Photo Editing Q + A

Two weekends ago was my Studio Saturday post, and in it, I asked a few questions readers could answer to enter a giveaway. There were some really good questions in those comments, I took some time last week to answer them on my blog. I’m reposting those answers here, in case you were one of those who had a question!

Lighting Issues

A few people said that they struggled with lighting when taking photos. Right off, I can tell you that this is something you really want to work at getting it right while you’re taking photos versus something you try to fix with editing. Bad lighting is bad lighting, and it’s going to show. While there are some things you can do to minimize a few bad spots in Photoshop, you really don’t want to rely on trying to “save” it during post-processing. One, because it takes so much more time to edit a photo versus just working on getting good lighting when you’re taking it. And two, too much editing can make a photo look very heavily processed, which is probably not what most shop owners are looking for.

There’s no one trick when it comes to lighting because everyone’s set up is different. I can say that I’ve tried both an indoor setup and natural light outdoors, and between the two, I like the look of natural light better, but that’s personal preference. Here’s what I used to with my shop photos: My Photo Formula

If you prefer natural light, you need to pay attention to the light around you and set aside some time to experiment. What’s the sunniest room in your house? What time of day do you get a lot of sunshine in that room? Can you shoot close to a big open window? Can you shoot on a patio? Avoid direct sunlight, as that was too harsh a light source. Instead, shoot next to a bright window or outside in the shade versus out in the sun.

If you like shooting indoors, you want to work in a confined space with lots of light. If possible, use a light box that you either buy or construct (there are links on My Photo Formula post), and use two or three daylight light bulbs as your light source.

How do I eliminate shadows I don’t want?

There are a couple ways: photograph out of direct sunlight or bounce light off of a white surface when you’re photographing.

Photographing in the shade or indoors next to a bright window will minimize the harsh glares and shadows you get when you photograph in direct sunlight. To go a step further, prop up a white piece of foam core or poster board directly opposite your light source next to your object. This will allow the light to bounce back onto the object, reducing the shadows. To eliminate them completely, use a secondary light source, like a daylight lamp, in place of the white board.

If neither of those gets you the results you’re  looking for, try adjusting the levels in your photo editing program. If you’re working on a white background, and want a pure white background, I’ve got a Tip Share for that.

How do I make a photograph look more dramatic?

First, get clear about what you mean by dramatic, because that can mean different things depending on the photo.

Are you looking to make the colors pop? Then increase the saturation a little on your photo. Elements users, go up to Enhance > Adjust Color > Adjust Hue/Saturation. Photoshop users, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. Keep in mind that will change your photo permanently, so if you’re looking for a more flexible option you can adjust over and over, use an adjustment layer instead. Go to your Layers Panel and click the circle that’s half black, half white. Then choose Hue/Saturation from that menu to create a layer you can fix over and over. Make sure to move it directly over your photo layer.

Are you looking to change the entire tone of a photo? Then play around with some Photoshop actions. This post gives a quick list of actions I’ve used.

Are you looking to increase contrast? Elements users can do that by going up to Enhance > Auto Contrast, or Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Brightness/Contrast. Photoshop users, go up to Image > Auto Contrast, or Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast. You can also create adjustment layers for this, too; just follow the steps I outlined above, and choose Brightness/Contrast instead of Hue/Saturation.

If there’s something else you’re looking to do, I’ve got a bunch of editing Tip Shares, so browse through if you’ve got some time.

How do I get crisp, clear photos?

Crisp photos start with a steady hand when you’re taking the photo. If your hands shake a little or if your camera’s heavy, try working with a tripod and an external shutter release. This way, your camera remains flat and stable at all times, reducing any shaking that might create fuzzy photos.

It’s also a good idea to spend some learning the settings on your camera. If you’ve got a point-and-shoot, read your manual to learn about the different scenes your camera has for you to shoot in. Then, spend time photographing the same thing in different scenes to find which one you like best.

If you’ve got a DSLR, same goes – learn what the different settings and controls are, and what you can do with them. It’s also a good idea to figure out the basics of ISO, shutter speeds, aperture, white balance, and what different lighting conditions need. If you’re feeling a little confused with these terms or the manual setting on your DSLR, check out this helpful cheat sheet I posted a while back.

