Whatever the style, Snapseed seems to feature at some point in almost all my edits. This article explores how I use Snapseed to add dramatic impact to black and white processing.

Snapseed is a free app

For all the paid apps I have in my kitbag, it’s Snapseed that I return to time after time.

I am a massive fan of Black and White photography. Even though I have a range of specialist black and white apps I find myself using Snapseed more than any other. I’ve become comfortable with its simple layout and ease of use.

The article will I think, lead naturally into a follow up article exploring the creation and use of gradient filters with specific focus on black and white photography. More on that in due course.

This before and after comparison is a basic example of how I try to add impact to a black and white conversion. The key message really is to try to think beyond simply desaturating an image of its colour.


Snapseed_Before_400 Snapseed_After_400


Dramatic Black and White conversion – 3 questions I ask:

When I consider how to approach adding drama to a black and white edit, the first step is to consider the nature of the image:

  1. Can I edit the image in a very basic way? Specifically, will a single colour filter when combined with other adjustments work in this case? If yes then happy days, job done.

    Typically portraits would fall into this category. The green colour filter is normally my best friend for portraits, but strong green eyes might then need some individual attention.

  2. Would elements in the image benefit from an individual focused approach to black and white conversion?

  3. What challenges does the image present in adopting a more complex black and white conversion? I may consider the question “is it worth the effort?” Part of the beauty of black and white photography is its impactful simplicity and, in my opinion, less is very often more!


Colour Filters

I discussed the use of colour filters in more detail as part of my earlier article exploring black and white processing and so I won’t repeat the theory here. In this article I want to explore the practicalities of using colour filters in Snapseed as a one stop shop for the quick but impactful conversion of an image to black and white.


Snapseed – the image presents minimal challenges

No real challenges but I want to use different black and white conversions in a broad general way across large parts of the image. I think of this approach as something akin to using a gradient colour filter.


Snapseed Drama to Black and White

{ Adding Black and white drama with Snapseed }



Snapseed – the process:


Snapseed - Black and White


Import the image into Snapseed and proceed to convert it to Black and white.



Snapseed - Red Black and White conversion


In this case I want to take advantage of the large amount of blue sky to add extra drama to the image. I achieve this by adding the red colour filter to the black and white conversion.



Snapseed - Layers and View Edits


However, I do not want to add the red black and white conversion filter to the entire image. Therefore, I select the layers icon and then ‘view edits’ which enables me to make further adjustments.



Snapseed - Paint Icon


I then select the black and white adjustment I have just applied and then tap the ‘paint’ icon. This allows me to highlight the area of the image that I would like to add the black and white red filter conversion to (i.e. the sky area).

Although you can zoom in and get some degree of precision, in my view the ability to selectively apply Snapseed edits using the paint brush is most effective where the nature of the edit allows a broad brush approach to be adopted.



Snapseed - Paint


The area that the black and white conversion will be applied to is highlighted red. Once I am happy I hit the tick to accept.

I really want to call the painted area a mask but actually it’s the opposite of a mask, I am unmasking the area the effect should be applied to.

If I make a mistake whilst painting, it is possible to correct the error by hitting the ‘↓’ to reduce paint opacity to 0% and then paint over the mistake to erase it. The opacity of the painted area and therefore the strength of the effect it represents can be adjusted in increments via the ‘↑’ and ‘↓’ arrows.



Snapseed - Accept


Once the paint brush is accepted, its impact is immediately visible. Selecting the back arrow will allow me to continue to complete the edit process.



Snapseed - Black and White conversion


The next stage is to convert the rest of the image to black and white. To do this I once again select ‘Tools’ and then ‘Black & White’.



Snapseed - Neutral Black and White Conversion


This black and white conversion is going to be left as ‘neutral’ with no other edits.

As I am simply desaturating the remaining colour areas there is no need to worry about applying this edit on a selective basis. This would be the case even if I selected a colour filtered black and white conversion because all black and white conversions not containing other adjustments such as brightness, contrast or grain only impact areas containing colour.



