Saturday, November 19, 2011

How to Edit Photos

For the photos that I take for clients and some personal photographs, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. I haven't been fortunate enough to afford the newest full version of Adobe Photoshop CS5, but I definitely make do with what I have. But, if you are looking for free photo editing software, you should definitely check out GIMP.

There are a few simple edits that you can make yourself without relying on the auto-corrects that you editing software uses. I suggest making the edits yourself because it allows you to see what looks good, what works for you, and you can experiment to create your own editing style.

Here are some basic edits that you can make using any version of Adobe Photoshop Elements or CS version:

1. Adobe RGB
2. Levels
3. Color Curves
4. Hue and Saturation
5. Unsharp Mask
6. Cropping

These elements are what should be done before you even think about making any creative adjustments to your photo. Keep in mind that you can make those kind of adjustments while using each of these edits, but to keep the quality of the photograph at its highest you want to adjust it to the proper exposure.


This edit is common in Adobe Photoshop software, but you may have a harder time finding it in other photo editing programs. The purpose for converting your photograph to Adobe RGB is for printing purposes. For basic printing, the basic colors of light are used: RGB (Red, Green, and Blue), but for published printing in magazines you may be looking at the basic colors of ink: CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). I highly suggest for printing your own images from home, a local photo lab, or an online printing service that you make sure your photograph is in RGB, preferably the standard Adobe RGB, so that your colors will stay true to how you are seeing them.

Just a note, however, you also need to keep in mind that the color you see on your screen, no matter if you did convert to Adobe RGB, can differ slightly on paper. Monitors need to be calibrated to the printer and ink used to make prints. This is why many photographers do not offer a disk to customers of their photos and insist that images be purchased through their studio or the printing company of their choice.

I will say that for local or amateur photographers starting out that offering a CD of photos with images in Adobe RGB will be safe for clients to use to make their own prints. Keep in mind that you do not want to saturate, intensify the color, of your photos excessively because this could still ruin the prints.

Here's how you do it (screen caps from Adobe Photoshop Elements 9):

1. Open your image
2. Go to 'Image' (beside of Edit)
3. Go down to 'Convert Color Profile'
4. Choose 'Convert to Adobe RGB Profile'


Levels is a tool in editing that allows you to lighten a darkened image or darken an image with too much light. All of this has to do with exposure, the amount of light in the photograph. Ideally, you want all of your photos to be properly exposed before you go to edit them, but that is ideally, right? We all know that it's impossible to get the perfect shot every time.

Here is how you adjust your Levels (screen caps from Adobe Photoshop Elements 9):

1. Go to 'Layer' (beside of Enhance)
2. Go down to 'New Adjustment Layer'
3. Choose 'Levels'

Now, you will see something that looks like this:

The idea for Levels is that it should look like a mountain with the highest peak in the middle - that is a properly exposed photograph. But, because not all photographs can be perfect, you will need to tweak the darkness (black arrow) or lightness (white arrow) of the photograph to get it properly exposed. The important thing to remember is even if your photograph's levels do not resemble a mountain, you may still be properly exposed. You want to keep the arrows under the "mountain" at the edge of each side of the mountain, like pictured above. Only if your arrows do not meet the bottom edges of your mountain do you need to bring them in to meet. However, if that is the case, you can adjust it to your preference up to the mountain.


Color curves adjusts your color balance. The best thing I can suggest for working with color curves is to mess around with it and get a feel to how your movements affect the photo. Here is what it looks like:

Looking at this grid to adjust color curves might look confusing, but I am going to try to explain it the best that I can. You are working with the three visible dots in the middle of the line. Highest of the three dots controls the darkness/lightness of the Highlights in the photo. Click the dot and drag it upward to highlight them even more or drag it downward to darken them. The middle dot controls the Midtone Brightness, where if you click and drag it upward the photo gets brighter or drag it downward the photo gets darker. But, it also controls the Midtone Contrast. Once you have the Brightness set how you want it move the same dot to the left or right to change you contrast. Left is less contrast and right is more contrast. Finally, there is the lowest of the three dots on the left. This dot controls Midtone Shadows, where it follows the same up and down principle as the other edits.

