Flare for Mac: Image Processing for the Rest of Us

Pro photographers know the drill: plug in digital camera, import to Lightroom/Aperture, spend hours getting that image to look just right, and the results speak for themselves.

However, if you’re an amateur photographer, hobbyist, scrapbooker or just trying to make use of the camera you got for Christmas, you might find yourself less than satisfied with this complex and often time-consuming routine.

With an intuitive interface, powerful features, and speedy performance, Flare promises to give you great looking results without breaking the bank (or your sanity). Let’s take a look and see how it stacks up!

I’m no photographer, so my talented friend Genevieve Brown let me play with some of her photos for this review.

Getting Started

Following a popular (and handy) trend in Mac app development, getting started with Flare is a drag-and-drop affair. Not only can you drag and drop photos in from the Finder, you can also drag and drop from other applicaitons, such as Photoshop, Aperture or iPhoto.

Who doesn't love to drag and drop?

Who doesn't love to drag and drop?

Once your photo is in Flare, you have the option of cropping or rotating in the preview panel, or getting started with editing and effects. There are two directions you can go from here: Presets, or Edit. Flare comes with some twenty six preset effects to apply to your photos, ranging from LOHO to “Plastic camera.”

Adding some fun preset effects

Adding some fun preset effects

Whether you set a preset or not, you can fine-tune effects from the edit panel. If you’ve chosen a preset, the Edit panel displays all the effects applied to the photo and lets you add, subtract, or modify them.

Editing a preset effect

Editing a preset effect

At any point you can compare the processed photo you’re working on to the original with a small switch at the bottom of the photo preview.


There are three types of effects in Flare: Color, Lens, and Creative. Let’s take a look one at a time:

Color Effects

The color effects in Flare are much like those you would find in any photo editing application, with a few more fun ones thrown in:

  • Exposure
  • Midtone Brightness
  • Saturation, Brightness, Contrast
  • Tint
  • Duotone
  • Color filter
  • Color gradient
  • Black & white
  • Crossprocessing

Rather than displaying a histogram like a program like Lightroom or even Photoshop, Flare just shows a simple slider for each effect. If you’re used to manipulating a histogram, this might seem a little over-simplified (though Flare probably isn’t aimed at you…)

One of the things I really like about the editing panel is the control you have over the application of each effect. Not only can you control the intensity of the effect, but also the opacity, blending mode and blending mask.

It basically replicates the Photoshop process of duplicating the base layer, applying an effect, then adjusting the opacity, mode, and mask on each layer, or applying many effect layers.

The Photoshop method, though powerful, can be time-consuming and CPU intensive. In Flare, you can achieve very similar effects from one simple small adjustment panel and see live previews as you work.

On my MacBook Pro, Flare ran pretty fast, with the exception of some of the presets taking a couple seconds to apply, and some larger photos taking longer to load.

Adding some color effects

Flare lets you scroll through blending modes with arrow buttons

Lens Effects

Lens effects in Flare are pretty simple, and include:

  • Gaussian blur
  • Motion blur
  • Zoom blur
  • Sharpen
  • Glow
  • Vignette

These work in the same way as the color effects, and interact with them nicely. Again, these effects are pretty similar to what you can achieve in Photoshop, with simpler interfaces.

Creative Effects

Creative effects are mostly borders and fun, decorative things, as well as basic scale/rotation.

  • Grain
  • Texture
  • Lightleak
  • Frame
  • Border
  • Rounded edges
  • Barrel distortion
  • Rotation
  • Scaling
  • Halftone
  • Pixelate
  • Scanlines

You can achieve all sorts of fun effects here, or be more subtle by adjusting opacity and blending mode. I wasn’t feeling that subtle and just had lots of fun:

Some not-so-subtle modifications

Some not-so-subtle modifications

Unlike a lot of budget photo editing apps, the borders and graphics in Flare are actually quite nice, and don’t look like the cheap-looking (but fun) effects from PhotoBooth.

Other Features


The Snapshot feature allows you to save effects and adjustments for later reference without having to create a new preset. Then, no matter what other changes you make, you can revert back to the snapshot that you saved previously.

When you save a photo, you have the option of saving the final effects as a snapshot – sort of like keeping the original PSD, but you don’t have to remember where you put it (and it doesn’t eat up your hard drive).

Snapshots of saved effects

Snapshots of saved effects


Flare can export your finished photo to a email or directly to Flikr, which is a handy feature, but it would be nice if Flare had some sort of batch/roll processing that could apply the same effect to many pictures and upload the whole lot to Flikr/email.

I contacted the Iconfactory folks via Twitter, and they promise that batch editing is on its way in a future update

Save Presets

If you come up with a combination of effects you really love, click “Save as Preset” in the Edit panel, and use your preset in other projects, or share it with other users on the Flare app website.


Flare clearly doesn’t pack the power of more expensive programs like Photoshop or Aperture, and would probably disappoint anyone who takes their post-processing very seriously. However, for the casual photographer, or the budding amateur looking to save a couple (hundred) bucks on processing software, Flare might be a perfect fit.

For the price, Flare boasts a powerful feature set, and allows full control over how each effect is applied, allowing for countless possible combinations.

Flare also features an incredibly user-friendly interface. Anyone can get started right away without having to look at a user guide (though there is an extensive one) or having to spend hours reading online tutorials.

All things considered, I think Flare does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it very well. In conclusion, I’ll leave you with a couple examples of final products I was able to achieve with limited expertise and time!

If you hurry, you can get Flare app for 50% off ($9.99) until March 18 if purchased from the Mac App Store

Some vintage effects to match the old-school gymnasium

Some vintage effects to match the old-school gymnasium

Modification of the "LOHO" preset

Modification of the "LOHO" preset

Some simple color effects

Some simple color effects

All images © Copyright 2011 Genevieve Brown


Flare is a simple but powerful image processing app that allows you to add and customize dozens of effects easily with a user-friendly, beautiful interface.