A Beginners Guide To Snapseed iPhone Photo Editing

Using apps to edit your iPhone photos is considered to be an essential part of the iPhone photography experience. But many people don’t know where to start. Or they ruin their photos by over-processing them. In this tutorial, we’ll guide you through a step-by-step editing workflow in the popular free Snapseed app, giving you the essential skills you need for enhancing your iPhone photos.

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What Is Snapseed?

Snapseed has been my favorite photo editing app for a long time. The amount of features, and its relative ease of use, make it an app that many iPhone photographers choose for improving and manipulating their photos. Snapseed is available for iPhone and iPad, and it’s free to download from the App Store

In this article, I’ll guide you through the most useful tools in Snapseed and how I use them in my workflow. I’m not going to go through the features in the order that they’re laid out in the app, but in the order that I would normally use them when editing a photo. And yes, the order that you use them does make a difference.

There are two things to keep in mind when using Snapseed. If you ever feel lost or forget what the icons mean, you can tap the question mark icon to display an overlay with help tips. The other thing to remember is each tool in Snapseed has several sliders that you can access by swiping up and down on your image.

So let’s take a look at a typical editing workflow, from start to finish, for enhancing a photo on your iPhone.

1. Open Your Image In Snapseed

After opening the Snapseed app, you need to open the image you want to work on. Tap the plus symbol (+) in the top left corner, then tap Photo Library. Select the photo you want to edit, then tap Use.

If you want to take a photo from within Snapseed, you can select the Camera Option instead of Photo Library after tapping the plus symbol.

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If you’re holding the iPhone horizontally (in landscape orientation) you’ll see your image on the right and the editing tool icons on the left. If you’re holding the phone vertically, the editing tools will appear along the bottom of the screen.

2. Straighten Tool

After you import your image, the first thing you should do is make sure the horizon is level, assuming there is a horizon in your image. If not, you can use the straighten tool to rotate the image to however you see fit.

Tap the Straighten tool, then simply use your finger to touch the image, sliding it to make small adjustments. If you want to rotate 90 degrees at a time, tap on either arrow on the side of the box at the bottom of the screen.

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When you’re happy with the rotated image, tap the check mark in the bottom right corner to apply the changes you’ve made. Or tap the cross at the bottom left to cancel what you just did.

3. Crop Tool

Cropping allows you to trim the edges of your photo to remove distractions or improve the composition. Tap the Crop tool to access the cropping options.

When you initially open the crop tool, it’s in free mode. This means you can simply tap any side or corner of the image, and and drag it however you want for a custom crop. If you’d like to crop to a specific aspect ratio, tap the rectangle icon with dashes inside of it to bring up the options.

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When you select your crop ratio, it will come up in landscape orientation, but you can change it to portrait orientation by tapping the icon of the solid rectangle with an arrow pointing down. For this image, I feel like a square crop is most effective.

If you want to see a preview of the crop before applying it, hold down the icon in the top right corner of the screen. To apply the changes, tap the check mark at the bottom right.

4. Tune Image Tool

This is probably the most important tool in my entire editing workflow. It allows you to make a variety of exposure and color adjustments to your image.

Tap the Tune Image tool, then slide your finger up or down on the image to select the setting you want as shown below.

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To change the strength of the selected setting, simply swipe your finger left or right on the image and you’ll see the number at the bottom of the screen change.

The Brightness setting allows you to brighten or darken the entire image. I don’t often use the Brightness slider, but if I do, it’s a subtle adjustment between -10 and +10. This image didn’t need much brightness added, so I set it to +2.

The Ambiance slider is where the magic happens for me. Remember, just swipe your finger up or down on the image to access a different setting from the list. I typically adjust the Ambience slider to between +10 and +35 to add some dynamic range and saturation.

Dynamic range is to do with how much of the image is correctly exposed, and the Ambiance slider lifts the shadows and saves a bit of highlight detail, giving better exposure throughout the image. I highly recommend just sliding your finger back and forth until you like the way the image looks.

I also like to use the Ambiance slider in the opposite direction. Going into the negative with this slider will darken the shadows and make the light areas appear a little softer. This is great if you want to create a moodier image. For this photo, I ended up setting Ambiance to -19.

After I’m satisfied with the Ambiance setting, I increase the contrast in the image (swipe up or down on the screen to access the Contrast setting). Contrast allows you to make the shadows darker and the highlights brighter.

I feel that all digital photos could use a bump in contrast to make them pop and appear more polished. Most of the time I increase my contrast around +5 to +15, but there are images that could use much more than that.

