Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Faking Great Pictures: Snapseed for iPhone/iPad

When I first  started this blog, I did a post on taking great pictures by getting the right angle.  Then, I got my hands on my dad’s brand-new digital SLR camera briefly and had fun taking pictures in Charlotte and learning just what the various functions of a great camera can do.

Freebie Alert

Now, the SLR might be on my wish list, but it’s definitely not in my budget.  However, the Snapseed app is!  Normally it’s priced at $5, but right now it’s free in the App Store!  Snap it up quickly, not sure how long it’s going to be available for free.  

Snapseed is easily the best photo editing app I have ever used (and that’s saying a lot – anyone who has seen my iPhone knows I have at least a dozen photo apps).  It was the 2011 iPad App of the Year, and has an average rating of 4.5 stars with over 3,000 reviews.  That should be reason enough to give it a try!

I will admit, it’s not the most intuitive app out there, and I did have trouble figuring it out at first.  There’s not too much direction on the app itself, just a single help screen, but I did just stumble across a tutorial page on their website.  That’ll give you a more comprehensive overview, but I’d like to highlight some of the basics and two of the functions I use the most.

It works with either your camera or existing photos on your device – to get started, tap Open Image at the top right and select between Camera and Photo Library. 

Once you’ve got your photo, then you can choose among the various functions to edit your photo.  The gestures for all functions are up and down to switch between the features of that function, and left and right to adjust the selected feature.  Here’s an example from the Tune Image function:

                                  Up & Down – Select Feature                                                  

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Left & Right – adjust selected feature

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Tap Compare on the bottom left to switch to the original picture, and choose Undo on the bottom right if you don’t like the changes.  Tap the arrow on the bottom left to go back without making any changes, or tap the arrow on the bottom right to apply the changes.  When you’re done, you can hit Save to save it as a new image to your camera roll, or share it via email or a social network, or even print right from the app. 

Now for my favorite functions!

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This is the feature that makes Snapseed stand out above the rest in my opinion.  It allows you to choose a specific area or object in the photo and apply effects to only that area, instead of having to alter the entire photo.  This is particularly useful when there’s a dark area you want to brighten, like in my example below, or something you want to highlight. 


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Check out how much better the bar looks! I also added some saturation to make the blue ocean and sky pop more. 

After opening your image, tap Selective Adjust to go into that edit mode, then tap the plus button that says Add.  Then tap the part of the photo that you want to adjust, and widen the circle until it’s large enough to cover the area.  The app is smart enough to tell what object is within that circle and it will highlight it in red – check it out!

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Once your control point is set, drag your finger up and down to select between the three options: brightness, contrast and saturation.  You can adjust all three on a single control point.  Once you’ve set it to the feature you want, drag right and left to make adjustments until it looks like you want it to.  You can also drag around your control point, or add other control points if there’s more than one area you’d like to adjust.  Just play around with it – there’s always the Undo button if you want to start over! 

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This function is perfect for more general photo enhancement.  It is designed to tweak the sharpness and shadow structure.  It can be easy to go overboard on this one and make the picture look really fake, but if you use a subtle touch it can really add the extra wow factor and look much more professional.

There are two options under this function, Sharpness and Structure.  Sharpness will define the lines within the photo better, while structure focuses on the texture.  I find myself using these on nearly everything I edit, particularly food photos. 


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It’s subtle, but you can really tell the difference in the appearance of the bread texture, and I think it makes it look even more appetizing  (and yes, that tasty-looking garlic toast is made from gluten-free bread, my favorite Against the Grain brand!).

That is really just scratching the surface, so I’ll be doing more posts on other functions soon.  Snapseed is available for free right now from the App Store, regularly $4.99, and it is a universal app for both the iPhone and iPad.  If you don’t have either of those, you can get a desktop version for PC or Mac (note that it is a lot pricier at $19.99).  And don’t fret, Android lovers – per their website, their Android version is coming soon! 

If you do try out Snapseed and have any questions for me or want to share your before and after shots for a future blog feature, please send them to me at, I’d love to hear from you!

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