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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

DSLR Made Easy - Part 8 [Basic Photo Editing]

*DISCLAIMER: I know the title says "DSLR Made Easy - Basic Photo Editing" but that doesn't mean that these tips only apply to DSLR photography. I'm just keeping it as part of the already existing DSLR Made Easy series for ease of storage/recall of information. SO! Even if you only use a Point & Shoot camera [those are very powerful machines; you shouldn't be made to think otherwise!], you might be able to learn something from reading these basic editing tips. They apply to all digital photography, regardless of the type of camera it came from.

That said, read on!

Basic Photo Editing Tips:

The editing programs that I use in my normal work flow are Adobe Lightroom 2 [LR] and Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 [PSE7]. I got Elements first and then 5 months later, got LR. The last 3 months have been almost 100% [99.7%] LR based, BUT – last week I had a revelation. I realized that this blessed lady named Rita at CoffeeShop created action sets for ELEMENTS! I had previously tossed around the idea of someday getting CS4 [ok, it’d probably be CS10 by the time I’d be ready to buy full blown Photoshop.] The main reason why I wanted it was to use the amazing [and often times free] Action sets from people like Pioneer Woman and others I found by googling “Free Photoshop Action Sets.”

I was under the impression that you had to have the full PS suite in order to use action sets.
While that might be true for the majority of the action sets out there, it’s not true for ALL of them. I spent an entire day [or two] downloading Rita’s Elements action sets and playing around with them. I haven’t even begun to discover everything they can do – I’ve got lots of playing around ahead of me!

That said – I know there are some people out there who don’t want to invest money into an editing program. There are plenty of free options out there. I haven’t used Picasa at all, but I’ve heard it’s quite good, and free! That’s a google product. Apple has it’s own iPhoto program. But, I know nothing about that because I haven’t played around with it at all; I have a PC.

My PC has Vista, and has this program built in called Windows Photo Gallery. If I’m looking at a thumbnail of a photo in say – My Pictures, and I double click on it, the default program that will open it is Windows Photo Gallery. On my parent’s computer which has XP, they don’t have this program. So, if they wanted to do editing, they’d have to explore Picasa or another free program they could download online.

Me, however – before I decided to buy PSE7, I used Windows Photo Gallery for several weeks to edit my photos. It’s a pretty great program, for being built into my computer.

It has a lot of the same functions as the photo kiosks at Walmart or Target do, without the pressure of people waiting for you to hurry up and finish with the machine.

These editing tips might be excruciatingly elementary for anyone who has done some major editing before. For people with PS/PSE or experience with Picasa/iPhoto or any of the other editing programs out there, you know this stuff backwards and forwards.

But, not everyone uses them or knows what these terms mean. There are lots of people that use Point & Shoot cameras that could benefit from giving their photos a little tweak here and there, from the programs right on their own computers.

So, that said, I wanted to talk about a few of the most basic edits you can do to your photos. Almost every single photo, no matter who it’s taken from, can be made better through edits of some kind. In the digital age, the options are endless. Completely endless. Over editing is often a fad, and sometimes a problem, but because photography is art, it’s subjective. What you like, someone else may not, and vice versa. That’s part of the beauty of it.

Anyway, I want to talk about Brightness and Contrast, about Saturation, and about Color Temperature. With these edits, you can bring life into even the most bland photo.

All of the photo samples I’m showing you, I edited in Windows Photo Gallery. In like 5 seconds. With PS/PSE etc, I could have done much more and made many more improvements. But that defeats the purpose of having a tutorial for people who maybe only have the most basic editing software at their disposal.

When I open Windows Photo Gallery [either by double clicking on my photo, or right clicking it and going to where it says “Open with…” and finding Windows Photo Gallery from my options.], a window opens my photo. There are options across the top: File, Fix, Info, Print, Email, Burn, Make a Movie, and Open. The only one I am concerned about is the Fix option.

I click on Fix and on the right side of the screen comes the options: Auto Adjust, Adjust Exposure, Adjust Color, Crop Picture and Fix Red Eye.

Crop and Red Eye are easy to use and pretty self explanatory. They both give me little descriptions about what to do.

Auto Adjust basically applies an adjustment to your image, improving the things the computer thinks might need tweaking. I’ve found in my experience that sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it makes the photo too dark, too boring, weird colored etc. You can apply it, see what you think, and just hit Undo if you don’t like what you see.

That leaves us with two other controls: Exposure and Color.

The Adjust Exposure option has two different parts to it. If I click on Adjust Exposure, two sliders open: Brightness and Contrast. Those are the two parts that make up this edit option.
[If you are using a different program, the way to find Brightness and Contrast will be different. But each editing program you use will have Brightness and Contrast sliders there. PSE does, as does LR. So you can made these edits to your own images, you just have to find where the sliders are found.]

