Sara Lovic

Obscura Camera App

Ben McCarthy

Obscura is a 3rd party photography app developed and designed for the Apple iOS. Obscura attempts to emulate a DSLR camera on a mobile device, with features like exposure settings, focus, shutter speed, and offers detiled metadata. Obscura has a comprehensive filter library and allows the user to enable live filters or apply filters to photos in the photo editing feature.

Obscura boasts design commendations from Apple, 1 million downloads and an editors choice badge on the US App store.

Why built the product?

1. Motivated by the independent developer community
2. Interested in combining tech, design and photography
3. Both come from a strong photography background/influence: One parent photographer, one parent amateur photographer - both thought we were going to be working professionally as photographers at some point during our college education.
4. Spurred on by the availability of resources by Apple
5. We identified a lack of a nicely designed as well as highly functional 3rd party photography apps on the App store.
6. A drive to be an independent business.

My Involvement

I have worked on helping the design and development process of Obscura alongside the creator, my partner Ben McCarthy, from 2016, right after we had both completed our college educations.

Obscura has been and still is a work in progress, and always evolving. We don’t follow strict methodologies or protocols when it comes to Obscura as it is a bit more unique that service or utility apps. It’s a tool app. A lot of our own expertise comes into the design as well as information that we have gathered over the years from the pool of professional photographers that we were very lucky to have access to thought my partners parent.

At the beginning we had conducted multiple trials with a group of photographers asking them about what they would like to see their phones camera do - as much as the devices would allow us to do - and the main need was custom exposure and focus, the things that really elevate photos when custom adjusted. Lucky for us this was possible on the iPhone.

When we asked a wider pool of people; creatives, amateur photographers and insagrammers; the overwhelming result we got was photo filters. With popularity of filters being largely attributed to Instagram and Snapchat at the time.

We also have a pool of developers who act as our beta testers thought Apple’s TestFlight app - allowing us to push betas and get feedback from people who genuinely care about helping. We have regular calls on various social media platforms for anyone who wants to join us as a beta tester through the TestFlight app. Most of our feedback has come in that form.

As well as asking questions about the design, development and bugs, we also conducted tests on ergonomics of the physical product and how the ease with which features can be accessed using essentially only your thumb. Our goal was the thumb. We wanted all of the features to be easily reached with just the users thumb.

The Design of Obscura

Simple, useful, beautiful. That is what I always aim for in any project, and Obscura was no different. The key to Obscura being a tool that you would want to have on your phone meant that I absolutely had to stand out from the crowd. We achieved this by looking at models of traditional DSLR cameras. We pulled details from the markings and created shapes from the components to create a unique set of icons and controls.

The dial is perhaps the most unique part of Obscura and an unusual feature in an app - it simply comes from dials from the DSLR, a feature every camera has and photographers are well accustomed to. The identity is very simply a concentric circle camera lens. We really like circles. There are multiple dials that can be accessed on Obscura which are the exposure, focus and the icon tools dials. Again very similar from the notch dial on a physical camera.

We felt that haptic feedback was also an important feature to include, it elevated the experience of using the app by adding another dimension of user experience. We really wanted to create as close an experience as possible to how a handheld DSLR might feel.

All the icons were custom drawn to complement the design of the app and create a truly unique experience.


Obscura 2 quickly rose to the top purchased photography app in the first few weeks of its release. We have received numerous promotions and design commendations that quickly gained us one million downloads and we clock in thousands of users daily. Check out this great article about us! As well as this one, and this one too. We have participated in Apple’s developer and designer workshops in London and we boast “Editors Choice” badges on the US and Japanese App stores - they’re sort of a big deal.


©Sara Lovic 2019
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