Introduction: Basic Photo Editing

In this instructable I'll go over how I edit my photos for my instructables and for the products in my Etsy store. I don't spend a ton of time doing it, but I ALWAYS do a little tweaking on my phone or computer. There are quite a few quick and easy ways to edit your photos and make them look great!

Whether you're using a cellphone, a point and shoot or a DSLR camera, it's always a good idea to edit your photos. Just a few simple tweaks can take your photos from meh to amazing!

With the amount of projects we get posted on the site every day, basic photo editing will help your projects stand out and get noticed. This is especially important if you want to get your project featured to the front page and end up in contest finalists. :D

P.S. Are you using a smartphone to take photos? Check out my How to Take Great Photos With an iPhone tutorial!

P.P.S. Curious about how to make a collage of images for Pinterest or other social media sites? Check out Penolopy Bulnick's ible Easily Create Long Pins for Pinterest.

Step 1: Start With a Good Base Photo

Above are four photos, all taken with the same camera and completely unedited.

Clockwise starting with top left:

  • indirect daylight (taken next to a window) - ohhhhhhhhh yeeeeeaaaaahhhh that's good
  • inside with overhead lighting (no flash) - see how washed out the colors are?
  • inside with overhead lighting (with flash on) - lots of sharp shadows and bright spots, colors are strange
  • inside with overhead lighting (no flash, no tripod, shaky hands) - eek! not even saveable.

See what a huge difference nice indirect sunlight makes?

Before you start photographing a project, make sure you think about how you want to photograph it. If you take bad photos, it will be harder to rescue them during editing. While you can always tweak the brightness, contrast and saturation, you probably won't be able to fix blurry photos, extremely dark photos or photos taken with a bright flash as easily.

Here are the basic rules I follow for taking photos:

  • natural, indirect sunlight is always best. Document during the day near a window if possible.
  • If you don't have a good indirect light, try using a light box or two to three diffused lights.
  • Try to avoid using the flash if possible - if you have the option on your camera use a flash diffuser instead.
  • If you're taking detailed and up close photos make sure to use the macro setting on your camera. This tutorial will walk you through it!
  • In you're shooting in low light or you have an older camera - use a tripod! Older cameras tend to not have any sort of stabilization feature, and low lighting is always where camera shake shows up the worst. I have both a tabletop tripod and standard tripod for this reason.
  • Clean up the area you're shooting in! Try to keep the surface you're working on and the wall behind it nice and clear (or at least organized) if possible. If not, take process shots in another location. You want your project to be the focal point.

Step 2: Photo Editing Tools I Recommend

There are several tools I've used over the years to edit my photos! Nearly all of these are free.

Mac:
iPhoto - this is my primary way to edit photos. I've been using it for-ev-er. A dependable but super basic photo editor - but great for color and brightness correction and other simple edits.

Windows & Mac:
Picasa - Slightly more advanced than iPhoto, but more clunky to use. Has stylistic features like adding text and overlays. Has a great batch resizing tool and other neat features.

Adobe Lightroom - This is my new favorite. Lightroom is absolutely amazing. You can buy a $10 a month plan and get Photoshop and Lightroom both - but I honestly have not even touched Photoshop.

iPhone:
Afterlight - Every single time I take a photo on my phone I edit it using this app! All sorts of advanced editing options, and even the filters and overlays are fantastic. Lots of creative frames.

iPhone & Android:
Adobe Photoshop Express - This app has a ton of auto-fix features that work pretty well, and you can also adjust things like brightness, contrast, hue and saturation on your own.

Online/Browser:
Pixlr - Awesome in browser editing! Comes in three flavors: Pixlr Editor (an Adobe photoshop style editor), Pixlr Express (make edits to color and brightness and also add frames and text - I use this the most!), or Pixlr-o-matic (an Instagram style filter/frame editor).

PicMonkey - similar to Pixlr Express but with a different offering of frames, fonts and overlays. Great for making collages and saturation/hue edits. Completely in browser so you don't have to download anything.

Step 3: Cropping Your Photos

Cropping your photos is a really fast way to improve them. You can crop out distracting items around the focal point of the photos or use it to zoom in on whatever you're photographing. It can even be used to completely change the composition of the photo!

When cropping, I tend to constrain the image in one of three ways:

  • as a square
  • as a 6 x 5 (these fit perfectly in instructables)
  • to the original dimensions

When cropping, keep in mind that you don't want to make the photo too small. Try to keep it at least 600px wide.

