Putting Contrast to Work with Your iPhone

Contrast on the Waterfront by Jann Alexander ©2014
Contrast on the Waterfront by Jann Alexander ©2014

My iPhone 5s makes a pretty spectacular camera. In fact, it’s the best camera on earth when it’s the only one I’ve got with me. As it was a few evenings ago, on the waterfront in coastal Maine. The late afternoon sun was etching contrasts onto masts, along the boats’ float lines, into the current and spinning out its final golden rays.

The iPhone really excels at capturing such contrast—especially with a little assist from one of my favorite (and free) iPhone apps in my collection, Snapseed from Nik Software. But don’t take my word for it; read the kudos given to Snapseed by PC Magazine here.

The latest version of Snapseed, 1.61,  offers two features to get really excited about:

  • A new HDR SCAPE filter that brings the trendy High Dynamic Range look to your images
  • A new Shadows slider in Tune Image that brightens dark areas naturally

Both of those new features help you do a lot with contrasty photos shot in lots of sunshine (my favorite kind), by enabling you to bring out the detail and depth in the dark areas.

That’s in addition to the other edits and effects you can use to ramp up your shots, including all of the basic adjustments (crop, straighten, selective adjust, saturation, sharpening, contrast, brightness and the other usual suspects), and creative enhancements (like Tilt-Shift, Vintage Films, Center Focus, Drama, Grunge, Retrolux, Frames and more).

On the Waterfront, pre-Snapseed by Jann Alexander © 2014
On the Waterfront, pre-Snapseed (2048 x 1536 px) by Jann Alexander © 2014

The workflow I use, when I’ve got my iPad Mini Retina with me, is to shoot on my iPhone 5s and adjust in Snapseed on my iPad. In my photograph Contrast on the Waterfront (top, post-processing, above, pre-Snapseed), here’s how it went down in just a few minutes:

  • Used Tune Image to tweak the brightness, ambience, saturation and shadows. The ambience adjustment warmed up the whites nicely, and the shadows slider brought out some detail in the deeps. Saturation and brightness (both critical to use) are always best used cautiously.
  • Used Selective Adjust in the darkest areas to brighten the shadows a bit more.
  • Used HDR Scape just because I could. Its ‘Filter Strength’ setting makes a great case for less is more. But it’s fun to see what all the HDR fuss is about when you’re using this edit.
  • Used Details to sharpen a bit. And once again, less is more.
  • Used Crop to  . . .  you guessed it. Didn’t need to straighten, but that would have been another easy edit.
  • Saved the finished image to my Photo Library.
  • Had I been in a sharing mood, I could have astounded the world with my photograph via Google+, Email, Twitter, Facebook, or any other available sharing/saving photo app on my iPad.

I could have printed my image directly from Snapseed too, but that’s not something I’d recommend with an iPhone photo, unless you’re anti-resolution—because the quality of your resolution will vary (based on a lot of factors). iPhone photographs are great for many things, most all of them online, and most all of them ideally suited to 72 ppi images.

You’re not limited to your iPhone photos when editing with Snapseed—you can work with your RAW, TIFF and JPEG photos made on your digital camera in Snapseed, too, on your iPad.

So the next time you hesitate to make your shot because you don’t have your real camera with you, and you don’t think your iPhone can handle the contrasts you’re throwing at it, think again—and just shoot it. You can let Snapseed take it the rest of the way later. 

If you like video tutorials, the iPhone Photography School’s got one for you on Snapseed here. But the app is so fun to play with, that you’ll no doubt teach yourself in-between shots. You can see how other iPhone photographers are using various apps to edit here, at LensandPens. Take a look at some of my other articles about shooting with your iPhone here. 

23 thoughts on “Putting Contrast to Work with Your iPhone

Add yours

  1. I love Snapseed. It was one of my first photo apps (even paid $4.99 back in the way when it *wasn’t* free) and continues to be my go-to choice, even after adding dozens of others to my iPhone and iPad.

    And this: “Used HDR Scape just because I could.” Loved that line!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Snapseed is also my favorite! All my travel photos taken with my iPhone are quickly edited on Snapseed before sharing. You have some great pics here! Hope you are having a great time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I must say that I bought Snapseed last year, and could not fall in like or love. BUT your commentary, which I will peruse carefully, may convert me. It seems that many are as enamored as you are. Your image is quite captivating. I’ve loved my iPhone 4s. Is the 5s your first iPhone? Delighted that our paths have crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ditto, nice to connect, Sally. I’ve lost track of my iPhones, but when I moved from the 4s to the 5s the camera improved in light years! Hope you try Snapseed out again, and let me know how it goes. What apps are your go-tos?


  4. Like Sally I’ve had an on/off relationship with Snapseed (actually I uninstalled it this morning!). But now with you terrific walk through I might just have to reinstall and try again. It certainly did improve the image. Thank you.


  5. I love your ode to iPhone 5…I have an old 4s which I am holding on till September when the new 6 comes out with even high resolution…I do use Snapseed often but I am very fond of Phototaster with it’s sliders as well as many, many filters…Its like a candy store for me 🙂
    Nice to meet you Jann


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