Small, subtle adjustments are the key to my workflow, but there are sometimes exceptions that need more aggressive adjustments. +5 contrast looks good in this image. Later, I’m going to make targeted adjustments to some areas to add further contrast.

Swipe up or down on the screen to access the Saturation slider. This setting allows you to change how vibrant the colors appear. Depending on the image, I can do a number of different things with the saturation slider.

Usually, I leave it at 0 and deal with it later if I feel the image needs more punch near the end of my workflow. Or I can even use this slider to remove all color and create a black and white image. For now, +5 to saturation adds a little more color at this stage of the edit. I’ll be adding more saturation later.

The Shadow slider is great for bringing some detail back into the dark areas of an image, but it’s very important not to use it too aggressively, or you will introduce a lot of noise (grain) into those areas of the image.

Typically, I may only set it to +5, to get just a little more detail. You can definitely set it higher, but the safe amount you can go up to varies by image, so use your best judgment. +9 is enough shadow adjustment for me in this image.

The Warmth slider allows you to adjust the color balance of your image. Basically you can make the image warmer (more orange) or cooler (more blue). This tool is one I don’t use too often as I find that the white balance on the iPhone does a pretty good job of getting the colors right, so I don’t need to adjust it with this slider.

If you want to use it for creative purposes, you can add warm tones by sliding your finger to the right, and cool tones by going to the left. For this particular image, I increased the warmth by +4 because I think it works well with the fall colors.

Before you apply the changes, you should hold down the icon in the top right corner to view the original image. It’s very important to make sure you haven’t gone too far with these initial edits! If everything is to your liking, tap the check mark at the bottom right to apply the edits.

5. Selective Adjust Tool

After the basic edits have been made, you can use the Selective Adjust tool to make targeted adjustments to specific parts of the image. This is a powerful tool that allows you to selectively adjust brightness, contrast and saturation.

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Tap the Selective Adjust tool, then tap the circle icon with a plus in it. Put your finger on the image and move the plus around to wherever you want to make an adjustment.

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The magnifying loupe will show you which color you’re targeting. If you accidentally drop your pin on the wrong spot, you can tap the blue circle and drag it until it’s exactly where you want it to be.

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Once you’re happy with its position, you can pinch and stretch with two fingers to select how wide of an area you want the adjustment to affect. While you’re pinching or stretching, anything that turns red will be affected by the adjustments.

Swipe up or down on the screen to select whether you want to adjust brightness (B), contrast (C) or saturation (S), then swipe left or right to adjust the strength of the setting. In this image, I chose to target leaves and the walkway, to make subtle adjustments to their color and tone.

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Double tapping on a circle icon will bring up options for you to cut, copy, delete or reset adjustments. If you choose to copy them, you can then tap anywhere on the image and a paste button pops up to ask if you want to paste the same settings there.

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When you’re happy with the adjustments that you’ve made, tap the check mark at the bottom right to apply the edits.

6. Drama Tool

I’m a fan of the Drama filter’s ability to bring out details in an image. I find that images of clouds look more dramatic when the drama filter is applied, and I also like to use it on images that are full of fine detail.

Tap the Drama tool, then tap the star icon to select from six different filters. I like to use the Drama 1 preset mostly.

I don’t like how aggressive the default filter setting is, at +90, so I always reduce the filter strength to somewhere between 1 – 20. Sometimes I’ll set it higher if the image doesn’t look over-processed. To change the Filter Strength, swipe up or down to select the setting, then swipe left or right to alter the strength.

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The default saturation is set to -40, which I’m not a fan of. Swipe up or down to select the Saturation setting, then swipe left or right to adjust the strength. I will bring the saturation back up to 0 because I’m not going to use this filter to desaturate the image. Tap the check mark at the bottom right to apply the edits.

One thing to look out for with this filter are halos around objects or lines. In the image below, you can clearly see a white glow around the tree branches due to the filter strength being too high.

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7. Details Tool

I believe most digital photos could use some degree of sharpening in order to look their best. With the Details tool in Snapseed, we can bring out detail by adjusting the Sharpening and Structure settings. I like to make small adjustments to both of these sliders.

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Before I make any adjustments I tap the magnifying glass icon to bring up the loupe. Then I drag it to a spot in my image with some detail to it – this allows me to see the changes as I make them.

Once you have the loupe in place, swipe up or down to access the Sharpening setting. I usually increase this to between +3 and +10. Swipe up or down to access the Structure setting. I usually set this to somewhere between +5 and +15.

