Snapseed 2.0 Review and Tutorial
Snapseed just received its greatest update from Google since the app was purchased from Nik Software. This review and tutorial will discuss all aspects of the app, sprinkled liberally with tips for how to use these features as well as some personal commentary on them. I will however concentrate on those features that are new to the app, over and above Snapseed 1.6.
The Snapseed User Interface
The new UI has a consistent initial look, which you will find in most of Google’s other apps, such as Google Docs, Google Keep, or Google+, with a plus button at bottom right to initiate some sort of creative action. The “operations” menu at top right is also a typical three vertical dot look, found in these same Google apps for Android. Familiarity with these other Google products makes for a natural and intuitive understanding of what these menus might do in Snapseed, which makes for a UI that enhances user experience directly. There is a third or stack menu unique (for obvious reasons) to Snapseed.
Main (Plus) Menu
The main menu is where the editing (for the most part) takes place. Well go into the stack menu further below, discussing how these adjustment tools and filters in the main menu can be later modified. I will try to give some insight into how each of these tools and filters can be used, based on my own personal preferences and experience with them.
Tune Image – This is your standard adjustment tool, and in roughly the same form has been around since the beginning. Brightness, contrast, saturation and warmth are your typical adjustments. Ambiance has always been something that has drawn people to Snapseed, though it can get a bit overused. This adjustment can make or break an image. It widens or narrows the histogram (at bottom left) of your image, and can make the image “pop” by reducing ambiance, or “flatten” the image, in effect, pushing the histogram closer to a perfectly centered bell curve. Shadows and highlights were not original to the app, but appeared in the 1.6 version.
A good image may only need these adjustments, at slightly altered levels. But if you want to push them, this tuning tool can do a lot on its own. Reducing saturation to zero, the warmth adjustment becomes like a poor-man’s black and white color channel mixer. Reducing saturation, clicking the check mark, and then going back to adjustment, you can alter warmth to get a nice sepia look.
You can also simply start out by clicking the little magic wand which will adjust the image towards an ideal of warmth, ambiance, saturation, and contrast.
Details – In 1.6, sharpening came first, structure second. The reverse is true now, likely due to user data showing that structure was the more used of the two. And for good reason. Structure doesn’t just make an image sharper, it makes the image pixels more precise, which affects saturation. Try it by bumping an image all the way up to 100 structure to see the change. Sharpening does not have this same effect.
Combining positive ambiance (from Tune image) with structure, you can get a decent but milder HDR effect, without utterly mangling your photo with HDR Scape.
This structure tool is especially good on snow!
Crop – What more can be said about the crop tool. It is a quality tool compared to other apps. The rule of thirds grid is an added bonus, though it would be better with the ability to toggle between several different ratios. The “DIN” crop is for the A4 format in case you need to print to a standard A4 paper.
Rotate – 2.0 has improved upon this tool, being much faster and more detailed. It’s a bit more accurate or subtle now. Another major improvement is the ability, unlike 1.6, to straighten the image up to 45°. Combining this with rotation and you can turn your photos however you like. The only thing missing is the ability to flip an image, and it is complete.
Transform – This is new. And it is beautiful. I’m a fan of straight edges, so this is a wonderful tool in the Snapseed suite. The cover image in this post needed some transformation treatment. It originally looked like this:
As you can see, the shot, taken in a hurry, needed adjusting. There are too many odd directions for my taste, at least in this composition. Combining vertical perspective, horizontal perspective, and rotation, you can straighten any odd perspective to a flush and well composed looking image. This is especially good for high rise buildings that point towards a central point. By straightening them, you can create the illusion that they are at quite some distance.
Keep in mind that rotation in this tool is not the same as straighten in the previous tool. Straighten enlarges the image so that it fits around the original image format. This rotation and perspective tool actually creates a portion of your image that may change outside of the frame as a result of adjustments. This might not always produce desired results, so use this sparingly. In fact, try to compose your image squarely from the start. It is also a good idea to do this sort of transformation before you do your cropping.
Brush – The brush tool is also new to the app, and can do a number of things that might be useful. Selecting this tool, you’ll see a brush symbol at bottom left. Here you can select one of four brush types: Dodge & Burn; Exposure; Temperature; Saturation. These allow you to paint onto your image more or less of these adjustments. This is the painted-on version of “selective” (see below). You can adjust their intensity. Enlarging the photo by pinching it, you can reduce the brush size.
