"The best photos don't look edited; it's all about the story and the moment," photographer Cole Rise quips while walking me through his new mobile image editor. You may not recognize his name, but if you've used Instagram, you've seen some of his work. Rise created the Hudson, Sierra, Sutro and Rise filters for the popular social snapshooting app. But he's quick to tell you that the features in Instagram and other mobile editing software help mask bad photos and are generally too heavy-handed to churn out truly compelling images. So with that in mind, and with a library of presets for Lightroom, Photoshop and Aperture already in his toolbox, he set out to make a non-destructive editor with a simple UI and subtle tools. Something to make film-like tweaks to good photos rather than improve mediocre ones. He created Litely for iOS.
When you first fire up Litely, you're greeted with a photo library to which you can add shots from your Photo Stream and other iCloud folders. Of course, you can take a new shot as well, and the app leverages the iPhone's (or iPad's, should you so choose) built-in camera chops to do so. Ever notice how photos look better in some apps as compared to others? Well, that's largely a software issue and having spent some time at Apple, Rise is quite familiar with the camera on the 5s. That said, Litely doesn't employ its own tweaks behind the scenes here, but rather it lets the native hardware do the heavy lifting. This means that you can snap a load of images with the phone's camera and save the editing for later on it or an iPad, thanks to easy access to the cloud-stored files. Or you could drop a few JPGs from a DSLR and edit them slate-style whilst on the train.
Upon selecting a file, you're launched into the main edit screen. The overall design of the app keeps its promise of simplicity, and that's definitely evidenced here. While you can certainly swipe up and down on the list to toggle the presets, doing so on the image itself achieves the same result. Each of the options is applied at 50 percent by default (again, subtlety) and a slider appears above the list allowing for adjustment. "That's important because subtlety means longevity. I wanted to create an app that enhances your photos today, but keeps them looking just as beautiful and timeless in 50 years' time," Rise notes. What's more, if you swipe across the image with two fingers, you can gaze at a before/after split-screen preview.
"Subtlety means longevity."
The presets are also colored-coded to give you an idea of the hues they employ and each has a regular, high-contrast and faded setting for further editing options. A single tap on the image serves up a zoomed-in view, which can be panned around using the gyroscope of an iOS device. Not only can you take a closer look, but also you can maneuver around the edges of the photo for a better view of all the edits. During my time with Litely, I found that I preferred my iPad mini over the iPhone 5s if I had some time to sit down to edit. The increased screen real estate was more comfortable and enhanced the use of the aforementioned movement. Of course, the smartphone was the choice if I needed to take a quick shot to edit before beaming out to Twitter.
Along the bottom of the UI are menu items for corrective adjustments, a crop tool and sharing options. Once inside that secondary editor, exposure, sharpen, vibrance and vignette tweaks are all there, with another intensity slider for each. During our chat, Rise dwelled upon that last feature for a few minutes. He says that while the vignette option in most apps just adds black to the outside of the image, Litely actually adjusts the exposure for the desired effect. "It's technically right," he adds.
Perhaps the most compelling feature is the way the software handles files. Litely is non-destructive, allowing you to step back from an edit and start fresh. It also makes adjustments to the full-resolution images and allows the exporting of those files without losing quality -- a must for photographers needing to keep photos as large as possible for later use. When you're all done, the app offers sharing to AirDrop, iMessage, Mail, Twitter, Facebook or just saving out that full-size file. I
f you're looking to share images to Instagram or another social outlet, you'll have to save 'em and then open the desired shot in that app. While this is an inconvenience, Rise maintains that Litely isn't meant to be social, but rather a tool focused on editing. (Update 5.13.14: Thanks to an update, Instagram sharing is now a standard option).
For those that aren't after the more detailed tweaks that Adobe Lightroom mobile offers, this could be an attractive option. That more pro-minded app requires a monthly subscription though, and is really more of a complement to the full-on desktop software. There's also the free VSCO Cam for iOS and Android, but you can dive pretty deep into that app's setting when editing a photo. Rise's take certainly has an advantage over it in terms of simplicity. And the same can be said, albeit to a lesser extent, for Snapseed. At launch, the free version of Litely for iPhone and iPad will house nine presets and users will have the option of making in-app purchases of a dozen at time for $1.99 per pack.