A Guide To Creative iPhone Photo Editing In Snapseed

The Snapseed app is great for everyday iPhone photo enhancement, but it also has an excellent range of tools that allow you to get more creative with your editing. These features include black and white conversion, vintage and grunge textures, light leaks, tilt-shift effect and frames. In this article you’ll learn how to use these creative tools to take your iPhone photo editing to the next level.

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One thing I’d like to mention before we start is that using these creative filters on their own probably won’t give you the best image. You normally need to fine tune the exposure and color of an image too.

Therefore, it’s usually a good idea to use the Tune Image tool in Snapseed to tweak the the color and exposure before or after using the filters. You can learn how to do this in our beginners guide to Snapseed iPhone photo editing.

So let’s take a look at what you can do with your images using some of the more creative tools and filters in Snapseed.

1. Black & White Filter

The Black & White filter really is a fantastic way to convert your images to black and white. To access this filter, simply tap the Black & White tool on the main Snapseed screen.

If you tap the slider icon with star at the bottom of the screen, a panel with six filter presets will pop up. The options are Neutral, Contrast, Bright, Dark, Film and Darken Sky.

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I always stick with Neutral, which is the default setting, and then I make my own adjustments with the sliders which you can access by swiping up and down on your image.

There are only three sliders to work with – Brightness, Contrast and Grain. Once you’ve selected the option you want, you can adjust the intensity of the effect by swiping left or right on the screen.

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The reason I work with sliders, instead of presets, is because I like to fine tune the image on my own. I don’t think the presets are going to do a better job than me.

There is another cool feature in the Black & White section of Snapseed, and that’s the colored filters. You access these filters by tapping on the circle icon on the bottom of the screen.

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These colored filters are what we used in the old days with film, when we wanted to make more creative images. A red filter produces a lot of contrast, and can be very striking with blue skies as it turns them nearly black. It’s great on a partly cloudy day.

The yellow filter produces the most subtle effect, and can be great for skin tones. The orange filter is a middle ground between red and yellow, which gives it some properties of each. The green filter can be used to enhance plants, grass, trees and other green things!

Be sure to tap through each of them, to see how they affect the image differently. Once you’re happy with the adjustments you’ve made, tap the check mark at the bottom right of the screen to apply the changes.

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The Black & White filter slider settings that I used to create this final image were as follows: Brightness increased by +10, Contrast increased by +30, and Grain was left at 0.

2. Vintage Filter To Create Aged Photos

The Vintage filter does a great job of giving your image an aged, well loved, effect. Tap the Vintage tool, then tap the star icon at the bottom of the screen to access the nine vintage style presets.

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To the right of the star is the square Texture icon. Tapping this icon gives you access to four different textures. Tapping on the textures more than once will randomize the position of the texture.

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Once you’ve made your choices with these two options, you can touch your image and slide your finger up and down to access further adjustments such as Brightness, Saturation, Texture Strength, Center Size and Style Strength. Remember to swipe left or right to adjust the setting’s intensity.

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Brightness obviously affects the overall brightness and darkness of the image. Saturation adjusts the intensity of the colors in your image. The Texture slider is used to adjust the opacity of the texture over your image. Personally, I like to dial back the texture strength a little bit, because I don’t want the texture to be the main feature of my image.

The Center Size slider affects the size of the vignette around the edge of the image. Once you select Center Size, I recommend sliding your finger left and right to see how much of a vignette looks good on your image.

The Style Strength slider mainly affects the colors of the preset you’ve chosen. Lower means a more subtle change to the colors, while increasing it makes for a more drastic change to the color of your image. Tap the check mark to apply the changes you’ve made.

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For this image, I went with preset Style #4, Texture #4, Brightness +9, Saturation +20, Texture +40, Center Size +71 and Style Strength +60.

3. Grunge Filter To Add Texture

The Grunge filter is great for adding gritty and grainy textures to your image. Tap the Grunge tool, then tap the square Textures button at the bottom of the screen and choose from one of the five texture presets.

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Now just keep tapping the Shuffle icon (two arrows) at the bottom of the screen to move it around at random until you see something you like.

You can also take more control of the textures by using the sliders, which you access by sliding your finger up and down on the image. Using the sliders allows you to adjust the Style, Brightness, Contrast, Texture Strength and Saturation.

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Sliding left and right on the Style slider changes the color cast of the filter. This is the most important slider of the Grunge filter as you need to find the right color combination for your image.

The other thing you can do with the Grunge filter is adjust the Center Size by pinching and stretching with two fingers. You can also move the center around with one finger – tap once on the image then drag the blue dot around the screen.

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I’m not a huge fan of this blur vignette tool, so I normally make it so large that it doesn’t affect my image. However, you can use it creatively to create a focal point in your image.

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I try to keep my Texture Strength low (under +30) so the texture doesn’t completely overpower the image. If you keep the Texture Strength low, it doesn’t matter too much which texture you choose.