Step 4: Adjusting the Brightness/reducing Shadows

(The software I'm using in this step is iPhoto. :D)

Upping the exposure/brightness is a great first step to correcting. Since most of us make things inside, it can get pretty dim.

I like photos that are nice and bright but not neon or to the point of being so bright they go pastel.

When increasing the brightness, beware of blow-outs, which is what I call those huge white spots that can appear if there was anything shiny, light-colored, or metallic in your photos. Don't take it that far. :D

This is what I mean by blowouts:

Some photo editing programs like iPhoto and Afterlight have options to reduce the shadows - I highly recommend using that along with increasing the exposure if there was direct and strong light source around. It'll make the finished photo softer to look at.

Step 5: Saturation

If your photos looked more washed out than you remember or if upping the brightness made them go pale, saturation will fix that!

I always up the saturation in my photos - even for photos taken outside! Saturation deepens the colors in photos and makes them look more vibrant.

This is another part of the process you need to be careful with because it's easy to go nuts with it. I always try to remain faithful to the original colors (especially when photographing something I'm selling) and keep it from turning into a Dr. Suess book.

Step 6: Hue/Color Balance

Sometimes photos can have a strange color cast to them. This often becomes much more obvious after upping the saturation - if you have a problem, you'll see it!

Yellow and blue are the most common and are caused by indoor lighting. If a photo is looking yellow, up the amount of blue in the photos and vice versa.

iPhoto has a great interface for doing this, but it's easy in nearly every other photo editor, too.

This can be tricky to entirely correct in more basic photo editors, but it can be improved quite a bit!

Step 7: Contrast

Contrast is not something I use all that often often, but is extremely useful for black and white images as well as adding a bit of drama to color images. A higher contrast essentially means that the dark colors are darker and the light colors are lighter.

It's kinda like saturation and exposure had a baby, but a bit more complicated.

Step 8: Adding Text to Your Photos

In some cases, adding text to your photos is a great idea! It's huge on sites like Pinterest and Buzzfeed - it's hard to find a tutorial without flashy text on the photos. If you think you'll want to add text to the photos, keep that in mind while taking the photo and cropping it. It's best to leave a little empty/uncluttered space to add the text. You can also add contrasting text on top of a fairly busy photo - it's just trickier.

One thing that you can do if you really want to add text but don't have the clear space you need is add a slightly transparent overlay! PicMonkey has a good selection of geometric and more complicated shapes.

Both Pixlr Express and PicMonkey have some great text options - I use them exclusively for adding text. You can also add text using Picasa, but I found the interface to be really frustrating to work with. The upside to Picasa is that you can use fonts installed on your computer, while PicMonkey and Pixlr have a smaller selection to choose from.

A word on choosing a font - keep it easy to read! If you can't tell what it says immediately, pass.

Step 9: Use Collages!

Have a ton of teensy steps in one big step? Want to add lots of detail shots? Multiple shots of one item? Use a collage!

Above is an example from my double Rainbow Loom bracelet tutorial - using a collage with numbers or extra info is great for trickier projects.

Making collages is really easy with Pixlr, Picasa or PicMonkey! You might need to crop your photos into squares, depending on the collage. Sometimes that makes it easier!

Step 10: And Last But Not Least - Be Picky and Use Less Photos!

This comes with practice, but ultimately it's best if you can convey your project in a few really good and clear photos instead of eight million slightly blurred ones. Always try to whittle it down! I normally try to put no more than four photos on each step, and that's really only for complicated projects.

Ask yourself: what would I want to see to be able to reproduce this project? Keep those shots in, and get rid of the rest!

When I first started posting tutorials, I added photos of EVERYTHING. Pouring water into a pot, action shots of cutting or grating cheese, several photos of the same line of stitching because I just didn't know what to pick, etc. I still take a TON of photos for each project (sometimes up to 80 for one recipe! Hundreds if it's a cat project - see above! hahah) but I delete far more than I ever post.

You have a limited amount of time to catch a person's interest, so make sure you've got a few great shots on each step to do so!

Comments

author
lughnatic made it! (author)2014-05-13

Here are two more free but also open source programs.

LightZone was the former commercial editor LightCraft that also handles RAW files.

It has been described as being similar to Lightroom.

LightZone http://lightzoneproject.org/

Gimp has been a free Linux distro that is available for other OS's.

