Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Exploring image processing in Snapseed, part of The Practicing Photographer.
- Shouldn't be any surprise to you when I say that these days most of us do most of our shooting with our cell phones, which means that most of us do a lot of our image editing on our cell phones or tablets. There are lots and lots of editing tools out there and there are a lot of good editing tools, but in the end I kind of always come down to the same one. There is one image editing tool that I think shines above all the others and that is Snapseed, which is now sold by Google, it's actually free. It's available for the iOS and Android. And I've mentioned it in a lot of places here in the Practicing Photographer and in other courses.
And realized that I never really just taken you all the way through Snapseed. It's got some really great features, it's got some new features that have only been added in the last six months or so, and it's something that's really worth knowing about if you do any editing on your tablet or cell phone. Even if you're not editing cell phone images, if you're moving images from a real camera into your tablet and editing them Snapseed is the way to go. What I like about it is it has a very streamlined interface that is really well designed for what you do for a touch interface, for using your fingers, but it's also go some exceptional editing tools that are great no matter what the interface is.
I'm gonna just open up an image here. It's got a typical interface to your images just like any of the other image oriented apps on your device will have. And this is the main interface. There's very little here. There's simply my image and a toolbar and a couple of other little widgets and gizmos. In the lower left hand corner I have a histogram. I love having a histogram on my portable image editor. Most editors don't. And without it I don't know if I've adjusted an image enough. The image on this iPad looks different than the one on my phone, which of course looks very different on the computer.
You need a histogram to do accurate adjustments. At the top I have an open button, a save button, and some other little widgets for understanding layers and things that are going on. But most of the action happens with that little pencil button down in the lower right hand corner. If I tap on it I get a scrolling list of different kinds of edits. Now Google keep rearranging these, 'cause they're trying to figure out a logical way to organize all of these different tools. And I don't know that there is one, so you're really just gonna learn where they are and then they're gonna move them out from under you, but that's okay, 'cause there aren't that many tools.
You can see I have a set of basic tools, some filters, and then a set of tools. I'm gonna start with just tune image. This is where you do the bulk of your image editing. These are global adjustments and they're the kind of things that you expect to find in any image editor. The ability to brighten and darken different tones in the image and the ability to adjust contrast. What you don't see on here right now is any kind of curves interface, any kind of levels interface, 'cause manipulating a curve with your finger is really hard, manipulating little level sliders with your finger is really hard, those are mouse driven interfaces.
Snapseed has something much cooler. If I just tap anywhere on the image and drag up and down this menu pops up. And these are all the different things that I can do with the tune image edit that I'm in. I can adjust brightness, ambiance, contrast, saturation, shadows, highlights, and warmth. These are for the most part just different areas of the tonal range. And you can figure out which area they are by simply using them and watching the histogram. So with brightness selected you can see down at the bottom it now says brightness. It also gives me an auto adjust button. I can just click that and it'll make some adjustments for me. But to adjust brightness now I simply slide left and right.
So this is how it works throughout Snapseed's interface. Up and down to configure the tool I'm using, left and right to adjust the parameters. Now watch the histogram as I do that. You can see that brightness is adjusting most of the tones in the image, but it's hitting the mids much more than it is the other areas. So I'm gonna just brighten that up a little bit. I'm gonna pop this open again, hit contrast, dial in some contrast. That's looking pretty good. I've got a little bit of white clipping there on the right side, so I'm gonna come here to highlights, dial those down.
Now this is not a raw file, this is a JPEG, so I'm not doing highlight recovery like I would in a raw converter. That's not Google's fault, Apple doesn't provide support for raw files on iOS, so there's nothing that can be done about that. I'm gonna adjust the shadows a little bit. Warmth is the extent of the white balance control that I have here. I can warm or cool the image, but I can also do highlight adjustments with a different tool. All of the tools in Snapseed have some similar features. This widget in the upper right hand corner, if I tap and hold it I see it before then after.
Or the X down in the lower left hand corner let's me cancel that edit. Okay, now I hit the check box and there we go. So this is looking pretty good. I would like to have more contrast in those higher bits. There are a lot of ways I can do that edit in here. The easiest is to go in here and go down to this filter, this menu item that says tonal contrast. Unfortunately I don't get a histogram here, but what I do get is a menu that lets me adjust low tones, mid tones, high tones with shadow or highlight protection. So I'm gonna say high tones and I'm gonna just fiddle with the, oh, look at there.
The contrast is changing in the clouds as I move that back and forth, that's cool. I'm gonna crank it up as far as it will go, now I've got more contrast in my sky. Then I'm gonna go to low tones, increase the contrast there. And that's hitting the contrast in the grass. Hit the check box and now this is my image as it stands after those two edits. All of those things are actually going here into this layers palette down here. You can see in the lower right hand corner original, tune image, tonal contrast. I can go into those and if I want, go back to the sliders and adjust them again.
