07 October 2009

Photography Tips - Basic photo editing

In order to make the absolute best of the photos taken of your crafts it is important not to ignore this tweaking stage.  Tweaking isn't cheating, it's not about making it deceptively better than it is in real life, just  a few adjustments to allow the subject to have as much impact as if it were in front of you.

I imagine my products on a beautiful white shelf in a clean, minimalist (and succesful) gallery, all ready to be wrapped, packed and paid for.  Of course your equivalent to my white gallery shelf may be an ecclecticly dressed window display in an intimidatingly 'on trend' vintage shop but hopefully you get my point!  You've got to convey all of this atmosphere in a 2D image...  so a little help is needed sometimes.

The following are just a few very basic tools that you will come across whilst editing your images and the ways in which they can improve an image.  I'm addressing this post to people who have very limited experience of photo editing, I will hopefully be able to expand on these areas or look at specific editing software in future posts.

I have used the basic windows photo gallery which I got as standard with vista just to show you don't need expensive editing software.  There is a plethora of free editing software available to everybody on the internet if you don't have this or something similar available to you already installed.  I'll list a few at the end of this post.

Basic Photo Editing

I took this picture this morning in order to show just how a few tweaks can make a big difference (in no time at all!)  This is the untouched image, as seen in my windows photo gallery.  It was taken on a very dull and wet day using natural daylight coming in from my back door and a tripod  - it really needs some help, to be honest I wouldn't normally take pictures in such low light.  Remember you cannot fix a blurred image no matter how hard you try so if light is low you must use a tripod, or wait until you have more light.

Before editing any photo I would advise saving a copy of it, most software has a revert to original option but if your unsure just save a copy.


Don't underestimate what an impact cropping can have on an image!  First of all I am going to crop this image to a square, which is preferred for many online shops.  It will also help to have all your best images saved in a standard format.  this needs to be considered when taking your shots as otherwise cropping square will reult in having to compromise the image.  As I knew I'd be cropping this image I wasn't too concerned with the fact a bit of my finger is in it and also a bit of the back ground in the top right (very lazy, but it helps to prove my point)

If you are using windows photo gallery like me just click on the 'fix' tab to start to edit your photos.  The crop tool in other software may look like a pair of scissors or a knife.  Clicking it brings up a rectangle that can be pulled  around and stretched to your desired final image.  Some software has predetermined shapes such as 8 x 10, 5 x 7 or even CD Cover or Square.  If you want all your images to have the same format then I would advise using these as opposed to guessing it by eye without the proportions constrained.

Here it is having been cropped, the composition now has a certain dynamism.  some editing software will allow you to rotate the image which can have a profound affect on improving the composition.

Brightness & Contrast

This is almost always worth adjusting the brightness and contrast of an image, otherwise your image may look dull when it is on the web.  On alot of software available there is an option to autofix - which sometimes does the job great but in other cases it also adjusts the white balance and colours often leaving you with a blue tinged or unnatural image.  For this reason I always make the adjustments myself so I hopefully don't end up with a selection of images that look like they were taken in different locations when they are sat next to each other in an online gallery.  Once again I'm going for consistency.

Most have a slider bar to push from left to right to increase brightness and another for contrast, don't be tempted to push them too far, you don't want the image to look fake.  A white background would be lovely but not if it makes your object impossible to see!  I use both in tandem until the image looks the best it can without losing any detail.  Some more advanced software has a more detailed approach where you can vary highlights, midtones and shadows and also the red, green or blue colour channels which are called levels.  It is worth experimenting with these too if you have them available.


The above image looks a little too vibrant for my liking as the brightness tool aslo increases the intensity of the colours - I like the light background though so all I want to do is slightly tone down the colour.  I can achieve this by adjusting the saturation, or the colour intensity.  I only did this a fraction, as my bead kits are very bright and I don't want to lose that quality from the image.  You can see the final image below is just that little bit more natural looking.

The hue will change the overall colour of the picture and as I'm not going for an Andy warhol style collection of images I'll leave that one alone.   It is a useful tool for other purposes and particularly if your application allows you to select certain areas to adjust individually.

Another useful colour alteration that some software will have are white balance or colour cast, where it allows you to point out a part of the image that should be white, it then restores it to white and all the other colours will also change accordingly.  This is really important for removing the orangey cast from a tungsten light bulb and most used by people not using natural lighting.  Be careful you are not misrepresenting the colours of your items when using this tool.

Here is the before and after picture - it took minutes to do this and in my opinion was well worth it!  The background is not pure white but it is bright enough considering how dull the original photo is!

Free editing software currently available to download.  Please could you comment if you know of others and I'll add them to the post.  I would also be interested to know how you think these compare to the mighty Adobe photoshop or Elements - is it worth the money?

Gimp - good I use this alot, for much more than basic editing.
Picassa - I find it a bit too much of a halfway house but lots of people swear by it.
? anymore to add ?

I hope you found this useful, I love hearing your comments so don't be shy!