How To Use Snapseed’s Basic iPhone Photo Editing Tools

If you’re looking for a photo editing app that’s easy to use, yet contains advanced image editing tools, the free Snapseed app has got to be number one on your list. Snapseed offers an intuitive user experience with amazing tools for both beginner and advanced iPhone photographers. In this tutorial, you’ll discover how to quickly and easily enhance your iPhone photos using a selection of the most essential Snapseed editing tools.

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Snapseed (developed by Google) has long been considered one of the best iPhone photo editing apps available, and it’s FREE to download from the App store. But don’t let the fact that it’s free fool you into thinking this is a basic app!

It has a huge amount of tools which are highly customizable to achieve just the look you’re after. Snapseed is available for both the iPhone and the iPad, and it works equally well on both devices.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing a series of Snapseed tutorials showing you how to get the most out of the app. In this article you’ll discover the essential Snapseed tools for everyday iPhone photo editing, and in the following tutorials you’ll learn how to use the more advanced editing tools and filters.

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Snapseed 2.0 Update

In April 2015, Snapseed got a huge update. As well as getting a major facelift, a great range of new tools and functionality was added. These new features have dramatically improved the Snapseed photo editing experience.

More recently a further update appeared, bringing back the Grunge filter (which had been removed in the previous update) along with a few other tweaks and improvements.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it’s probably the best and most comprehensive update I’ve seen. What was previously a great photo editing app is now essential. Almost every photo I edit will go through Snapseed at least once.

The whole look and feel of the app changed in Snapseed 2.0. It was such a drastic change that many long-time users were completely lost the first time they opened the app after the update. But the new layout is so intuitive that users weren’t confused for long!

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The app has two editing sections: Tools and Filters. The Tools section includes all of the adjustment tools that Snapseed has to offer, and the Filters section contains a wide range of adjustable preset filters.

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As the app now has so many features, it will take several articles to explain how to use all of the tools. In this first tutorial I’ll be concentrating on the basic editing tools, but make sure you check back soon for further articles on the advanced editing tools and filters.

Before we start looking at the editing tools, it’s worth mentioning some of the other improvements that have made Snapseed so much better to use.

Screen Layout

The new screen layout has everything you need at your fingertips. When you open a photo in Snapseed you have a number of options around the screen.

At the top right you have the option to open a new photo. If you tap Open you can open a photo from the Camera Roll, use the camera to take a photo, paste in a photo that you’ve copied from another location, or just open the latest image on your device.

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The Edit button (pencil icon in the big white circle) at the bottom right of the screen gives you access to the editing tools and filters.

When you’ve finished editing your image, you can tap Save at the top of the screen. The number next to the Save button is the Stacks indicator (Stacks are discussed below).

Next to that are three vertical dots. Tapping on these dots brings up options to undo an edit, revert back to the original image, share the image on various social media sites, open the edited image in another app, get help and give feedback, adjust settings and get details of the photo.

Stacks

A major improvement in the new Snapseed is that the edits are non-destructive. This means you can go back to any previous point in the editing process at any time.

In the older version of Snapseed, the only option you had was to revert back to the original image and start all over again. Now the edits are applied in “Stacks.”

At the top of the screen (beside the Save option) you’ll see a number. This shows the number of edits you have in the current stack. Tapping this number displays a list of the edits you’ve made on the right-hand side of the screen.

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You can use this list to go back in time visually, re-edit any adjustment, remove an edit from any position in the stack, or use the new Stack Brush to paint in or out any applied effect.

This is a fantastic feature. It allows for great flexibility when editing as you can alter any part of the editing process at any time. The Stack Brush lets you remove a particular effect or edit from part of the image by touching the area you want to remove it from.

Zoom Feature

Another great improvement is that you can now zoom into the image that you’re editing. This means you can see how your edit is affecting particular parts of the image in a close-up view. It also makes the Selective editing tool far easier to use than in previous versions of the app.

Editing Tools

Let’s now take a look at some of the Snapseed tools that you’re likely to need for everyday photo enhancement.

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To access the editing tools, make sure you’ve opened the photo you want to work on, then simply tap the Edit button (pencil icon) at the bottom right of the screen.

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On the next screen you’ll see the list of Tools (and beneath that the list of Filters). In this tutorial we’re going to be looking at the following tools: Tune Image, Details, Crop, Rotate.