So Snapseed is actually a fully non-destructive image editing environment, which is a very, very flexible way to work. If it's how you're used to working in Lightroom or Photoshop you get it here. But the coolest thing about Snapseed I think is the way that it handles, I'm not gonna save that image, the way that it handles local adjustments. Everything you've seen so far has been a global adjustment. I would like to go in and edit just some parts of the image. In Photoshop I would do that by creating adjustment layers with masks, in Lightroom I would do that with the brush tool.
And I have some tools like that in Snapseed, but I've got something better. Those of you who have ever used the Viveza plugin for Photoshop and or Lightroom, which has been around for, gosh, 10 years, those of you who are Capture NX users, those of you who have ever used what used to be Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro, you will recognize this tool. These are the control point tools from those packages. So here's a picture of El Capitan. I would like to add more contrast to just the surface of the rock. I'm gonna open up this, my tools palette here, go down to selective.
This let's me do selective edits. Now down at the bottom you see I have an add button. It's currently highlighted. If I tap right there on El Capitan it adds a little B. That's a control point. The B stands for brightness, we'll get back to that in a minute. What that control point is doing is sampling the color underneath it and automatically building a mask for my image based on that color. I can see the scope of the mask by taking two fingers and tapping around the B and pinching and squeezing. The red areas are the areas that are going to be affected by my edit.
And look at the sophistication of the mask. It has not selected the trees, it's not selected the sky, it really is getting just the rock texture. It's pretty amazing. And again, it's doing that by color. Now there's also that circle out there that's moving around. That's showing you the effect of the analysis that it's doing. So if I really wanted to constrain its effects to just here I could do that. Now it's only masking off that bit. But I think I'll really go ahead and do the whole thing there. So now my mask is defined. If I drag left and right I will adjust the brightness of that masked area.
If I drag up and down I see that, oh, I can also adjust contrast and saturation. So I'm gonna put it on saturation or contrast, and now when I drag left and right I can add or subtract contrast. So I'm gonna just crank the contrast right up in a gratuitous fashion, quite shamelessly. But I think that looks much better. So see how much better it looks I can tap and hold the before button, let go to see after. Yeah, that looks a lot better. As long as I'm here in my selective adjustment I think I'll go ahead and work on those trees over there on the left side. So I'm gonna hit the add button, tap over here somewhere on the trees, so that it will sample the color of the trees, see what my mask is doing, that looks pretty good, and then I'm gonna go in here to contrast and bump up the contrast there, maybe even brighten it a little bit.
I would also like to work on the contrast in the sky, so I'm gonna hit my add button again, tap here. I can only go about that big, but that's okay. Look again at this mask. It's working around the trees, it's working around the cliffs, it's very sophisticated. So I'm gonna go in and adjust, increase the contrast. I wanna play up the contrast between the sky and the contrails that are there. I think I'll go ahead and bump the brightness a little bit, but boy, the saturation's really gone amok, so I'm gonna pull that back down.
And again, here's before, after. You're seeing the effect of all of the control points when I do this, not just the sky. So I like what's happening to the sky, I don't like what's happening around the trees here. I would like to remove some of the effect of this control point. The easiest way to do that is gonna be to tap on it and drag it up here. So now it's hitting a darker part of the sky, but look at the red fringe around the trees. It's still masking in that area. I'd rather it leave those alone. If I tap to add a control point and click on top of the trees watch what happened, all that fringe just went away.
What it's done is this new control point I added is now subtracting from the control point that was selected. So I can stack them to build even more complex masks. So this is looking pretty good. That's one way to do selective editing in Snapseed. I'm gonna cancel out of here. And open another image. We're gonna combine all of this stuff and work on another image here. So this shot right off the bat has some contrast problems.
I can see from my histogram that the highlights are over exposed, the shadows are clipped, so I'm gonna start with tune image. Notice in here, I'm not gonna go through all of these, I can crop, I can rotate, details is gonna let me apply sharpening, down at the bottom as I said I've got a white balance tool, which gives me a dropper for setting white balance. It's not a raw image, so I can't skew white balance too far. Transform let's me do perspective correction. If I'm looking up at a building and wanna tilt the building around I can do that. Healing is just a healing brush for automatically removing details.
The rest of this stuff we're gonna take a look at more interactively. So I'm going into tune image here. I'm gonna start with my highlights, drag those down. I'm gonna increase the contrast, since I've now got some tones in the middle of the image. Hmm, I don't like what that's doing to her skin tone there in the front, so I'm gonna back off on that and work more selectively. This may be about all I can do with tune image. I'm gonna pull my shadows up, so they're no longer clipping. And now I'm gonna have to address my contrast problems using the various selection tools that I have.
I'm gonna hit okay on that. Now I could go here and grab the selective tool and click down here and build a mask, but look what's happening. What I'm to do is darken the ground and increase the contrast in the ground over here, but my mask is spilling over onto her. So I would have to add more control points to her to try and protect those areas from that first control point. I'm gonna cancel out of this and instead just grab the brush tool. The brush tool lets me brush dodging and burning, exposure adjustments, white balance adjustments, and saturation adjustments.
