How I Use Snapseed To Simply Process Black And White Photos In 13 Seconds

A year ago I used LightRoom to process RAW photographs captured with my Pentax K10D DSLR. This evolved.

Six months ago my preferred workflow was using my iPad or iPhone and Hipstamatic to process JPEG photographs made with my digital compacts.

Now, the act has evolved further still, and I use my Sony Xperia Android phone with Snapseed to process the JPEGs from the digital compacts.

Currently one camera makes photographs with no need for post processing. The wonderful Pentax Q with its internal options for bold monochrome shots, has enough creative control that I’ve been able to set it up to create the final image in camera.

In some ways this was the zero processing holy grail for me.

But my Xperia/Snapseed set up is now so fluid it takes merely 13 seconds on average (yes, I’m geeky enough to have timed myself for multiple photographs and taken an average) to get the black and white (b/w) look I like. So I don’t mind going through this process for the images from the other few compacts, for the improvement I think it makes.

Here’s what I do. Firstly, in camera.

Depending on the camera, I set it up to make b/w photographs. The Ricoh GX100 has this option, but no further options like contrast etc.

My Ricoh GRD III does have contrast options so I add a little contrast to the standard set b/w set up. The Sony L1 and Olympus C4040 which I’ve bought recently, both have a b/w mode, and contrast settings, so I bump up the contrast in those too.

Typically for all of these cameras, I use exposure compensation to take the edge off.

With the Ricohs, -0.3, with the Olympus it’s -0.7. The Sony exposes very well at 0.

With digital compacts and their smaller (than DSLRs and mirrorless) sensors, you notice certain characteristics.

One is a far deeper depth of field, another is they tend to blow out highlights more easily.

Whereas with film I used to over expose virtually all of the time as all of the film I used had a latitude of -1/+3, ie you can expose it between one stop under or three stops over and still get great results.

With digital it’s the opposite, I tend to expose for the brightest parts of the scene.

This works on two levels – first I don’t get many problems with blown out highlights, and second when you have higher contrast scenes, by exposing for the bright parts it makes the dark parts really dark.

I dislike b/w photos that are merely shades of grey, and like my blacks to be deep, dark, inky pools you can dive into. You’ll rarely hear me talking about recovering detail from shadows!

Once the images are made in camera, I upload them to my MacBook, either plugging the camera in directly or via a USB card reader.

Either way, Image Capture shows the thumbnails and I Import all photos from the latest photowalk with one click.

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These days my filing is far simpler than when I had dozens of film cameras and started a new folder for every roll of film, labelled with the camera, lens and film. Now I just have a folder for each month and all photos made across all cameras go in together. After that point I’m not really interested which camera made which images.

My MacBook is synced with Google Photos (GP), so as soon as they start importing from the memory card, the start uploading to GP too.

Once done, I double check the files are on my MacBook, and in GP, and delete all images on the memory card so it’s ready for next time.

Although I have a few 16GB SD cards, I also use 1GB and 2GB cards that never fill up on one photowalk. It’s all I need.

After ejecting the memory card/ camera, it’s off to Google Photos. 

Usually I’ll sweep through first on my MacBook or ChromeBook (both have 15″ screens) and delete those that don’t make the grade.

Those I do like, I then edit using my phone. It’s just easier, quicker and more portable. I have Snapseed on my iPad, but just don’t bother as it’s involving another device unnecessarily.

For this demo, I’ve used the Ricoh GX100 to take a few snaps in the front garden.

This is how one looks straight from the camera.

28518328367_cf6bf2ce98_bFor me, far too many of those shades of grey I mentioned, and nothing is really black at all, even in the top corners of the composition.

Now on my Xperia phone, from GP, I go to menu (the three dots) > Edit In > Snapseed.

The “Styles” appear at the side of the image, both those that come with Snapseed and my own I’ve set up.

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I tap on the “GX100 etc” high contrast b/w Style and it applies it instantly. If I want to see how it compares to the original, I just hold my finger on/off the image and it toggles between the before and after.

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Then I tap the tick, then Done to save the processed image.

The phone exits Snapseed and reverts to the original image in GP, which I usually then delete, once it’s confirmed the Snapseed version is saved.

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As you can see, these tweaks, though quick and logical, for me make a significant difference to the final image.

I usually do this processing for most or all of a photowalk in a batch, then at a later date go through again on GP and delete any that aren’t good enough.

Those I do like, I download to my MacBook and upload in Flickr, so I have a version on the MacBook, GP, Flickr, and after a few weeks, another back up on an external HD when I do my routine TimeMachine back up of everything on my MacBook. Probably too much, but I haven’t quite worked out how to streamline at this point.

