Improve Your Travel Photos With Snapseed

Using Snapseed

Dave Dean

The rise of smartphone cameras has also meant a rise in people taking terrible photos of their travels and uploading them to social media. Facebook is full of shots that are out of focus, badly-exposed and lean to one side—and those are the better ones.

While there's no substitute for practice and talent, there are many ways to improve photos even long after you've shot them. In under a minute, you can turn an average holiday snap into something guaranteed to make friends and family jealous—and isn't that what it's all about?

So how do you perform this seemingly-magical feat? Just download and use an image editing tool called Snapseed. While once costing a few dollars, Google bought it and made it freely available for iOS and Android—and it's one of the best mobile photo enhancement apps around.

It's a powerful tool, and the options can seem a little daunting the first time you use it. The most useful features are easy to find and use, however, and will make an immediate difference to your photos.

Load the app and tap the camera icon at the top of the screen. This will let you choose an existing photo to edit, or take a new one. The basic controls are straightforward once you've used them a few times—pick an editing tool from the bottom menu, then slide your finger up and down to choose an option, and left and right to set the amount of that option.

It's easier to do than explain, so just follow the on-screen instructions and you'll be set.

Starting Out

To start with, try out the Automatic tool—it will often fix some of the worst exposure and contrast problems by itself. If you're happy with the changes, tap the tick icon, otherwise hit the cross to discard them. The same applies for every other tool.

Cropping and Straightening

Now take a close look at the image. Are there aspects that don't need to be there—random heads and arms, distractions like cars and power lines, even vast amounts of sky or grass that doesn't add to the shot? If those elements are near the edges of the photo, you can cut them out with the Crop tool.

As you're unlikely to be concerned about the final shape of your photo, leave the aspect ratio set to 'free'. Just tap and hold on one edge or corner of the crop rectangle, and drag the lines around until you've excluded unnecessary parts of the shot.

One of the easiest things to fix is a photo with an angled horizon. This is particularly obvious in landscape shots, but can be applied to anything with straight lines in the background. Use the Straighten tool to sort this out—simply drag one edge of the photo to rotate it, lining up the guide lines with the horizon to make sure it's straight.

Colors, Contrast and More

Finally it's time to check out the Tune Image tool, a powerful beast with multiple options that can improve—or ruin—a photo with a few taps. Just use them in moderation until you understand what each one does.

Tap and drag up or down until you find the Ambiance and Saturation options. These can be used to make colors more vibrant when they've been washed out by the midday sun or bright lights. Depending on the photo, a setting between +10 and +30 is usually enough—much more and everything starts looking florescent.

Some photos will also benefit from tweaking the Brightness and Contrast—just play with a few shots to see if it helps.

 And You're Done!

You should now have a vastly-improved version of the photo that you originally took. If you're happy with it, return to the main screen and tap the Save icon on the top menu.

After a little practice, you'll be able to make all of these alterations in seconds. At that point, start exploring the other options in Snapseed—there are plenty of them, including several filters that can be tweaked to your heart's content.

Just remember that less is more—subtle changes can often be more effective than setting everything to 100%.

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