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From drab to fab... for free (your photos anyway)

"You don't take a photography, you make it."

- Ansel Adams

Friends sometimes complain that they don't have a "good" camera. But our cell phone cameras have gotten so good! And we ALWAYS have them with us, making them the perfect camera. I use mine so often!

Sometimes (ok, often...) my cell phone pics turn out a bit "blah". But when I want to post them on Facebook or Instagram, I want them to pop. I'm not really a preset filter kinda gal, and I also like to create images that match my style and look pleasing to my eye. I'll walk you through the edits I usually use to add a little pizzazz to my phone pics. These are things you can do with your own pics, whether you're posting them for personal reasons or to support your small business.

Before & After

There are so many good editing apps available, in addition to the native photo apps on the phone. But my favorite is Snapseed, available for both iOS and Android. And it's FREE! I am NOT getting paid for this post, I just really love the app.

Before & After

I went through some of the pics on my phone to find one that intrigued me, but that I'd not edited yet. This one is from my recent trip to Peru as we were flying LATAM airlines over the Andes. I'll caveat this by saying it's definitely not a pic I'd normally keep with the glare and dirt from the window, but I still like the image of the mountain above the clouds.

Clouds, mountain, plane wing
Image, straight out of the camera phone

This is the pic straight out of the camera. I love the color of the sky, but the mountain peaks really get lost in the clouds. And that glare on the upper right is SO distracting. Let's see if we can do something with it.

First I set about editing it. On my Android phone, I am able to select "Edit In" right from the native photo app. Or I can select the app and then open the image. On my iPad, I have to open Snapseed and then select the pic. Either method works, but the steps to save are a little different.

When you open an image in Snapseed, you can use presets or do your own edits using Tools. I tend to do my own. (OK, I always do my own.) The ones I use most often, and typically in this order, are Details, Rotate, Crop, Tune Image and Vignette. Sometimes I use Curves, but I may go through that in another post. And at times I use Healing or Black & White. I've dabbled in some of the others, but tend to rely on the ones I've mentioned. I'm sure you'll find your own favs to match your style.

First I go to Details. I almost always take Structure and Sharpening up to some degree. It's a subtle change, but I like it. To navigate through all the submenus in Snapseed, swipe up and down on the image while you're in a tool. To adjust the strength of that specific setting, swipe left and right (but this is NOT Tinder for photographers).

Tune Image Submenu
Tune Image submenu

After that I work in Tune Image. This allows me to adjust the look of the image. Here's what I typically do.

  • Brightness: I normally leave this alone, but you may want to make subtle adjustments.

  • Contrast: Sometimes I add a little more contrast to my image. I find that a little goes a long way here.

  • Saturation: To match my style, I ofted increase saturation a little.

  • Ambiance: This is a funny one to me. I either end up taking it WAY up, or WAY down. It does create a distinctive look as it accentuates contrasts by controlling the balance of light. In this image, I decreased ambiance.

  • Highlights: If I have an overblown shot or really bright lightbulbs in an image, I may pull down the highlights.

  • Shadows: This is probably the slider I use most. I tend to decrease the shadows to pull out details. To do this; slide to the right.

  • Warmth: I don't know if I've ever used this one. But play with it, it may suit your eye.

Next I usually Rotate my pic to make sure it's straight. Snapseed will try to do this for you, but you can adjust if you need to do so. After that I Crop it. Sometimes I have a specific size in mind, other times I play around with it until I have a composition I like. Not only can you change the size, but you can grab the corners and zoom in.

On some pics I go to the Vignette menu and darken up the corners. You can increase the size of the unaffected circle and use a little or a lot of darkness. In this case I went a little heavier than I would normally to try to distract from that glare a little.

Once I am happy with the pic, I save it. To do this, select Export on the bottom left. Since I like to keep a copy of the photo on my device, I use one of the bottom three options - Save, Save a copy and Export. And typically I Save a copy so I still have the original. This makes a copy and keeps every step of the adjustment process so you can go back and make changes. To save some room on your device, you can go with export (you will have to start from scratch to make changes) or Save (you'll just have the one version. The last two save to a separate Snapseed folder.

This is my final pic. It's not something I would print and frame, but it does convey the beauty of the view. And I think it would pop out on social media.

If you find yourself trying any of this out, tag my Facebook business page so that I can see the results. Please let me know here or on FB if you find this information useful.

View from above the clouds
View from above the clouds


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