12 May 2015
Mobile photographers have quickly polarized their feelings with regard to newly released Snapseed 2.0: some love it and some hate it. In this article we will take a look at the new features offered by Snapseed and how they change the mobile photographic workflow.
Additionally, as many people have asked us for giving more attention to Android-based devices, in this particular review Android 4.4.1-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab S is used for testing and taking screenshots.
Snapseed first appeared on the Apple App Store in June 2011 as the iPad-only application. The product coming from Nik Software quickly became a de facto standard among mobile photographers. Snapseed was one of the first mobile apps offering high-quality desktop-like editing tools packaged in a very simple and intuitive touch user interface. Releasing iPhone version in August 2011, and porting the app to Android in December 2012 (just after acquiring Nik by Google) has cemented its position as one of the popular apps to edit photos on the mobile.
Unfortunately, beginning from December 2012 the development of the app slowed down, and after releasing version 1.6.0 in October 2013 practically stopped, bringing only minor cosmetic changes to make the app compatible with the upcoming versions of the mobile operating systems. As app market in the App Store always marches forward, and the new apps were released, with possibilities matching and going beyond those of Snapseed, the group of people using the Snapseed became to very slowly, but steadily shrink. One of the main complaints about Snapseed was lack of non-destructive editing workflow (every decision was final, you couldn’t easily go back, fine tune or remove any single edit of the photo, just roll back to original photo).
So to surprise of everyone, on 9th April there appeared a new version of Snapseed. And not only new version, the new version! The true version 2.0! Released simultaneously for iOS and Android. The changes in new version are so significant that they promote Snapseed to entirely new class of mobile apps. But let’s not go ahead of one’s story.
One thing to add, since acquisition of Nik by Google, Snapseed is an app free of charge, and version 2.0 remains so as well.
Snapseed is capable to run on smartphone and tablets on iOS and Android system. The required version of iOS is 8.0 or newer, and for Android – 4.1 or newer (the app doesn’t work on Motorola XOOM MZ604).
Snapseed during editing operates on trimmed down copy of the photo (for iPhone max. of 4096×4096 pixels). But during reading and writing it operates of full picture size, which for Android-based devices and newer iOS devices equals to 20 megapixels and for older iOS devices (iPhone 4S, iPad 2, iPad mini 1 and iPod touch) – 10 megapixels.
Why should I care? It means that Snapseed is not only good for editing your mobile photos (that are often 10 megapixels or below) but also is capable to read bigger files coming from DSLR cameras, which we have copied to our smartphone or tablet.
What caught my attention in the first place, was new application icon. Minimalistic approach aligned with Google’s Material Design causes the icon to immediately catch your attention. The application is available in many more languages, including my native language Polish.
Picture 1. Application main screen.
The team applied the similar changes to the whole application interface, which became very minimalistic, leaving a lot of screen real estate to show the actual photo. The toolbar with tools icons is gone, all the tools and filters are hidden under the big plus sign, visible in bottom right hand corner of the screen.
The only active elements, apart from the plus button are:
Additionally, in the bottom left hand side corner there is a histogram display, which shows you the distribution of tones in the photo. The dark tones are on the left side of the histogram, the light tones are on the right side.
Tapping and holding a photo itself allows to see before/after (photo before doing all the changes compared with photo with all the edits on), which helps to orientate ourselves on what actually did we do to the photo compared to the original.
It is also worth to mention about completely redesigned help system, which is unique in its own kind. Snapseed is the only application I know, which shows how to use the application by actually performing edits on the current photo (of course only for illustration purposes). Therefore, if we invoke help from the tool screen, the app will show us the tools possibilities by actually using them on the current photo. This has far more educational value than showing an HTML page with online help.
One of the biggest shortcoming of Snapseed version 1.x was lack of zoom. It was especially cumbersome when working with more fine grained adjustments – when it very difficult to correctly judge whether the edit is correct or too strong. Snapseed 2.0 has completely eliminated that weakness. You can zoom into the photo on practically every application screen. And the way the zoom is realized is quite interesting.
Picture 2. Zooming photo in Snapseed.
After using a classic pinch gesture in the bottom left hand side corner so-called navigator appears. It is a rectangular area, which shows maps the whole photo surface, with small rectangle inside showing the currently visible part of it. You can zoom in and out using pinch gesture, and you can navigate through the whole photo while zoomed, either by swiping your finger in the navigator area, or by swiping on the rest of the screen, using two fingers simultaneously.
Double tapping on the photo will zoom the photo to the maximum.
Picture 3. Tool Tune image – choosing the appropriate adjustment.
