can take a process that might be frustrating or difficult and turn it into something you can appreciate creatively.

A child walks on a trail beset on each side by lush foliage.
This photo used one of the iPhone’s built-in filters that boosted vibrancy and contrast to make the foliage and sky pop in an image that would have otherwise been somewhat flat. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

Almost all modern iPhones and Android devices come with baked-in editing software that can handle most of your day-to-day needs. For the average hiker who doesn’t want to spend a ton of time editing photos, this is more than enough to get the job done. Just open the camera app and edit away. Often the app will have an “enhance” option that will attempt to autocorrect highlights, shadows and color balance — it’s a really useful tool that can be taken advantage of and then tweaked to get things just perfect. I use it as a baseline to see what the app thinks looks good, then make adjustments from there.

In terms of filters, you’ll usually have anywhere between ten and twenty options to pick from, ranging in style from black and white to desaturated and even heavy contrast and vibrant looks. Play around with them! Photography is meant to be fun and a creative process. If you like the look of a certain photo in black and white (this is often a great choice for high-contrast scenes like midday sun) then have at it! Experimenting with the default filters is an easy way to take a photo that might have been forgotten forever on your phone and turn it into something you share with friends or family.

A child stands on the pebbly shore of a body of water and peers beneath the surface.
Tinker with filter options to make your image pop. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

For more advanced users, there are also free (and some paid) apps that will offer you even more control over your photographs. Additional filters, color-correction options and more are all available for anyone wanting to spend more time editing their favorite hiking shots. Some of the popular ones include a mobile version of Adobe Lightroom, Afterlight, Pixlr and more. There are lots of options to choose from if you decide to go that route. 

Want to create photos that you’ll love to go back to and look at time after time? There’s a filter for that, so give it a try and see what you can come up with!

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.