I'm gonna take exposure here. It's currently set to increase exposure by 2/3 of a stop, I'm gonna dial that down. And now just with my finger I'm going to brush on the image and look, it's getting darker. So I'm liking the way that looks. I'm brushing pretty haphazardly, because this is a soft edged brush, it's got a nice big feather around it, so I don't have to be too careful with it. I like that. The same edit on the right side I think goes too dark.
So I'm gonna tap here to go to the eraser and erase that stuff. I'm gonna address that later with a control point. So I like the way that's working. I need to work on her and I think to do that I am gonna use a control point. I'm gonna accept that edit and come here and go to selective. Drop one on right here, look at my mask, scale my mask down, so that it's really just hitting her face, pull up the contrast. I don't want her skin to get too contrasty, because that's not particularly flattering to anybody.
Did a little brightness adjustment, some saturation. She's got radiation burns, that's no good, I'm gonna pull that back. That's looking pretty good. Here's before, here's after. That's with a single control point. Her eyes are too dark though. I can easily fix that by going back to my brush tool. And this is just how it works. I'm got just these brush tools, do a very light bit of brushing and she's fixed. Before and after. I'm just moving back and forth between these different selective tools and working on individual parts of my image. Let's hit the sky the way that we did before with the tonal contrast adjustment.
I'm gonna target it to highlights or high tones, dial. So look what's happening in the sky above her head. That looks cooler. Unfortunately look what's happening on her face. That doesn't look so cool. There's no way of masking this effect, so I'm gonna cancel out of it. That's the problem with these filters is I don't have selective application of them, so I have to be careful with them. We need to go back and fix that one bit of ground over here on the right side. I'm gonna drop a control point on here, make it big enough to cover the ground.
I'm gonna brighten the ground, I'm gonna increase the contrast on the ground, and that matches pretty well between the right and the left. I'll accept that. If you've watched much of my editing you know that I desperately want to add a vignette to this image and fortunately I can. There's a vignette tool right here. And there's before, after. That looks good. I like the image like this, but there are some fun filters to play with. These are the Instagram-like things that you can do in lots of different image editing applications.
Most of the image editors out there are kind of push button boiler plate predefined effects and they're very effective. Snapseed includes that kind of thing. So you get both lots of manual control and the ability to do stuff like this. Let's go to the glamour glow, which is going to basically apply, there you can see before, after, a bit of blur, pass through a blending mode to give just a nice diffuse quality to the image. You see that I've got five different options here, five different styles.
Basically various levels of strength. Cancel that out. And that's how most of these filters work. I might want to add drama. Push button drama. Here's drama one, drama two, drama three. I can actually change the strength of these filters by dragging left and right. So those are very handy. I think I'm gonna stick with my edit as it is and I'm just gonna add a border, 'cause we've got a really cool selection of film-like grungy borders that I think work really well on this image. One last thing, Snapseed can do black and white and it does a pretty good job of black and white.
Let me grab one more image here. This is a pretty difficult image and it's impressive how well Snapseed works with this. This was shot in a darkroom, I don't mean a dark room, I mean a darkroom, all one word. You can see here a class going on. Bad white balance, because of the darkroom, very, very dim. I'm gonna call up my tune image adjustment. I am planning on this being a black and white image, so I don't care that much about white balance. By default I'm on brightness, I'm gonna brighten this up here. I'm not worried too much about highlights blowing out, because this is a very stylized image.
Let's talk about ambiance. That's basically a mid point adjustment. It's a narrower mid adjustment than the brightness control is, so that's letting me get in there some. That's about all I'm gonna do tonally to this image, because the color's so goofy. I'm gonna accept that and open up here and go to black and white. I have several different ways of doing black and white, well actually I've got two. I've got black and white and noir. Noir is a really extreme edit that you probably, I don't use it that much, but it's worth playing with. You see here that I've got a few different black and white conversions.
I do not have the ability to tone based on original color in the image. That wouldn't help me in this image, 'cause the image is all yellow, but if you're used to that in Lightroom or Photoshop you don't get that here. But you do have some nice presets. You've got a more contrasty preset, a bright preset, dark, or I can go in and pop in color filters. This is as if I am shooting black and white film through a colored filter. I think I'm gonna go with green, 'cause it's a little more contrasty. And I do have some editing controls just by dragging up and down. Brightness, contrast, or I can even add grain.
So I'm gonna pull some of these out here, maybe add a little grain just for some style. So I do have very nice black and white conversion in here. I hit okay. When I go to save I have a couple of options. If I hit the save button I get these different things here. I can export, which will create a JPEG of my image. I can then pass that onto any other application. It does it at the original size of the image, which is great, I don't lose any pixels from my original image. I can choose save, which will save the image and sock away my layer stack over there, so I can come back later and adjust my edits again.
Again, I am in a non-destructive editing environment here. I'm just gonna go ahead and export. It applies its edits and then it saves it out as a JPEG to the camera roll. So this is Snapseed. I cannot recommend it enough if you are an iOS or Android user. It works on tablets, it works on phones, it's free, it does everything that you can reasonably expect it to do with two fingers in terms of image editing. So I'm very impressed. Again, if nothing else, download it and give it a try.
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