At a moment when most photo apps are about adding things—filters, hashtags, a multiplicity of viewers—Snapheal, refeshingly, is about taking things away. The ultrasimple photo editor app for Mac ($30 in the Mac App Store, with the price temporarily slashed to $12) lets you "heal" your photos with just a few clicks. And as a recent partnership with the the photographer Luke Sharratt shows, a simple photo editor allows a kind of magic into the snapshot as well.
Snapheal’s first insight is that, on some level, all of us want to be photo editors—we may just lack the chops (or funds) for a deep dive on software as intricate as Photoshop. "We combine simplicity and power," says Natalie Kolesnik, product manager at Macphun, the Kiev, Ukraine-based company behind Snapheal and a number of other apps. "Even Granny or a child can use it."
The second insight of Snapheal is that on some level, in our device-driven era, all photography wants to be simpler. If you’re looking at an image on a 4-inch iPhone screen, then obviously, on some level, you simply can’t process as much information as if you’re looking at an 8.5 x 11-inch print in an art gallery. The whole drive of Internet publishing and sharing is for a greater number of simpler things, and it makes sense that as photography is shared more widely we would want to reduce the friction involved in visually grasping a photograph—its essential subject and meaning. "Healing" a photograph not only can make a composition more pleasing; it can make it more intelligible to someone who may only be scanning across it in a densely clogged photostream.
The startling ease of Snapheal’s use should make people even more cautious about accepting photographs they see online as a representation of things as they actually are. (Snapheal allows you to share photos in a variety of ways, though it's emphatically not a social network like Instagram, says Kolesnik.) Photography’s claim on the truth, long eroding, has become even looser.
Snapheal, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, also offers lessons in the globalization of startups. Startups like hers are rare in Ukraine, Kolesnik admits. And indeed, Macphun has no interest in the Ukrainian market. (Macs aren’t hugely popular in Ukraine, she says; she was recently shocked to learn a Ukrainian friend actually used her app.) With skilled homegrown engineers and an English-savvy sales and PR force, Snapheal has nonetheless risen to be consistently in the top ten photo apps in the Mac Store—often rising to the top three. "The main part of our users are from the USA and western Europe," she says—France, England Italy, and Spain. Canada and Australia also have solid user bases. There are roughly 50,000 users in all, she said. The success abroad has led the company to contemplate opening an office in San Francisco this year; an iPad app may soon follow.
As most of the photographs above show, Snapheal was initially developed as a sort of utility. Wipe out that annoying tourist who got in the way of your beach view! Finish the work Accutane started, with the magic wand of ones and zeroes! Only when Kolesnik started reaching out to professional photographers and convinced Sharratt to embark upon his whimsical series involving levitation and flight did the team begin to realize that their app's potential went beyond a mere utility.
"It’s not too difficult to create something really special," Kolesnik says. "I think Luke Sharratt shows that you need just a little bit of inspiration."