Instagram offers a simple blur and focus function that's effective at making faces pop and adds an interesting twist to baby photos.

The fleeting first year of a baby's life is not something any parent would want to miss, and those constantly changing mannerisms and devastatingly cute expressions absolutely need to be preserved in the best images possible. Having been a newspaper photographer, I thought that task would be a breeze. But alas, babies move unpredictably, quickly change moods and need constant attention, so it's much harder than it seems.

While mobile phones have yet to steal my heart away from a solid SLR and quality lenses, it's simply not always possible to be lugging the wee lad about the room, feeding him bottle after bottle and changing diapers (oh so many diapers!) while also switching your glass from the portrait lens to the wide angle. If you're the only adult in the room during daylight -- which I am most of the time -- you can basically forget about using the big boy camera, except during the brief play time between bottle No. 4 and nap No. 6. And unless you have a home studio, you have to work with the light the living room or the park. When each "first" occurs and the inevitable acts of cuteness ensue, my first thought has become, "Where's my damn iPhone!?"

No matter which smartphone you're using, here are some apps that can enhance your images and help you get the photograph you want:

#1 Enhanced capture apps: ProCamera/Camera Plus Pro/ProCapture

A good detail shot of our newborn's face was crucial for me to get on his first day in the world, and when I finally found an opportunity in good light, the battery on the Canon 5D was dead. But with my smartphone handy, the ProCamera app's movable sharpness target helped make sure I captured the detail in the face and hand.

Apps that have the ability to lock focus on the baby's face or hands are especially useful for a quickly moving subject. Babies spend a lot of time learning about how to control their appendages, and that results in darting movements that can throw off a phone camera's autofocus. For those jumpy moments, ProCamera also allows full and lower resolution rapid fire shooting (with image quality dropping at higher frame rates) plus manual exposure for mixed light so you can get just the right level on the focal point.

#2 Instagram

Instagram is just fun -- and I like to use it when he's looking introspective about some new discovery.

Attention, new parents, and prepare yourself for some harsh social media truth: Not everyone wants to see a continuous stream of your baby's every movement. It might be shocking to hear, but among the hundreds of Facebook acquaintances you palled around with in your school days, there's a good percentage who would rather hear you say something pithy about the DMV, or post a link to a cool video. That anything would be more important than your offspring is hurtful, I know. But here's a solution: Make an Instagram account especially for your baby, and those who really want the day-to-day updates will follow. The app includes cool filters and focus effects that can really improve a muddily lit, but otherwise precious, moment. Other editing programs like Photoshop Touch also can help you spruce up an exceptionally great image worthy of sharing -- if you must -- with your 900 closest friends.

#3 Vapp / Shout n' Snap / Voice Camera Pro / ReadyClick!

I was sitting close during playtime when he was first learning to lift his head, so I had to keep one hand free in order to avoid face plants into the floor. I held the phone low, making sure to compose a frame on his level, and caught the big eyes when he looked to his side. Without seeing the viewfinder, I simply snapped my finger to activate the shutter on Vapp. So I ended up nabbing this shot with one hand -- and without fussing around with the exact location of the shutter button.

When you simply don't have two hands available -- which is often as a new parent -- you might want to try some voice-activated shutter photo apps that allow you to keep the phone stable with one arm while you narrow in on the definitive moment. If you're concerned about shouting too loud, some of these apps, such as Vapp, allow an adjustable volume to activate the shutter.

#4 Fast Camera / Fast Burst Camera / Blink

It was golden hour in the park, and I had this really perfect soft dusk light that was about to fade any minute. He was super smiley in the fresh air, and I knew I shouldn't risk missing the perfect face in the perfect light, so I opened Blink and fired off three rounds of rapid fire. This one was the clear winner.

Fast Camera captures individual images of what is basically video, so not even a tiny facial expression change will be missed. Slower speeds can be selected for higher-resolution stills, which are stored off the camera roll for more focused perusal later.

For some fairly high-resolution rapid fire shots, Windows Phone has Blink. It's not too fancy in the manual control department, but it does a good job and stores the photo series off your camera roll so you can choose the perfect shot. Microsoft's image stabilization technology also does a good job keeping the subject in decent focus even in low light.

For greater speed and ease of use, these apps are an alternative to more manually controlled cameras that shoot higher resolution images.

#5 SteadyCam

I don't like to ever use the flash in his face, and the first day in the bouncy seat was a little too bouncy to get sharp photos in low light. But SteadyCam helped for following a general composition area and only firing off a frame at its stillest. It's not great for precision, but it can help capture a general scene that has a lot of movement.

Windows Phone's SteadyCam has a feature that will take a full resolution photo only when the device is being held at it's stillest. It's effective for wider shots where the baby is ambling about the floor.

  • SteadyCam for Windows Phone: free in the Windows Store

Dan Schreiber is a journeyman newspaper journalist currently based in California's Bay Area. Perhaps a little light-headed from too many hours in his high school dark room, he decided at a young age to make photography and writing his profession. Twitter: @danschreib