4. Retrolux Filter For Light Leaks And Scratches

Retrolux is a fun filter that uses light leaks and scratches to create unique images. To access it, tap the Retrolux tool on the main Snapseed screen.

You can use Retrolux the simple way, like me, and just tap the Shuffle icon (two arrows) at the bottom of the screen. Or you can try to take control of the edit by tapping the star icon and selecting one of the thirteen filter styles.

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To further customize the edit, you can then tap the Properties icon to the right of the Styles. The properties vary depending on the Style you choose.

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If there’s a specific style that you like, but you don’t want to bother with the properties, you can keep tapping the Shuffle icon on that style to randomly see the various settings for that style.

Once you have a style selected, you can make more adjustments with the sliders. Slide your finger up and down on the image, then choose from Brightness, Saturation, Contrast, Style Strength, Scratches and Light Leaks.

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Lowering the Style Strength, Scratches and Light Leaks will reduce the opacity of each effect. This is something you want to keep in mind in case you find something you like but feel it’s a little bit over-processed.

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The settings for this image are Style #8, Brightness -34, Saturation +12, Contrast +29, Style Strength +73, Scratches +50 and Light Leaks +15. Normally, light leaks are set to +75, which is fine, but for this image I just wanted a very subtle additional leak.

5. Create Tilt-Shift Images

Tilt-shift effect is used to mimic a tilt-shift lens on a DSLR camera. The effect will make everything in the image appear to be small, like toys or miniature scale models. It does this by blurring the top and bottom part of the image, leaving just a small part of the image in focus. It’s really a cool effect when done right.

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Tilt-shift effect works best on photos that have been taken from an elevated position with the camera shooting down at about a 45 degree angle. So if you’re going to use the Tilt-Shift filter in Snapseed, you really ought to use an image where you’re shooting down at an angle.

To create a tilt-shift image, start by tapping the Tilt-Shift tool. Once it opens, you’ll see some lines with a blue dot – if you don’t see this, tap on the screen and they will appear.

Touching the blue dot, and sliding your finger around allows you to choose which part of the image you want in focus. The area between the middle two lines is the area that will definitely be in focus. The area outside of the outer lines will be blurred. You can adjust the size between the lines by pinching and stretching with two fingers.

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Here you can see that I’ve moved the in-focus area to the bottom of the image, so the taxi and people will remain in focus, while the rest of the image will be out of focus.

The two lines beyond those show how much of a transition to the blur effect there will be. To adjust the transition size you’ll need to access the sliders by touching your image and sliding your finger up or down. The first slider is for Transition, which is where you can adjust how large or small it will be.

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The next slider is for Blur Strength, which affects how out of focus the rest of the image will be. There is no magic number that works for all images, so just slide your finger back and forth on this slider until you like what you see.

The next two sliders are for Saturation and Contrast. Typically, tilt-shift images are high in contrast and saturation. The reason being that increasing these makes things in your image look more toy-like with bright vivid colors. You can adjust these to taste inside the Tilt-Shift filter, or you can make these same adjustments later using the Tune Image tool.

If you tap on the star icon on the bottom of the screen, you’ll find that there is also an elliptical shaped mask. The linear mask is for a classic tilt-shift effect, while the elliptical one is for a blurred vignette around the edges of the image.

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The photos below are a good example of how the tilt-shift effect can completely change your image. The first photo is the original from Big Sur in California. The image was lacking a focal point because everything was in focus.

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Now look at the image after the tilt-shift effect has been applied. Blurring the background and foreground puts the focus on the waves and just certain rocks.

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6. HDR Scape Filter

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Basically HDR is used to achieve a better, balanced exposure throughout the entire image, from the highlights through to shadows. It’s normally used in high contrast scenes, such as landscape photos which have bright sky and dark foreground.

HDR can work really well if you use an app such as Pro HDR X to take multiple photos at different exposures and then combine them together into a single image. You can see how this works in our article on taking great HDR photos.

However, the HDR Scape filter in Snapseed can only be used in post-processing on a single image, creating a pseudo HDR effect. If you love the HDR Scape tool in Snapseed, be warned… you might not like what I have to say here.

If you don’t know what you’re doing with this tool, the results will leave your images looking absolutely terrible. Seriously, use HDR Scape with caution. For the record, I do not like this filter!

This filter won’t always ruin the image, but most of the time you’re better off not using it. Before we even discuss how to use it, you need to find the right image. First, make sure your original image doesn’t have large areas of pitch black shadows or white highlights.

The reason being that HDR Scape will try to aggressively brighten the shadows, which will introduce noise (grain) and possibly weird magenta patches. And the highlights will be horribly darkened. If you try to darken white it becomes a muddied grey, and you never want that.

Here’s what happens if you use a photo that was taken in low light settings. This is Bixby Bridge before being ruined… I mean before the filter is applied!

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Now here’s the image with the HDR Scape filter applied. Look at all that noise (grain) and the weird colors in the shadows. This image has definitely not been improved by the HDR filter.

