How to edit photos

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That's especially true in our online world. We are bombarded with so much information that we've gradually attuned ourselves to ignore unattractive content. So in today's blog, we've decided to go picture crazy!

By Zafar Jamati

Pictures provide an easy way to convey information, giving the reader lots to absorb quickly. However, if the recent cats in tights trend is anything to go by, then I've certainly absorbed too much information.

For casual photography quality might not matter so much, but for your business it is essential. If you are going to showcase new products, portraits of your people and even events you visit or host, then your pictures need to come out looking great. Dark, blurry and grainy shots just wont cut the mustard.

Post production allows you to produce a professional looking images, however picture editing hasn't always been easy. Specialist functionality has been limited to expensive software, often with steep learning curves like the industry standard Adobe Photoshop.

In a push to make photography and editing easier, Adobe have offered the cheaper 'Lightroom' for photographers as an easier way to manipulate your photos. We'll be using Lightroom today to give examples.

There is also a fleet of free image editing software available with high end functionality that has garnered a cult following. From GIMP to Paint.Net, IrfanView and Chasys Draw IES, there is no need to spend a fortune to learn the basics.

So you've downloaded yourself a free image editor, now how do you go about editing those photos? Here's the key things you can do to make your pictures really pop:

Framing

In our previous post on photography we explained how to compose photos from aesthetically pleasing angles, also called the rule of thirds or golden section. It's not always possible to get the right composition however, and we can adjust this by simply using the crop tool to get rid of those annoying distractions.

Selective cropping


Here is a picture of Stone Junction's pumpkin carving extravaganza! The original image was taken face on and detail was lost in the sea of wall and foreground. The second image was selectively cropped to create more impact and highlight the details. It can now be used as a panoramic banner on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Exposure compensation

Exposure compensation is all about light. How well the subject is exposed to ambient or modified light can mean the difference between a usable and unusable image.

It's not always easy to do this in-camera, and more professional DSLR cameras will offer the functionality to change shutter speed and aperture to manually control exposure. However you can easily adjust exposure by changing the 'levels' slider.

The original exposure on the left and the adjusted FINAL image on the right
As you can see the original image was almost unusable. However adjusting the exposure levels as well as other small tweaks such as reducing highlighting - the pure white areas of an image, mean that the image now looks great. 

White Balance

Not all light was created equal. Understanding light temperature will allow you to avoid that horrible yellow cast! Natural daylight is rated at around 5,500 Kelvin. an incandescent light bulb is around 2,700K and a fluorescent tube is around 6,000K.

Too warm or too cool can make a big difference to the atmosphere created by an image

Contrast

The last time you bought a TV, the salesperson probably explained all about contrast ratios! Contrast is the perceived difference in luminance - the light and dark reflections that enter our eyes to make up an image.

Contrast brings a picture to life 

The result is that an under contrasted image looks weak and watered down. Boosting the contrast on an image will really make it pop.

By mimicking what our eyes see, rather than what the camera sensor records, adjusting the contrast can replicate a much more natural and life like image.

Saturation

After lighting, colour is the biggest consideration in photography. Most compact digital cameras are now very good at reproducing colour. However harsh lighting may often skew colour hues and more advanced users may want to boost certain colour channels for artistic effect.

Go with muted drama, or add a bit of fun with some colour.

A more muted look can be achieved by reducing saturation or going completely black and white to create a really dramatic atmosphere. Boosting saturation can bring a dream like vibrancy and add some fun to an image.

Caution is advised though, don't be heavy handed with colour, you don't want to end up looking like a red tomato!

Noise

What do you get when you pair a cheap smartphone camera with a dark nightclub? NOISE! And certainly not the auditory kind either. Image noise is the graininess in an image produced by the often tiny sensors in smartphones and digital cameras.

It is produced when the sensor is unable to replicate colour and brightness detail, and in an attempt to 'fill-in' pixels of information, noise is created.

Create a professional look by reducing noise

By eliminating noise from your images you can rescue those images taken in low light, creating a professional look. This is especially useful for portrait shots to enhance skin complexion.

Sharpness

The final word of the day is sharpness. The human eye has the extraordinary ability to focus in on a subject and seamlessly blur out nearby or background objects. This shallow depth of field means that the object in focus is pin sharp.

Strands of hair are much more distinguishable by adding sharpness

Expensive camera lenses can replicate the shallow depth of field very well. Cheaper cameras with non interchangeable lenses often lack this sharpness and must be adjusted in post production.

Have fun

Adding some small tweaks to your images doesn't have to be painfully long winded or expensive. With free software and a few useful tips you'll be editing professional looking images in no time!

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Zafar Jamati

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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