For many people, photography has now bypassed conventional cameras. Everything, from snapping the moment to showing it around and saving for it posterity can be done from within a single handset – yet integrating those functions is often more complicated than it should be.
On any phone, taking the picture is easy enough. So is sharing it, so long as you’re happy to show it “as is”. But that’s a compromise which defeats the point of digital photography.
There are many apps for editing photos and plenty more for saving them into albums but few are good at talking to each other. The result, if you’re not careful, is a collection of duplicated “before” and “after” versions of shots you have edited.
This is especially true of selfies taken through your camera’s front lens. It has become the convention among most phone makers, Apple excepted, for these to be reversed by default, so that they appear as if taken in a mirror. There is no technical reason for this; it’s just the way the eye expects to see a reflection.
Often, it doesn’t matter. But if the picture includes lettering or recognisable geography, the end result can be ridiculous. Your new car will suddenly have its steering wheel on the wrong side. Many cameras are capable of automatically mirroring the image immediately after taking it, but the option usually has to be hunted down and turned on in a labyrinthine menu.
It ought to be possible to put right back-to-front photos retrospectively with a single click, but Google Photos, the default app for saving pictures on Android phones, has no such facility. However, Google’s older and better editing app, Snapseed, does.
Snapseed used to be a PC and mobile editing solution but the desktop client was discontinued years ago. The mobile version is still supported, however, and while many of its editing tools have found their way into Google’s main app, a lot have not. A few quick adjustments can make a snapshot sparkle in a way that Google Photos can’t match.
In the case of a selfie, you can not only flip it the right way round but also improve the facial tones and compensate for too much or too little lighting. Unfortunately, getting the finished result back into Google Photos is a frustrating experience. Not only does the edited version duplicate the original but its metadata – the date and location it was taken and any caption – is lost in the process.
It’s a shame because Snapseed is arguably the best photo editing program out there. It has many of the tools you would expect to see on desktop software like Photoshop, and can perform startling tricks like changing the angle of someone’s pose. It also has a library of filters and the ability to add text to a picture. And it’s free, without even adverts to get in the way.
An “express” version of Photoshop itself is also free for mobiles, though payment is required if you want to go beyond the basic functions. And Google Photos remains fine for basic edits.
The improvement in lenses and picture processing on the latest cameras means that really good, camera-quality results from phones are now within every user’s reach, so long as the image is finessed to get the most out of it. Snapseed is the perfect tool for doing this, on both Android and Apple handsets. It would be even more perfect if it weren’t in such a world of its own.
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