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To access the HDR settings, tap the HDR Scape tool on the main Snapseed screen. If you tap on the star icon, there are four presets to choose from: Nature, People, Fine and Strong. I find that Nature and People are the most subtle, and subtle is what you want.

When you slide your finger up and down on the image, you’ll find sliders to make further adjustments for Filter, Brightness, Saturation and Smoothing.

The default setting for the Filter is +85, which never ever looks good. I don’t really recommend using Brightness because it’s not going to fix whatever HDR Scape is ruining.

Saturation can be used to desaturate the color a little bit, because it likes to over-saturate at higher filter settings. Honestly, I’ve never noticed Smoothing affecting the image at all. Maybe it reduces some grain? I can’t tell.

The image below was taken at Shell Beach, CA, and is one that would work well for an HDR image… if you were to take multiple exposures and blend them together using an app such as Pro HDR X. It’s not great for a pseudo HDR, though.

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This is also going to be a good example of what happens with a large open space when using HDR Scape. Are you ready for some poorly done pseudo HDR? Below is the image with the Nature preset applied.

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And here it is using the Strong preset, just to show you that it could be worse!

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In both examples, HDR Scape does a great job… of ruining both the sky and the shadows. I’ve never seen a sky look like that in person before. If I did, I’d be running for shelter because the apocalypse is upon us.

“Hey David, you’re not being fair to this filter by showing us only the default setting.” I hear you. Let’s look at the Shell Beach image when the filter is set to +15.

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The top part of the sky is still slightly muddied and unnatural, but I suppose you have to have a really good eye to notice. I didn’t notice much else changed from the original.

At that point, you have to ask yourself what the point of using the HDR Scape filter is at all. The more you increase the filter, the worse the sky gets too, so there really isn’t a sweet spot for this image.

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Above is the original image that I took in an historic cemetery in Jacksonville, OR. I felt like it would be a good example of an image that would work with HDR Scape. There aren’t any wide open spaces, or shadows, for it to ruin.

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And here it is using the Nature preset with the Filter set to +40 (typically I stay under 20, but it was safe to go higher on this image). Brightness is at -2, Saturation is -10 and Smoothing is +100 because why not.

I liked the way it affected the trees, headstones and grass, though I probably could have dialed back the Saturation a bit more, and possibly lowered the Brightness a little bit too. Oh well, its done, and we’re done with HDR Scape!

7. Frames

Finally, (assuming you haven’t ruined your photo with HDR) adding a frame to your photo can be a nice finishing touch. To access the frames, simply tap the Frames tool, then tap on the Frame icon at the bottom of the screen to access twenty-three types of frame.

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There are eleven with white borders, and twelve with black. Some of the frames will have a Shuffle icon on them, which you can tap to see different variations of that style. You can further customize the frame width by pinching or stretching with two fingers.

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Tapping the gear icon at the bottom of the screen will bring up two additional features to play with. The first, Format, is essentially for creating a square crop and frame for your image. This can be useful if you intend sharing the image on Instagram.

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The other feature is called Colorized. Tapping this option will change the white borders to an off-white canvas color. Any parts of any frame that would have been white will now be canvas colored.

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Final Thoughts On Using Snapseed Creatively

Something to keep in mind when using the different features of Snapseed is that the order in which you apply them will affect the final product. An example would be if you use both a Vintage filter and a Black & White effect, the final results will be very different depending on the order you use them.

Obviously, applying the Black White filter last will leave you with a black and white image. But if the Vintage filter is applied last, there will be some color reintroduced. Please, experiment and see what you can come up with.

  • Thanks for showing us all these great creative tools David. It’s amazing how many settings you can find hidden away by swiping on the screen and tapping those tiny icons!

  • Anna Cronin

    I think you’re being a little unfair to HDRscape 😉 Yes, an awful lot of people over-use it horribly and create monstrous images, but used with a good eye it can produce a distinctive but pleasing result 🙂 All things in moderation eh? 😀

    • Oh I know I am haha. I went through my HDR phase too. I think its fun to experiment with, but so easy to create unicorn vomit :P. And you’re absolutely right Anna, all things in moderation.

  • Love the explanation of tutorial. I use Snapseed more than anything else, but I hadn’t really explored a couple of the options. So I guess its time now.

    • Its always good to experiment. Not everything is going to be your style, but you might find something that you really like 🙂

  • Thank you for the wonderful tutorial.

  • This is very helpful to a long-time hobby photographer but newbie to iPhone photography. Is it possible to print this as I would to be able to use it for referencing—lot to remember. I tried it the other day on a night pic I took just to see. That was before reading ALL of your tutorial. I plan to practice with it more often.

    Again thanks for all you share to help us to become better.

    • Hi Arline. Really pleased to hear you found this article helpful, and glad you enjoy learning from our tutorials to improve your iPhone photography. You should be able to print the page through your web browser print options 🙂