iPhone Editing Workflow: Part 1

Iksan, South Korea. iPhone 6.

Chuseok here in Korea. It is kind of like Thanksgiving for those of you who aren’t up on your Korean culture. Sitting in a coffee shop it feels a bit weird. I used to hear how Chuseok is a family holiday but it seems like all the families are here in this cafe, ha. I suppose it is a case of tradition versus modernity much like the rest of Korea.

Seoul, South Korea. iPhone 3GS. July 2010.

I started mobile photography with the above photo. It’s a grainy mess, I know. I took it with the 3mp iPhone 3GS. Photography for me is about memory. This photo is a hard one for me. I took it the morning my Dad passed away. After a night of partying in Seoul to start a long holiday I woke up to the news in this motel. I had other cameras with me. I don’t know why I took this with my phone. Don’t know why I took it in general. Glad I did though.

Seoul, South Korea. iPhone SE.

For a while, people have been asking me to share my iPhone editing workflow. As most of you may know I edit 99 percent of my photos directly on my phone. This isn’t only the photos I take with my phone, but all of the photos I take in general. I have never really shot RAW so it has never been a problem for me when editing (Snapseed which I will talk about in this post edits RAW for those curious). The first question I usually get about this topic is “why?”

Seoul, South Korea. iPhone 6.

Not particularly easy to answer this. I suppose the first reason is as simple as me being lazy. I am too lazy to get home and edit photos on my computer. When I get home, usually the last thing I want to do is sit in front of my computer. I spend a lot of my time in Korea on the go. I spend hours and hours in trains and or on buses which gives me a lot of time to edit. The phone is the easiest way to do so. On top of this, the tools on phones have gotten so much better than the past that it isn’t as much of a “stretch” as it used to be. I’ll get into the details soon, but I generally just use Snapseed and sometimes the basic Apple editor. Snapseed has gotten to be really good, to the point where I don’t miss anything from my computer or something like Lightroom. I used to use VSCO, but honestly I think Snapseed is a more powerful tool especially on IOS.

Processed with Snapseed.
Seoul, South Korea. iPhone 6.

I’m using iPhone photos for the post even though as I said I edit everything on my phone. Just using iPhone photos mostly because I am lusting after the iPhone 7. I like the SE I have been using but while I like the smaller form for my hand it is hard to edit on, ha. The later of which is more important at the moment.

Jeju Island, 2011. iPhone 4.

I find it funny that 90 percent of the photos I have kept that I took from before 2013 are iPhone photos. Not sure why that is. Probably because they are the only “honest” photos I took during that time. This above one is one of my favourite earlier photos. I had a Leica M9 with me on that trip yet my favourite photo came from my iPhone. Go figure. I much prefer the Snapseed edit to the one I did at the time as well.

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset
Iksan, South Korea. iPhone 6.

Anyway, back to workflow. As I said, I use Snapseed for nearly everything I do. Snapseed has the great ability on IOS of being non-destructive. When you edit a photo, it just adds a layer on top of the photo similar to Lightroom all the while keeping the original untouched. I really like this as sometimes depending on the lighting conditions where I edit the photo (I mean the screen brightness when I edit) I sometimes need to go back and re-edit. The fact that Snapseed allows me to go back and just edit one “layer” of the original makes things a lot less complicated. On Android, for example, you have to edit the entire photo again as when you finish editing a photo it always exports the image not allowing further tweaks of the original edit.


Here is a picture of the preset I use for all black and white images in Snapseed. People have asked for this a lot so I figured a picture would help. Because of the way IOS works Snapseed will “forget” your preset once a week or so so what I do is just go back to one I my recent photos and copy it again. When I say copy it, I mean you can literally copy and past the preset using the three dots in the top right corner. Each of the layers on the right can be re-edited from the preset by clicking them so if I under of overexposed a photo I can edit it slightly differently than my preset similarly to what people do in Lightroom.

Processed with Snapseed.
Seoul, South Korea. iPhone 6.

So, I will go through the settings one by one. The first setting on the bottom or first “layer” is the only one that usually changes from photo to photo. Tune Image is basically a way to edit the curves of the photo. I will edit the shadows, brightness, and highlights depending on the way the photo was exposed. I will normally just keep the preset as it is which is plus 10 for shadows and minus 10 for highlights. I’ll only tweak them further if need be. On the above for example I had to bring the shadows up a bit more as I wanted a bit more detail in them. I never spend more than 20 to 30 seconds in this setting.

Processed with Snapseed.
Suwon, South Korea. iPhone 6.

The second layer of my preset is the Details layer. This is structure (clarity for Lightroom users) and sharpening. I never change this from the preset which is plus 5 to structure and plus 15 to sharpening. I actually don’t really like photos being particularly sharp.

Processed with Snapseed.
Suwon, South Korea. 2015. iPhone 6.

