Image Editing: Snapseed – part 1

I just got back from Dad Summit 2.0. For the 3rd time it has blown my mind. I was honored to be a small part of the discussion this year. I was one of the speakers during the breakout sessions discussing image editing. I consider myself a professional amateur at on the fly phone editing.

At the beginning of my adventures in fatherhood, I had a Cannon Rebel and took thousands of pictures. I then would sit in front of my computer editing and storing them.

Now, having a 4 & a 5 year old, I just don’t have time to sit in front of the computer any more. I also don’t have time to use the fancy camera, to set up shots, lighting or planning for that matter.  It’s just go time and hope for the best.

I use my phone to take the majority (90%) of the photos. (LG G4 – not a super fan but had an iPhone previously and wanted to see what the android was all about – that is a topic for another time).

As any parent knows, it can be difficult to get really nice shots of your kids (at least when they are awake). I take about 5-10 shots and pick my favorite, most of the time it is a pretty easy choice, delete the out of focus ones and then go from there.

This is about what to do after you take the shot to make your image go from a nice picture to a “wow” picture – it can be done 90% of the time – there are always exceptions.

Tip 1: Take a step back before you take the picture. That way you will be able to crop the picture slightly to give you a better composition.

Tip 2: From time to time wipe the lens on you camera. Too many times we handle our phone and get smudges on the lens and you don’t even know it.

Tip 3:  Do not edit images in super bright locations – it won’t look the way you want it to based on the ambient light around you. Edit when you are in a “normally” lit area and not in super bright light.

We will be looking at the Histogram as well.

What is a Histogram? A histogram is a simple graph showing the distribution of tones in the image. An optimal histogram for a properly exposed image is a bell curve, extending from left (purest black) to right (purest white) with a raised curve in the middle representing the gray tones.

The distribution will change as adjustments like Brightness or Contrast are made to the image, so the actual shape of an ideal distribution can vary. Just remember that optimal does not always translate into symmetrical, so don’t freak out if it’s not perfect.

On with the show –

I use Snapseed, from Google but these concepts will work with any photo-editing programs. Meaning you can tune your image with Instagram, it is just a bit more difficult (they don’t allow you to go backwards to change setting after you apply them, etc.)


Editing in Snapseed (IOS or Android)


Open the image you want to edit.


For this 1st round, I choose this image. The pencil button, I circled above, opens the main menu in Snapseed. I also have circled the histogram that I spoke about above, it will be your friend! (Note not all editing programs have a histogram).


Snapseed’s main menu looks like this. The menu includes:

  • Brightness – darken or lighten the entire image.
  • Contrast – increase or decrease the overall contrast of the image.
  • Saturation – add or remove vibrancy to the colors in the image.
  • Ambiance – a twist on contrast, adjust the balance of light in the entire image.
  • Shadows – darken or lighten only the shadows in the image.
  • Highlights – darken or lighten only the highlights in the image.
  • Warmth – add a warm or cool color cast to the entire image.


Starting off I always go to the “Tune Image”. Play with each option to get  a feel for what type of adjustments each make.

Phone cameras today do their best to get the lighting right but they do not work like our eyes. So how we can help our images look better?

Brightness and Contrast – these are the two main adjustments you want to make. The camera works hard to make the lighting look the best it can but often it ends up looking flat with, what I call a gray wash. We want to get rid of that wash and with these two features help do that.

Starting off I will always take brightness down to -50 (you can go positive +50) and contrast up to +50 (always keep this positive and the same number as brightness – so you can do +40 brightness with +40 contrast) and then adjust the two until I feel the wash is removed without destroying the image. This also gives you richer blacks and brighter whites which will help make your image pop off the screen, page or whatever. Once you hit the check box and apply the changes, if you hold your finger on the image in Snapseed, it will show you the original so you can see the difference between the two.


There is the magic wand as well, that you can use to see a base to work from – Tap to automatically adjust the tonality of an image.

Advanced Tip 1: For more precise adjustments, swipe vertically on the image to access the edit menu. Once an option has been selected, swipe horizontally to enhance.

I find that I do not like the saturation from my camera, so I almost always take that down 5-10%. The Ambiance, or the mid tones, I will bring up generally about the opposite of what I did with the saturation. This gives the mid tones a more natural color.

The shadows and highlights are important to make sure you get the dark blacks and the bright whites. When adjusting these two, keep an eye on the histogram. You want the curve to be as smooth as you can and stretching all the way across to touch each edge, (sometimes it won’t and that is OK).

Remember the histogram is your friend in determining proper image exposure. Tap in the lower left corner of the main screen to open the histogram, or tap on the graph to minimize. The histogram will remain visible in the Tune Image Tool.

The next step I do is to crop the image. As I said above, it is easier to step back and take the picture (just a step), to help with composition and image placement.


Once cropped, I adjust the details, just a little!


OK the last thing I will talk about is the filters. The only filter I really use is the Glamour Glow and I only use it if I have people in the shot. It helps me look younger (hiding wrinkles) and makes kids look more angelic. Again, very little please – this isn’t the 80’s anymore! I will admit I sometimes go over board with it, but like everything there is a time a place for it. Just seriously don’t over due it all the time!


Advanced Tip 2: For more precise Glamour Glow adjustments, swipe vertically on the image to access the edit menu. Once an option has been selected, swipe horizontally to enhance.
The menu includes:
Glow Swipe to the right to increase the degree of softening.
Saturation Add or remove vibrancy to the colors in the image.
Warmth Add a warm or cool color cast to the image.

Then save your picture and share away!


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This may seem overwhelming, but if you start out practicing a little bit every day, soon you will be able to do it very quickly. It will make a world of difference. People will start asking you how you do it too! I have people ask frequently about my photos from my Instagram account.

One last thing, I know people love their filters. They are nice, but you are better off NOT using them. In 10 years you will look back and say “What was I thinking?”. In 10 or 20 years it won’t be as great as you think. If you choose to use filters, do yourself a favor and make sure to save the originals, so all your pictures don’t end up looking like a dog peed on them!

This is version one. I will do another post in the future on how to handle hot spots and some other neat editing tricks. But for now, I wish you good luck with your editing and if you have any questions or comments let me know, happy editing!