There is a bug with this, and in fact with all brush tools in this version. By enlarging the photo, it creates a small window at bottom left to show where in the image you are viewing. This is not something you can turn off. So it isn’t possible (currently) to use any of the brush tools (Brush, Spot Repair, or Masking in the stack menu) on the bottom left of your images while zoomed in. Send in those feedback reports.
Selective – This is a wonderful tool that has many uses. The people at Google heard our feedback and updated 2.0 (it’s now 2.0.93990626 on my phone), brought back the copy & paste feature of selective that went missing in straight 2.0. This makes for quick editing around an image. There are some useful facets of this tool that need mentioning. This is a color based editing tool. When you select a region to edit, you will see a ring around your finger or stylus, indicating the color at the point you have selected. That is the color that will be edited, though there is unfortunately no adjustment for tolerance or how wide is will apply this adjustment. You can then adjust brightness, saturation and contrast on that and the similar colors of that region.
Want the region you select to be larger or smaller? Touch and hold the selection point, and with another finger touch another portion of the screen, pushing it in or out. The app will highlight in red what selective adjustment will alter.
Unlike version 1.6, you can now reduce the size of the selective circle all the way down to one point, which is a very small region of the image.
Spot Repair – Spot repair, like the brush tool, is unfortunately flawed in that you cannot zoom in to repair the bottom left corner of the image because the act of zooming creates the zoom window, preventing spot repair. Grrrrr. Anyway, it’s a good tool. It grabs portions of the surrounding image and applies them to the point you want, covering up any problematic points. This is especially useful using zoom, as tiny reparations are hardly noticeable in a final image.
Vignette -This tool has been simplified from previous versions. There are now no presets for vignettes. I never understood those presets anyway, as they were all just close variations on the same principle. This is an improvement to simply make a movable center, with an adjustable center size using a similar technique to the selective tool above. You are left with inner and outer brightness. No fuss.
A tip in using this tool is in order. Using the vignette before apply a filter or after will make a difference in how it looks. Vignette is black. Applying it previous to applying a filter, say, the vintage #4 green filter, will give you a green vingette, while applying it after will give you a black one. It all depends on what you want to do. An improvement to this tool would be to modify the shape of the circle to make a more oval vignette.
Lens Blur – Lens blur gives an elliptical or a linear blur. Here we can pinch the elliptical shape to more accurately focus on what we want. The same goes for the linear version. We can then adjust blur strength, as well as transition distance to determine how abrupt a change from focused to blurred we want. The vignette strength adjustment with this tool is static. No matter where you place the focal point of your image, the vignette darkens from the edge of the image inwards. I recommend the Vignette tool instead.
Glamour Glow – A new addition to the app. This is an interesting filter that has roughly the opposite affect as HDR. I mentioned above that a heightened Ambiance and Structure can create an HDR effect. Well, a lower Ambiance creates the beginnings of what glamour glow does. The filter comes with five presets. These are not unique filters in themselves, but preset variations on the same tool. Preset 2 is simply half the strength of preset 3.
What can this filter be used for? Well, I’ve never really had a use for this sort of fuzzy fade on an image, that is, until recently. Adding some slight glow to a low light mobile image can go a long way to reducing its pixelated look. Here is an example of a recent image using glamour glow, in which the really low light after sunset hour required a higher ISO, meaning more scattered light. To lower the ISO, I used the bright lights of the bridge. It still ended up a bit pixelated, but glamour glow helped it out, giving a smoother look.
Tonal Contrast – This is arguably one of the better filters made available in the new version of the app. I use it continuously as it gives such wonderful results. This simply increases contast, but selectively for the higher, middle and lower tones of the image. I’ve found that applying a strong (75 point) contrast to the lightest regions, while leaving the rest of the image intact, really brings these out and prevents images from looking a little blown out. You can of course protect shadows and highlights, even after adjusting contrast, to keep them dark and light, respectively. A great tool. Nothing but satisfaction from me for this new addition.
HDR Scape – Well, it isn’t actually HDR. It is a simulation of HDR, which requires a stacking of several light bracketed images. This filter simply makes everything pop. It’s hopefully a fad of social media, because I really can’t see using this filter all that often. I have used it once or twice, but then I have reduced its effects to maybe 5%. One thing is certain, it doesn’t create the high dynamic range of real HDR, which can achieve a look in images similar to how our eyes perceive. No, two things are certain. Too much HDR, and you lose all depth in an image. HDR kills depth, and depth is beautiful. Use this sparingly.
