Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Snapseed is Awesome and Reintroducing Joy to my Photographic Process

High-rise forever under construction in Tysons Corner, VA. Photographed at sunset while in attendance of a convention staff meeting for which I ran the photo studio (Fur the More, to be specific). Lots of highlight recovery and judicious application of vintage filters in Snapseed.

Idle and unoccupied at my office the other day, I reintroduced myself to Snapseed and the mobile photo editing process in general. Historically, I've whined and complained of the joyless post-process of photography, the true time consumer of the trade that is largely invisible to every client. Methodically crunching exposure values and desperately salvaging minute details otherwise lost in the RAW file, it will always be a monotonous affair. And with my familiarity with the industry standard tools of the trade (see the Adobe suite of software), it has been a long time since I've felt compelled by anything new to learn and master. Mobile editing software for JPGs, however, be it Snapseed or Instagram... there is still joy to be had there, joy in learning new techniques and experimenting with just how much image fidelity is present in a compressed file.

I suspect some of this perceived freedom is a result of a smaller, higher pixel density display hosting the image. The typical urge to pixel peep is cast off with a screen size barely coming in at a 5-inch diagonal. Routines of photography-for-work are also ejected from the process, providing a clarity of head space enabling experimentation well outside conventional norms (and let's face it, the best work any of us produce always bends or breaks rules and conventions). Maybe it's the touch based interface, assuaging the mathematician's urge to find nice rounded numbers on which to seat Lightroom or Photoshop sliders? Who knows... who cares? It's just fun to do.

Early evening capture on a walk with friends Kevin and Rob, putting my freshly serviced M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 through its paces. Slow shutter speeds, handheld, and heavy noir black & white filtering in Snapseed (with some vignette to taste).

In conversations with my photographer friends, I'm frequently the one insisting that the lowest common denominator display device is the only real measure by which an image need be edited to (this tidbit of advice I actually adopted from my closest photographer friend of yesteryear, Ted). Of course I'm also terrible at heeding my own advice. With cell phones being the display method of choice for the vast majority of content consumers, unless one is specifically processing an image for print or commercial use by a client, there is an enormous amount of leeway in terms of the degree to which an image can be pushed in processing, even in compressed JPG (although RAW support is certainly gaining momentum among phone and app manufacturers). Factor in the inevitable disparity present in how various cell phone screens will reproduce an image operating in optimal conditions, let alone in varying light affecting brightness levels... people will never consume an image in the same way because the conditions in which it is viewed cannot be controlled. Some may scoff at this level of inconsistency, but considered differently, this actually affords a greater level of freedom to the photographer in the post-process. It is a facilitator of belligerent processing styles and aggressive pushing and pulling of image data, the sort of experimentation that results in new looks, new tricks, new learning.

Snapseed in particular surprises me with the processing power embedded within its code. Clearly rooted in the Nik Software method of processing, it allows for smart contextual application of basic adjustments (exposure, contrast, saturation) against varied regions of the image, cleverly calculated by a sphere of influence based on tonal commonalities. This processing method is available in the (free as of the past couple months) Nik Collection hosted by Google, but the fluid nature of the system makes far more sense when commanded via touch interface. Even superlative filters are clean in application of their respective effects, often complimenting one another when lightly or incrementally applied. Even if an effect doesn't pan out, a history of applied modifications is easily recalled, much like Photoshop's own history taskbar.

None of this is particularly "new" or "innovative" to the seasoned photographer. In my experience (which is admittedly fringe), it's simply more enjoyable to use. I wouldn't produce images for clients with my cell phone, of course, and to date I still feel oddly reluctant to publish most of my mobile edits in any portfolio. But I'll be damned if I wouldn't rather be editing loosely on my phone rather than be cemented in front of my desktop monitor.

I seem to recall having cameras whose output was comparatively subpar to other cameras available, but were enormously more fun to use... perhaps these quandaries are related? Perhaps my next step in growth as a photographer is learning to settle for what is "good enough". The treadmill of Better and Best is certainly exhausting.

Squares will always be my preferred compositional format. Heavy tweaking of tonal contrast and image structure in Snapseed, introducing crunch in highlights while retaining softer shadows.

These things said, I sat on the fence for a long time on the idea of picking up a Dell Venue 8 7000 series tablet for the purpose of mobile photo editing, and could kick myself for sitting on the thought long enough for that model to reach discontinued status. I suspect the Venue 8 (quite popular in the mobile photography community) reaching end-of-shelf-life is an indicator of something new around the corner, but who is to say an updated unit would scratch the photography itch in at all the same way. I'm compelled to track one down in the dank closet of some overstock distributor. The Better and Best do not concern me, I know what tools work in pursuit of my end goals.

Still thirst for a new camera, though, but that is unlikely to ever change. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and it's hard to stomach a meal not doused in Sriracha.