The third layer is the “secret ingredient” I suppose. I think this would be the one most responsible for the current look of my photos. I have figured out that the Noir setting is very, very similar to the Nik film presets from their Lightroom plugin. The grain is nearly identical to that of the grain in Silver Efex. Considering Nik also made Snapseed this isn’t particularly surprising. I use the H1 preset found inside Noir. I leave it as is as I like it as such. The only thing I will change from time to time is the “wash” setting. I usually like it but sometimes it crushes the blacks so I will sometimes turn it down a bit.

Processed with Snapseed.
Seoul, South Korea. iPhone 6.

The last layer is the most simple. I use the generic black and white preset. The main reason I do this is because the Noir filter adds a tint I don’t really like and the black and white brings it back to normal-ish monochrome. I know people are going to try and explain to me how this still doesn’t make an actual monochrome image but to be honest I don’t really care, ha. They look good to me this way. I also add a bit of contrast in this setting. The preset has plus 15 to contrast.

Processed with Snapseed.
Toronto, Canada. 2012. iPhone 5.

The original Snapseed was quite crude. I edited the above in Snapseed in 2012. I remember thinking it was very heavy handed at the time and that was during a time where heavy handed Japanese photographers were like gods to me. It has changed a lot since then and now I think for me it is literally everything I need from an editing program.

I have a rule in my photography that goes something like this:

If it takes me more than 1 minute to edit a photo I delete it no matter how much I like it.

I did this originally because it taught me to get things right in the camera. Usually if I am taking more time to edit a photo it is because I made a mistake in the first place. Now, I follow the rule more as a matter of habit. On the phone, it is pretty easy to edit quickly and painlessly.

Edit: The one setting I haven’t mentioned here is that oftentimes I will crop iPhone photos to 3:2 aspect ratio. The photo I used to show my preset was taken on a different camera and didn’t need the crop so it didn’t appear in the preset. I don’t always do this but I do prefer 3:2 99 percent of the time. I usually save two versions of iPhone photos one with the original aspect ratio and one in 3:2. All the examples in this post are 3:2.

Processed with Snapseed.
Seoul, South Korea. iPhone 6.

I am not saying this system is perfect as it certainly isn’t. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend it. Pixel peepers will rip me apart for writing this, I’m sure. That being said, I literally couldn’t care less. I edit this way because it works for me and it is an evolution of the way I have done so for the last couple of years.

Some people will be curious as to why this is part 1. Part 2 will cover my colour preset and a little about the way I import and archive photos (still use Lightroom and a tiny Asus tablet PC for this) from cameras that aren’t my phone. Also, I will cover any questions you have so feel free to comment or email me about anything you’d like me to talk about in the next post.

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset
Seoul, South Korea. iPhone 6.

***AΒ Year, A Camera Update***

So, this is probably going to be funny to some but it wasn’t particularly for me. I will be pulling down (or just editing to reflect what has happened) the post about the Epson RD1X. After using the camera for just a couple of weeks the mint looking one I had started to have all sorts of issues. I tried another (RD1) which had its own plethora of problems. Because I was still within a certain amount of time I returned the one I had and after having issues with the second I decided to just take the money. I am pulling (or editing) the post because already two of the four people who emailed me saying they bought an Epson on my “recommendation” have reported having pretty serious issues with their own. These are old cameras, and I suppose it serves as a lesson learned that sometimes in the digital world it is hard to rely on old technology. I used the money to buy the camera that was second on the list (list highlighting the things I would need and want from a camera over the course of a year) I made from the post, the Olympus Pen-f. Being newer, with a warranty I feel a little more comfortable with it. I have not posted about the camera yet not out of embarrassment for how the first post went but because I have not decided on a lens yet that I would like to use (suggestions open but am leaning towards the 25mm 1.4).

I am obviously overthinking the whole thing, ha, but I really want to make a go of this.

Then again, as a frequent commenter Bob wrote on the last post I should probably just shut up and shoot πŸ˜‰

Anyway, as always any questions you have about any of this feel free to comment or email me (jtinseoul at gmail dot com).

Iksan, South Korea. iPhone SE.


  1. I’ve been on a similar trend for a while of editing my Fuji x100t images on an iPad almost exclusively. I’ve switched between RAW and JPEG in that time (though before Snapseed handled RAW, it would just convert the image to a JPEG when you went to edit it. I haven’t tried it since the RAW update came out). I had avoided the filters in Snapseed because I found them to be far to over processed (things like HDR, Glamour glow etc) and used VSCO filters instead. I think the main reason I like using the iPad and iPhone is it’s more tactile. The way you can slide across an image and touch where you want to burn/dodge just feels a bit more involved than using a mouse IMO.
    Thanks for the post.