In the tool Tune Image a lot of changes have been made, improving its functionality:
The button in the top right-hand side corner of the screen, similar to the screen divided in half, allows to preview the before/after. This button works the same way in every other tool/filter.
Should we work on the zoomed photo, swiping finger up and down still changes the adjustment, and swiping left/right adjusts its value. Swiping with two fingers will pan through the photo.
The Transform tool allows for photo rotation and also to adjust horizontal and vertical perspective. Nothing magic, you would say, rotation is in every app, and since some time even Instagram and EyeEm apps have perspective adjustment. But…
Snapseed 2.0 delivers all three tools, but with intelligent content-aware tool, which is filling empty black corners that are usually the result of rotation or perspective correction. How does it work? During rotation, but also during perspective adjustments, the photo corners start to be black unfilled areas, which you would usually crop-out in the next step. But cropping photo means lowering its resolution=quality. Snapseed with do its best to fill in those regions with patterns matching the background of surrounding areas.
It doesn’t work well with all cases, but on the pictures with prominent sky or eg. paved road, the filling algorithm is really doing great job, producing believably looking patterns.
The tool works in the same way like any other tool – you select the adjust by swiping vertically: rotation, horizontal perspective, vertical perspective; you change the value of the adjustment by swiping horizontally. After you lift the finger of the screen, the content-aware fill is doing the rest.
I’m seriously afraid that by releasing this particular feature, Snapseed effectively wiped out from the App Store the whole category of apps, which offered perspective correction as their main feature (for which you had to pay).
One word on rotation: it is limited to 5 degrees in either direction. If you want to rotate more… add another Transform adjustment and keep rotating until you are fine with the result.
The new Brush tool caused that in new Snapseed I haven’t used Selective Adjust any single time. Why? Because Brush does what Selective Adjust did, and more, and also it doesn’t limit the photographer with radial masks, but instead allows to paint the effect on the whole photo using brush.
So here we go – there are 4 different brushes at our disposal:
We choose the brush type, by tapping on the Effect button in the bottom left-hand side corner.
We can paint with Dodge & Burn using the following intensities: -10, -5, Eraser, 5, 10. Of course – positive value will lighten up the photo, negative ones will darken the photo down. You can choose the intensity by tapping on the arrows.
Now a word of explanation on how this particular brush works (because it works a little bit different way than remaining three). Dodge & Burn brush works in an additive way eg. you can darken the photo down with intensity -5 and if you keep painting over the already painted region, you will darken it down even more. But you can’t lighten it with less intense darkening brush eg. if you have used brush with intensity -10, using -5 afterwards won’t work. You need to use erase to completely erase the effect and then start over.
The way Dodge & Burn works goes back to the time of analog photo processing in the dark room. The original dodge and burn techniques were used in the analog darkroom to selectively lighten up or darken down the photos. And there, you could not revert the changes, because you were working with light-sensitive paper. So if you started to darken it down, you could continue, but you could not revert your actions.
Picture 6. Creative use of Dodge & Burn brush to write on the photo
The remaining three brushes work according to the expectations – painting over with brush with decreased intensity will decrease the effect.
Exposure works like Dodge & Burn but much more aggressively. You can choose between intensity values: -1.0 EV, -0.7 EV, -0.3 EV, Eraser, 0.3 EV, 0.7 EV, 1.0 EV. 1 EV is the equivalent of single F stop of the camera.
Warmth and Saturation are working exactly like Exposure, but using intensities: -10, -5, Eraser, 5, 10.
Picture 7. Brush tool – using zoom to adjust brush size.
Using zoom to adjust brush size is another example of Snapseed UI ingenuity. When you start to zoom the photo, you will see in the center the white circle that shows the new brush size. As you increase the zoom, the absolute size of the brush decreases (however on the zoomed area the brush seems the same size).
Using zooming technique you will be able to do even very fine-grained adjustments. Or minimize the photo until the brush occupies half of the screen and then with single swipe you can nicely darken the sky, adding much more drama to the picture.
Picture 8. Working with Spot Repair using maximum zoom
The size of spot repair tool you can choose the same way like brush size in Brush tool – by zooming in and out. The toolbar on the bottom offers the simple option to undo-redo the corrections. In the middle of the toolbar there is the counter which counts the amount of corrected spots.
Very important: this tool, however useful, it’s not made to remove big complex shapes out the picture. If you want to do that type of retouch, you’d better get either TouchRetouch (iOS, Android) or Handy Photo (iOS, Android) for the job.