Snapseed - Layers Icon and View Edits


I can examine the edits made and consider further adjustments by tapping the ‘layers’ icon and then selecting ‘View edits’.



Snapseed - Select Sky Layer


This is the layers view I selected earlier when I applied the red filtered black and white conversion to only part of the image via the paint brush.

Selecting the layer containing the red colour filtered black and white conversion I can now select the ‘edit’ icon to make further adjustments to the painted area and add more drama.



Snapseed - Darken for more drama


Having decided to add further edits, I can now select the ‘levels’ icon. This gives me the opportunity to adjust ‘Brightness’, ‘Contrast’ and ‘Grain’ in the selected layer (i.e. painted sky region only)

I decide to adjust brightness by -20.

The area defined by the paint is not visible in this view, so initially it will appear as though the edit applies to the entire image. However, when I tap the arrow to accept the adjustment it’s immediately clear that the edit has only applied to the painted area.



Snapseed - Complete


This is the completed edit in the layers view.

Each stage of the edit is a layer with each layer applied over the previous one. In this example from bottom to top we have:

  • Original image,

  • Red colour filtered black and white conversion applied to the sky area of the original image via the paint brush. This layer was subsequently adjusted to reduce brightness and further enhance the drama, and

  • Neutral black and white conversion applied to the entire version of the image in the layer below.

When considering this hierarchy it can be seen that each layer impacts the version of the image in the layer beneath it.

The extent to which each layer impacts the layer beneath can either be left as a standard 100pct coverage or, as I did with the sky, defined using the paint brush.



Narrated video



Snapseed – the image contains a challenging composition


BW Drama Snapseed Selective Adjustment

{ Adding Black and white drama with Snapseed }

The broad brush nature of painting colour filters onto the edit makes it inappropriate for some images.

Artistic differences

You could argue whether darkening of the sky adds to this image but I’m using it as an example of the process.

In the following example, my wife and son would not respond well to being edited with a red colour filtered black and white conversion. We Brits are pasty enough already! Equally the painting functionality in Snapseed would make trying to manually paint round them a pointless and frustrating exercise.

Specifically in Snapseed, this image would respond better using the ‘Selective edit’ tool to make targeted adjustments before making a general black and white conversion as the final edit.


Snapseed Selective Adjust Before Snapseed Selective Adjust After

This is an alternative approach to using multiple colour filtered conversions but can yield similar results.


Snapseed – the process:


Snapseed Selective Adjust


Import the image into Snapseed and proceed to select ‘Selective Adjust’.


Snapseed Selective Adjust Pinch


I tap the ‘+’ icon to add points to the area I would like to edit. Selecting each point in turn, I can pinch the size of the area affected to suit. Snapseed helps to maintain edges by using colour changes as boundaries. Therefore, awkward areas can easily be selected with a reasonable degree of control.


Snapseed Selective Adjust Options


With the adjustment point selected, I can slide my thumb up and down the image to select the adjustment I would like to make. Available options are any combination of:

  • Brightness

  • Contrast

  • Saturation

  • Structure


Snapseed Selective Adjust Points


In this image, I adjust each selective adjustment points’ brightness by minus 50 and accept.

I then complete a neutral black and white conversion. The result is very similar to a colour filtered black and white conversion primarily focused on adding drama to the sky area only.


Tip: Combine both approaches

The nature of selective adjustments means that it is possible that the effect can bleed into unintended areas on the image. It is possible to apply the selective adjustment and then edit it via the paint brush tool to broadly apply it to intended areas only (i.e. in this case I would paint it over the top half of the image to impact the sky area only).



Get the iPhoneography apps mentioned in this article

Apps used in this article:

  • Snapseed it’s just a good solid easy to use free app.


I hope you enjoyed my ideas about adding drama to black and white conversions quickly and easily. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again. If you enjoy my work and would like an email when new articles are published please subscribe to Skipology. Thank you for your support.



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