    1. I agree with your assessment. I haven’t used the RAW editor either but will probably do so with the iPhone 7 since it shoots RAW. Not sure how much I will use it, but certainly will give it a go. Snapseed to me is just a lot more powerful than VSCO and more convenient. I consider the filters like HDR and the like to be similar to the hundreds of features of Lightroom I ignore, ha. As long as it does what I need it to don’t care much about the rest. In the past, Snapseed used to be more focused on those filters but has become a lot more professional in its recent iterations.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment and appreciate the follow as well!

      1. I’m fairly sure that the default camera on the iPhone 7 doesn’t shoot RAW but you have to use a third party app…which seems pretty strange but there you go.
        I know what you mean about ignoring those features, still the HDR was most prominently featured and isn’t a easy entry. It would be nice if you could remove some of these from the interface but there you go. No problem for the follow. I have been “following” for a while just without using the WordPress reader tool.

      2. Yeah, I noticed what you said with the SE. Always thought they were decent jpg anyway so not sure it matters much. I know what you mean with snapseed so I just leave them on the bottom. All the important ones are on top haha.

      3. Always treated jpeg like film in my digital cameras – set to B&W with red filter and keep it that way for a wholle roll / shoot. Or to any other simulation – just as a rule NO CHANGE DURING THE SHOOT.

        Jpeg is fine in a good camera!

  2. No worries about ditching the Epson – that’s called learning by doing. It’s a fabulous camera, but a bit long in the tooth for digital stuff.

    Thanks a lot for your insights into Snapseed – a great app that I never used to it’s full power. I used Lightroom Mobile but it’s a sluggish behemoth, not my thing. I’m also turning my back on Lightroom on my Mac. I’ll keep to Photos with those great extensions available now (Tonality, Snapheal, Affinity…). Does at least 80% of what I needed LR for.

    And this woke again my thoughts about buying a digital camera again…. The iPhone is great for digital, really, but sometimes you need to feel a proper camera in your hand.

    Besides I’m staying faithful to my Leica IIIa

    1. Yeah I completely understand. I’ve kept my film camera even though I don’t know when I’ll use it. It’s become a right pain here. The Epson gave me the right vibe, but no way I could trust one after that. The olympus is more of a poiny and shoot vibe but still quite like it. Haven’t used it much yet not having the lens in place yet. Like 99 percent set on the 25 (a 50) though.

  3. I enjoy both your photos and your comments and especially the thought process in your choices for photography and your life. You are not a fake and a blow hard, and you share failures and successes and help all of your readers with their conflicts and choices in their lives. If it was me, I would look for a Olympus 17mm f1.7 micro 4/3rds lens. I have that lens and the cheaper Panasonic 25mm f1.8 ($200 model) They both are sharp and great, but I find the 25mm to be a bit too long.

  4. Hey, just wondering how often you print your iPhone shots and at what size. Have you been happy with the results and has seeing the print made you adjust your Snapseed presets at all. Thx!

  5. Hi Josh. Filmwaster from Norway here.
    Just wanted to say I like your blog a lot, or at least what I’ve seen from it up to this point. There’s a lot more to go through, but that will be done. Really like the way you present what you do, and the fact that the editing part of it is such a small and simple no-brainer. What seems to hit me most is the mood you manage to create, and not just with your editing, but maybe more by the way you compose things and of course your subjects. That’s the fine art in here, in my opinion.
    Personnaly I hate to sit on the computer editing stuff, so I just don’t do that any more. I need to scan my film, but I have to say I hate that part as well, but that’s just something I got to do to get the stuff out nowadays. I prefere the darkroom and what’s going on inside that room, but that’s just me.
    Cool to see we more or less do the exactly same thing when editing snaps from the phone, give or take a few minor details.

    1. Hello, sir! Thanks first for taking the time to go through all my posts. I really appreciate that. I never really enjoyed the darkroom process, more the result of it, ha.

      1. Good morning, sir, and thank you for your reply.
        Well, I do understand just that at least to a point. I mean it can really get boring in there if you are really going deep into something. Anyway, we all got a bit different approach to everything and it’s great to have a look at how other people do their stuff. I must say I really like the way you compose and create. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  6. Hey Josh
    good of you to start this discussion re iPhone workflow. I’m looking forward to the next chapter, as I struggle integrating my (rare) phone images into my standard LR flow.
    iPhone-ography is something I continue to struggle with. On the one hand the ease of access of a phone in all circumstances is unbeatable, not even my dear Ricoh GR is with me all the time, let alone the M9. On the other though, the handling of a wafer-thin, too light object that I can’t wrap my hands around to properly stabilize it is what I find deeply disturbing, I just can’t adapt to it. But perhaps the main reason why I can’t use the phone as a real camera is that in my mind… it is not! The simple fact that there is an alternative workflow, let alone in-app presets, as opposed to importing in LR and doing the ‘usual stuff’, puts images I take with the iPhone in a separate mental compartment for me. One more reason to wait eagerly for your next post, if you will address this very point…
    (Snapseed vs VSCO vs Hipsta? Can’t say. VSCO is somehow too subtle, Snapseed I’ve not used for a while, Hipsta for me a reasonable tool if one picks the less extreme film packs. But I don’t like the ida of having a separate ‘phone style’ vs my usual ‘camera style’ visual signature…
    Thanks for putting the subject back on the table! Looking forward to the rest…