After I’ve adjusted sharpening and structure, I’ll move the loupe around the image to get a closer look at it, and I’ll also tap the icon at the top right to see a before and after of the changes I’ve made to the details.

I like to work on the details after I’ve made every other adjustment, besides center focus. If you overdo the detail sliders, you’ll hurt your image quality. Go ahead and set both to +100 and see what I mean.

When you’re happy with the amount of sharpening, tap the check mark at the bottom right to apply the changes that you’ve made.

8. Center Focus Tool

The Center Focus tool might be one of my favorite features in Snapseed, and this is the final tool that I use in my workflow. It allows you to create a vignette (darker or brighter edges) around the image with the option of blurring the edges if you wish.

After accessing the Center Focus tool, you can tap the star icon to access six different presets that will apply different types of vignette to your image. However, I always create my own settings for each image.

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You can swipe up or down on the image to access three different settings: Inner Brightness, Outer Brightness and Blur Strength. Then swipe left or right to change the strength of the selected setting.

Opposite of the presets icon is the icon to change the strength from weak to strong (two circles). I don’t like the strong version of this tool because you lose more detail around the edges of your image, even if you set blur to 0. My advice is to leave it on weak, unless you want a blurred vignette.

You can actually move the center of the vignette around with your finger, and you can adjust its size by pinching and stretching with two fingers. To see the center of the vignette, simply tap the image with one finger and a blue circle will appear.

Moving the center (blue circle) is important when you’re trying to use this tool to draw the viewer’s eye to a particular area in the photo. When I use this tool, I always remove the blur first by setting Blur Strength to 0, because I don’t want to lose detail on the edges of my image.

The next thing I do is adjust the Inner Brightness setting. I feel like the default of +30 is too strong, so I will lower it to anywhere from 0 to 15. The Inner Brightness is important for drawing the viewer’s eye to the center of the image.

Next, I will adjust the Outer Brightness setting to make the edges of the image darker. Personally, I don’t like vignettes that turn the corners completely black. I prefer something more subtle that doesn’t jump out at the viewer when they first see the image.

The default setting for Outer Brightness is set to -35, which isn’t too bad, but I like to reduce it to around -25 most of the time, which makes it more subtle. When you’re happy with the vignette effect, tap the check mark to apply the changes.

9. Save Your Edited Image

When you’re happy with your edited image, you can save it to your iPhone’s camera roll. Tap the square icon with arrow in the top right corner of the screen, then tap Save To Photo Library.

If you open your Photos app and go to the Camera Roll album, you’ll see the original image and the edited version. Here you can see the original image that we started with.

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And here’s the edited version after enhancing and cropping it in the Snapseed app.

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Notice that I haven’t gone overboard with the editing. Subtle changes to color and exposure are the key to good photo editing. You want your final image to look natural, not over-edited.

By following the workflow in this tutorial you should be able to get great results when enhancing your iPhone photos in Snapseed. In the video below you can see the changes that I made to the image in real time (please note, this video has no audio).

Before you start editing a photo, always take a minute or so to study the image and work out what you think needs adjusting. Then use the tools in Snapseed to make the changes you envisioned.

There are other features in Snapseed which I use sometimes, but the tools covered above are the ones that you’ll need for everyday image editing. For a complete guide on editing with the Snapseed app, check out our Snapseed video tutorial.

If you also want to take incredible photos with your iPhone, please join 138,712 subscribers who receive our free iPhone photography email tips that you won’t find anywhere on this website.

  • Faye

    Been using Snapseed for a long time and thought I knew everything about it. Not so…I learned a couple of things from this great tutorial. Thanks so much!

    • I’m glad to hear it, Faye. Snapseed has a surprising amount of
      flexibility when it comes to editing. I actually had to break my
      tutorial into 2 articles because it was getting rather lengthy. The next
      one will be coming out soon, and focuses on using the rest of the
      filters creatively.

    • Chris

      Looks like Snapseed finally got an update! 🙂 Haven’t had a chance to install the update yet but its nice to see that the app wasn’t abandoned by Google.

  • Excellent tutorial David! It’s always interesting to see how other photographers use this powerful and versatile photo editing app.

  • Thanks for this great step-by-step Snapseed workflow David!

  • Jason

    Thanks David! A great Snapseed article! Looking fwd to that next part!

  • Bonnie

    I know this isn’t a recent article but I just downloaded Snapseed and looks nothing like this, and I actually don’t like it. Was there an update since this article? Mine seems incredibly basic. (using an Iphone 5)