Snapseed for Travelers

This post is not for photography purists, professionals, or highly skilled amateurs.

Phnom Penh street, Snapseeded up

Phnom Penh street, all Snapseeded up and tilt-shifty

If you invest in excellent gear and know your way around Photoshop at a pretty high level, this post is not for you. If you’ve spent your life learning to create exquisite images in film and digital formats, do not read on. If the Hipstamatic and Instagram craze fills you with quivering rage against the pseudo-vintage images flooding Facebook, you should click the back arrow on your browser at this time.

But if, like me, you’re a traveler who likes to shoot iPhone pics on the fly, and you’d like to unabashedly jazz up your images for sharing online or for home slide shows, read on.

Mediocre photo, "Grunged" to the max

Mediocre photo, “Grunged” to the max

Snapseed for Travel Photography

Full disclosure: I was an Instagram addict.

I do own a consumer-grade Canon DSLR and can manipulate ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings to produce a reasonably-exposed image when light is on my side. But I’m not a pro, and I don’t need to be. I just want to make pictures that cause my friends to say, “Wow! What’s that?” It’s how I manipulate them into reading the story that’s wrapped around the pictures.

Thing is, if you’re traveling with some purpose other than photography (which I was), you’re likely not going to be able to invest in and haul the kind of gear you’d need, nor can you always plan your schedule around golden-light times of day. The iPhone camera has major limitations (as do I), but apps like Instagram can still produce fun, passably intriguing images in less-than-ideal light conditions.

Unusable photo rescued partially by increasing brightness

Unusable photo rescued partially by tweaking brightness (Snapseed)

Instagram and I had some good times over the past year or so; but I was starting to crave the harder stuff. I harbored a certain resentment toward Instagram’s control issues: Why do you get to decide everything? I wondered quietly, fuming. Sometimes, a photograph doesn’t want to be a square! I have the right to oversaturate the photo to my heart’s desire! The end was near.

Quietly, I shopped for a new obsession to embrace. To be honest, I didn’t know Snapseed existed until I read this review of a few popular travel photo apps for iPhone. I admit it: I had brief flings with 3 or 4 of them. But with Snapseed, it was different.

With Snapseed, it meant something. The winsome, paintery filters!  The delightfully intuitive user interfaces! With Instagram, I’d managed to waste up to 5 minutes per photo. But with Snapseed, I could lose myself for 20 minutes or more per image, incessantly tweaking tilt-shift and white balance, spot-tuning dark areas, and cropping into delightfully unsquare shapes.

A delightfully unsquare shape

A delightfully unsquare shape

In short, it was love.

Demonstration: Here’s a photo of a monastery wall that I snapped hastily in a provincial town one morning. The sun is too high and totally in the wrong place—it would probably be a much better photo if I turned around and shot down the wall in the other direction. But even then, the sunlight isn’t ideal. The sky is milky, and the light is flat and dull. To me, it’s a throwaway picture.

Original photo

Original photo

Enter Snapseed. First, I run the photo through the “Drama” filter. The smudgy sunflare effect is decreased, the contrast is slightly better, and the filter lets you bump up the saturation a bit.

"Drama" filter

“Drama” filter

Next up, the “grunge” filter. So many choices! You can tweak saturation, choose from all kinds of styles and colors, and control how much “texture” you want to lay over the photo. For this one, I wanted an over-the-top, textured style that highlighted the crazy turquoise wall and made the stupas look ancient and creepy.

"Grunge" filter

“Grunge” filter

Last, I did a tilt-shift effect and added a narrow frame (for the sake of illustration). Is it a better photo after these adjustments? Not particularly. But whereas before, it probably wouldn’t merit a second glance, now it’s mysterious and atmospheric, and it makes people want to know more. Maybe they’ll even scroll down the page a bit. That, after all, is the whole point.

Tilt-shift + frame

Tilt-shift + frame

Related post: Snapseed and Easy Macro

Related post: Instagrammed New Orleans

7 thoughts on “Snapseed for Travelers

  1. Looks like Snapseed was updated today, adding new filters, and going free from its former price of $4.99. I guess being bought out by Google was good for all of us users. 🙂

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