Whether you own a dedicated camera or not – the smartphone provides a convenient and more than capable tool to capture those fleeting photographic moments. This same mobile-anywhere, anytime experience also applies to your photo editing. No longer are you restricted to your desktop editing program or need to dedicate a block of time to edit that growing library of images.
For most, the images straight out of their phone are satisfactory to record a scene or memory. However, you the photo enthusiast – you want more!
You can start applying editing workflows and techniques using mobile apps already at your disposal. To avoid the many gimmicky photo editing apps for smartphones, check the date of the latest version, ratings, and reviews. A great selection of powerful photo editing apps available on both Android and iOS devices include Adobe Lightroom CC, Polarr Photo Editor, Retouch, A Color Story, and Snapseed.
In this article, you will learn some smartphone photography tips and the best features and techniques using the free, versatile, and powerful Snapseed app by Google (iOS or Android). This app is a popular choice amongst mobile photographers – available for both Android and iOS devices. Originally released in June 2011 by Nik Software, Snapseed was acquired by Google in 2012. Version 2.0 was released in April 2015 and the latest complete interface overhaul occurred in September 2017.
The first step after installing any new camera replacement or photo editing app is to become familiar with the settings.
The three dot overflow icon in Snapseed accesses several settings options.
The main one to change is the default Format and Quality from JPEG 95% to either 100% or PNG file format. The Android version also has the option to change the app appearance to a dark theme. This can look great as a background against your images.
Tools in Snapseed
This whole section of Snapseed provides a range of global (whole image) and local (specific area) adjustment options and a number of filter-like effects to change the look and mood of an image.
What makes Snapseed so intuitive and easy to use is the capability to swipe up and down to switch between adjustments and then left and right to increase/decrease the effect. Below are some of the most noteworthy features.
Editor's Tip: Need some extra cash in your pocket? Earn passive income by joining our #1 recommended affiliate program.
Straightening your image should be the first step before cropping to your desired aspect and composition. Within the Perspective tool, there is a Rotate option to straighten your image.
Other options include: Tilt, Scale, and Freeform.
Tilt changes the angle from which the photo appears to have been captured. Scale will either stretch or compress at the vertical or horizontal axis. Using the Freeform mode, simply drag a corner in different directions to correct or further warp the lens distortion typical of a wide-angle smartphone lens.
You will be familiar with a number of these adjustments, including Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Shadows.
Unlike most smartphone in-built photo editors, you can actually reduce the brightness in the highlight areas of the image. This works really well to bring back the details in clouds and other bright areas of the image that have not become completely white.
This feature was one of the most recent feature additions, indicating that Google has identified the more serious photo enthusiast as their target audience.
You have lots of options within Curves, including presets to assist those who do not want/need to know how curves work. These are a quick way to discover a look you may not have considered – then tap anywhere on the line and drag in different directions and see the changes in the live view.
The addition of color channels and luminance curves provides much more scope for color correction and color adjustments in the highlights and shadows.
This is a quick feature that allows you to selectively apply extra definition to highlights, mid tones, and shadows within the image.
This is great for images that really benefit from adding texture and sharpening.
There are two options to sharpen your image: Structure and Sharpening.
The second option, Sharpening, will indiscriminately sharpen every pixel in the image. Structure dramatically sharpens content in the image that has contrast, creating quite a grungy look.
One of the best local adjustment tools is the Selective feature.
Simply tap the screen to drop a pin, then pinch and zoom to increase/decrease the range of nearby pixels of similar tone and color.
Next, swipe up and down to access the adjustment for Brightness, Contrast, Saturation or Structure.
Lastly, swipe left and right to adjust the strength of the adjustment to the selected area.
This feature is much more accurate than the Brush tool that is a quick finger painting tool to apply Brightness, Temperature, and Saturation.
Editor's Tip: Taking great photos means you need to know how to use your gear. Learn how to read the markings on your lens.
Want to remove a distracting object within your photo? Pinch and zoom in and swipe over an area of the image to replace with the surrounding content.
This is known as content aware fill. It is aware of the surrounding content and fills in the area that you swipe.
If you do not have a smartphone that offers a beauty mode or studio lighting feature – this feature has a Face Spotlight, Skin Smoothing, and Eye Clarity tools.
Not sure which tool to use? There are presets available that make up a combination of each tool.
As you know, blurring the background can make the in-focus subject jump off the screen and remove the viewer’s attention away from a busy distracting background.
The Lens Blur tool has a circular Elliptical and straight line Linear option. You can adjust the transition distance from in focus to the desired strength of the blur.
In addition, the Lens Blur has a Vignetting option to darken or lighten the corners and edges.
Editor's Tip: Not sure where to go for your next photography adventure? Find out why Monument Valley is a photographer's paradise.
This feature is similar to layers that you will find in desktop editing programs. You have the ability to go back and fine tune or delete a previous edit in the workflow.
Access is via the icon that looks like two squares laying on top of each other on the top right of the screen. Next, tap on View Edits to reveal each adjustment that has been applied after tapping the check mark.
Where this feature really excels is the masking function. Tap on the adjustment to reveal the bin, masking (paintbrush), and adjustment icon. Masking allows you to specifically choose where and how much of the edit to apply to the image.
Tools like White Balance, Curves, HDR Scape, and Black and White are fantastic tools that do not need to be limited to being a global adjustment. You can mask exactly where you want the enhancement to be applied.
Looks and Styles in Snapseed
Referred to as Looks on iOS devices or Styles on Android devices, you do not have an end image in mind before starting the edit. These filters can provide a preview of different image versions that are achievable – as a starting point to your edit or as inspiration.
If you like a filter and would like to tweak it to your taste, tap on the stacks icon to reveal each step as the filter was generated. Tap on each adjustment to tweak the adjustments to your preference.
Create Your Own Filter
Once you have edited an image – you can save this workflow as your very own filter!
Now when you capture a series of photos, you can apply the same edits to all your images. You can share your editing workflow with others as well!
Tap the stacks icon, then QR look, then Create QR look. Next, within Snapseed – open an image, tap on the Stacks icon then scan QR look. This will apply the exact same edits to the opened image.
If you are new to photo editing or want to preview different editing results, then the filters located in Looks (Android) and Styles (iOS devices) can be a great place to start and apply a quick edit.
The next step is to have a quick general editing workflow to streamline and a quick six-step editing workflow with a consistent use of Perspective, Crop, Tune Image, Details, and Healing, then Lens Blur to finish off the image.
Snapseed is a powerful mobile photo editing tool that can be used for simple and quick edits to more advanced local adjustments using the layers (Stacks) and masking.
About the Writer:
After 20 years in photography, Mike James is now a mobile purist providing in-person and online training, including a free smartphone photography course at https://smartphonephotographytraining.com/getstarted