Photography Tips: How to Use Snapseed

Snapseed has been my favourite photo editing application since I first discovered it a few years ago. By ‘favourite’ I mean that I use it solely; I haven’t been tempted away by any other apps despite trying loads – none of them seem to offer the same features or ease of use as this Google owned software. It’s free, well designed, has lots of useful features, and is easy to use.

Not trying to be PhotoShop by any means, Snapseed uses the already familiar swiping gesture to control and apply various editing tools to your own photographs. It can be used to great effect to make sure your images are as good as they are going to get. The vast majority of photographs I take on my phone, and even some I take on my point and shoot or DSLR (transferred to my iPad when away from home via my SD card reader – the best iPad accessory I have ever bought!), get the Snapseed treatment.

Generally speaking most photographs only need a teeny bit of editing; some rotation, cropping, a little tuning. Oh and I have to get rid of the annoying purple splodge that appears in all my phone pics thanks to a damaged camera that can’t be fixed. But Snapseed is a lot more powerful than that thanks to a number of built in filters and other editing tools, so you can have lots of fun with the app to create all kinds of effects.

In this simple guide, I wanted to share with you a useful workflow you can use to spruce up your phone photography. I will concentrate on everyday editing to improve images ready for sharing on social media, using on blogs, and for saving to help keep your memories alive.

Quick Start Guide – How to Use Snapseed

First things first; take a photograph and make sure it is saved somewhere on the device you are using for Snapseed. If you take photos on your iPhone and use Snapseed on your iPad then have My Photo Stream switched on so your snaps appear automatically. Otherwise, use an SD card reader, Dropbox, AirDrop, OneDrive or even just email to get the photo onto the right device. To open the photograph in Snapseed tap “Open Photo”, then “Open from Device”, and then browse to its location (most likely Camera Roll or My Photo Stream) and tap on the photo itself.

You are presented with a screen like the above. Along the top you have the open (a different photo) and save (either override or save a copy) options. The number next to save will show the number of edits you have made (you can use this to undo later if needed), and the three vertical dots offers sharing options as well as the image settings and details including a map of where the photograph was taken if you had location services on. Bottom left is the histogram, and the + on the bottom right is what you tap to access the various editing tools available.

The first tool I use will be Rotate. This allows you to rotate by 90 degrees at a time, or by much smaller amounts by using your finger to swipe left or right. Snapseed provides a handy grid for you to match your horizon to.

After straightening my photograph (I find unintentionally wonky photos are so annoying) I will use the Crop tool to recompose the shot to its best. You can choose the aspect ratio by tapping on the button over by the tick on the right – I generally prefer to choose “original” as this keeps the photo in the standard format, but I might also choose square, especially if I have Instagram in mind. To actually crop, tap and drag the edges of the area to resize it – inside the crop area will be in colour, outside it will be black and white so you can work out how it will look best. You can also drag the crop area around. Once you are done, use the tick on the bottom right to set the changes.

My next job (and we are only a few seconds into editing by this point, it’s super-fast) is to tune the image so it looks as good as it can look. Open the Tune Image tool, and start with the auto adjust button (the magic wand symbol) which can sometimes just about do everything you like. But not always, so make use of the individual sliders that can brighten, add colour or vibrancy, add blue or orange across the whole image, and so on.

Here’s a handy guide to each of the seven possible adjustments from Google:

Drag your finger up and down to switch between the adjustment types, left and right to ask for more or less of each one. I find the traditional brightness and contrast sliders will sort out my images pretty well, but I will also play with the others (especially ambiance) when I want that extra bit of oomph. You can actually create lots of effects with a combination of ambiance and brightness; create a stormy sky out of an ordinary cloudy one, pump up the vibrancy of the water in a seascape, or make Oil Seed Rape super yellow so it makes you squint like its pollen does in real life.

My final step, should my photograph need it, is to use the Detail tool to sharpen up the image slightly. I probably only do this on 50 percent of my images, perhaps if they are primarily brick or wood or if I’ve not quite got the focus evenly across the photograph.

And that’s it for me… I will then save a copy, which goes in the Camera Roll and in the Snapseed folder on your device ready for using as you wish. You can share directly to various places from within Snapseed but my preference is to do that outside the app; I will post Instagram images from within Instagram, for example.

Of course you may prefer to switch the order for some photographs… Good practice is to always straighten first, but you may wish to tune the image and apply any sharpening before cropping, as the finished colouring and detail may influence your choice of composition. Your choice. Don’t forget you can always undo

Additional Editing Tools

There are a number of other editing tools which can be very useful, depending on your image and your hope for the finished piece.

The Spot Repair tool is so useful if you have a speck on your image that you want to get rid of. It’s one of those ‘magic’ tools that uses what’s in the surrounding pixels to fill in the hole left when you want something to disappear. To use, I recommend zooming in (pinch to zoom) first, using the navigation box that appears to move around your image to find the right spot, and then tapping on the speck to get rid.

I have to use this on every photograph at the moment as there is an annoying bit of damage to the inside of the lens, and this tool is just brilliant at rubbing that out. Other times it is useful is if there’s a blurred bird on your beautiful sky, a bit of rubbish on your landscape (I wish people would take their litter home!), or maybe an unwanted sign in a shot of a stretch of road.

The Transform tool allows you to adjust perspective without cropping off the edges; it fills in the blank spaces created in a similar way to the Spot Repair tool. You can choose from Vertical – effectively moving the camera higher or lower than you had it; Horizontal, as if you moved the camera left or right; or Rotation, the ‘free transform’ option. These tools are very clever and very handy if you’ve got a lot of straight lines in your shot but didn’t have the camera quite straight and level (quite difficult with an iPhone as the lens is in one corner of the device).

You can use Vignette to emphasise a subject – it pushes out your chosen area of the photograph by effectively changing the image border. Move the blue dot to the centre of your main subject, pinch to expand or contract the size, and then use the Inner and Outer Brightness sliders to make your subject the absolute focus.

If you feel you need to alter the brightness, contrast or saturation of one small part of your image, then the Selective tool is your friend. You can’t automatically select a person or building or anything that intricate, but you can select an area (pinch to increase/decrease size) which is useful for most occasions. Tap the + symbol, tap the area of the image to place a Control Point there – this is the bit that will be edited, then use the sliders in the usual way to tune as you wish.

Last but not least we have the Brush tool. This is a really powerful instrument that turns your finger into a brush to make specific changes as you choose to different parts of your image. Choose from Dodge and Burn, Exposure, Temperature, Saturation – the best way to learn how to use this tool is to go and have a play. Use them to fine tune your image, it works particularly well with images that have large subjects and thrown out backgrounds.

Hints and Tips

Before you start with Snapseed make sure your iPad brightness is turned up (I stick with about half way to two-thirds); this makes sure you are able to see the adjustments you are making properly and don’t end up with surprise results when you view your images on another device.

Never override an existing photograph file unless you a certain you no longer want or need the original. Keeping the originals will mean you can always go back and do it again in a different style if you change your mind.

You can undo each edit (much like the history tool in PhotoShop) by tapping on the number at the top of the screen and selecting where to go back to. Handy if you apply multiple adjustments and want to go back a bit and try again.


I hope that’s been useful. There are lots of built in filters, too, and if you like I’ll go into those another time. As always, please feel free to add your own hints and tips in the comments section below.

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Inspired by the BEDM topic for today – photography. 


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