Mobile Photo Editing: Snapseed for Beginners

User friendly photo-editing app for your phone or tablet

By Jeff Lopez in Articles and Tips on Oct 5, 2017
Mobile Photo Editing: Snapseed for Beginners

Snapseed is a user friendly photo-editing application currently developed by Google. It has a very comprehensive layout, which at first handles very differently to other popular photo editing apps, but in time you will probably begin to like it a lot. Although it's not up to the magical prowesses of desktop imaging editors, like Adobe Lightroom and CaptureOne, it certainly holds up it own in terms of versatility and power to these, and I would say it is the best mobile photography editor in Google Play. This article does not pretend to be a full tutorial, it is mostly focused on a beginner's approach to it, yet there will be some examples that explore some really good "pro" wise features that will be useful as we learn to use it. Before anything, I must mention that this review is based on the Snapseed Android version, (Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Android 6) and the examples will be JPG. Recently Snapseed added basic RAW support (as of version 2.17), but RAW file management is very poor. It needs some very complicated workarounds which I prefer not to discuss inside the article.

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To begin, tap the Snapseed icon and it will open up a black screen with a small herald flag on the bottom or side. The flag hides a section called Insights, where you can see several Snapseed tutorials by users and world photographers. You really should have a look at that, as there are extremely helpful tips and images that you may want to apply towards your editing work, and you can apply their editing steps to your own photos.

There is a pencil icon, which contains Snapseed tools and filters.Up to the right side, there are 3 icons. The first icon is for exporting and sharing to other apps, like Facebook, email, and Clipboard. The second icon is for editing management, and the third icon is for online help and image details. As long your image EXIF is present, it will show the most important EXIF details of your selected image.

We tap on the middle of the black screen of Snapseed, we get to see the Gallery. Select a image and we may enlarge and move around your picture. You will see a box overlay, which represents your picture. As we move and enlarge, the blue box inside the square reduces its size, and it corresponds to the visible photo area.

I highly recommend practicing this, so you can get a grip on touch screen editing, for it will be needed to spot and area edits on your images.  For now, leave your picture without cropping, and tap the pencil icon. You will see 3 sections with several labels. Tools contains image editing tools, Filters contains several popular filters, (Instagram like), and Face, which are useful portraits tools.

(Click on a screen shot to enlarge and browse)

Lets tap on Tune Image. This box is a collection of the most applied image fixers you would find on desktop image editors. As you might notice, there are no sliders on the bottom of the screen. There is a Histogram icon, an Adjust icon, an Auto Adjust icon, and the Discard and Apply icon. When you tap on Adjust or on the image, you will see a menu popup on the middle of the image. The menu scrolls up and down, like a web page, highlighting an editing option.

Let's select Brightness. We slide a finger from left to right to adjust, and you will see a slider on the top of your screen that reflects your selected level. There is also a Compare icon on the top right on the screen. Tap on this icon, and you will see your editing results against the original image. Experiment with Tune Image, and don't worry about your original picture. Snapseed is non destructive and will always output and save an edited copy of your image.

(Click on a screen shot to enlarge and browse)

Ok, tap on your Back icon and select Healing. This is a tool that "smudges" a spot or area, it mixes a surrounding area to your selected spot. You may tap for spot editing or finger slide for an area. As you may notice, it would be better to enlarge and move your image within the box overlay, for the screen is waiting for the healing edits to be made. Healing is not very good at spot removal; you cannot select an area and apply like Lightroom, but for skin and big uniform areas, it does the job. If you need to step back, select the Undo curved arrow at the bottom. You may Undo or Redo 25 times.

Tap Back. You should play with Expand, Perspective, and Selective. These tools are what really make Snapseed standout from other mobile editors. For example, Expand creates a bigger picture using border areas from your picture. Perspective manipulates the relative all around skew of an image.

Selective allows you to Tune Image on selected areas on your picture, by assigning up to 8 points. Each point has several options when you press a point. You may Tune Image a selected area using the same scrolling scheme as the basic Tune Image tool, copy the edits to another point, erase the edits, or back step them. You may also hide the points tapping the Hide icon and tap again to show them.

(Click screen shot to enlarge and browse)

Brush lets you select by tap spot or slide several sub features like Dodge and Burn, Exposure, Temperature, and Saturation. Each has its own modifiers and tapping on the Eye icon reveals what area are adjusted.

Curves is another feature which will mostly appeal to landscape photographers. Tap Curves and you will see a box with a sliding diagonal blue dot. If you tap and slide the dot, the overall image changes hues, tones, and luminosity. If you need better control, there is an Channel icon, at the bottom of the screen, where you may select RGB, Red, Green,Blue, and Luminance aspects.There is also a Style icon, where you may select a preset based on this tool.

After you are done with your edits, tap the second icon on the top right of the screen. It pops a selection menu where you can undo, redo, and revert your edits. You may also view the edits. Tap View Edits, and at the bottom you will see a list of all your edits done to your image. If you long tap on a edit, you will see a left menu where you may erase, readjust, invert and mask your edit. Very handy to have, so you would not need to redo all your edits.

(Click screen shot to enlarge and browse)

Go Back and select My Looks. This will show you a small copy of your picture. Below the picture there are 3 dots. Tap on the dots and you will see another screen where you may apply your edits to another image or even append those edits to another set of edits. Go Back and tap the second icon again and select Save Look. This will save your set of edits with a label. When you open another picture, you may apply all your previous edits to the new picture, and even select whatever edits you like to apply or not.

Tap the first icon at the top, right hand side to save, share, or export:

(Click screen shot to enlarge and browse)

We are pretty much done with basic usage of Snapseed and with some advanced concepts explained. This is probably what most photographers would work with and get some nice results.

(Beware, for here be dragons, on social web lands yonder.)

Filters, filters, filters. We all have dabbled on those, whether we liked or not. But there are times that a crazy filter will turn a ho hum picture into a viral Instagram or whatever there is these days. Snapseed is really wonderful; if you are a serious, paid for job photographer, it has you covered. If you are the selfie, instant pic posting wonder, Google has you covered too!

Snapseed has a lot of filters, from Vintage to Lens Blur, and all these filters are quite elastic. For example, you may select Double Exposure to layer images and adjust the opacity and style of the overlaid image. HDR Scape will produce HDR like results, where you may select and adjust styles, modes, colors, and HDR strength. Vintage has over 10 filters, where you may modify each filter effects. Lens Blur applies DOF effects, where you may use as a tilt shift for that diorama or tiny toy look.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge and browse)

Face and Pose filters are quite useful for portraits, but there has to be a face that would be at least 20% of the picture, or else these filters will not work. Snapseed will try to autodetect a face, and if it's not prominent enough, Snapseed will try again until it finds one or just give up. There is no way to select a face manually. I really hope this will change on future versions of Snapseed. Face will offer you several portrait filters like selective brightness and softness. These are adjustable once you select one. Pose is perspective for portraits. You may adjust and skew a portrait, for example, longer or shorter chin, broaden or narrow noses, etc. These filters are not toys, though. Adjusting these parameters are as good and complicated as in Adobe Photoshop.

In closing the article I have to say I really like Snapseed. I am not a photographer, at least not to an Ambassador level, but for what I use Snapseed for, it fits me perfectly. I do a lot of on-spot product photography, and I need to wow potential customers there and now. They will not wait 3 days for me to post process their pictures, and I hardly carry more than my camera and 2 lenses, probably a flash. So this is my portable studio: camera bag, Note 4, and Snapseed. If you need hardcore professional results, Snapseed would not replace what you have on your PC. But if you are on the go or in a tight situation, it will be a lifesaver.

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