So this is how I use a preset Style I’ve already saved in Snapseed, but how did I set these up in the first place?

Again, you know me, it was simple!

I really do like Hipstamatic, it’s a fun and tactile interface on iPhone and even better on iPad. But the glaring omission for me is I never really knew what I was doing to get the photos how I wanted them.

Hipstamatic is based around applying one or more of three main variables – film, lens and flash. I came to learn that using a certain film with a certain lens and a certain flash gave me a result I liked. But I didn’t know why, or what those film/lens/flash presets were actually doing with the original image.

I wasn’t learning anything, it was purely trial and error.

When I switched to Snapseed (because Hipstamatic is iOS only), I instantly appreciated that the settings are in a far more direct language.

Yes there are lo-fi options in the Vintage and Retrolux groups that are reminiscent of Hipstmatic. But even then, the parameters you can adjust are named logically, like Brightness, Saturation, Style Strength and Vignette Strength.

You can make an educated guess at what reducing or increasing these sliders is likely to do, so you know which to choose and which way to slide them. With Hipstamatic there wasn’t this opportunity for learning and understanding more.

For my b/w images I started with, yep, the b/w group of settings. 

Essentially it converts to b/w by desaturating all the colour (though I’ve usually done this in camera already), then you can adjust three parameters – Brightness, Contrast and Grain. You can either start with one of the sub-presets – eg Contrast or Film, or just the Neutral one. Each of these has a starting point setting already applied on the Brightness, Contrast and Grain parameters.

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I started with Contrast, as that’s what I mostly wanted to do, add contrast.

Then going into the three parameters, by default Brightness is 0, Contrast is +30, Grain is 0. I reduced the Contrast a little (you just slide your finger across the screen, left to reduce, right to increase), and took the Brightness down a touch too.

In the end, I’ve found because of the slight variation in how b/w photographs come out of different cameras, it’s been useful to have three b/w presets, offering differing graduation of a higher contrast, darker, blacker look.

They’re all around Contrast +25 and Brightness -5 give or take a few notches.

I don’t like to add “fake” film grain, so leave this at zero.

I prefer using the ISO of the camera to create a little noise/grain, which is why I usually shoot at ISO400 or 800 rather than native ISO. Except with the Olympus C4040, where there’s a little grain even at ISO100, so I use that. As we’ve talked about in the past, the older CCD sensors seem to give a much more organic and pleasing noise/grain. But that’s a different conversation!

Having these three b/w Styles, all higher contrast, but to varying degrees, means I rarely have to go back to scratch with processing photos. I just choose the one of the three Styles that looks best to my eyes. 

So that’s it really.

If you haven’t used Snapseed yourself I would encourage you to try it.

For me it’s infinitely more logical, approachable and direct than LightRoom, in which I probably used about 2% of its overall features.

And the results for b/w are better than I used to get with LR after ages of fiddling about and not really knowing what was working.

And whilst I like Hipstamatic, if you want to understand what you’re adjusting and the impact it has on the final images, Snapseed is just so much more direct and obvious and logical.

I hope this has given you an insight into my simple workflow, and encouraged you to try something new.

What do you use to process your photographs? Is it working as well as you’d like, or are you open to other options?

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

13 thoughts on “How I Use Snapseed To Simply Process Black And White Photos In 13 Seconds”

  1. Snapseed is fantastic.

    Not a “pad” or tablet user, but I’m starting to look at putting it on my desktop (with a 24 inch monitor for improved viewing). Still just a little cautious about the extra software required; the desktop use of Snapseed requires an intervening bit that emulates an Android environment in which to run it.
    The thought of a direct smartphone-to-big screen desktop Snapseed editor is very appealing – anyone here done this as yet?

    1. William, I checked some Android simulators myself (like BlueStacks, which seems to be quite good). Problem is that these simulators work fine for “keyboard” apps, such as WhatsApp, but not so much for apps based on a touchscreen workflow. And that is of course the case with Snapseed.

        1. William, having a browse online you can use a device like the Chromecast “dongle” to plug into a TV or monitor and it essentially becomes an external monitor for an Android phone. I know I’ve done a “screencast” thing with certain apps, like YouTube, directly from my phone to a smart TV which is really clever – you still control the app on your phone screen but it also plays on the big TV.

          As Robert has mentioned, Snapseed is a touchscreen app, I can’t see how it could be controlled on a screen that isn’t touchscreen. Well, it couldn’t! But by linking to a big screen for viewing, and still controlling it on an Android phone/tablet, it would give you a much greater viewing area. Do you have an Android phone already?

          1. Hah! Thanks! You know, I’ve used my Samsung Note 4 to cast to the Samsung TV via the Roku Ultra box before, and it never occurred to me to just throw Snapseed up onto the TV screen as well…zero points for sentience, awareness, and logic here…will be trying that out tonight.

