HDR in Snapseed, a little goes a long way

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At pasture’s edge, Roxbury, Connecticut © Steven Willard

Here is the raw file, converted to jpeg on the iPad Air with no manipulation. Even with the ecellent dynamic range of the Penetax K5IIs sensor and processor, large areas of the photograph are lost to deep shadow.

Below is the same image with mild use of Snapseed’s HDR feature. Unlike true HDR treatment that combines more than one exposure (sometimes several) to capture detail in the darkest and lightest areas, Snapseed uses complex algorithims to boost detail in the shadows and recover details in the highlights. It’s not the same as true HDR, but used judiciously, it can work wonders. Notice how HDR has not only opened up the sharows in a believable manner, but has added detail in the sky and clouds.

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At pasture’s edge, Roxbury, Connecticut © Steven Willard

Because the human eye has an amazing ability to react to a very wide brightness range, and because our brains have the ability to combine and compensate for extremes in brightness, what we see in a scene before we make an exposure can have a great deal more detail in the highest and lowest values than the camera can record. Using Snapseed’s HDR slider, can help bring the photographic image into closer agreement with what we saw. Caution is in order here to keep the software from turning a very believable rendering into a cartoon poster that shouts HDR. Using Snapseed with a light touch brought this image much closer to what I saw when I made the exposure, the back-lit leaves and grass that glowed in the afternoon sun.

I begin by going to the HDR icon first, and start with the “filter” slider all the way to the left and the “feature” selection set to “nature”. I then slowly move the slider to the right, letting my eyes get used to the transition a bit at a time. You will probably go too far the first few times as the novelty takes over, but move the slider back to the left slowly and stop when you have found the balance that works best. It may be only 10 or 15%, but a lighter hand is better. You may notice that saturation increases as you increase the HDR effect. You may like the effect, but if not, there is a saturation slider built into HDR as well so you can dial it down until it looks better, although I usually do this with the “Tune Image” sliders.

Snapseed is an amazing tool that warrants the time spent learning. Import an image to Snapseed and play. Use the sliders, layer filters on filters. Save your work often, then continue to try out settings. Everything you do is non-distructive, and can be undone; you never risk your original file. Roughly one third of the images I presented at my last exhibit were edited in Snapseed, and only went to Photoshop for printing. Try it.

Pentax K5IIs with 55-300mm zoom, edited with Snapseed on my iPad Air.

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