Gimp http://www.gimp.org/

author
wsround made it! (author)wsround2014-05-13

I have used Gimp for years and love it

author
jessyratfink made it! (author)jessyratfink2014-05-13

LightZone looks pretty nice, thanks! Never head of that one before. :)

author
hettye made it! (author)2014-10-09

Very comprehensive and useful. Thank you for the links embedded. I am shooting photos for my web site and this is exactly what I needed. One question, do you have a suggestion for close ups of metal, shiny objects? Hot spots being the main problem. Anyway. Thanks for the I'ble

author
charlessenf-gm made it! (author)charlessenf-gm2017-03-15

"close ups of metal, shiny objects"

Shiny objects pick up REFLECTIONS of everything - including LIGHT SOURCES - esp Point Light sources. Even your camera - and lens.

Can you cover the area with an off-white sheet? Object, camera & You? This should diffuse the light sources evenly.

You will still need to adjust your angle and may want to pull your camera back and use the OPTICAL zoom to get the 'close-up' while avoiding a reflection from the camera lens.

Reflections are necessary to help define the shape of the object - all you need do is eliminate those that are DISTRACTING.

author
charlessenf-gm made it! (author)2017-03-15

I use the free Infranview and a real old PSP,exe I started with twenty years ago - and am still learning how to use. If you have MS Word, you can adjust phots in that program (basics). As well, you can do some editing with Paint (comes with almost every PC)

Light snow on Petals 028.bmp
author
Beekeeper made it! (author)2017-03-04

Hi there

I am just about to write and post my first Instructable and have tried to upload my photos but only 3 or 4 went through whereas I have 10 or 12. The average size of my photos is 3MB which I suspect is too large. Please can you tell me what is the ideal size for an Instructable?

Thanks

author
Sonibabe555. made it! (author)2017-03-02

Your tips are most useful and practical! I now feel much more confident in my photo editing skills. Thanks heaps!

author
KVSBUNNY made it! (author)2017-01-30

great I'ble! My current woe, however is not addressed. A number of photos that I uploaded last night, keep coming up (in my draft) upside down, or sideways! What gives? Also I can't get the photos in the order I want, even though I individually uploaded photos. This is happening even if the order I want them in, was the order in which they were taken. Help!

Signed, frustrated~ KVSBUNNY

author
Sharpest32 made it! (author)2017-01-24

Great post with lots of useful information! Thanks for sharing!

author
AdarshK37 made it! (author)2016-10-05

Nice n informative... allow me to follow w u on fb

author
Fathomlis made it! (author)2016-09-24

Great tips, so useful! Thanks!

author
Okok made it! (author)2014-05-13

A great program for photo editing is paint.net (not the paint that comes with Photoshop).
It's free, available at softonic and other sites, works with layers and is a simplified version of Photoshop.

author
KannyDirby made it! (author)KannyDirby2016-04-11

I'll second that. Paint.NET is one of my favorite quick and easy image editors. It operates similarly to the old-school Microsoft Paint program that used to come preinstalled on Windows PCs (...maybe it still does?). Only this comes with far more features and functionality, without a complex UI. It's simple and very easy to use with just the right amount of tools. Best of all, it's free! Perfect for beginners who are just learning the basics yet also very handy for the professional that just needs a simple tool for those quick adjustments. Here's the official site, http://www.getpaint.net/ :)

author
Simran Sharma made it! (author)2016-01-13

nice tips

author
AdrieSentosa made it! (author)2015-12-29

Well, i hope i could get used to doing it.
Thanks for sharing this great tips dude!

author
DIYmal made it! (author)2015-12-13

Thanks soooooo much for this! I now kow how to edit my own photos!

author
taifur made it! (author)2015-12-08

Excellent

author
KarishmaM2 made it! (author)2015-10-14

Thank you for sharing this info. For years I thought I might be over saturating or over-hueing images.

author
Jessie Marie made it! (author)2014-08-15

Thanks for the great tips! :)

author
assemblyrequired made it! (author)2014-06-09

People seem to be recommending Gimp, and I agree it is a fantastic tool. However, user be warned- it is open source, so it has a bit of a learning curve to it. I was able to pick it up quickly due to experience in Photoshop CS6, which helped. Still, there are tutorials available online for it that should help. Once you get familiar with how it acts, Gimp is a fantastic tool.

author
IdahoErnest made it! (author)2014-06-07

GIMP is a open source image manipulation program that rivals Photoshop and is ported for windows, mac, and is in almost all linux distributions. It edits RAW and almost all other format images.

author
Kaiven made it! (author)2014-05-15

Never even crossed my mind that people edit photos in their Instructables. Wow. I'll have to do that next time I make something.

author
heltones made it! (author)2014-05-15

#10 is by far the most important, and not just for Instructables, but in all other aspects of social media and photo albums. Thank you for including it. Maybe it could have even been worth mentioning first, as telling the story is paramount, and it's easy to waste time editing photos that won't end up being used/shown if the selection process doesn't happen first.

