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Looking for an Inexpensive Photo Editor? Review of Snapseed for Desktop

By Christopher Rainville
Post processing is a very important step in digital photography. However, post processing editors like Photoshop, Lightroom and even Adobe’s less-expensive Photoshop version, Photoshop Elements, can be considered too expensive for a hobbyist photographer. Aside from the cost, their complexity can be overwhelming for a lot of users especially those just starting out. Snapseed from Nik Software offers a simple to use, and inexpensive entry-level post processing program for about 20 bucks and works on Mac and Windows machines.

The power behind this editor is Nik’s patented U Point® technology that allows users to pinpoint specific areas of the photograph to enhance or make adjustments without complicated selections or masking.  Nik Software makes powerful photo editing programs that are designed to simplify even the most complex enhancements and adjustments.  But I would consider the price of these products to be expensive for the average hobbyist.  Snapseed was a product originally developed for the mobile phone market but has recently been released as a desktop version. The software gives you basic post processing controls for enhancements and corrections yet delivers them in an easy-to-use workflow format.

Getting Started
Once you open Snapseed you are introduced to the starting point for your post processing. Starting is as easy as dragging and dropping a photo directly onto a ghosted Snapseed logo or clicking on it, which will open an explorer type dialog box.

The start screen asks you to simply drag and drop a photo to begin editing

If you look to the left you will find that there are two categories with specific icons under each one.  The top one is called Basic Adjustments and underneath you will find Creative Adjustments. The icons for the basic adjustments are arranged in a specific order to maximize your workflow. Let’s start by examining the Basic Adjustments as this will be your starting point for photo enhancement. For some of the adjustment you may find some presets represented by a set of thumbnail images of your photograph with the preset applied. Underneath the images, you will find the adjustments for that particular adjustment category. At the bottom you will find an Apply arrow, and a Cancel arrow which get you back to the first screen.  let’s start by taking a look at the Tune Image icon adjustments.
Tune Image

Image Tune adjustment panel

This is the first adjustments panel you come across when starting your processing. The preset thumbnails I spoke about earlier are on the top, you’re adjustments for that particular section are in the middle, and your apply and cancel arrows are at the bottom. Almost to the bottom you’ll notice the words Selective Adjust with a “+ Add Control Point” located underneath. This allows you to use any of the adjustment sliders on a particular section of your photograph. Your basic adjustments include brightness, which controls the overall brightness of the photograph, contrast, which is your adjustment between dark and light, saturation, which controls color intensity, ambience which is another lighting adjustment that seems to attack highlights and shadows, and a warm slider which will add blue if you move the slider to the left and warm yellow orange the slider to the right. This is your primary color correction slider. Each slider gives immediate feedback as you use it and is stacked in order to maximize proper workflow. If you wish to make a selection to a particular area then you would set a control point. This is the U Point® technology in action and works very well to isolate specific areas of the photograph. The technology seems to have the ability to not only see total differences in contrast, but also changes in color which makes automatic masking/selecting, very effective.

When you first use the control point tool a small tutorial pops up.

cropping adjustment box

Setting a control point, in this case on spaceship Earth, allowed for adjustments to the areas highlighted with a red mask.

Straightening in Cropping
The straightening tool consists of a ruler icon that once selected, you move your cursor over to the start of a straight line in your photograph like a doorway, window, or maybe the top of a flat cut building, and click the right mouse button.  While holding down the mouse button and drag it to the endpoint of the straight line you selected. The photo will straightened, and you then release the mouse and click apply. The photo will be straightened. This straightening tool is similar to that of Lightroom and Photoshop and is very simple to use.  Cropping is also very simple and straightforward.  Once the tool is selected a second window will pop up giving you cropping options.

The Details adjustments consist of only two sliders and are for sharpening. The top slider is called Sharpness and is for sharpening as the name implies. The second slider which is called Structure and is essentially a pixel radius slider for sharpening. This means it controls the depth of the sharpening.

Creative Adjustments
Next are the Creative Adjustments and has the name applies, will either add an enhancement, or an element to your photograph. There are seven Creative Adjustments available to enhance your photos, Black and White, Center Focus, Drama, Frames, Grunge, Vintage, and Tilt-Shift.

Black & White

black-and-white with filter color adjustment

Has the name implies the Black & White adjustment is for converting color photographs into black & white images.  There are three sliders to the adjustment panel. They are, brightness, which controls the overall brightness, contrast, and grain. The grain slider introduces a film like noise texture common in black and white photography. There is also an additional adjustment for black and white which is a filter selector. The filter selector is a single button that once pressed opens up a dialog box which allows you to simulate black and white photography as if a colored filter was applied to the front of the lens. This changes how each individual colors brightness will appear. This is a great addition to the black-and-white adjustment panel that gives the user control over the final output.

Center Focus
Center focus allows you to add a simulated depth of field effect to your photograph. There are only two sliders to this adjustment panel. The top slider controls the amount of blur to the edges of the picture and the second slider controls a vignette which will darken the photos edges if slid to the left or lighten the edges it slid to the right. I found the presets on this adjustments panel to work really well and give great results.

center focus adjustments with vignetting

This was by far my favorite adjustment to play with. Drama, is basically a faux HDR effect. There are three adjustment sliders to this panel. The first is the Strength slider. Strength slider adds a strong mid-tone contrast adjustment and sharpening effect along with what appears to be a vibrance adjustment. Next is a brightness slider followed by a saturation slider which will boost color saturation throughout the photograph. When to use this adjustment you’ll understand why it is called Drama because the only way to describe a photo after using it is “dramatic”.