            You know, heeding Robert’s remarks, I went through the tedious drill of downloading and installing Bluestacks yesterday, just for giggles and despite the no touch screen thing, just to see what was what. Through it, I downloaded Snapseed to the PC, and – Surprise, Surprise!: the mouse button controls tool screen “sliders” as handily as on the smartphone.

            But…I didn’t care for the flashy, noisy, gamey Bluestacks environment at all – it’s a huge RAM hog, and the laborious unpacking of the whole package at start-up is tiresome. “Saving” edited images locally was a pain and shot-through with bugs (I do not use Google cloud functions or storage or backup of any kind, do not entirely trust them ever since finding their fingers in my pocket, tracking my local bricks-and-mortar shopping habits against my “location” history and hosing me down with ads),

          2. Idly sitting here just now, I used the Airdrop app to mirror the phone to the pc. Works, uh, OK-ish; the old eyes gotta go full screen to see the detail I want in editing with Snapseed, of course; but it bears some more trial.

            With this mirroring trick, of course, in order to work with shots *not* taken with the phone, I have more steps in getting those images into phone storage first, via hardwire or Bluetooth or WIFI, a tad onerous but reasonable when the images are not gigantic and the numbers of shots to be edited are not great. The Bluestacks route allowed me direct use of the other, non-phone shots in PC or gallery storage.

            One can see that a Snapseed version for the PC not requiring an Android emulator might soon kill-off more expensive edit software for the large community of folks who don’t need lots of layers and the more complex bit-wrenching; lots of PS Elements users, et al…

          3. William, could you longer term look at an Android tablet (or iPad) and use Snapseed directly? I have a 15″ MacBook Pro, and a 9.7″ iPad. To be honest, the distance I sit from the MacBook, compared with having the iPad on my lap (ie significantly closer) the screen size is not that much different. Plus the resolution of the iPad screen is very good and even though my eyes aren’t as good as they were, compared with using Snapseed on my phone, the iPad is hugely bigger. You might not need to use a bigger screen at all.

      1. Thanks William, it was a throwaway shot on our front drive just to show how much difference a few tweaks in Snapseed can make – and how logical it is (to me at least!) compared with the more Lomo inspired Hipstamatic app and how simple and lean it is compared with the behemoth that as LightRoom.

  2. Hi Dan, this is very valuable information that I will certainly re-read when I get home from work.
    Thanks for the tips!

  3. ‘How I Use Lightroom To Simply Process Black And White Photos In 0 Seconds’ Open lightroom, import photos and THAT’S IT.

    Whether you are using a proper monochrome camera or a de-saturated colour photo. Just open one photo, set it up as you like ONCE. Then find the Reset button in the lower right corner of the screen. Hold down whatever the equivalent key on a Mac is for ALT. Once Reset magically changes to ‘Set Default’ while holding down ALT or (whatever Mac) click it with your mouse. (or Trackball like you should be using.) or Wacom pen. The next time you import your photos to Lightroom they will all look the same as the one you tuned up that one time. There, zero second to inky black. Actually you do have to do this for each camera.

    I have never paid for Lightroom, it used to come with the cameras I bought. I have the final version before all that stupid CC garbage, 6.21. I think this would really save you time, at least I hope you try it.

    1. Thanks Corvus, I’m sure that’s a useful tip other LightRoom users aren’t aware of. I remember in my final days of using it I found this option, to import photos and apply a preset automatically, but I think I did it a different way, via a menu.

      Anyway, I grew so disenchanted with LightRoom I won’t go back now, and for my humble needs it’s just far too sophisticated, like using a JCB to crack a walnut.

      Snapseed fits in well with my simple workflow and my general desire to keep things as streamlined and direct and economical as possible.

      Plus, as I said above, I actually have three b/w presets set up, which have slightly varying degrees of contrast. I generally try the darkest one and if it’s too inky, I go to the next darkest. If I applied one preset automatically in LR I’d still have to sift through the photos and potentially undo one preset and apply another, or reduce contrast another way for some of the photos. There’s not one preset that’s ideal for every single photo.

      Another major reason I ditched LightRoom was the whole subscription thing. I did originally have a bought version, then at some point got signed up to a subscription with an upgrade which I thought was just for a year, then you keep whatever version you’ve upgraded to. But to keep it going, you have to keep paying the subscription (around £10) a month. Just thought this was underhand and a rip off, paying say £360 for three years for software you used to be able to buy outright for £100, or like you, it came with a camera free anyway. Just don’t like Adobe’s whole approach with this. So I waved goodbye and haven’t looked back (despite them sending me emails at least once a week to return, ha ha!)

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