Mobile Photography Tutorial: Editing Curves in Hipstamatic

Jon Armstrong: Teardrop. Hipstamatic, November 2016—Sergio lens, Hackney film, Cadet blue gel flash; I got this result by editing the tonal curves inside of Hipstamatic.

One of the most powerful photographic editing tools is the ability to edit tone curves. Photoshop brought this to the desktop over 20 years ago, and mobile apps have been gradually bringing this powerful tool into the mainstream. Hipstamatic added this tool in version 3 and the implementation is great. It makes editing curves–and undoing those edits–easy.

Version 300 of Hipstamatic also added a ton of editing power, but today we’re focusing on (sorry for the pun, purely accidental) tone curve editing.

To edit an image in Hipstamatic from the camera/viewfinder view:

Touch the square in the lower left of the viewfinder.

Once you are in the image gallery viewer, tap the image you want to edit:

Tap the image you want to edit

The later versions of Hipstamatic allow you to edit ANY photo in your Photos app, including shots not taken with Hipstamatic.

Image shot in a different app than Hipstamatic; You have to touch the three circles to get into the editor.

After you’ve tapped the photo you want to edit, depending on your settings, you might see an overlay that asks you which version you wish to edit:

Editing choices…

If you choose “Edit From Original” you will open a “clean” image and when you are finished with your edits and save out, Hipstamatic will make a new version with the Hipstamatic edits.

If you edit a Hipstamatic original shot.

In a case where I’ve made edits in Hipstamatic already and I just want to tweak further, I will choose “Edit Existing” and pick up editing where I left off.

After you choose, the dialog sheet will fade and the first edit screen will give you an option to pick from presets, adjust a large slider that mixes between the starting point and the edits/preset. To the right there is a graphic of three sliders. Touch the sliders icon on the right side to open up the advanced editing options tabs:

Touch the sliders icon to get to more advanced editing options

The next screen will give you a row of icons to choose advanced editing options:

Drag to the left to get to the curves tab.

Swipe left on the tabs bar until you get to the curves tab:

The curves tab is a box with an “S” curve in it. Touch it to edit the curves.

The RGB aggregate curve is the first curve shown. You can adjust the points on this curve by touching and dragging on a point; dragging down will darken the selected tonal range and moving the point upward will lighten the selected tonal range. In the above example, you can see that the RGB curve shows a diagonal gray line with three small points. Those are reference points to the default. Should you want to quickly see where you started, just drag a large point over the small dot.

The white line represents an aggregate of all three channels; red, green and blue and is helpful for adjusting overall contrast, white and black points as well as boosting or reducing image brightness. You can make overall curve edits by touching the points on the white line:

Overall tone curve editing: quick shadows, mids and highlights edits in real-time

In the case above, I’ve boosted the shadows a bit as well as the mids, while reducing the highlights.

You can also choose to edit each of the three color channels–red, green and/or blue individually:

Curve editor tab with the red curve selected for editing.

This is useful for fixing color cast problems or tweaking for a specific look. Just as with the overall tone curve, each of the red, green and blue curves have three points per curve.

In the example below, I’ve made radical changes to all the curves:

Dramatic curve manipulation can yield surprising results. Or destroy the image.

You can use the individual channels to fix color problems or create unique looks.

When finished editing an individual curve or the overall RGB curve, touch “Done” or you can touch the three overlapping circles to get back to the overall tone curve:

If you want to get back to the overall curve, just touch the Venn diagram looking three circles

Once done, touch “Done” (upper right) and then touch “Save” (also upper right) once you are completely done editing the image.

The beauty of editing curves is that you can edit exposure/brightness, shadows, highlights, white point, black point, contrast, color tones and fix color cast all in a single editing tab.

Curves can be scary to edit, but you can always cancel out of the edits by tapping “Done” until you land on the advanced editing start tab. Then tap “Cancel” to remove all the edits you just made.

The starting point (image on the left) compared to the final edit (right):

Before/After using HIpstamatic and specifically, editing the curves to get the tonal look none of the presets were able to display.

None of the presets or film/lens/flash combos I tried could get the color tones I wanted. I had to use curves to get the shadow & mid tones that I wanted.

If you have questions, please leave a comment below.

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MoPho is published by Jon Armstrong, blogger since 2001 at, iPhone photo freak since the first apps hit the app store in 2008–9 and a podcaster co-hosting Turning This Car Around as well as Trailer Trash. Follow him: Jon Armstrong.