There is no right way to have this look. The only suggestion I can offer to have a photograph with color balance that would match a properly exposed photo would be to have your line look like an 'S':

Here is how to get to it (screen caps are from Adobe Photoshop Elements 9):

1. Make sure you have the 'Background Layer' selected
2. Go to 'Enhance'
3. Go down to 'Adjust Color'
4. Click 'Adjust Color Curves'

Now, for those using the complete version of Photoshop you won't find Color Curves there. You will need to follow the instructions on how to find 'Levels' above in the 'New Adjustment Layer' and look further down to select 'Color Curves'.


Here is where you can adjust colors to make then more or less intense or change the color of something all together. Here is where getting creative can enter your editing process full force.

All adjustments to the left make the image darker or take away color while adjustments add color or make it brighter.

Hue adjustments change the overall color cast of the image, if left on 'Master', but you can choose different colors to look at to isolate the Blues in your image and adjust them to be Reds or any color you like.

Saturation adjustments either remove all the color from you image (Black and White) or intensify the colors in your photograph. It works the same as Hue, where if you leave it on Master the entire photograph changes or you can choose a specific color or set of colors to desaturate or saturate.

Finally, you have Lightness. You can dark or lighten the photograph. Master alters the entire photo, while choosing a specific color only changes that color.

Here is where you find it (screen caps are from Adobe Photoshop Elements 9):

1. 1. Go to 'Layer' (beside of Enhance)
2. Go down to 'New Adjustment Layer'
3. Choose 'Hue/Saturation'


For every photograph, you want it to look as crisp as possible. This is where Unsharp Mask comes in because it gives you the opportunity to adjust every aspect of the sharpness in your photo.

When working with your Photoshop document, you need to Flatten all the layers.

1. Go to 'Layer'
2. Go down and choose 'Flatten Image'

This makes all the image edits into one single image for you to sharpen. You will be working with three adjustments: Amount, Radius, and Threshold.

Amount (%) is the percentage of sharpening you want done to the photo from 1%-500%. The range to stay between would be 25%-125% for a photograph that will not look too grainy.

Radius is the amount of area that will be sharpened in any one place by an invisible border. An example would be that the pupil of the eye will be sharpened automatically, but without a larger radius you may not get the whole eye or the eyebrows included. I suggest a safe range for radius to be 0.1-1.5 so that your entire image is not consumed by sharpening.

Threshold plays off of the radius by including and excluding certain areas to sharpen. Lower values here include more sharpening of areas, while higher values exclude more areas. Threshold is more or less a tonal adjustment and need to remain no greater than 5. A rule of thumb is lower threshold should be used for inanimate objects and higher threshold for more detailed photographs, like those of people.


Once you've completed the items above (sometimes you can leave Unsharp Mask until after you crop) you can crop the image to the size that you need. I highly suggest that for printing images you crop them to the size that you plan to print the image. For example, if you are wanting to print a batch of 4x6 photos, you need to crop all the photos to 4x6 ahead of time. Images that are used for the internet can be cropped at whatever size you need them to be.

The important thing to keep in mind when cropping your photos is the PPI (Pixels Per Inch) because it DOES matter. Photos being uploaded to the internet or to sites like Facebook need to be changed to 100 PPI. While photographs that are being printed need to have more pixels per inch at 300 PPI. This DOES affect the quality of the image - you want to have more pixels when you are making prints.

As you can see, I have included in the screen cap above what cropping to a 4x6 at 300 PPI would look like on Adobe Photoshop Elements 9.

Here's how you get to those options:

1. Go to 'Image' (beside of Edit)
2. Choose 'Crop'

When putting in values for your width and height be aware of the orientation of your photograph because a 4X6 and a 6x4 are completely different depending on which box you place them in.

Overall, those are the basic steps to editing a photograph in any photo editing program, but I chose to show you examples with Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. Never feel overwhelmed with making adjustments to a photo because there is a golden rule when editing photography:


*Any screen caps that you may have had trouble viewing at home can be clicked on for a larger view of the photograph.

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