Drama – The drama filter has six variations. These are not variations on the same filter, but six different filters altogether. They add heavy mood, enhancing shadows and creating near high key images. You can adjust filter strength and saturation. This isn’t a favorite, but it can be useful. Again, like HDR, use it with caution.
Grunge – Grunge is back! It temporarily disappeared with the new 2.0 update, but Snapseed got it’s 2.0.9…. we’ll call it 2.1, update yesterday. Grunge reappeared, and with the familiar tools. Seeing them again, they look slightly new and fresh, and I wonder whether the filter didn’t in fact receive any update while gone. Welcome back grunge.
Grainy Film – Grainy film filters are wonderful. There are 18 of them, all new to the update. They all have their unique variations. Like drama, you can only modify two aspects, in this case style strength and grain. I’d really like the grain adjustment to not be so strong at 100 points, but instead, be a more subtle scale between a clean and grainy image. At 100 points, an image is pretty heavily distorted. That’s just me though. I have so far only created images with this filter with grain no higher than 10 points. The filter styles themselves are beautiful. They are a great compliment to the vintage looks below.
Vintage – I like these filters. They have been some favorites for adding mood to my images since Snapseed came to Android. There is only one criticism of this filter. It needs to bring back the unique texture layers that it had. Not only this, but those textures were variable. Sure, the grunge filter is back ( see above) , and you can then add texture there, but these textures in vintage were unique. Pout pout. I’ll make due.
Retrolux – This filter go a long way to making great mood. Unfortunately, after the update, it lost an immense ammount of variation. In 1.6, each filter had both a number of light leaks (each randomizable) and a selection of textures (also randomizable). Now we have the ability only to randomize each of the 13 filters, with no nuance within these. Not to worry. t is still a powerful filter. I have a tutorial on layer stacking using Retrolux in PS Touch, though it goes without saying that all of the editing capabilities of this or any app can be used in such a stacking procedure. I simply prefer this filter when doing so. More detail can be found on the individual filters of Retrolux in that tutorial.
Noir – This is my favorite new feature. Hands down. Noir does what grainy film does, but in monochrome. And who doesnn’t love monochrome? Noir does more than grainy film in fact. Aside from filter strength and grain, you can adjust brightness and wash. The higher the wash, the higher the contrast. This feature washes away some detail for a beautiful effect.
To the left is an image using noir, with brightness at 80, wash and grain at zero, and filter strength at 100. I used the F04 filter to achieve this look, but other noir filters do a wonderful job as well. Try all fourteen of them out! Oh, and noir need not be confined to monochrome. There are ways around that! See Stack Menu below for how you can use noir in color images.
Black & White – This is the traditional black and white editing tool of Snapseed. To be honest, I haven’t given it much attention since the update and the arrival of noir. It seems old. I still do like the color channels which digitally mimic real filters in black and white photography. Some of the presets, like film, seem to be basic and losing competitors to noir and grainy film. Still, for straight forward black and white, I am glad they decided to keep this filter.
Frames – Frames are back! They took a hiatus during the 1.6 version, much to my dismay. The older Android version had frames that could vary in thickness, and there was some variety to them. The 1.6 version did away with that and created a very limited tool for framing works. Needless to say, I am happy they brought back the adjustable thickness frame. Not only did they do so, but they increased how thick the frames can go! Great!
There are 23 different frames, divided between black and white, all of which are randomizable, making it possible to vary how each frame looks. Note that, similar to vignette, a frame applied before a filter, such as vintage, gets colorized by that filter. Applying a frame previous to a filter can give your image a common look as far as your color palette is concerned.
Operations Menu (The Three Dots)
For lack of a better name, the menu with three dots will be called the operations menu, from which you can do several additional operations not part of the editing itself, though related. There are two separate operations menus. One is found at upper right in the main menu, just to the right of the stack menu. Here you can undo and redo an action, or revert the image to its original state. From this menu you can also share and export to other apps, get image details (filename, resolution of the original image, and file size), and also get help or feedback. The feedback option gives additional choices, such as feedback options, help with the app, terms of service and licenses.
The second operations menu is found within the stack menu, looks exactly the same (being three dots), and is in the same place. However, while in stack view, it has different operations. There you can copy an existing stack, replace or insert a stack, or discard changes. We’ll come back to this menu while discussing Stacks.
The Snapseed Stack Menu
The stack menu is one of the great tools of Snapseed 2.0. There are three important features about the stack menu: modifying individual adjustments and filters; applying a layer mask so that an adjustment or filter is applied differentially throughout an image; copying, inserting and replacing stacks. To the left you see an image in which I have applied three changes. First a tonal contrast filter, second a grunge filter, and third a noir filter. But wait, applying that grunge filter, I don’t actually even see the results of the tonal contrast. So why do I need it? Well, select that portion of the stack, click on the little arrow that points to the left, and then click the trash can.