Brightness makes your photo [ready for this revelation??] brighter or darker. Haha, I know – you know that already. So, if I accidentally take a photo that’s way too dark, I can slide the Brightness slider to the right and make my photo a little big brighter. If I misjudge my exposure and have a photo that is too blown out/too bright, I can slide the Brightness control to the left and darken my photo a little bit.

Contrast means to emphasize the differences. Well, that’s the definition google showed me. In your photos, it means how much difference is there between the light and dark parts in your photos. A low contrast photo has little difference, everything just kind of blends together. A high contrast photo has bright light parts and dark shadows/dark parts. In my humble opinion, I like a little bit of contrast in my photos. I almost ALWAYS bump up the contrast slider a little bit.

[The difference between the photo on the left and the photo on the right is ONLY increased contrast. I took the slider, moved it pretty dramatically to the right, bumping up the contrast dramatically. The result [in my own subjective opinion] is a more visually interesting, captivating photo. Because there is no skin in this photo, there's not much to distort. Snow looks great with increased contrast because it makes it more dramatically white. So for this photo, contrast is a very good thing.]

The next edit option says Adjust Color. If I click on this, three different sliders are revealed: Color Temperature, Tint and Saturation. Again, these controls are found in every editing program you can find, from free ones all the way up to full blown PhotoShop – the $600+ versions. They work the exact same way.

Color Temperature is basically a slider where to the left, it puts more cool colors/blues into your photo, and to the right, it puts more warm/orange colors into your photo.

The time this is useful is if your White Balance is thrown off. [I guess I should maybe talk about White Balance; I haven’t covered that yet…] White Balance in a nut shell is how your camera interprets colors. It’s affected by the lighting in the space you are shooting. If you are shooting under fluorescent lighting, you’ll get a green color tint to your photos. If you shoot under regular light bulbs, you might have a yellow/orangeish tint to your photos. When Matt and I were touring the USS Alabama ship, the photos all had a orange/yellow [warm]ish tint to them. This was because of the lighting, and my Auto White Balance setting wasn’t compensating for the lighting.

Color Tint works with Color Temperature too. Color Tint puts more green color into your photo if you slide it to the left and more purple/magenta into your photo if you slide it to the right. To be honest, I don’t ever use this slider. I use Color Temperature if needed, but leave this one alone.

But – it is useful for certain situations, so don’t be afraid to move the slider and see what happens to your photos.

Ok, so if your photos look like they’re all tinted a certain color, the sliders of Color Temperature and Color Tint can help correct it. It’s a matter of personal opinion too though. I happen to like a cool feel in my photos; I like more of a bluish tint. Other people like warm photos better; they want a yellow tint to their photos. It’s completely up to you and it’s okay if you don’t like what others do!

[You can see the strong yellow color cast in the photo on the left - the original. That was due to the lights inside the USS Alabama. I slid the Color Temperature slider to the left/more toward the cool blue side, and the result was the photo on the right - a much more accurate photo. However, sometimes people like the photos to represent what the original scene looked like, and it did have a little bit of a yellow glow to it, even with my own eyes. So - color temperature/white balance is ALL subjective. No right or wrong way.]

Lastly, Saturation. This is [along with Contrast] my favorite slider. You have to use this one with caution and there are some situations where Saturation can wreck a photo. For example, increasing the saturation on a photo with people in them can create a really orange, freaky skin color/look. Be aware of that.

I love to use the saturation slider on landscape photos. It pops the color, grabs my attention, and plays up the colors I saw when I was shooting. In my experience, it seems like the photos never have as much color/vibrance as they did when I was taking the photos. Saturation [and contrast] help them seem more true to the actual scene.

[This photo also have some added contrast, in addition to the increased saturation. Like I said, I usually use them hand in hand.]

Another thing that Saturation can do [ok two things], is 1 – give your photo a de-saturated look. I had a shoot where I was photographing a family on the beach. The family all had white shirts and khakis on. The day was overcast, so the sky was kind of a light blue/gray. The ocean was a lovely blue and the sand of course, tan. I found that when I brought the saturation slider to the left a little bit, it took some of the colors out of the photo and because of the nature of the photos [subdued colors to begin with, classic family photos] it achieved a moody, lovely feel. I did this on many of the photos, and the clients loved them. I still love them!
This affect is completely dependent on the colors in the photos, the situations the photos depict, and how they look once they are desaturated a little bit. Play around with the slider. You might love the desaturated look or you might hate it. You won’t know until you play around with it.

[This is the original photo (above)]

[This effect isn't my favorite with this particular picture, but you get the idea of what it can do, given the right type of photo/colors etc.]

