Layer Stacking Using Snapseed and PS Touch
It is not that well known that a large number of my images are not straight out of post processing as the app decides things. I use layer stacking quite often. I layer two, three and even more versions of the same photograph on top of one another, bringing out this aspect of one layer, bringing out that aspect of another, to get a desired look. The kinds of layering, and how these layers react with one another, can bring out portions of an image, tone down others, and can combine texture layers so that they are unrecognizable as your standard out of the bag look. I try to avoid letting the apps I use determine the look of my images. I’ve seen enough Snapseed textures to not want to use them ever again. Still they are compelling and so, I use layer stacking to get around this cookie cutter look.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to create multiple image layers using snapseed (though you can use any editing app to create different versions of an image), as well as how to layer them in PS Touch. Here I will be using Snapseed’s Retrolux filter exclusively (see my tutorial on monochromes using Retrolux for more information). I will go into some specifics such as bringing out warm and cool hues (which I am very fond of doing), creating “atmosphere”, creating unique textures, and setting the groundwork for beautiful black and whites.
First things first, you want to make sure the image is cropped and composed how you want it, from the start. There are reasons for cropping after you’ve edited an image (such as removing one side of a heavy vignette, etc), but here, in this tutorial, we want to ensure that each version of an image is identical in composition. In the images below, I’ve taken an original image, cropped it how I wish, and more or less begin with this neutral starting point.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is the art of combining multiple exposures of the same scene in post processing. There are a number of smartphone photography apps (including native camera apps) that capture multiple exposure values of a scene and then combine them. This can create an image that when finished looks similar to how the eye might see that same scene, with lovely detail in both highlights and shadows. Here we are going to move into the more artistic, however. The old masters were skilled in the art of light and shadow. They brought out color in shadows that were seemingly not there. Photographers do similar things when they interpret a scene using slightly altered white balance, creating a warmer or cooler image which can have dramatic effects on one’s perception.
Layer Stacking For Warmth
Here we are going to create first a warm variation on an image and then a cool variation. Using Snapseed’s Retrolux Filters, we can do both. Filter 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 13 are all warm filters. Some of these are warm in the center, while having a cooler vignette to the outer edge. Filters 2, 3, 4 and 10 have cool filters. Filters 11 and 12 are both warm and cool highlights and shadows. (If you are looking for more cooler filters use the Vintage filter instead of Retrolux, as the majority have a bluer hue. 2, 4 and 8 are warm, while 1, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9 are cool. These also have unique textures to them, not found in Retrolux.)
In the collage above, I cropped the image how I wished, and saved this version. I applied a warm retrolux filter (top right) to the original image (top left). I saved this version of the image. Without reverting to the original (which means I might lose the image crop I want), I then apply a cooler filter directly over the warmer one (bottom left). I save that version as well. You can see the warm filter to some extent through the cool one. The two retrolux filters have different sorts of texture options, and you may want to use those.
Here is where the magic happens. I now have three versions of the same cropped image, one original, one with a warm filter, one with a cool filter, and each of these with a different texture. In PS Touch, I begin with the original cropped image as my base image. I add the warm layer on top of this. I add the cool image as a third layer. The type of layer is important here. In this case, and in fact in most cases, I chose overlay for both layers. This brings out some aspects of the image, but not all. You may have to play around with layers to see how each version reacts with the others. Then you can determine which brings out the best of what you are after.
In this particular image, overlay brought out and darkened the image to a textured moody goodness. But retrolux filters have a faded center, and vignette of their own. Again, see my tutorial on Snapseed Monochromes using retrolux for more on that. Because of this fade on the flower portion of the layers, which I don’t want in this case, I simply erase the flower portions of the retrolux layers. This brings out the much more clear and vibrant flowers in the original image, while it leaves the retrolux layers to provide a surrounding mood. Don’t use a full strength eraser, but instead an eraser set to perhaps 30% opacity, and with faded edges, which you gradually erase various portions of the image with. This will help avoid strong lines in the image.
Layer Stacking For Atmosphere
Above I have again used “overlay” to layer three images of a horse. In this case, I used two warm filters, as the image (bottom left) seemed a little bit cold. Below is a collage comparing what each individual layer does. One layer acts to add drama via a strong vignette (top right), while with the other (top left), I faded the image so that it only applied to the horse! The two top layers are layered at about 50% opacity, so they are only acting as enhancers of the main image. When viewing all three layers together, the result is a dynamic and beautiful image with mood, and a warm horse in good light, rather than one that is a bit cold. The grass has become a saturated green with a moody vignette!
In the flower still life above, I have used your standard Snapseed textures. These get overused in my opinion, so much so that when I see images processed with Snapseed, I lose sight of the image and can only see the filter itself. It becomes a distraction. I see this happen all too often. There are very few texture apps on Android, but the repetitiveness of textures — and consequent distraction from the image as a whole — takes place as well on iPhones. But I am digressing here. To avoid this familiarity with the same ol’ same ol’, I have combined a number of textures together. The still life mentioned is a combination of two separate textures blended together, and then flipped so that the textures are a mirrored version of those in Snapseed. This removes some familiarity of the filters, and allows them to become a part of the image, rather than something that overshadows it. If your image has text, or requires that you can’t flip it, flip it first to apply a texture, and then flip it back to the original. This grabs the texture in mirrored form!
Below is a comparison of the original horse image (top) and the layer stacked image (bottom). In both cases, all I have done to the image is reduce saturation to zero. As you can see, the bottom image is much more interesting to the eye. This reduction of saturation after using layer stacking is not, however, the only thing you can do with monochrome. You could take it even further, applying various monochrome filters, etc. Suppose you make two or three separate black and white versions of the same image, and layer stack these. This can make for wonderful black and white or monochrome images. Try it yourself!
If you are on iPhone, Paul “Skip” Brown has a great post for app or layer stacking with iPhone specific apps in mind.
Images Using Snapseed Layer Stacking
Below are some images that have used this technique, using only Snapseed and PS Touch. Of course, you needn’t use Snapseed alone to create separate layers.