Needless to say, edits made to your images are not applied to the image until you save it. Up until that time, all editing exists as layers, superimposed on your image. By going to the stack menu, you can either delete or modify an adjustment or filter you’ve applied. Perhaps you need to push that Ambiance just a little bit further to get the right look you want. Why is this a good thing? Well, suppose you change your mind about an edit, as it doesn’t quite work well with another edit you have done. Or suppose too much of one thing meant not enough of another.
The masking layer feature of the stack menu is wonderful. The ability to paint a filter or adjustment onto specific portions of an image, and in varying degrees of strength, is fabulous. Suppose you want to fade the shadows of a color image somewhat. Why not apply a noir filter, and in the stack menu, create a layer mask painted only on the shadowy areas, and with a 25% strength. Voila. The image remains in color, but you’ve dulled down the shadows just a bit. Why not go with a noir filter at 75% for some subtle color?
But there is more to the stack. It is clear that as a professional editing tool, an app must be able to provide a consistent feel over a series of images. The operations menu while in stacks allows you to copy a whole stack, to either insert it into an existing stack, or to replace a stack you’ve already created. This means several things. I can copy a stack, save the image and open a new image in Snapseed, go straight to my stacks menu, and paste the stack in. If the crop in the stack worked on my previous image, but not on this one, well, I can adjust the crop! Coonsistent editing over numerous photos.
The other thing that I can do with this feature is that I can insert a stack into another one. That doesn’t simply mean on top of it. I could insert between to stacked filters. Just select the filter layer you want to stack above, click the operations menu and click insert. Adjust each stack layer as you wish. Then, click the top stack layer to bring the image up to date with the full edit and close out of the stacks menu.
Other Options In Snapseed
There are other minor options and conveniences about this app. The histogram meter at the bottom left of the screen can be tapped to minimize it. When you zoom in on an image, you see a frame in the same proportions as your image, with a blue box showing that zoomed in portion of the image you see. This can be moved around to quickly view other portions of the image. The downside is, again, that this zoom window gets in the way of all brush tools in the bottom left corner of an image.
Exporting vs Importing
There are two different ways to enter Snapseed, and these determine something of your menu structure. Opening Snapseed, and then tapping on the photo button to find an appropriate image to edit, you will be given the options to save, and to open still further images. Opening the app in this way, you can also continue editing after saving the image. There is another trick you can do with importing into an already opened Snapseed. Because you can save multiple times, you can then save different portions of a stack menu, as separate images.
If you enter your image gallery first however, and from there share an image into Snapseed, you will not have the “save” and “open” options. Instead you will only have a “done” option. Clicking on this, Snapseed will close, and you will find yourself back in your gallery. In both cases however, if you copy a stack before saving or clicking done, you will be able to insert on top of or replace an existing stack in your next image, as long as you don’t shut your phone off. This is the case even if the app is closed.
Missing From Snapseed 1.6
There are some features of Snapseed 2.0 that are missing from the former 1.6 version. Some of them I could care less about and won’t miss at all, others were wonderful and essential portions of the app. The one thing I won’t miss is the auto correct filter. Auto generated imagery is interesting, but lets move towards more artistry, yeah?
The frames of the original Snapseed, in which the actually thickness of the border could be adjusted, have once again returned. This is a far cry better than the 1.6 version which had very little control over frames.
What I miss is all the texture layers and the randomizing of these in the various filters such as vintage and retrolux.
What Can Snapseed Do?
Snapseed is a powerful app. I have only scratched the surface of what it can do. Breaking each feature down as I have, one by one, it doesn’t in any way cover the many combinational possibilities that can be achieved. For instance, what happens when you combine increased low tone Tonal Contrast with the faded dark looks of a Noir filter? The answer in that case is a more nuanced fade. What can you create when combining Glamour Glow with HDR Scape, two filters that are near opposites of one another as far as what they do? I don’t know if I want to try that, but you could. The possibilities are not limitless (and by and large people can easily get stuck simply slapping a filter on their images and calling it done), but there is enough possibility in the app to skillfully bring out the best in your images.
This latest update is a quality one, bring Snapseed back up to its height as one of the best photo editing apps on the Android market.
For inspiration, you can see more of my work using Snapseed here.
Below are some of my Snapseed 2.0 images not published on this site.