Essential Photo Editing

A Few Simple Things You can Do to Greatly Enhance Your Pictures

Lightroom Before and After
It only takes a few extra steps to turn your average photos into extraordinary ones. © S. Chastain

Digital cameras have come a long way. The pictures you take now are so much better than they were ten or even five years ago, and you may not think you need to do any post processing, or out-of-camera photo editing, before you print or share your photos. But there are just a few, simple things you can do to make those good photos so much better. These actions don't require much time or technical knowledge, but can greatly enhance your pictures.

Cull the Bad Shots

Digital cameras allow us to take lots and lots of pictures, but that does not mean we have to keep them all. I confess--I used to keep every shot no matter how lousy it was. Thank goodness I got past that mental block! The first thing you should do after you take the pictures off your camera is to give them an initial review and mark the bad ones in some way. Most software includes a rating or tagging function to help you do this. Then just get rid of those bad pictures!

There may be one or two photos that are technically bad, but you see some potential there for a special effect or art treatment. Go ahead and flag those in some way and keep them for later experimentation. And if you just can't bring yourself to delete the bad shots completely, mark them hidden, or mark them for later review, but please don't show the world every single shot you took from a particular event.

Ensure Proper Orientation

If you turned your camera properly when taking the shot, rotation is usually not something you should have to worry about in post processing.
Most modern cameras will have a rotation sensor which writes a tag into the file to tell your software how to display the photo. However, there are some situations when you will find your photo is not rotated properly, and you can read the following article which addresses this:

Auto Balance and Tone

Sounds complicated, but if you can click one button, you can do this. Almost every photo editing software package, including the free ones, offers a one-click "Auto Tune" function. It may be labeled Smart Fix, Quick Fix, Auto Adjust, Auto Tone, Auto Color, Auto Balance, I'm Feeling Lucky, or something else. Whatever it is called, it's a good idea to always click that button and see what it does to your picture. Sometimes it will be an improvement and sometimes it won't, but it only takes a second or two to give it a try. If it doesn't improve anything, just undo the change and be happy that you got the settings right when you took the shot!

    Remove Red Eye

    Today's photo software makes it so simple to remove red eye--there is no excuse for not doing it. There is nothing I hate seeing more than shared photos with red eye in them. Some software does not even require you to select the red eyes. Just click one button, and it finds the red eyes and fixes them automatically. At most you will have to click on each red eye in the picture, or drag a selection around the red area, but removing red eye is no longer the chore that it once was.

    Crop and Straighten

    Not every photo will need cropping, but sometimes a simple crop can make a big difference on the impact of a photo. When taking pictures, especially in action situations, we don't always think about the best way to frame a shot, or whether we have employed the rule of thirds for the best composition. But we can take care of that later with a simple crop. Cropping your photos before sending them off for printing is also important, as you can get unexpected results if you don't crop for the specific aspect ratio of the prints you will be getting.

    Crooked horizons are another pet peeve of mine, and most photo software makes it a very simple thing to fix. Often the straightening function is combined with the crop tool so you can take care of both tasks at the same time.

    Resize for the Audience

    While I always encourage capturing the maximum resolution that your camera allows, I don't advocate sharing those multi-megapixel photos online. All that does is waste bandwidth and annoy people. But most of the time, you only need the full-size pictures for printing and perhaps some future purpose that hasn't been revealed yet. Learn how to reduce the size of the pictures you will be sharing or using online.

    But don't be too skimpy… receiving tiny thumbnails is almost as annoying as getting huge pictures. 1600 pixels for the longest edge is a good viewing size for most users with high-speed connections. If you know your recipients are on a low speed connection, have restricted internet access, or usage caps, you'll want to cut it down to about 600-800 pixels.

    The Next Level

    You don't have to stop there, of course! If you have the time and inclination, there is so much more you can do to improve and have fun with your pictures. Just start browsing this site for loads of tips and ideas. My resource on Quick Photo Fixes is a great place to start!

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