The Vignette tool is a more limited version of Soft Focus tool from Snapseed 1.x (it lacks the blurring option, which has been promoted to a separate filter in 2.0)
Picture 9. Vignette tool – choosing vignette size.
How exactly vignette works? It is determined by its two parameters: Inner Brightness and Outer Brightness and afterwards we can select the area of application by the pinch gesture.
When we tap the screen once, a center point is displayed, which we can move around, changing the center of vignette effect.
Vignetting is a very interesting technique, particularly useful in black and white photos, but also in photos with busy backgrounds – by darkening down the corners we can often remove some distractions from the photo.
It is not completely obvious for me, why certain editing tools in Snapseed are called Tools and the other ones are called Effects. I would clear put Blur in Tools and not Effect. But it doesn’t matter.
The Blur filter complements the Vignette tool, used together they create the effect similar to Soft Focus tool from Snapseed 1.x. We can choose among two types of blur: radial and linear (chosen by the button in the bottom bar). Linear blur is also often called miniature effect or Tilt-and-Shift – because of expensive tilt-and-shift lenses which allow to achieve this effect via optic elements of the lens.
Picture 10. Blur filter – choosing blur size.
Using pinch gesture we set the area, within which the photo will be sharp (circle, ellipse or a rectangle). By swiping up we are setting the values for blur intensity, size of transition area (between sharp and not sharp) and intensity of vignetting (if we want to apply one).
Blur intensity allows to set the intensity of blur effect, as it is visible outside of the given shape (ellipse or rectangle). The transition is the distance between the sharp area and 100% blurred area. Vignette intensity additionally allows to darken down the corners. Interesting to notice, when using linear blur, vignetting is also linear (which is impossible to achieve in Vignette tool alone).
Picture 11. Blur tool. Setting shape of bokeh effect.
A new option here is blur style. After tapping the Style button you can choose how the lights of the photo will be blurred. This is called in photographic jargon bokeh effect. By default the lights are blurred as large circles but depending on the lens you can also achieve other shapes eg. hexagons etc.
The bokeh effect has been imported from professional desktop tool by Nik Software, so it allows to achieve bokeh effect very similar to those achieved by high quality DSLR lenses with fast aperture.
Try it out especially on the portrait photo, where the blurred background helps to focus on the main subject.
The new Glamour Glow filter is not really my pair of shoes. This type of filter and lighting is usually used in portrait photography but more often than not in the fashion photography. I can imagine it can get quite popular in doing the hated “sweet selfie photos” which are so popular on Instagram.
Picture 12. Working with Glamour Glow filter. Filter intensity is exaggerated on purpose.
You can start with 4 available presets, and then fine tune the parameter values manually. The parameters are: Glow, Saturation, Warmth. The filter works best on color photos. The best results you would get from the outdoor portrait shoots, where it will soften the light, improves the balance between light and shadow and generally smooth out model skin.
Tonal Contrast quickly became my favourite new filter. Used with moderation, it can greatly enhance the photo, where contrast and texture are important elements of the overall composition. Tonal Contrast is one of the tools that was ported from the desktop tool Color Efex also developed by Nik.
Picture 13. Tonal Contrast filter
Tonal Contrast allows you to change the contrast separately for shadows, midtones and highlights. Based on the tone mapping technique it is able to enrich and enhance too deep shadows and dim out too bright highlights. Works like magic.
What else to say – it is best experienced on the real picture. Apart from 3 sliders: High-, Mid- and Low-Tones you have the additional tools Protect Shadows and Protect Highlights, which can be used to correct too strong edits done by using first three sliders.
It is very important not to exaggerate with the filters, it it really tempting to slide them to max. Don’t. Use moderate values of at most 50, and then you can experiment with single slider to set it for higher value eg. when you want to achieve very dramatic sky. Subtle editing will help your photo much more than over-editing.
Picture 14. Grainy Film filter – choosing preset.
As always, we can start by quickly going through presets to see if any of them fits the photo. But the core of the filter are two adjustable effects: Grain and Intensity.
Snapseed 2.0 contains a new grain engine ported from the desktop application by Nik (Silver Efex). And it really looks realistic. It is not just the random noise added to the picture. If you combine this filter with Black & White or Noir, you can get really interesting results.
Picture 15. Noir filter.
Noir filter is an interesting twist of original Black & White filter, allowing to achieve the effect of washed-out black and white photos (as if they were made in 1950s). We can change Brightness, Wash, Grain and Intensity. Again, it’s rather hard to explain how it works, you’d much better experiment with it instead. Good tip is to combine it after Black & White filter, which allows to use color filters for B&W conversion. This way you have more control over the conversion process.
