Let’s face it. Not all of us have the desire (or the money) to use Adobe Lightroom, the preferred editing software for professional photographers. If that’s the case for you, but you’d still like to clean up your photos, allow me to offer an alternative.

Snapseed is a free photo-editing app that’s easy to use and has helped me take my decent photos to the next level.

To get you started, I’m going to outline the basic functions of Snapseed and explain how to use them to improve your photos.


One of the best features of Snapseed is that it allows you to actually see the changes you’ve made to your image by instantly comparing it with the original. While making changes, simply press and hold on the image to see the original version. Then just let go again to see the edits you’ve made.


When you open a photo to edit, Snapseed will automatically take you to the “Looks” tab. Similar to Instagram’s filter function but a bit more comprehensive, each Look applies a predetermined set of edits to your photo.

This can be helpful in some cases, but the one major downside is that there’s no way to manipulate the level of those edits. If you choose a Look, you have to be okay with all of the changes it makes to your photo (For this reason, I tend to avoid using Looks and instead stick to making my own edits).

Take a look at the different versions of the photo below, all of which have been edited using different Looks.


The second tab is “Tools,” which opens a menu of functions that you can use to edit your photo. Below, I’ve detailed how some of the most basic functions can come in handy.

With many of the functions, especially those that deal with the editing of the photo itself (and not the filter or coloring), Snapseed either offers an auto-adjustment based on what it thinks is best (Perspective, Tune, etc.) or automatically performs the function for you (Rotate).


The Tune function is arguably the most useful in the Snapseed app. Tune allows you to change visual elements of your photo including the brightness, contrast, saturation, ambiance, highlights, shadows, and warmth. Each works on a sliding scale, letting users move the degree of change to the positive or negative side of zero (which is the look of your original image). By using the Tune function, it’s possible to create a more balanced image.

Take a look at the image sets below to see how it’s possible to edit your photos with Tune.


Aptly named, this tool exists to help you bring out the details of your photo. It consists of two different sliding scale functions: Sharpening and Structure. Sharpening increases the overall sharpness of your shot, while Structure is a contrast adjustment. As with Tune, use the sliding scale to increase or decrease the strength of each function.


This is your standard crop function. Snapseed offers fixed square, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 7:5, and 16:9 frames, as well as the option to freely crop your image.


Aside from Tune, this might just be the best tool on the app. Rotate takes any image and automatically straightens it. You read that right. No more staring at a photo until you’re blue in the face and wondering if it’s perfectly straight. Snapseed takes care of it for you. This is also the function to use if you need to rotate your image by 90-degree increments.


Again, this tool’s function is in its name. Perspective allows you to manipulate and edit the perspective of your photo — by tilting it vertically or horizontally, or by using the free-moving function. If any lines in your image are off, or if you were standing slightly off-center, this function will help. In the image below, see how I’ve used the Perspective tool to adjust the skewed lines of the pillars in the Cathedral. It’s a slight, but noticeable change.


This Snapseed tool can be incredibly useful but equally frustrating. Healing allows you to basically erase any parts of a photograph you’d rather not include in the final image. It’s as simple as zooming in and pressing on the parts of the photo you want to “erase.” Snapseed will automatically cover up the selected area based on its surroundings. If you’re not happy with how the app chooses to do that, simply undo and try again until you get your desired look. Check out the image below, and notice how I’ve used the Healing tool to get rid of the scratch marks on the film reel.


To emphasize the high or low tones in your image, use the sliding scale in the Tonal Contrast tool. Tonal Contrast allows you to bring out the contrasts in the high, middle, and low tones in a photo, or prevent details in the shadows or highlights from being lost.


Both of these functions allow you to edit a specific part of an image, but in slightly different ways. With Brush, you can target a certain part of the photo using your finger as the “brush” to make adjustments to whatever element of the photo you want. On the other hand, with Selective you can target certain sections of the image by adding dots and then manipulating the brightness, saturation, structure, or contrast.


Much like Instagram’s filter function, these three tools all allow you to manipulate the coloring of your image. Vintage offers multiple coloring options, with the ability to edit the brightness, saturation, style strength, and vignette strength with each. Grainy Film, obviously adds grain, with different color options than the Vintage tool. It’s possible to increase both the grain and the style strength with each filter. Finally, Black & White transforms your colorful images into shades of gray, with various options such as “Bright,” “Dark,” “Film,” and many more depending on your personal B&W preferences.

Take a look at the different versions of the photo below, which have been edited using the number 4 vintage filter, L01 grain filter, and the neutral B&W filter respectively.


The tools detailed above are just the start. Snapseed also features tools to adjust White Balance, artificially Expand the borders of your image, add filters and manipulate the coloring of your photo (Drama, HDR Scape, Retrolux, Grunge, etc.), artificially create Lens Blur, add Text or a Vignette/Frame, and create a Double Exposure shot.


If, at any time during the editing process, you want to go back to a previous step in the process, use the Undo button and then click “View Edits.” This will bring up a list of all the edits you’ve made and give you the ability to go back and make further changes, or even delete certain steps altogether. Just make sure that you click through the edits once again to get back to your current step in the process.

When you’re finished, simply use the Export button. Unlike other photo editing apps, Snapseed doesn’t store your photos in the app itself, so it’s crucial that you export or save a copy so that you have a version of your edited photo. The Export function gives you the option to save a copy with changes you can undo, or simply save with permanent changes. The final photo will be automatically saved to your Photos folder. Voila!

Please note that I’m an Apple user, so this article was written primarily based on the iOS Snapseed app, version 2.18. But the primary functions of editing with Snapseed should be consistent across platforms.

Header image by Rachel Heckerman