Tune Image Tool

Tune Image is probably the tool that you’re going to use most when editing your photos. It allows you to adjust Brightness, Ambience, Contrast, Saturation, Shadows, Highlights and Warmth.

These options are very useful for adjusting the color and exposure of your photo. The changes that you make with this tool will change the look and feel of the image.

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You can automatically adjust the lighting and tone of your image by tapping the Magic Wand icon at the bottom of the screen, but you’ll have far more control if you take care of the adjustments yourself.

So how do you access the adjustment options within the Tune Image tool? The beauty of Snapseed is how tactile and intuitive it is to use. Almost all of the options are accessed with a simple swipe – swipe up or down to access the option you want, then swipe left or right to adjust the intensity of that effect.

So once you’ve accessed the Tune Image tool, just swipe your finger up or down on the screen to choose the option you want, e.g. Brightness, Ambiance, Contrast, Saturation, etc.

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Once you’ve picked the option you want, swipe left or right to adjust the intensity. For example, it you chose the Saturation option, you would swipe left to decrease the color saturation, making the colors less vivid, or right to increase the saturation, making the colors more vivid.

The number at the bottom of the screen indicates the intensity value. Once you’re happy with the effect you can swipe up or down to select another option, then swipe left or right to adjust the intensity of that effect.

To view the original version of the image, tap and hold the icon at the top right of the screen. Release your finger to view the edited version.

When you’ve finished using the Tune Image tool, tap the checkmark at the bottom right to apply the changes. If you don’t want to apply the changes, tap the X at the bottom left.

Details Tool

The Details tool is for bringing out the details and sharpening your photo. It’s an excellent tool for recovering lost detail in your image and making “soft” photos appear sharper.

The Details tool has two options: Structure and Sharpening. Structure is a local-contrast adjustment. Sharpening, unsurprisingly, increases the overall sharpness of the shot. The best way to work out how they affect your image is to try them out!

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As with all of the tools in Snapseed, you can swipe up or down to choose the option you want, then swipe left or right to increase or decrease the intensity of the adjustment. A scale from 0 to 100 at the bottom of the screen indicates the strength of the adjustment.

Crop Tool

The Crop tool is used to crop away any unwanted edges of your image. There are many reasons you might want to crop your image, for example, to get rid of distractions around the edge of the frame, to zoom in on a particular subject, or to alter the composition of your image.

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Once you’ve tapped on the Crop tool, tap the Aspect Ratio icon (rectangle with dots) at the bottom of the screen. Here you can choose to crop your image to a predefined aspect ratio (Square, 4:3, 3:2, etc.) or you can use the Free option on the far left to crop the image to whatever format you wish.

Bear in mind that if you want to print the photo later, it’s best to select an aspect ratio that corresponds to standard photo paper sizes.

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Once you’ve selected the aspect ratio, just drag the edges of the image until you’re happy with the crop. The “rule of thirds” grid overlays your image to help you get the best composition.

When you’re happy with the crop, tap the checkmark at the bottom right to apply the changes.

Rotate Tool

The Rotate tool can be used to rotate and straighten your photos. To rotate the image 90 degrees left or right, tap the circular arrow icons at the bottom of the screen.

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To free-rotate your image, simply drag your finger left or right across the screen to change the angle of the photo. This is useful for straightening your photo if you realize that you didn’t hold your iPhone perfectly level at the time of shooting.

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Having a straight horizon in landscape photography is especially important, so if you didn’t quite get it right when you took the shot, you can easily fix this problem with the Rotate tool in Snapseed.

Save Your Edits

We’ve now covered the essential editing tools that you’re likely to use on most of your photos. We’ll cover the rest of the tools in the follow-up tutorial next week. But there’s one important step to complete the editing process.

When you’ve finished enhancing your image, you’ll need to save the changes you’ve made. To begin saving, tap the Save option at the top of the screen.

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A menu will appear with three options: Save, Save A Copy, and Export. Below is an explanation of these three different saving options.

Save

The Save option will save your final edit over the original photo on your Camera Roll. You’ll get a warning asking if you want to modify the original photo. If you allow this, the edited image will replace the original photo in your Camera Roll.

However, because the edits in Snapseed are non-destructive, you can open the modified image at a later time and remove or alter any of the changes you made. You do this using the Stack feature discussed at the beginning of this article.

Save A Copy

The Save A Copy option leaves the original image intact in your Camera Roll, and creates another copy of the image containing the edits that you made. The benefit of using this method is that the original image remains as it was in your Camera Roll.