Now, regardless of the type of camera you have, there is something you can do to sharpen up your photos in either Photoshop or Elements: the Unsharp Mask. Photoshop users, go to Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Elements users, go to Enhance > Unsharp Mask. Make sure Preview button is selected, then play with the Amount toggle – try it at 50% first, then increase or decrease as needed. Once you’re happy, click OK.

You have other editing options, either a Sharpen filter or Adjust Sharpness, but I like the Unsharp Mask best because it’s adjustable and can be really subtle. Couple things to remember: 1) It’s possible to over sharpen, so go slow. 2) Sharpening should be done last, after any other edits or resizing. Otherwise, you’ll have to redo this step. 3) Not every photo really needs this step, and it’s not going to magically fix a blurry photo. All this is going to do is sharpen what’s already in focus.

How do I focus on the parts of my object I want to focus on?

As far as focusing goes, what I said above applies. Read your manual on how to change the focus; most cameras will have an auto feature as well as a few others. You want to choose a focusing setting on your camera that you can remember, like dead center, and use that to line up your shot every time.

Press the release button down halfway to focus, and make sure what you want to focus on matches the highlighted area on your screen (it’s usually a little dot or a box). Keep doing this until what you want in focus is highlighted, then go ahead and press the release button down all the way to take the photo.If you’re looking for more detail, you want to either get close to your object, change your settings, or grab a lens that allows for close-up/macro-type shots.

How can I enlarge a photo without it getting grainy?

Unfortunately, you can’t make photos any bigger than what they are when they come out of your camera.

The thing that’s confusing is that Photoshop and Elements (and other programs, too) allow you to change your image size to whatever you want it to be. This lets people think that they can resize over and over, up and down, without any loss of quality, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case for photographs.

See, a photo is made up of millions of pixels; think of them like microscopic squares. When it comes out of your camera, it’s a set size, like 3888 pixels wide by 2594 pixels high. You can reduce it down to anything smaller, like 600 pixels by 400 pixels, with no real problem. What’s happening when you decrease the size is that those pixels are getting compressed down to fit into that new 600 x 400 pixel size. Some finer details may be lost during the compression, but you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference at the smaller size.

But if you try to take that 3888 x 2594 pixel photo and make it bigger by just changing the size, it’s not going to look the way you expect it to. Why not? Because no new information is being added; Photoshop can only work with the original number of pixels in the original size. So, while Photoshop will let you increase any photo beyond the original size, it doesn’t mean it’s putting in any new information. Instead, it’s simply stretching out the photo into a bigger shape, and the individual pixels become distorted. That’s the “grain” you see, and why photos can become fuzzy if you try to increase the size.

So, if you’re  looking for a larger size, you need to back to the original photo you took. That’s the biggest size your photo can be without losing quality. Most cameras these days take photos that are fairly large, so you’ll want to either bring that original photo into Photoshop to check how large it is or read your manual.

What you want to remember when it comes to sizing is this: Size down, not up. I always, always leave the original photo intact, and save any edits I make as a separate, new file; actually, I tend to save three copies – the original, the original + edits, and the edits + a new smaller size. This way, I have something to come back to should I need a larger size later.

In addition to my Tip Share page, check out my Tips & Tricks pin board for more photo and editing tips. There’s a bunch of photo-related pins in there, as well as others, that might answer your question. Or if you’ve got a burning question, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it!

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6 Comment

  1. AliMc
    March 15, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Thanks so much for this post, especially the eliminating shadows part. Been trying to figure that one out for awhile now 🙂

  2. Rising Designs
    March 18, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks so much!

  3. You can call me Lyssa...
    April 3, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Hi Brandi, this is a great post, thanks for all the wonderful advice. I have been reading and re-reading this post for a couple weeks now and I just realized what my question is. I understand how to use natural light and a reflective white board to get accurate colors and eliminate shadows, but how do you eliminate the stark reflection from the indirect sunlight coming through the window you are photographing next to? I make and sell lampwork glass beads so the reflected light blocks out half the bead's detail and color. In the pictures I've taken next to a window if you zoom in far enough you can actually see the leaves of the plant hanging from the eaves outside the window in the reflection on the glass bead. It's great art, but not good for Etsy. 🙂


    — Aimee

  4. Andrei Konn
    April 4, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Truly, an amazing guide for achieving brilliant output, when it comes to digital photo editing. I was not familiar to the methods and the applications mentioned above, which we can use in editing photographs.

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