    1. Yeah, dealing with thought of the phone being a real camera is a difficult one. I try to think of it in terms of history. There was a time when people thought a Leica wasn’t a real camera. There are still people that don’t think the Ricoh is one. It is all relative to the mindset of the photographer. I originally shot with my iPhone for the first time when my M8’s battery died when I was out shooting with a friend years ago. I took my favourite photo of the day with my phone and after that I never thought of it as anything less than a capable camera. It takes photos, therefore it is! I know what you mean though, as before that I didn’t think of it as one. Later, I took a trip with nothing but my phone. It was a great experience and really opened my mind to what a phone could do if I got it out of my head that it wasn’t an actual camera. And, I also should say I edited those photos from the trip in Lightroom at my hotel. You don’t have to forsake your workflow because it is a phone. Import them as if it were a regular camera, why not! I did so for many years.

      1. Hey thanks Josh for your reply. I guess you are right, I need to go through my import routine instead of allowing Apple to force its images through the Photos app (which I hate but perhaps I shouldn’t…)
        The remaining question is handling (the physical kind). I just am uncomfortable with the way one must hold the phone, releasing the shutter with the volume button and all. Tapping on the screen button is anathema, by def you are rocking the ‘camera’ by bumping it that way. But perhaps issue nr 1 is that my brain still does not think it is taking a serious photo if the camera is not stuck to my right eye socket! πŸ™‚

    2. I really understand this Giovanni, I have an iPhone SE (though I’m sure this is an issue with bigger smartphones too) and holding it comfortably and being able to trigger the shutter isn’t the easiest thing. Using a more traditional camera grip makes a lot of sense IMO. I find it great for those moments when I went out not planning on taking a photo and suddenly see something I have to take a picture of, but I really don’t like it for when I want to go out and try and find something. It just feels a little too awkward for me.

      1. Very true, though the iPhone is a very capable camera (and still more so the new iPhone 7Plus), I don’t like to use it for planned outings. I tried iPhone cases with grips, but they are all less than ideal. Good for a quick snap but not a real camera!

        If anyone knows of a well made, working camera grip for the iPhone, perhaps with shutter button etc…. please tell us!

      2. It’s much better to use in portrait IMO. You can get a good grip that way and then using the volume button as a shutter. I just prefer landscape 90% of the time.

      3. I use it in portrait mode but set to square format, so I won’t regret the landscape orientation. Only way it makes me happy. Landscape is simply too awkward for me

      4. Agree with Frank, square format feels better. Hipstamatic is the app I toy with the most, but it becomes a totally separate medium comparred to my camera work. (Nothing wrong with that, except it is a distraction.)
        I still would like to blend invisibly the odd ‘just in case’ iPhone shot with the rest of my images. Looking forward to Josh’s second post….

      5. I usually use the camera in the vertical position with the lens at the top. But I mostly shoot in full frame vertical and crop it square in snapseed to start. That way I can put the square image anywhere on the full sensor view, adding and cutting out views that I do not want to be part of the final picture.

        *Bob Travaglione FoToEdge*

      6. Great to see you guys having a meaningful conversation here. I also use the iPhone SE and find it fine to shoot with. I generally shoot in portrait orientation as well. To be fair though, I don’t so much buy into the ‘it doesn’t feel like a real camera’ thing. Maybe just because I actually feel quite the opposite. To each their own though! For me right now it is just the widest lens I own, haha.

  7. Thanks Josh for sharing! While I’ve heard good things about Snapseed, I never got far with trying it as I prefer to use VSCO for editing photos on my phone. It was useful to follow your steps to see how it works though I’ll probably stick, out of habit, to VSCO for colour photos and Blackie for B&W (I love its film simulations) πŸ˜‰

    I don’t have a one-minute for editing rule. I probably spend way too much time toying with the settings. Even something as simple as the vignette effect on Blackie fascinates me with its impact on an image. If I were to process raw photos – which I don’t take much of these days as I don’t use my Fuji x100 most of the time – I go about it in a roundabout way. I’ve never used Lightroom, which I know is a popular and efficient tool. Instead I use Real Photo Processor (RPP) because I love its film simulations and I add some basic finishing touches in Photoshop before creating a jpeg. So each to his/her own – just like your approach with editing photos! πŸ™‚

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