Now that you’ve taken your photos, it’s time to go into post-processing. And, no matter how professional you are, there are times when, due to haste or changes in the environment, you might not end up with the perfect photo right out of the gate. Whatever is making your photo less than desirable—a yellow color cast, a skewed angle, underexposure—fear not! It’s likely that there is a post-processing tool for whatever your problem is. The world of photo-editing software is a large and confusing one, but I’ve rounded up my top 4 go-to Photoshop basics for fine-tuning images. The great thing about these tips is that, most photo editing software (not just Photoshop) features similar functions and tools. From straightening to sharpening your images for the web, these tips will have your photos going from fug to fabulous. Continue after the jump to find out how! —Max
I decided to take a really, really horrible photograph of my apartment kitchen to help illustrate this tutorial. It’s kind of a Bad-Photo-Perfect-Storm: it’s taken at an angle, it’s underexposed, and the incandescent interior lighting has given the image a sickly, yellow glow. As it stands, it’s pretty much unusable. BUT—it’s not unsalvageable! Let’s get to work!
One of the most glaring issues with this photograph is the fact that it looks like it was taken by a drunk person— it’s slanted, rather unattractively, to the left. Although there are a number of ways to correct this problem, one of the simplest (and my favorite) is Photoshop’s Ruler Tool. You can find this handy-dandy tool in Photoshop’s left-hand toolbar, as an appendage to the eyedropper tool. Click and hold the eyedropper tool and select the Ruler Tool from the drop-down menu that emerges.
To straighten your photo using the ruler tool, simply find a strong horizontal or vertical line within your photograph (I chose the vertical of the kitchen’s window frame) and drag the ruler tool along it. From there, select the arbitrary rotation function (Image>>Image Rotation>>Arbitrary…) from the main menu bar. Hit “OK” in the Rotate Canvas window to fix the slant. Crop your image to eliminate any empty canvas space. BOOM! STRAIGHTENED!
Note: Another excellent and more advanced option for image straightening and correction is Photoshop’s Lens Correction tool (Filter>>Lens Correction).
The second glaring issue in this photo is it’s sad, sad underexposure. The whole image is rather murky and dark—not at all bright and pretty. To correct this, most photo editing software features brightness/contrast functions, but my go-to tool is Photoshops Levels Adjustment Tool (Image>>Adjustments>>Levels). Here, you can adjust your lights, darks, and mid-tones separately to more precisely manage your image’s contrast. With this particular image, I slid the lights slider (right) far to the left, the mid-tones slider (middle) slightly to the left and the darks slider (left) a tad to the right. TA-DA! Lightened and brightened!
Note: If you want to get EXTRA FANCY, Photoshop’s Curves Tool (Image>>Adjustments>>Curves) allows for even more precision.
The last major, major issue that is keeping this image from BEING GREAT is its rather unfortunate color cast. Because unnatural, incandescent lighting was used while this photo was taken (a big no-no for interior photography), all of the colors are slightly yellow, as if the entire room has a bad case of jaundice. As with all of the aforementioned editing tips, there are a number of ways to fix a white balance issue, but the simplest and most straight-forward is Photoshop’s Color Balance Tool (Image>>Adjustments>>Color Balance). With this tool, you can use sliders to reduce whatever color issue your photo might have. If your photo is too yellow, for instance, you’ll want to increase the blue. If it’s to green, you’ll want to bump up the magenta. For this particular image, I needed to adjust the yellow/blue slider towards the blue end of the spectrum and bump up the red slightly.
So—once you’ve straightened, brightened, and color-corrected your image, you can go ahead and save your image file! If you plan on printing or duplicating your photo at any time in the future, it’s a good idea to save it as a PSD or TIFF (both are uncompressed, high-quality file formats). If, however, you’d like to upload your image to the web and use it on a blog or portfolio site, you’re going to want to resize and sharpen your image. Whatever size you scale down to is entirely up to you and the dimensions dictated by your website, but more often than not, your image is going to need to be sharpened. Any time you alter your image’s size, one side-effect is that you will notice that the edges within that image are a little bit blurred. To correct this issue, it’s a good idea to use Photoshop’s Sharpen Filter (Filter>>Sharpen>>Sharpen) to increase the overall clarity. This will make all of your edges look a bit crisper and clearer, a good thing if you’re working with small image sizes.
Note: Sometimes Photoshop’s automatic sharpening tool will give you a bit too much sharpening, making lines look jagged and unnatural. If this is the case, you can get more refined, manageable sharpening with the Unsharp Mask Filter (Filter>>Sharpen>>Unsharp Mask).
That’s it! The image is still far from perfect (the window is blown out, it’s a little bit grainy, the lighting is still a tad unnatural), but considering the less-than-ideal conditions that the photo was taken under, it is a significant improvement!