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Editing On the Go: How to Use Snapseed for Impressive Edits

For a long time, editing images on my smartphone was a laborious process that required me to use multiple apps for different effects, depending on what I was trying to achieve.

Thankfully, there is one free photo editing app that’s changed all that: Snapseed. This app, available for free on both Android and iOS, can help you get the most of your files.

Mobile photography Snapseed editing tutorial

Note: I’m using the latest version of the app to date, version 2.1.0, released in late 2015. The app does frequently update its look and feel, so your screen might look different. However, the core functionality will likely remain the same.

Why Snapseed?

You may be wondering what makes Snapseed so valuable. Well, there are a few reasons this app is a step above the rest. First, once you get the hang of it, it’s very intuitive to use.

It also supports a great many functions, from cropping to highly selective adjustment of things like brightness, contrast and saturation. It also has native support for smartphone RAW files, meaning you can recover more highlight and shadow information than from standard JPEG files.

It can’t do everything, admittedly. If you want to overlay text or create collages, you’ll need a different app. But for everything related to image editing, Snapseed will do it.

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How to use Snapseed

Let’s walk through the use of Snapseed on an image, to give you an example of what is possible.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Snapseed can be used in both portrait and landscape orientation. I’d suggest using the orientation that the photo was captured in to get as much out of the screen real estate as possible. So, if you’re working with a portrait-orientation photograph, use the phone in portrait orientation. For the majority of examples I’ll be using, I’ll be using Snapseed in landscape orientation.

Basic image tuning

Let’s get started with the basic interface. To do so, we’ll perform some basic tuning to the image. Press the Tune Image icon (on the top left of the grid of options) to get started.

Snapseed main editing window

You’ll be taken to a screen like this:

Snapseed Tune Image main window

Now, to access the various tuning options, move your finger vertically up and down the screen, which will reveal the tuning tools. These include Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Ambiance, Shadows, Highlights and Warmth. Once you have selected a tool, move your finger left and right to adjust the values down and up. If you want to go back to adjust a value, you can do so — the changes aren’t permanent until you press the “check” box at the bottom right of the screen.

Let’s edit this image a bit, starting with everything at its default setting. This will largely be for illustration purposes, so I will be using slightly exaggerated values so changes look obvious.

First, I think the shadows were a little underexposed in the shot, so I will increase the shadows to +74.

Snapseed tune image shadows adjustment

Adjusting rotation

You’ll notice that the horizon isn’t level, so we’ll perform a transformational rotate on the image. This is different from a normal rotate because it fills in the gaps at the edges when you rotate the image, meaning you don’t have to crop. Select “Transform” from the list of tools and then select the last option on the transform tools list: “Rotation.”

Snapseed transform window options

Then, move your fingers left and right to rotate the image. A fine grid will appear on the screen to help with alignment. In this case, I need to rotate the image counter-clockwise to make the horizon level.

Transform rotate tool Snapseed

Once you have finished rotating the image, lift your fingers from the screen. Now, the software will work its magic and fill in the missing spaces left after rotating.

Snapseed transform tool

As you can see, the edges are fixed, automatically generated based on the surrounding image data. This works in most cases, but for image with complex edge, you won’t always get a perfect result.

Cropping

The crop tool is fairly simple. You can change the aspect ratio or choose to “free” crop, which lets you rotate the crop shape from landscape to portrait.

To crop an image, select the “Crop” tool from the main tools menu. From the main crop window press the rectangular icon near the bottom middle of the screen, to the right of the text “Original Aspect Ratio.”

snapseed crop tool

Pressing the aspect ratio icon will pop up this screen:

Snapseed crop tool aspect ratio option

This lets you choose the aspect ratio you want to work with. In this case, I’m going to keep the original aspect ratio. Now, all I have to do is drag the grid with my fingers to crop the image into the size I want. You can use the handy “thirds” on the grid to recompose the shot.

Snapseed example of cropping an image

Once you’re happy with the crop shape, just press the check button at the bottom right, which will apply the crop and take you back to the main edit window with the cropped image.

Snapseed main edit window

Healing tool

Much like in Lightroom, Snapseed can selectively remove parts of an image. You can easily eliminate elements like power lines, people in the background or skin blemishes. For this tutorial, let’s remove a person from the sand dune.

The heal tool works best on clearly stand-alone objects where their surroundings can be easily duplicated. The person standing on their own on the dune is a good test subject. Launch the “Healing” tool from the main menu.

Now, draw with your finger on the image over the area you want to heal.

Snapseed heal tool example

The selected area above is too big — the brush is as large as my fingertip. What I really want is to outline just the object to be removed, with a tiny overlap into the surrounding space. I need to undo the change and take a different approach, so I press the back arrow.

The best solution is to zoom in on the image. This is a two finger, pinch-to-zoom gesture that you’d use in most app interfaces.

Snapseed heal tool zoomed in

The rectangle with a blue box insides lets navigate around the image You can drag the little blue box or use two fingers to scroll to access different parts of the image. Zoom all the way out by double tapping on the image navigation box.

Now I can draw a much more accurate area to be healed. And when I take my finger off the screen, the final result is a lot more natural looking.

Snapseed heal tool zoomed in selection

Click the check button and the selection should disappear.

Snapseed heal tool object removed

Reviewing your edits

When on the main screen with your image, pressing and holding the screen will show your original image to remind you of the changes you’ve made so far.

Creative editing options

If we look at the main tools screen again, you’ll notice that the top half of the screen shows photo editing “tools,” which let you manipulate an image. The bottom half features “filters,” which let you get a bit more creative.

Snapseed main tool window options

Let’s look at the HDR Scape filter. This one works similarly to the other filters, so you can apply the steps here to other filters.

When you load the HDR Scape filter, it will apply a default filter with a strength of +50 (out of 100).

Snapseed HDR Scape Main Window

There are three options for the HDR Scape filter: Filter Strength, Brightness and Saturation. Holding down your finger on the screen will bring these three options up, as with the other editing tools.

There is another set of options for the HDR Scape filter. To the right of the “+73 Filter Strength” text at the bottom of the image is a little icon. Press that, and the following panel will appear.

Snapseed HDR Scape additional options window

These four options change how the filter works. Many of the filters in Snapseed come with these sub-options, so if a filter isn’t working for you, try these options.

Let’s try it out. We have people in this shot, so let’s see how Snapseed changes when we select the “People” option.

Snapseed HDR Scape People option

As you can see, the image is a lot less grainy, and the people look slightly less weird, although it’s still not the perfect result. Let’s try dialing it down. A filter strength of anything over 50 is usually going to result in weird effects, so we’ll go with +17 instead.

Snapseed HDR Scape reduced filter strength

That looks a bit better, although I’m still not sure I’ve improved the image much with this filter. I can check very quickly: At the top right of the screen, there’s an icon of a square with a line through it. Press and hold this icon to see what the image looked like before applying the filter (not necessarily the original).

Snapseed HDR Scape before and after

There are plenty more filters and options that you can try out, and even some powerful options for selectively editing files with the selective and brush tools. You can also selectively undo edits with the undo tool, giving you a great deal of control over your images.

Once you’ve finished playing, just hit the “Done” button and Snapseed will export your file as a new version — you won’t lose your original file.

Make the Most of Your Smartphone Camera!

mobile photography class

Discover how to take beautiful, high-resolution images by going beyond basic settings, using new features and expanding and your phone’s capabilities in this online video class.Enroll Now »

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