Finally, the Saturation slider can be used to get a black and white photo. If you bright the slider all the way to the left, you are desaturating your photo completely. You’re stripping it of all available color, resulting in a photo made up of whites, grays and blacks. Viola! Black and White Photography.

If you use PSE, PS, LR or other options, there are different ways to turn a photo to black and white. But if you are using a more simplistic program such as Windows Photo Gallery, this will get the job done, and very easily too.

Once you turn your photo black and white, you can use the brightness slider to brighten it up if it’s a little dark. You can move the contrast slider up and see how the changes the dynamics of your photos. Play around with the sliders, you might find something you love!

Well – that about covers the editing options available in Windows Photo Gallery. You will be able to make some amazing adjustments with those tools alone.

If you want to know more about how to edit in PS or PSE, check out Pioneer Woman’s Photography site. She has detailed tutorials about many things relating to photography. When I got PSE7, it didn’t come with a book. I opened the program up on my computer, opened a photo and had NO CLUE what to do to it. I didn’t know how to work any of the adjustments, I didn’t know what they meant; I literally knew nothing.

So, I Googled it. I Googled everything. I would type in “How to make a photo black and white in Photoshop Elements 7.” Believe it or not, I found what I needed to know! I read some tutorials, I watched others. I learned so much, and then once I had a basic working knowledge of what the buttons mean, I started to play around. It’s been almost 9 months, and I’m still completely learning my way around the program. I haven’t learned any of the keyboard shortcuts and I’m determined to, because of the time it’ll save me. I don’t work with a mouse on my computer [I should], so I’m using the little built in mouse finger-pad thing, and it’s hard to edit sometimes! Keyboard shortcuts will help me streamline my work flow. I’m still learning, and I will be wayyy into the future too.

I don’t think you ever stop learning where photography is concerned.

Happy Editing!


  1. Hi Laura,
    I'm thoroughly enjoying your tutorials, and am learning a lot. I also loved the inspirational minute. I grew up on that stuff, and always enjoy focusing on the positive. I may have to use it for a post. I'll link back if I do.
    Take care,

  2. Thanks for your tutorials! As you say folks react different to color; I like the first pic of the young man...w/the golden overtones. Also find the first USS Alabama pic more pleasing. Often I worry about what someone else would like instead of what I like. We forget that we are making art, not making an exact duplicate!

  3. Dana - absolutely post it on your site!! I LOVE positive/motivational things like that, and quote too [I'm a HUGE quote lover.] Spread the joy!

    And to anonymous [I wish I had a name to refer to haha!] That's a hard lesson for us all to learn sometimes - to NOT worry about whatever anyone else will like, but to do what WE like. That's the beauty of photography - we can do whatever we like!! I like to hear that others like the warm tones too, because sometimes it makes a picture look totally wacky to tame the gold tones. It's good to know that lots like the warm look!

  4. Found your site by browsing PW's photo comments. Excellent blog and very informational. My hubby suprised me with my first DSLR for Christmas; a Nikon D5000. The past week between reading PW's "What the Heck" series and your blog; it is all clicking. Will be checking back often. Thanks!

  5. Hi Laura..thanks for your very helpful tutorials on DSLR's. I've learned lots from you simply because you are on the same page as I am only further along in the book!! Thanks for making things simple and for detailing like you do in your explanations. Also, you are working in programs e.g. Elements that I also am.. that a lot of us are. We'll never get into the full blown Photoshop either because of the time needed to learn it or the $$ to buy it. Plus, there is more in Elements than most of us will ever need or grasp...let alone tackling full Photoshop which is way more than my pea sized brain could ever figure out. You mentioned someone who has done some Elements actions. Can you give us the website address for whoever has put them together? Thanx!! And thanks for all you share.

  6. You've made DLSR's easy, now maybe you can make downloading Element Actions easy?? I found the website under Rita at Coffeeshop but oh my....downloading her actions is not easy in my opinion. I've spent a few hours already trying to figure it out and giving it up for another day. I am just to frustrated!!! Some days it seems like I'm just to thick in the head and that I am in waters way to deep for me :-)))

  7. Judy,

    I just added a Part 9 to the DSLR Made Easy series, but I am not too sure how EASY it is! Haha! I typed up a [hopefully] simplified explanation of how to download, install and use the PSE actions.

    Please read it at your leasure, and let me know if I've helped or made the process worse! :) Trust me, it took me hours to master it too. I hope that maybe it can be a little easier for you because of my errors and learning experiences!

    Good luck and once you have access to the actions, ENJOY! They are a blast to experiment with!!!

  8. I just successfully edited some very yellow pics using Windown Gallery. Am like so many folks - have all these tools and don't know how to use them.

    Thanks for the info.


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