Under the secret term Stack you will find a somewhat hidden feature of the new Snapseed, which turns the app into one of the best image editing tools on the market.
Not without a reason, a basic button that is used in Snapseed most often is the plus button. After tapping on plus, Snapseed is adding a new edit to the photo – this activity is although not modifying the original photo, but just adds an adjustment layer on top of it. You can compare it to layering a couple of transparencies over a sheet of paper. The original picture will change its color, if we look at it through transparencies, but behind them it is the same original picture, unchanged. We just look at it through the stack of transparencies.
The exact same thing happens in Snapseed. The secret place, where you are able to see a stack of already done edits is the small icon with a digit symbolizing the number of changes, on the right of Save button. After tapping on the label , we enter the stack management screen.
Picture 16. Editing stack screen.
On the top of the screen there is a Close button (which closes the stack management screen) and the ellipsis (…) button, which contains options to copy and paste edit stacks, which we will shortly describe in more detail.
The main part of the screen is occupied by the picture, but in the bottom right-hand side corner we are able to see the stack of edits. Stack is growing from bottom to top (on the very bottom we have the original photo – named Original, and on the top of it we have the lastly done edit).
What can the stacks be used for? The first useful thing we can do with a stack, is navigating it. Tapping on the particular element will cause the picture to change, showing you the exact edition that was done at that point of time. By just going from bottom to top, we traverse the history of edits as they appeared. Very useful, if we eg. want to isolate the edit that is currently causing the problem and we don’t exactly know which operation caused this unwanted effect.
Picture 17. Editing stack. Context menu of single edit.
Now that we isolated the problem source, we can easily manage and fix it. A second tap on already selected edit will bring up the context menu, containing three options:
If we don’t like a particular edit anymore, we can tap on the trash icon and it’s gone. Remark: if we have done it by mistake (and there is no additional confirmation before removal), tap on Close and then tap on ellipsis (…) from the main screen and choose Undo.
If the edit needs some fine-tuning, tap on the rightmost icon and we are again in the particular tool screen, where we can correct the necessary parameters of the edit. After tapping on Apply icon we will be back to stacks editing screen.
The most interesting option is hidden behind the middle button. After tapping it, we are entering the screen, which allows us to brush in the edit using brush tool. That means that we can apply the edit only to places where we really want it. And it works the same way regardless of the used tool.
Picture 18. Editing stack – selective brushing of edit on a photo.
Here we can use brush like in the Brush tool, but the difference is that we are not brushing single effect, but a group. Eg. if we have tuned some parameters in Tune Image, here we can selectively apply all of them to the parts of the images. Size of the brush is controlled using zoom, as always.
The intensity of the brush we can control with arrows, they let us choose the value between 0 (zero intensity of change) and 100 (full intensity of change). So it gives us a lot of creative control over process.
Two more buttons appear here, that we can use: a left-side button named Reverse, which allows us to revert the painted area – eg. if we want to brush almost entire screen, it is better to tap on this button first and then brush away the area where we want no change (with Brush set to 0). The second button is the Mask button, known from Brush tool, which shows us where the brush was used and where not.
A very interesting capability of the app is that you can actually insert an edit in the middle of editing stack. Just navigate to the element after which you want to add an edit, tap on Close to go to main screen and add your edit using plus button. After the edit is finished, you can go to Stack editing screen again to notice that the new edit has been inserted after the previously selected edit. Now, the only thing you need to do is to click on the topmost edit to activate all the other edits. This way we can very easily add a forgotten edit on the beginning of the stack.
Example – after multiple edits we notice that the image is slightly crooked (horizon line is not even). So it would be nice to straighten it, which is usually the first thing you would do to the image, before you start to edit its other parameters. Very easy! Just, while in Stack screen, tap on Original, exit Stack screen and from main screen add the Transform edit.
It’s not all. The best part of Snapseed filter is that they are really intelligent. I mean – they are aware of each other. So if we added Transformation as the first edit, the subsequent edits will notice it and correspondingly modify their selections (by rotating them). And we don’t need to think about it at all. It will just work. Isn’t that cool?
Another feature of Stacks is that it allows to export any editing step very easily. Just select the appropriate step and then from main screen use the Share button. Don’t forget to re-activate the edits after you have done the export.
Many photographers are with time developing their own unique style, that starts to be recognized by other other. In addition to the composition style and the choice of photographic subjects, editing is also an element of photographic style. It becomes important that we are able to apply the similar/same set of edits to other photos in order to achieve a similar, unique to the artist, look.
