Whether you are a professional photographer or a casual shutterbug, Snapseed is a must-own, free app by Google. It’s incredibly powerful photo editing capabilities are among some of the best I’ve used with a minimalist interface that maximizes your screen real-estate for your photo. The best part about Snapseed is that any changes you make to a photo is non-destructive, meaning you can undo everything if you later decide you don’t like it.
Snapseed wasn’t always a Google product, however. It was originally a PC software and Adobe Lightroom plugin owned by Nik Software and it went by another name. Nik Software brought their powerful photo editing tools to mobile platforms under the name Snapseed in 2011. Google later bought Nik Software to focus on Snapseed, while the PC component took a backseat. Snapseed has made incredible improvements under Google and is a staple in my mobile photo editing. For those interested in the PC component, you can still buy the Nik Collection from Google to use with Adobe products.
Favorite Features of Snapseed
- Unique touch screen interface consisting of dragging your finger up/down to change settings, left/right to adjust setting
- Minimalist UI designed to maximize the photo on the screen
- Inclusion of histogram for accuracy
- Non-destructive editing
- Inclusion of unique filters with full customization
- Addition of editing RAW photos in .dng format (added in Oct. 2015)
Many photo editing apps I’ve used in the past seem to also function like a photo gallery. Snapseed doesn’t. The main screen of Snapseed asks you to open a photo, at which you can browse thumbnails of your photos to select. Tapping on a thumbnail opens the photo in Snapseed for editing. However, thumbnails for RAW files are not displayed and opening these is much less obvious. I will cover this later.
Once opened, all you are presented with is the photo, the histogram (a graph that represents the exposure of the photo), a button that looks like a pencil, and the settings button. Tapping the pencil pulls up options for editing the photo by category under the Tools section. Below all of the Tools, you have the option of using a series of Filters. Tools are simply editing options for your photo. These include things from exposure, brightness, white balance or color temperature, sharpness, etc. Filters are more similar to what you get from Instagram, but with fewer choices. Snapseed develops their own styles with the Filters in order to stand out. Snapseed isn’t a filter app no ta social media app. It is simply a photo editing app and designed to for accuracy and quality rather than fun effects.
Once you tap on a Tool or Filter, sliding your finger up or down will change the setting you are adjusting. For example, Tune Image includes most of the basic functions anyone would use to correct exposure and sharpness. By default, it is set to Brightness. Sliding your finger up allows you to adjust contrast, saturation, ambiance, etc. Once one of these choices is selected, sliding your finger left decreases the selected value and sliding your finger right increases it. The bottom of the screen includes information regarding the changes such has how much you’ve increased or decreased that setting. The histogram also changes in real-time to reflected your changes. Clicking the X in the corner cancels your changes and the check mark accepts them. You can then tap the pencil icon again to make another adjustment.
HDR Scape Filter
I encourage you to explore all filters and tools in Snapseed to understand them, but there is one I feel I need to cover specifically because it is often abused. HDR Scape is a simulated HDR filter (High Dynamic Range). To understand this, let’s first look at what HDR is. High Dynamic Range photography is generally a method of taking 3 to 7 or more photos of the same thing at different exposures, then combining them in software. The process adds detail to the full range of light in the photo — shadows are no longer black, highlights are no longer washed out, harsh shadows are softer, etc. If done properly, the photo looks as accurate as our own eyes would perceive the image. If overdone, the photo tends to looks more like a painting. Sometimes the overdone HDR photos are fantastic! However, most of the time they are unflattering to the subject.
There are also apps and software that simulate HDR with a single image and that’s what Snapseed done. However, Snapseed is one of the better ones that simulate this effect. Snapseed’s HDR filter is usually overdone at the default settings and I recommend reducing it and then fine-tuning the other settings within the filter with a up/down swipe. However, since this is a simulated HDR effect, expect your image to look noisy in dark areas or shadows, especially if it was a dark photo to begin with. HDR is also very unflattering to people in most cases, whether it is done with multiple exposures or simulated with one.
Whenever I do HDR photography, simulated or not, I strive to follow the idea that if it’s obvious, it’s over-done. However, there are times when I want the over-done look and ignore this rule of thumbs. Please explore and find your style, but also consider the information I added as well.
RAW Editing in Snapseed (as of Nov. 2, 2015)
Currently, editing RAW files in Snapseed is exclusive to Android. This is mostly because Android 5.0 introduced a new camera API that allows Android devices to capture photos in RAW using the .dng file format. Not coincidentally, Snapseed also only supports RAW files in the .dng format. This may expand in the future and I hope it does. Editing RAW files in Snapseed takes a tech-savvy user to get started. The main file browser only displays jpeg files which is what most camera apps save files in. You will need to browse the folders on your Android device to locate your RAW files. This means knowing what folder the camera app you used to capture RAW files saves them to. It’s also a good idea to know the file name of the photo you’re planning to edit as no thumbnail is provided for the RAW files at the moment.
Once you open a RAW file, a new set of tools appears in Snapseed called Develop. These tools allow you to edit the RAW file before using the Tools or Filters. Develop gives you the most flexibility to adjust white balance, exposure, and other features that can only be done with the RAW files. Since Snapseed is non-destructive, you can re-enter develop mode and make further adjustments to your photo.
There are two features missing from RAW editing, however: lens correction tools and noise reduction. While lens distortion isn’t very obvious on mobile devices, the subtle difference correcting for it makes is quite incredible. Photos looks more realistic once lens distortion is corrected, though this is probably a very minor missing feature as few would notice the difference without seeing a before/after. Noise reduction, however, is very important, especially in RAW editing. Of the few RAW files I tried in Snapseed, they were all very noisy. When any camera shoots in jpeg, the photo is processed by the camera and noise reduction is included in that processing. In a sense, since Snapseed lacks noise reduction, RAW photos can be much noisier than the jpeg counterpart. This shouldn’t be a problem with photos captured with the proper lighting conditions, though. I also don’t intend to discourage you from editing in RAW with Snapseed or even shooting in RAW as the benefits outweigh the negatives. RAW files give the photographer far more flexibility than jpegs do.
Nik Collection for PC – https://www.google.com/nikcollection/
Before/After photos from Snapseed: