Monochrome Tutorial Using Snapseed
Nothing tells a great story like a good monochrome image. Stripped of competing colors places them all on an equal playing field of light and shadow. Composition comes into stronger focus, the mind begins to step away from taking an image at face value, as a real object portraying real colors like so many attempts at HDR. Hemingway never told a good story by being unfair to the reader. By telling every detail so as to make things “real.” His were minimalism. Essentialism. That’s when the story comes alive inside our own minds.
Using monochrome as a means of storytelling means knowing what options are available to you. There is many an app that can create monochrome images, but Snapseed will be the focus of this piece. The most obvious ways to do monochrome in Snapseed are simply reducing saturation (using Tune Image) and also using the black and white filter suite. However, there is a third, not so obvious means of producing monochrome images that broadens Snapseed’s capabilities. A good portion of my monochrome work uses this technique, which gives images a rich quality that the normal black and white filters, for my tastes, just don’t produce. In this tutorial I will show how to create beautiful monochrome images using Snapseed’s Retrolux filters.
There are some limitations to this technique that should be mentioned at the outset. High key and overly bright images don’t pass through this method as well. The center becomes too bright, and pixels lose distinction. Plain white walls don’t look good (in my opinion) with any sort of vignette. It also isn’t an easy approach for extremely dark images either, as the vignette created can be quite false. This monochrome technique, if you aren’t careful, can make some really dark and anachronous patches in one’s images. It’s a heavy algorithm to apply. What it can be applied to though are images with a wide variety and fairly even spread of the grey scale. That means it’s good for street.
The simplest method for producing a black and white image is to simply reduce saturation to zero in Tune Image. This is a neutral black and white. Using the white balance or warmth adjustment (also in Tune Image), you can then add a warmer sepia or cooler look to this monochrome image.
Black and White
The Black and White filter allows you to go into more detailed monochrome edits of images. The color palette feature is unique in that you can adjust which range of color is to be monochrome. These are a remnant of colored filters for film photography, and determine (digitally) in what way a photograph’s color range will convert into greyscale. This allows you to brighten or darken specific aspects of an image, to your liking. The Black and White tool is a superb feature of the app, but is unfortunately limited to plain black and white. As with reduced saturation monochromes (above), you can always add or remove warmth (Snapseed’s White Balance) to these black and whites.
Monochrome Using Retrolux
This is my favorite tool in the Snapseed suite. There is so much variety that can be achieved with this one tool. I am fond of saving several different Retrolux filters to then layering them together in PS Touch. (That’s a different tutorial altogether, though.)
Here, we are going to specifically pick our Retrolux filter. We are going to both reduce saturation, and also filter strength. Here is where the magic comes in. The Retrolux filters are wonderful monochrome filters! However, there are really only two kinds, one being a weak, and the other a strong vignette. You can play around with the filters to see which one’s produce which type. Below you can see a comparison image. The top left is the original image, while top right is the result of reducing saturation (in Tune Image) or of using the Neutral Black and White filter with Neutral lens color (zero saturation is identical with this Black and White setting). The bottom two images are a weak (bottom left) and a strong (bottom right) Retrolux filter. The weak filter was #1, the strong #12.
As you can see from the collage above, both Retrolux results give a faded or overexposed look in the center. Not to worry. All information is there. We are simply going to bring these contrasts out again.
You will probably not be too satisfied with the look of a Retrolux Monochrome right out of the bag. That is to say, when brightness and contrast are at zero. The center tends to be overexposed due to the Retrolux algorithm. If I want to reduce the Vignette, that’s where you go next. I talk about that a bit further down. You can also adjust brightness and contrast in Retrolux to remove the fading. This, of course, enhances the vignette. Keep in mind that you also have textures available to you still. In that case, there are not simply two filters (Strong/Weak) but numerous different combinations of vignette strength combined with texture layer. These textures are useful when using this technique on open skies, etc. They reduce the rainbow-like greyscale that this sort of monochrome produces.
What I tend to do, however, is go straight in to Tune Image for fine tuning. I prefer reducing Brightness and Ambiance rather than Brightness and Contrast. That’s all there is too it.
Monochrome, not Black and White
A trick with Retrolux is that you don’t have to reduce Filter Strength to zero. The filters are in fact colored layers. Leaving this aspect at around ten (10) gives beautiful monochromes, everything from sepias to blues. If you are after something other than Black and White, then Retrolux filters are no longer either strong or weak. Selecting the right color to apply then becomes a factor.
The Retrolux filter adds a natural vignette to images. If you do not want the vignette caused by Retrolux to be so strong, and instead are looking for an even monochrome, you can then use the Vignette tool to raise the Outer Brightness, or darken the Inner Brightness. Not too much though! Ten to thirteen points max. I have tested the Vingette quite a bit after applying a Retrolux Monochrome, and have found that the first or default Vignette is about as round as is the Retrolux filter. (This is true however only of square images. Retrolux conforms to the image proportions, while Vignette remains a circle in square and rectangular images.) Be sure to reduce blur to zero if you wish to keep detail.
There you have it! A new way to create beautiful monochromes using Snapseed. It is not the only way, but it is one additional technique to tell a good story. Used in conjunction with the other tools of Snapseed, you have broadened your palette even further. Below is a gallery of images created using this technique. I hope they speak to you.