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Deep dive: get started with iPhone photo editor Snapseed

In the first of a new series, we dig into an app we think you should be using and explain what it is, why it’s good, and how to get started. This time, we’re covering Snapseed, an essential – and free – photo editor.


What is Snapseed?

A user-friendly, powerful app for editing your photos. It originally appeared on iPad, way back in 2011 and was Apple’s pick for iPad App of the Year. Snapseed soon made its way to smartphones – both iPhone and Android – whereupon it was acquired by Google. The app remains regularly updated to this day.

Snapseed tools

What makes Snapseed great?

It has a superb mix of usability, power and features. For quick fixes, there are pre-made filters called Looks. And for more specific or creative edits, there are plenty of tools to explore.

The interface is clever and touch-optimized – many tools have you drag vertically over your image to select a parameter, and then horizontally to select its value. And because Snapseed is a non-destructive editor, none of your changes are permanent – you can always go back and tweak values, which provides scope for experimentation.

How can I get started with Snapseed?

Snapseed look exploration

Explore a Look: Open a photo and tap ‘Looks’. These pre-installed filters are created from Snapseed tools. Choose ‘Fine Art’ and tap the check mark. Your photo will be transformed into a black and white image. Tap the Stacks button (left of ‘i’) and ‘View edits’. You can now see the tools used to create the Look.

Snapseed adjust edit

Adjust an edit: Snapseed is non-destructive – you can adjust each tool’s settings at any time. Following on from the previous tip, tap ‘Tune Image’ and its settings (slider) button. Drag vertically to select ‘Contrast’ and to the right to set it to 100%. Tap the check mark. Now tap ‘Black & White’ so that all edits are again active. You just edited the second tool in a four-tool edit history stack!

Snapseed contrast

Add impact: Open a photo, tap ‘Tools’ and then choose ‘Curves’. The ‘Hard Contrast’ setting boosts visual impact. Drag the two central markers to further round the ‘S’ to accentuate the effect – but don’t go overboard. Also use Tools > Vignette (centering the vignette on the subject) to add focus.

Snapseed healing

Heal blemishes: If you’ve an image with a minor imperfection you’d like to remove, try Tools > Healing. For best results, unpinch to zoom in, thereby making the brush smaller. Finger-paint across the area you’d like repaired. Don’t expect too much – this isn’t a tool for magically removing large objects from complicated backgrounds.

Snapseed vintage

Go retro: Modern smartphone images are packed with detail, but can feel clinical and overly sharp. Bring yours a tactile retro quality by using the ‘Vintage’ tool (adjusting its vignette and other settings to suit) and then ‘Grainy Film’ to add texture. Again, remember that you can adjust your settings at any time.

Snapseed duotone

Get creative: Even when Snapseed lacks a tool, you can sometimes approximate it. Use Micro Digital Tools to create a flat color image. Save it to Photos. In Snapseed, use Tools > Black & White on an image and then ‘Double exposure’. Use ‘+’ to load your flat image and then the toolbar button’s layer effects (middle button) to get something akin to a duotone.

Snapseed Text tool

Add some text: The Snapseed ‘Text’ tool alone provides – for free – a range of options that elsewhere would often command a subscription. The three toolbar buttons, in order, let you choose a color, an opacity level (including an ‘invert’ option), and a style. Double-tap your text item to add custom words. For more text layers, use the tool multiple times.

Snapseed save custom look

Save a custom Look: When you create a set of edits you’d like to use again, tap the ‘Looks’ tab, scroll past the last preset, and tap ‘+’. Name your Look. As ever, the Look’s settings can be adjusted after it’s applied in future. If you later want to discard it, tap ‘…’ and then the trashcan.

Snapseed export view

Save better: In ⋮ > Settings, set ‘Format and quality’ to ‘JPG 100%’ and ‘Image sizing’ to ‘Do not resize’. Then you’ll export the highest quality images. In the ‘Export’ tab, you can share your picture, open it in another app, ‘Save’ (to Photos, overriding your original with changes you can undo), ‘Save a copy’ (the same, but as a copy, and again with edits you can later adjust in Snapseed – recommended), or Export (to save a flattened JPEG with no saved edit history).

Keen to learn more? Tap the ‘⋮’ button and select ‘Tutorials’ to discover how you can use Snapseed to apply a range of effects and fixes to your photos.