Nice work!

author
cjirawat made it! (author)2014-05-14

Thanks for giving the good idea

author
rdy4trvl made it! (author)2014-05-13

Just curious what software are you using in Step 4. Well done! Thanks

author
jessyratfink made it! (author)jessyratfink2014-05-13

Should have noted that, whoops! That's iPhoto. :)

author
ElectroFrank made it! (author)2014-05-13

A very useful free viewer/editor program is Irfanview, from Irfanview.com

author
thecapper made it! (author)2014-05-13

Good stuff all around. Thanks Jessy! I have Photoshop, but find I use IrfanView when I just want to resize or crop an image. It's a pretty simple interface.

author
grrr21 made it! (author)2014-05-13

Wow - this is why you're employed by Instructables! Great job!

author
lbrewer42 made it! (author)2014-05-13

Anyone wanting a serious photo/graphics program that is very user friendly compared to the gimp of Adobe needs to look into Ulead Photo Impact (now owned by Corel). I include the Ulead name b/c there is another program out there by the name Photo Impact. I have been using it since 1998 and always have people ask me how I do my pics. It is pretty much self explanatory when you play with the buttons (like adding frames and text).

For example, when you want to add a frame, you click the frame icon and a window pops up with very plainly laid out options for colors, 3D vs 2D, fill colors, shapes, shadow etc. It is all very common sense.

When adjusting colors like white balance - you click the icon and it opens a window with 9 layed-out-on-a-graph pics of which one you want to choose... OR... you can hit "Smart" and it allows you to click on the color in the pic you want to be white (with real time preview ).

I have found very little I cannot do with it - even compared to the big boys like the Gimp and Adobe, this one is much preferred by me..

The price? On ebay, last I looked, the newest version will set you back a whole 20.00 with shipping - and Corel was selling it recently (might still be) for around the same price. Don;t let the lack of cost fool you. I do use it professionally and believe it is superior to anything out there.

Oh - its Windows only - but I use it on my Mac by running Parallels (or you could us ethe free option of using Apple's boot camp to boot your machine in Windows). In fact this program is the only reason I even have Windows anymore.

Sample pic included - very simple to do - never read a manual:

154_Gayner_W-Magnet_OPT438.jpg
author
Ninzerbean made it! (author)2014-05-13

That idea about text on a transparent overlay is brilliant. Thank you for sharing, this is a great 'ible.

author
Tarun Upadhyaya made it! (author)2014-05-12

Jessy ... I am so happy to see this ible. This is so helpful and what is so exciting for me that there are already many things in this ible that I follow, glad to know I am doing it right :)

author
emilyvanleemput made it! (author)2014-05-12

This is a really helpfull ible Jessy, I'll surely use it!!

author
rickyeatough made it! (author)2014-05-12

Great tutorial! Definitely going to follow this when making new Instructables!!!

author
lindarose92 made it! (author)2014-05-12

This is extremely useful! I have a lot to learn from this instructable and I MUST be picky :D I will keep all of these things in mind next time...!! :)

author
Muhaiminah Faiz made it! (author)2014-05-11

Cool! perfect ible for all the instructablers! Thanks sooo much for sharing ^_^

author
Jan_Henrik made it! (author)2014-05-11

Very cool!!

author
sunshiine made it! (author)2014-05-11

Would like to learn layering as well.

author
sunshiine made it! (author)2014-05-11

Again thanks so much for sharing another great instructable. I too would love to learn transparent overlays. I recently tried but need more practice to learn how. Have a beautiful week Jess!

sunshiine

author
Penolopy Bulnick made it! (author)2014-05-11

Very nice! I need to learn how to do transparent overlays :)

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Bio: part of the Instructables Design Studio by day, stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @makingjiggy to see what i'm working on! ^_^
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