The steps that lead from the entrance to the lobby of the Dolphin Resort with Drama adjustments applied.

The Drama sliders can create a faux HDR effect.

There are different types of frames available.

Want to put a decorative edge or on your photos? Frames is how you do it. This is another adjustment that works well with the presets but there are adjustment sliders that allow you to control the thickness and type of edge you want to apply to the photograph. There are three sliders, the first controls the size, the second the spread, and third is labeled grunge which keeps the dark edges either clean and straight, or rough and dirty.

Frames allows you to create artful edges for your photographs.

Grunge adds an edgy modern look to your photographs. The most notable feature about the grunge adjustments are the five textures that can be overlaid into the photo. Texture intensity is controlled by a texture slider which appears as the first adjustment slider in the panel. Next is a saturation adjustment which adjust the saturation of the photograph which interacts with a Style slider. The Style slider adds a tint to the photograph. As the slider is moved from left to right the tint changes hue. By lowering the saturation of the photograph it exaggerates the tint. Two other sliders are also available on this adjustment brightness, and contrast.

Grunge, has many different looks because of the different textures and tints available.

Where as grunge is modern and edgy, vintage is dirty and old. The two do share similar traits in the fact that they both share the ability to apply a texture but the vintage textures have only four to choose from instead of five and they are far more subtle in their affect on the photograph. Also available with Vintage, is a dialog box called Style. The Style is essentially a colored gradient overlay on the photo. There is also a vignetting slider to burn the edges of the photo as well as a brightness slider. The Style Strength slider intensifies the gradient independently of the saturation slider which only attacks the colors of the original photograph.

Vintage ages photographs.

Tilt Shift
The final icon available in the Adjustments category is tilt shift. As the name implies, it allows you to add a tilt shift style blur to any photograph. There are two styles to choose from, one is a straight plane of focus while the other is a circular plane of focus. Both types of blur are selected by a flip switch in the adjustment panel. Available adjustments include, transition, which controls the area between sharp and blurry focus, blur, which adjusts the maximum blur for the photo, brightness and contrast which seem to adjust the overall values for each slider, and the saturation slider. The saturation slider seems to have a greater affect on the blurred parts of the photo but still will affect the overall image.

tilt-shift adjustment dialog

tilt shift effect

Another great feature of this program is the ability to quickly and easily print, save or share. In the work area, under the photo are three icons. The first is printing and allows you to print directly from within the software and choose several printing templates that allow you to print your photos at different sizes. You can also easily double up photos on one sheet allowing you to save photo paper.

Next to the print icon is a save icon. Clicking this allows you to save your photo directly to your hard drive in either a JPEG, or uncompressed TIF file.

Finally, there is a share icon. Clicking on this gives you the option to export directly to Facebook, Flickr, which is a photo sharing site, or e-mail, which if chosen, will open your default e-mail program. The ability to export directly to Facebook and Flickr is really convenient for photo sharing.

Pros and Cons
There is a lot to like in this basic editing software. It’s simple to use, very powerful, and offers some very creative effects. I spent a lot of time with this program and I am very impressed with its performance. One of the other things that I forgot to mention is that despite being just a basic editing program this did open my RAW files. All of the effects in adjustments take place fairly quickly although I do have a fairly powerful workstation (your performance may very). Those familiar with Nik Software know that besides their U Point® technology they are also known for their black and white conversion program known as Silver Effects Pro, and they produce one of the best sharpening product available, Sharpener Pro. You can see some of the same features built into this basic editor. There are some shortcomings I would’ve loved to have seen added into this program. I will call them the cons. One of the first things everyone should learn to do when they start post processing their digital photographs is learn what a histogram is and unfortunately this program does not provide a way to view it. I would’ve loved to have seen a level style adjustment with a histogram available. The other thing I would’ve liked to see is the ability to eliminate noise. For those of you who don’t know what noise is it typically appears in low light and high IOS photographs has a grain and when sharpening is applied noise is often amplified and destroys look of the photo. Even a basic simple single slider to help suppress and eliminate noise would’ve been great. The final thing I would’ve liked to have seen is a little more color correction ability. Although you can adjust the warmth and coolness of the photograph it would’ve been great to have added a couple of hue sliders.


There is no question that if you’re looking for a basic editor and are currently using perhaps something online you should upgrade to Snapseed. It’s easy-to-use, inexpensive yet very powerful and all for around 20 bucks.

If you would like to try Snapseed they do offer a full functioning two-week demo at their website Snapseed.com

Here are some other photos I used with Snapseed. All of these photos were in RAW file format or were a JPEG image. No other program was used to enhance these photographs however, Photoshop was used to create the before and after composite images.


2 Responses

  1. I’m quite familiar with Nik Software because I’ve been to seminars at their San Diego office. I haven’t tried Snapseed, though, because I have Photoshop CS5 (and CS6 Beta), Lightroom, PaintShop Pro, Photo-Paint, and CorelDraw.

    Have you seen the new Ribbet.com. Apparently it looks exactly like Picnik and will offer the same exact style and type of features.

  2. Hi Russel, I will check that out. I use Photoshop and Lightroom but there are a lot of people who purchase cameras for their trips to Walt Disney World and need a simple to use inexpensive photo editor. I really like this product so I wanted to introduce them to it. I had one of my Facebook followers suggest an online product that seemed to work really well but I think something that runs on your machine is superior to an online editor.

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