Despite being a qualified photojournalist, I’d have to admit I’m a bit slack when it comes to editing photos. To me it’s about as interesting as watching paint dry. Unfortunately I can’t escape editing photos in my work, so I’ve found some shortcuts that will quickly bring out the best in any photo and make it pop. That’s what I’m going to share with you this week.
First you need a photo-editing program. If you’re thinking Microsoft paint; slap yourself, that’s not going to cut it. The industry standard is Adobe Photoshop; which is sufficiently priced to cause serious hyper-ventilation! Adobe make a stripped down version called Photoshop Elements which I’ve used for ages. Elements will set you back about 100 bucks. The current version is CC; whatever that means. (I still use version 2 because I’m cheap, had it forever and not prone to change as it does everything I need it to.) Before you shell out some cash though there are some excellent free solutions.
From here on I’ll give you some basic tips to making your images look great online using Pixlr or via The Gimp.
First here’s a caveat; there’s not much magic you can do with a bad photo, so the first step is to make sure your photos are at least half decent. Sadly no program on this planet can help you with that! But assuming you’ve at least got a half decent image, let’s enhance it.
Improving your photos for the web is a snap but you need to make them smaller first. An average 10 megapixel camera takes pictures way too big for the web. A large picture on the web needs to be no more than 900 pixels high and wide. But usually you’ll find even 500 x 500 is too big. With my blogs I seldom go over 350 pixels wide! In the example I’ve used here which was taken with a prehistoric 8 megapixel camera the size was 2383×3057 pixels. So the first thing you should do is crop and then reduce the size of the image and save it with a new file name.
Carefully cropping an image is a good idea, likely there’s some junk in it you don’t want to feature, so why not get rid of it first? To crop the image (in Pixlr) use the tool shown to the right and click a corner of the photo and drag the rectangle overlay out to encompass the entire image you want to show. This can take a bit of practice but it’s not rocket science. The Gimp has a similar tool like this which is also shown to the right. You can stretch the rectangle using the blue handles at each corner in Pixlr. Again The Gimp is not much different. Small rectangles appear at each corner and you can move these to manipulate the size of the overlay. Once the rectangle overlay is in the right place in Pixlr, click anywhere outside the image and Pixlr will ask you if you want to apply the changes. Choose Yes. In The Gimp, from the Image menu choose the Crop to Selection item.
To resize an image in Pixlr simply go to the Image menu, select Image Size and pick a new size. If you have the Constrain Proportions checkbox ticked you only need to choose either the height or width and the program will take care of the other size. (you might need to use the mouse wheel or the magnifying glass icon to zoom up to the image now because it is smaller). Using The Gimp, choose Scale Image from the Image menu. While there’s no constrain check box as in Pixlr, there’s a little chain to the right of the width and height boxes. If you click it, the chain will appear broken, which is the equivalent of un-checking the constrain box in Pixlr. Hit the Scale button when done.
Next let’s get the color right. If using Pixlr, go to the Adjustment menu and select Auto Levels. This usually fixes any bad coloring. There are other settings here under the menu I’d recommend you play and get the feel of what you can do. For now though we’ll just keep it simple. The auto color function in The Gimp is a little more complicated as it gives you choices like Equalizing, White Balance, Normalize and more. Have a play. You get to these option from the Colors menu then the Auto item.
Finally you can make your images just pop out on the web with a very simple technique known as sharpening. Done sparingly it can really make a difference.
To make an image sharper on Pixlr, simply go to the Filter menu and select Sharpen. You’ll notice here more options too, again have a fiddle with them and see what you can do. Using the Gimp, you’ll find the sharpen function way cooler. You’ll find it hidden away under the Filters menu and the Enhance sub menu. What I really like here is the ability to control just how sharp you want the image. (I excitedly told my professional photographer son about this discovery recently and he just stretched back in the chair, hands behind his head, smiled serenely and informed me that the same function has been in the full version of Photoshop ‘like’ forever. Guess it shows not only my ignorance, but how much I’m not into photo editing; least I didn’t pay for it!)
Well I hope with such a brief look at photo editing you’ll have the confidence to improve drastically the appearance of your images and experiment further. Incidentally if anyone’s wondering where the photo of the tram was taken; it’s Christchurch New Zealand 2009 just prior to it all being wiped out from the earthquakes.