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What is Photoshop Camera? How Adobe’s new A.I. app edits photos before you take them

Photoshop has long been the industry standard of photo editing, but Adobe’s latest mobile app takes the Photoshop name in a new direction. Photoshop Camera, now officially out of beta, edits an image before it’s taken. Available for both iOS and Android, Photoshop Camera creates effects that previously would have required a lot of time behind a desktop computer. Here’s how it works, and how you can get the most out of it.

What is Photoshop Camera?

Photoshop Camera, or PsC, is what Snapchat filters would look like if they were made by Adobe. Powered by Adobe Sensei, the company’s artificial intelligence program, Photoshop Camera uses tricks like facial and object recognition to apply filters specific to the image. Only, instead of giving your selfie floral deer antlers, Photoshop Camera blurs the background of the photo, applies studio lighting effects, creates pop art, or adds a number of different effects.

Despite their complexity, Photoshop Camera’s filters, called Lenses, work in live view, so you can see the effects applied to the image in real time. In other words, the app is capable of editing photos before you actually take them. (Don’t worry, it can also edit photos you’ve already taken that reside in your camera roll.)

Photoshop Camera contains a mix of Lenses that are appropriate for the real Photoshop’s variety of possible uses, from editing portraits to creating graphic art. One one end, the app aims to create realistic-looking images that simply look like they were taken with a better camera, with enhanced lighting, more contrast, and bokeh. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some lenses create fantasy worlds — turning a photo of an average kayak trip into a mythical float down a river lined with giant popsicles.

How does it work? Photoshop camera was built around A.I. from the start. Using object recognition, the app knows what’s the subject and what’s the background in order to decide what to blur, what to highlight, and how to layer in different Lens elements. Recognizing what’s in the photo is a major part of the app, such as sky replacement filters that first need to find, then swap out the sky. But the A.I. also works for more technical changes, such as which areas to brighten, where to add contrast, and more.

How to use Photoshop Camera

When you first open Photoshop Camera, like any camera app, you’ll need to grant it access to your phone’s camera and your camera roll. The app will also walk you through a brief overview.

Once open, you’ll find Lens options are along the bottom of the screen, with the option to download more by tapping the plus icon. Adobe is partnering with creatives to produce different filters, so check back often for new options. The first time you use a filter, the app may seem a bit slow as it initially downloads the filter. 

Once the filter is applied, you can swipe left and right to see different options within that same filter — the row of dots above the filter strip shows how many filter options there are. Some filters will offer suggestions, such as pointing the camera at the sky or a face.

In camera mode, the top of the screen houses a few more controls — the globe icon is for managing Lenses, the “…” for settings like aspect ratio and flash, and the arrows to switch from the front- to rear-facing camera.

Once you snap a photo — or if you want to start with a photo that you’ve already taken — tap the square thumbnail to the right of the shutter button. Photos shot in the app are saved to the PsC Studio, but you can also tap to access the camera roll. Adobe Lightroom users can also use the shortcut at the top for to access their Lightroom library.

The editing window looks similar to the camera window, but with a few major changes. The wand icon at the top allows you to toggle automatic edits on and off (a blue icon means auto adjustments have already been applied) while the slider icon opens up adjustments such as exposure, highlights, clarity, and more. The PsX icon at the top is a shortcut to Photoshop Express.

Photoshop Camera will sometimes suggest a Lens for you if a face or scene is detected. Unlike in live view, if you tap Lenses in the editing mode, you can somewhat customize the look of that lens. With some Lenses, you can change the size and amount of bokeh, for example. The options vary from Lens to Lens.

Filters can also be adjusted by tapping on the photo itself. After tapping the icon with four arrows at the top, you can pinch to enlarge, move, or tilt a filter. This allows you to place the light leaks from the Analog Lens in specific spots of the image, for example.

Photoshop Camera does an excellent job with auto edits — even photos that I had previously tweaked in another program looked better with PsC’s magic wand effect applied, with an improved depth effect and better colors. Even if you don’t want those fantasy Photoshop effects, the option to adjust background blur and portrait lighting, even without a dual-lens phone, is a major plus.

Hillary K. Grigonis/ Digital Trends

While there are several tools to customize the look of a photo, you can’t change how the A.I. decided to separate the subject from the background — and it doesn’t always get it right. In our testing, the app thought a brown sweater was part of a tree and did a poor job of cutting out grass that partially obscured the subject. Some photos proved a bit too tough for some of the filters — in one photo, the fantasy Supersize Lens replaced the entire image with a default background.

But, when it comes to putting the power of Photoshop into the palm of your hand in a way anyone can use, Photoshop Camera impresses. The Lenses are geared more toward novices than working photographers — and eventually, they all start to feel the same — but even seasoned photographers will appreciate the auto adjustments and portrait effects.

Photoshop Camera is available on Android and iOS as a free download, with an optional in-app purchase to tie the app into Creative Cloud storage.

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