If you're a professional or a hobbyist, chances are you'll need to edit your photos, whether it's to make slight color adjustments like taking out red eye or bigger changes like removing objects from the photograph. Having the right software to make these adjustments to your images is paramount, but having an understanding of the features you'll be using most is just as important. This article will cover tips to enhancing your images quickly and easily so you can get the best possible results.
Even with high-end cameras there will most likely be some sort of post-production that needs to be done for your images. Whether you got the perfect position but your photo was badly underexposed, a bird accidentally photo-bombed your beautiful composition or you just need to straighten your photo due to some hastily snapped shots; post-production on your photos can make something go from good to great. Even photos that you may not think are that great after you take them, can be cleaned up, polished and turned into presentable pieces.
With the recent release of the Adobe Creative Cloud, the powerful image editing software Photoshop has become more affordable for professionals and hobbyists alike. Since Photoshop is the most widely used photo editing tool out there these tips will be focused in Photoshop, however they can be applied in other tools like Lightroom, which is a highly focused version of Photoshop used strictly for photo manipulation.
Tone Your Photographs
The brightness and contrast adjustment features might be all your photo needs to really make it pop. By simply adjusting the contrast in your image, you can turn a dull, underexposed photo into a livelier photograph that has deeper shadows and brighter colors. You can also use the brightness slider in conjunction with contrast to further fine-tune your image into something that looks much more natural.
Most image editing applications feature a brightness and contrast adjustment feature so even if you aren't using Photoshop, you can still adjust your bright, dark, and mid tones easily. It's important to note that even a very small change in contrast can have a big effect on your photo, so adjust the contrast a little at a time. If your photograph needs more significant color corrections, you can also tweak the exposure, hue/saturation, luminance or even adjust the white balance (if you shoot in camera raw) to achieve a better overall color balance for your photographs.
When making various adjustments to your photograph, whether it's tweaking the brightness and contrast or the color balance, you should be working with adjustment layers, and not making the changes directly to the image. That way if you decide you aren't happy with one of your edits, you can simply delete that layer and start over, which means you aren't making destructive changes to your photograph that can't be undone.
An adjustment layer will affect any other layer that is under it, and you can hide or show it to see if the change you made improved your image. You also have the ability to tweak the opacity of each adjustment layer giving you more control over your layer. Some photo editing tools like Lightroom work non-destructively by default, but if you aren't running Photoshop you may want to check to see if your application has a comparable feature.
Build the Composition in Post
Establishing a different composition for your image can completely alter the feeling of a photo. Just because you snapped your image at a certain distance and at a certain angle doesn't mean you're stuck with that. Since newer digital cameras shoot incredibly high resolution, you can completely control the composition in post without losing much overall quality.
For example, you might take a photo of a bouquet of flowers and then decide afterwards to crop it down in post so you can make it look as if the original photo was centered on just one specific flower. By straightening a photo, or purposely adding a slight tilt or simply cropping the subject differently, you can create a stronger focal point in your image.
Reshape Elements in an Image
If you've ever seen a portrait in a magazine, chances are that image has been touched up quite a bit to fix slight blemishes and even make the model appear slimmer than they actually are. A feature in Photoshop that is great for moving pixels around in an image is the Liquify tool, allowing you to quickly and easily make shape adjustments to portraits to enhance appeal. In the image above, you can see just how significant an effect the liquify tool can have on an image. Keep in mind that it can be very easy to distort pixels to the point that destroys the image, so do not over do the amount of shaping that you do.
Remove Unwanted Elements
There may come a time when editing a photo where there is something distracting from the intent of the image or just doesn't make the photo very flattering, like a dumpster in the background or something as simple as a lamp post. In Photoshop there are a wide range of tools that can help you do this.
A quick workflow for removing objects in Photoshop is to use the Stamp Tool to get a bulk of the object removed. Then come back with the Spot Healing Brush or just the Healing Brush to blend in the area where the object once was with the rest of the photograph. The healing brushes work by sampling nearby pixels and distributing them over the area that you paint, making it a seamless transition.
However, depending on your photograph, you might find that in some areas there are some unexpected results from these brushes. Just remember to perform all of your healing adjustments on a new layer so you can always erase or start over in areas where Photoshop might've not given you the desired results. The end result is that the viewer would never realize there was a lamp post or trash can in the image.
Next time you have a photograph you think could benefit from a few touch-ups in your favorite photo editing software, try implementing some of these tips to get a better result. To learn more about the powerful photo manipulation features in Photoshop and other image editing tutorials, check out the free Beginner's Guide to Image Editing in Photoshop. For more advanced photo editing techniques check out this in-depth tutorial on Camera Raw Digital Darkroom Techniques in Photoshop.