A good photo isn’t just the result of a good camera and a professional photographer.
You might be interested to know that the post-processing stage is a huge part of transforming your photos from something good into something amazing! But short of having training in photography, how do you go about making your photos look like all those drool-worthy ones you see on Pinterest?
I’m going to give you a quick overview on the equipment I use and some options for editing programs, then I’ll be sharing my 6 simple steps for touching up photos.
It’s possible to take a good photo, or even a great photo, using a point and shoot digital camera. But it’s much easier to take a great photo with better equipment.
I purchased a Canon DSLR in 2012, and now have a Canon Mirrorless as well. There are plenty of great cameras available these days which will result in amazing photos – see my camera gear guide for some ideas.
There are also a billion online resources that can help you with photography techniques. To start, take a look at my 10 travel photography tips.
I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop since I was a Graphic Design student, but there are plenty of other editing programs you can choose from.
Some people highly recommend Adobe Lightroom as it’s much cheaper than Photoshop. Apple Aperture and Corel Paint Shop Pro are also popular, all of which are included in this list of 10 Photo Editing Programs (that aren’t Photoshop).
For something super simple, you can also use Instagram to edit your photos! My tips below will also apply to this simple editing program, for more tips on using Instagram see my post on How to be an ace at Instagram.
how to touch up your photos
These tips are going to be focussed on using Adobe Photoshop, but the theory can be applied to any editing programs. Click on the images for larger versions.
Step 1. Straighten and crop the photo
I’m sure you’ve seen people upload photos which have you wondering whether the person is suffering from a bad case of vertigo. The horizon runs from the upper left to the lower right, and the subjects look as though they’re about to topple sideways out of the photo.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s near impossible to take a perfectly straight photo, but this is one of my major pet peeves as this problem is so easy to fix! Use the Crop Tool (1), and select Straighten (2), then draw a line along the horizon. The image will then straighten itself. Problem solved!
You can also crop out anything that you don’t want in the photo, or change the dimensions (I made this one square). Most editing programs will have a crop, rotate, or adjust tool that you can use for this.
Step 2. Adjust the exposure
Even professional photographers don’t get the exposure right every time, as photos will come out differently depending on the amount of available light. Head to Image, then Adjustments (3) and Exposure (4), then play with the settings (5) to brighten your photo if it’s underexposed, or darken if it’s overexposed.
In other programs, this might be a button labelled lightness, brightness, or highlights and shadows.
Step 3. Add contrast
My favourite way of adding contrast is using soft light blending mode. Duplicate your current layer by right clicking on it, then selecting Duplicate (6). With this new layer selected, change the blending mode to Soft Light (7). You can adjust the exposure of this layer as we did in step 2, and if the image is still too bright or too dark you can adjust the Opacity (8) to tone it down.
Other programs may have an option labelled contrast or intensity.
Step 4. Add saturation
I sometimes like to saturate the image a little as this makes the colours pop, but please don’t over-do it! No one wants to see fluro green grass, or bright orange faces – it will be obvious if you’ve gone too far.
Head to Image and Adjustments as we did in step 2, then select Hue/Saturation (9) to play with the settings (10).
Step 5. Change the focus
This is the key step in my opinion! I don’t mean changing how blurry the photo is – I want to highlight the point that your eye is drawn to. A simple way to do this is to darken the edges and lighten the centre (or subject) of the photo. In the above example I darkened the sky and the bottom right corner, then lightened the people standing in the centre, and the palace in the background.
Select the Burn Tool (11) and adjust the size and intensity of the brush (12), then draw along the edges of the photo to darken them slightly. I usually keep the exposure to around 5% and go over the edges a few times until it looks good.
To lighten the centre or the subject of your photo, select the Dodge Tool (13) and use it the same way as the burn tool, but draw over the subject instead of around the edges.
Step 6. Edit the colours
If your photo seems too blue or too yellow, or maybe you’d just like to increase the intensity of a sunset photo, you can edit the colours slightly.
Head to Image and Adjustments, and Colour Balance (14) and fiddle with the settings (15) until you like the way your colours look. I made my image more yellow to add warmth and more red to bring out the colours in the red roof and lights.
You can also add a colour filter over the top. Select the Fill Tool (16) and choose your foreground colour (17). Create a new layer (18) then click anywhere on your photo to fill it with your colour. Change the blending mode as we did in step 3 to Soft Light and the Opacity to between 5-15%.
And there you have it, a photo transformed from average to amazing in a matter of minutes! Remember to save your image as a separate JPEG, it’s good practice to keep the original just in case you need it later.
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