Snapseed is a great tool for creative layers of various edits on top of each other. It also turns out that once we are happy with particular editing stack, we can copy it over to another photo easily.
Picture 19. Editing stack – context menu allowing copying the stack to another photo
Here is how to do it:
The whole editing stack from current photo will be copied to “clipboard” and will be available for use on another photo.
Now use Open to load another photo, enter Stack editing screen and:
When to use Replace and when Insert? If the target photo doesn’t have any edits yes, it won’t matter. But if we already eg. cropped the photo or straightened it, it makes sense to retain these edits and add edits from clipboard after them. Warning: it might be (and it will be) that some of the edits copied from the other photo do not make sense. Especially if those edits involved using brushes, the chances that we can reuse them are small. In this case, use the middle button in the edit context menu to re-brush certain change on the new photo canvas. If some edits just don’t make sense, remove them from the stack.
After we are done with editing, we would like to save the effect of our work. On the other hand, if the work is not yet finished, we would like to save a working version, so that we are able to return to it at a later point of time.
The way the app saves the photo done quite differently in Android and iOS, therefore we will explain it separately for every system.
In Android, there exists a single way to save a photo. It is named Save and it saves the current photo in a folder named Snapseed. The original photo remains untouched. The nice little touch is that the saving process runs in background and doesn’t block the app user interface from performing other functions, eg. loading next photo.
If we want to load such a photo later, it behaves as any other photo. Unfortunately we can’t see the history of edits or fine-tune any of them. All those wonderful creative tools only work within Snapseed, until we save the photo.
In iOS, the situation is quite different. In iOS 8 (this is what Snapseed requires), the app uses the new abilities to save the photo into Camera Roll along with information about its edits (as photo-attached metadata).
In iOS, Snapseed has two options to save: Save and Save a Copy. Using Save saves the photo as a new version of a photo that was loaded from the Camera Roll, adding it as well to the Snapseed folder (it makes it very convenient to reopen any Snapseed-edited photos later). The Save a Copy option saves a new copy of the photo into Camera Roll, leaving the original photo untouched.
What is the most interesting, is hidden behind the scenes. Snapseed doesn’t just save a photo, it actually saves the photo with the information about edits. What for? It allows to re-open such photo in Snapseed and preserve the whole editing stack information. So we can continue our work where we left off. Completely non-destructive workflows. Wow!
Note: if we use later another application that uses the new way of saving (saving a new version of existing photo), this application will overwrite Snapseed edits information, and we will lose the possibility to adjust changes. So in this case, it is very wise to save a copy of a photo and use the copy to perform edits in another application.
Even more magic happens, if we have the iCloud Drive turned on. iCloud with synchronize not only the photo, but the edits information to other iOS devices and Macs. So we can start the editing on the iPhone and continue it on an iPad.
I know a handful of apps that allows the similar kind of non-destructive editing on iOS eg. Lightroom Mobile or VSCOCam, but none of these is using the Camera Roll in such a smart way like Snapseed. Amen.
With all the features and capabilities explained so far, Snapseed is the ideal environment to unleash your creative powers and working on developing your own photographic style. It effectively allows you to revisit, refine, repeat and undo every step you make in your editing process.
On the main screen, hidden under the ellipsis (…) button, you will find three options, adding very important functions to the existing mix:
Even the Revert action can be undone. The producer doesn’t specify any special limit for the undo buffer.
So in general, everything you have done can be undone, amended, brushed in, brushed away etc. A paradise for mobile photographer!
Snapseed 2.0 is a significant makeover of the original Snapseed 1.x, so during the clean-up the developer have removed some option or even functions of the app. The exhaustive list of the removed items you will find below. In fact, Google already released a memo, in which they promise to bring back some items that were removed (especially the Grunge filter) in the future version of an app.
The following features were removed:
As you remember, not so long ago I was thrilled with recently released Enlight app. The second part of the Enlight review should be out soon and I still think that the app is a excellent multi-purpose editing app that can replace many specialized apps.
But Snapseed 2.0 goes even further. Its features are just jaw-dropping. A combination of professional editing tools ported from desktop, the editing stack and a very intuitive touch-driven user interface – and all this free of charge – make Snapseed an indispensable app. Sometimes the only app you actually need. We just hope that the Snapseed development team will not sit on their laurels and will keep the pace of releasing new Snapseed versions, with additional tools and features.
Google made sure that the net is full of Snapseed 2.0 educational materials – so if this review whetted your appetite, here is a handful of juicy links to satisfy your hunger:
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