Snapseed: Intuitive Image Editing

There are few categories as rich in apps as the Photography category in the iTunes App Store. The improving image quality of the iPhone’s — and more recently the iPod Touch’s — camera has led many people to replace their point & shoots with their iDevice.

While the camera can produce fairly nice images with the right lighting and a good motif, image editing can give the shots an almost professional touch. Whether it’s for editing on the fly to share among social networks or for semi-professional purposes when no “real” computer is available, Snapseed for the iPhone strives to offer a unique and complete experience. We take an in-depth look at the app and if its promise holds true right after the break.

The Interface

As with every app made for the iPhone, Snapseed has to make the best of the relatively small screen estate the device offers. The image editing app has succeeded, for the most part. It can be used both in landscape as well as in portrait mode, with the basic elements being simply regrouped. The current image gets the most screen space and the editing options are either lined up to the left or beneath it.

Welcome Screen in Snapseed with options aligned to the bottom

Welcome Screen in Snapseed with options aligned to the bottom

If you’re in the mood for sharing, those options are quickly accessible as well and offer not just saving to the photo library or sending via email, but also integration with popular services like Flickr or Facebook and even printing directly from the app.

Snapseed comes with five basic modes and six creative modes, each represented with an icon and its name, making it easy to pick one quickly without having to guess pictograms. In Basic Mode, you have automatic, selective adjust, tune image, straighten and crop, while in Creative Mode, you have black & white, vintage, drama, grunge, center focus and frames. Each of these modes offer more options when selected and that is where Snapseed really excels.

Editing an Image

At first, the image editing screen looks anything but spectacular. The photo is displayed almost in full screen and the bottom bar holds a couple of icons, but nothing else. No need to worry, there’s more beneath the surface than you might expect and Snapseed helps you discover it via an intro screen which comes up the first time you select an option.

Every adjustment option comes with a help screen

Every adjustment option comes with a help screen

This layout is the same in every single screen in Snapseed, only the buttons on the bottom bar change. To adjust a specific area of the image (and not the entire image, for that use the other basic modes) you first need to add a control point via the plus sign. Using the pinch gesture you can widen or narrow the target area, which is then highlighted in red.

Adding focus points to part of an image

Adding focus points to part of an image

Per default, the first adjustment option is Brightness. To increase or decrease the value, simply swipe your finger to the right or left of the image. The effect is shown immediately: the control point will have a green border if the value is increased and a red border if decreased. Additionally, the bottom bar also reflects the changes. This way of editing is very intuitive; instead of moving diminutive sliders or put in values, you make use of the by-now familiar gestures on the iPhone.

But Snapseed takes this principle even further. As you have noticed, there are no menus in the editing screen, but surely you’d like to edit more than just the brightness, right? The other options can be accessed by sliding your finger up and down on the image. In the Selective Adjust Panel, contrast and saturation are revealed. In other editing screens like Tune Image, there are even more such as Ambiance or White Balance. And now, the tiny letter in the middle of the control point makes sense as well: it’s always the first letter of the manipulation option you’ve selected.

Switch between adjustments within an option with a swipe

Switch between adjustments within an option with a swipe

Remember that no matter which screen you’re in, these gestures are the same throughout the app, making it really easy to use without a any kind of learning curve.

Once you’ve made your adjustments, you can compare the original image to the current one by simply tapping the tiny image icon on the upper right. If you’re happy with the result, leave the screen by tapping the bottom right arrow and it will apply the changes. If you leave with the bottom left arrow, all changes will be lost.

Creative Modes

If you’re in for more than the usual stuff, the creative modes might satisfy that need. As mentioned above, there are six to choose from, ranging from rather standard black and white conversion and frames to decidedly less standard vintage and grunge looks. You can use the familiar gestures to change the intensity of an effect, to apply different variations of an effect and even access options like brightness and contrast and saturation.

In addition to the standard buttons, the bottom bar now holds a shuffle symbol to randomly select effect styles or a symbol to select a specific texture. It all depends on the effect, but its great to see that the developers of the app followed through with the user interface, so it’s never confusing.

Creative Modes can add special effects to your photos

Creative Modes can add special effects to your photos

The Downside of the Interface

While the interface of Snapseed is thought through and the gesture based controls save a huge amount of screen space, there is one aspect that bugs me.

You can’t zoom in on the image. Now, on first glance that might not appear as very tragic, given that the photo takes up most of the screen. But many of the manipulations will look great as long as you don’t see the image at 100 percent — for example, on a printout or on a computer screen. Things such as contrast, brightness and ambiance can lead to ragged edges where light and dark parts of the image meet; you would be able to see and compensate for it if you could just zoom in. Of course, on the iPad you can’t zoom in either, but the image is displayed larger to begin with and the issue is not as bad there.

Verdict

Snapseed on the iPhone is not the average image editing application. You can make quick adjustments, to be sure, but in my opinion it is geared towards users who’d like to have more control over the changes they make. For that reason, it might not appeal to those who want to tap one button and have a spectacular effect applied to their image, ready to tweet.

Comparison: Before and After

Comparison: Before and After

While I like Snapseed on the iPad more due to the bigger screen, it’s been transitioned very well to the smaller iDevice and everyone serious about iPhoneography should consider it when deciding for an image editing application. If zooming into your image is of paramount importance to you, you could also check out Photoforge 2, which offers a similar depth of options, albeit with a slightly more complicated user interface.

What’s your favorite image editing app? Let us know in the comments!


Summary

Take your image editing to the next level with Snapseed by fine-tuning specific parts of your image and applying dramatic effects that make even the most boring snapshot rock.

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