Mention “layers” and “photo-editing” in the same sentence and most of the geek crowd (or those who have worked in publishing houses) will assume that you are talking about Photoshop, with which the terms have become almost synonymous for years now. In simple terms, editing an image in layers refers to changing certain parts of it while leaving the others utterly unchanged. So you could change a phone in the hand of a model, change the car a person was sitting in and so on.

Now, let us make one thing clear at the very outset – in spite of all the talk of “true multi-layer photo editing” in its description on the iTunes App Store, the aptly-named Layrs is no Photoshop on your handset. That said, it certainly is no image tweaking lightweight either. At its simplest, Layrs divides an image into two parts – the foreground and the background and lets you tweak each, without affecting the other. You start off by either selecting an image or shooting a new one from within the app (we recommend the former – you cannot use autofocus from within the app). And then the fun starts.

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You first have to select the foreground – what remains in front of the picture so to speak. And this is done by moving a finger over the person or object you wish to place there. As you move your finger, you will see the areas you touch taking on a yellow-orange hue – this is the ‘smart mask’ and defines the area that will be untouched when you edit the background. But unlike other apps, like Finger Focus, where you define an object by just running a finger over it rough, Layrs’ smart mask lets you achieve a greater degree of accuracy by letting you fill out an object almost exactly – you can expand the mask by touching inside the masked area and moving your finger slowly outwards, and trim it by placing your finger outside the masked area and moving it towards the masked area gently. And it actually works pretty well – we have the mask shrink and fit sharp-edged objects once we got a hang of matters.

So you now, have essentially divided your image into two parts – the foreground (the masked area) and background (everything else). And now the app moves into something like Instagram mode, allowing you to add effects to both parts of the image, each without disrupting the other. So you could give a building a touch of marble, and make the background dusky and so on. And in a very neat touch you actually can increase or decrease the level of an effect by moving the picture representing it in a box upwards or downwards. You also blur the focusing, and tweak elements like brightness, saturation, contrast and sharpness. Once you have finished, you can share the fruits of your image-tweaking labor – and hey, this is an app for those who have some time on their hands – across your social networks, mail them, save them to your camera roll and so on. Basically, this is image tweaking at two levels, with filters thrown in. And the results can be pretty spectacular, if you choose your images well – those with a clear object or person in the foreground standing relatively close to the camera work best. We would not advise trying the app with group shots, unless you really have a lot of time to spare!

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No, Layrs is not perfect, and has its weak points. The ‘masking’ facility which is used to define foreground works fine if you have something that is large and clearly defined with no jutting edges. Look at something relatively small and well, ‘edgy’ and the whole process can get tiresome – we really hope they get an iPad version out soon, as moving one’s finger around on the larger screen will be so much easier. The basic image editing options like Contrast and Saturation also cycle through levels, so if you want to go from say Level 3 back to Level 1, you will have to go through Levels 4, 5 and 0, before coming to 1, which can be a bit tiresome. But honestly speaking, these do not detract from what is a very decent image tweaking app for those who love mucking around with their shots, and want to get into the middle ground that lies between the supremely dumbed down Instagram and the more complex PhotoShop Touch. And hey, it’s free. Which means it heads straight into our must-download list for all those who love to take and share pictures on their iPhones (who doesn’t?).

Available from: iTunes App Store
Price: Free


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Editorial Mentor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.