Just like the previous Save option, the edits are non-destructive so you can use the Stack feature to alter or remove your edits at any time.

Export

The problem with the first two saving methods is that if you transfer the edited photos to your computer, you may only be able to see the original image without the edits attached.

In the latest Snapseed update the developers introduced an Export option. This exports the photo to your Camera Roll with all of the edits “fixed.”

Saving using the Export option means you won’t be able to go back in and change or remove the edits at a later date. You should use this option if you wish to transfer the edited image to your computer in order to ensure the edited version of the photo gets copied across.

Conclusion

This tutorial is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can do with Snapseed. It’s an incredibly powerful photo editor that’s used by both beginner and professional iPhone photographers.

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Because it’s so intuitive to use, you’ll be able to achieve great edits with very little effort from the minute you start using the app. But if you take some time to explore all of the features it has to offer, you’ll discover just how versatile and powerful it is.

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Don’t forget to look out for our follow-up articles over the next few weeks. They’ll cover the use of advanced editing tools that allow you to make selective adjustments, as well as a wide range of filters that can be used to create beautiful and dramatic edits with your iPhone photos.

  • Another key thing about overwriting the image is that if you open the edited image in your camera roll and choose `edit`, there is an option to revert to the original image.

    • remi

      thats really cool future

    • Paul Moore

      Thanks for that Steve. Good to know that.

  • remi

    just a question if someone has tried pixelmator editing aplication? read a lot of good comments and it was apple awarded in 2011 i think so… thinking if Emil will giveus review about this one .

    • Paul Moore

      I have tried Pixelmator on the iPad but unfortunately I got it just before the Snapseed update came out so I haven’t really used it that much. I have edited a few photos with it. It is a powerful editing app but not as easy to use as Snapseed. Also Snapseed is free. There is really very little you wont be able to do using Snapseed.

    • Hi Remi. We published an overview of Pixelmator last week – it’s only just been made available for the iPhone (previously only available for iPad). Hope this helps 🙂 http://iphonephotographyschool.com/pixelmator-app/

  • Thanks for this easy to follow tutorial Paul. Looking forward to the next one in the series covering the advanced, selective adjustment tools and more! 🙂

    • Paul Moore

      Thanks Kate. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Hanna Miller

    Your article has educated me. Another great utility that is must have for digital photography is Binfer. An easy way to deliver photos to clients

    • Paul Moore

      Thanks Hanna. I must have a look at Binfer 🙂

  • tracymg

    I may have missed the explanation, but is there a tool for erasing or selectively editing any small area of a photo once the entire filter or edit has been applied? For example: If you have used the “glow” filter and applied it to whatever percentage you want, can you select just one tiny area of the photo to remove the “glow” – another good tutorial Paul

    • Paul Moore

      Hi Tracy. You can use the brush feature in Stacks to brush in or brush out any particular effect. I will probably discuss this in a bit more detail in the final tutorial as it is an amazing feature but it is not easy to find unless you know what you are looking for.

    • tracymg

      Thanks – look forward to future tutorials- you should write a book on advanced editing – has Snapseed developed a users manual?

  • Wonderful tutorial Paul. Snapseed is an amazing app. Looking forward to the follow up articles. Thanks so much.

  • Terri

    Thanks. My biggest take-a-way from the basics is the save function. I’ve had issues with it but noticed the new “export” feature but wasn’t sure about the difference. You explained it well. Thanks.

  • Janet Weiden

    Thanks for the information. I wouldn’t have figured all of this out myself. Some seems intuitive but other things weren’t clear at all until I read your tutorial.

  • Raghavendra Saralaya

    Say I have about 5-6 pictures from a scene and I want to pick the best one to open in snapped and begin editing.

    So, i identify the picture in IOS photos, but for me to get the photo in snapseed, I have to open snapseed and then say open and then navigate to the library and by this time, i’d’ve lost the image i identified among the 5-6 (they are quite similar because they are of the same scene but they are slightly different) and the preview is tiny thumbnails. This is extremely annoying. When on an android, when I choose the image, I can “share” it into snapseed. Is there anything like that in IOS?

    Please help.

  • pritam obi

    Beautifully explained the basics of snapseed. Looking forward for the advanced features

  • Linda Jones

    “To view the original version of the image, tap and hold the icon at the top right of the screen. Release your finger to view the edited version.” This sounds great, but I don’t see any icon on top right or left to do this. What does it look like, and is it only available at certain stages of editing?