I'm a writer, artist, designer, and composer. I have a B.A. in Theater and an M.A. in Creative Writing, both from Hollins University.
Bring Out the Best in Your Photos
When your photos aren't as bright or colorful as you'd like them to be, there are simple ways you can enhance them to bring out their full potential. All you need is a photo design program and a computer.
As a side benefit, working with photo design programs to improve your photos helps to train your eye to understand the essentials of a good photo. And as a result, you are likely afterward to take better photos.
In this article, I'll take you through the steps involved in enhancing your photos with two different programs: Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office Picture Manager.
There are a number of versions of Adobe Photoshop. I use only one, Photoshop Elements. However, I believe that the simple processes described in this article are available in all versions of Photoshop.
Photoshop has a number of automatic enhancement features. However, to get the best results for your individual photos, it is usually better to manually enhance your photos through the very simple steps of brightening them and increasing their color saturation.
Brighten Your Photos in Photoshop
Here are the simple steps for brightening your photos using Adobe Photoshop. Note: to enlarge screenshots, click on them.
- Open your photo.
- Go to the Enhance menu (see screenshots 1 and 2).
- Drop down and select Adjust Lighting (see screenshot 3).
- Select Brightness/Contrast (see screenshot 3).
- Move the Brightness arrow over until the photo looks bright enough (see screenshot 3).
Enhance Color Using Photoshop
To enhance the colors in your photo, follow these simple steps:
- From the Enhance menu.
- Drop down to Adjust Color.
- Select Adjust Hue/Saturation.
- On the Saturation Bar, move the arrow over until the color looks right to you.
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See screenshots 1 and 4. Note: To enlarge screenshots, click on them.
Microsoft Office Picture Manager
Most Windows users have a version of Microsoft Office. Picture Manager is part of the Office Suite. This program can be used to enhance and crop your photos by using the Edit Pictures Tool (see screenshot 5).
Brighten Your Photos With Picture Manager
To brighten your photos with Picture Manager, follow these steps:
- On the Menu bar, click on Edit Pictures (see screenshot 5 above). Note: To enlarge screenshots, click on them.
- A side panel appears that offers you editing options (see screenshot 6).
- Click on Brightness and Contrast (see screenshot 7).
- Under Brightness, move the brightness arrow over until the photo looks bright enough (see screenshot 7).
Navigating Within the Edit Picture Panel
To navigate within the Edit Picture Panel, use the back arrow (see screenshot 8).
If you use the back arrow, you don't need to keep opening and closing the Edit Picture panel while you're working with your photo.
Enhance Color Using Picture Manager
To enhance the color in your photos, using Picture Manager, follow these steps:
- Click on Edit Pictures in the Menu bar (If you have used the back arrow to navigate back to the Edit Picture Panel, skip this step).
- Click on Color.
- Under Hue and saturation settings, you'll see Amount.
- Move the arrow over until the color looks right to you.
See screenshot 9.
As a general rule, it's best to crop your photos so as to emphasize their subject. You want to eliminate any part of the photo that is not essential to the subject matter. This is done by tightening your focus.
In Photoshop, you select the cropping tool on the left-hand side of the screen and drag it across your photo to set the dimensions to which the photo is to be cropped. You can adjust the crop tool until the photo seems properly focused to you. If you're not pleased with your results, you can undo the crop and try again until the photo looks right to you (see screenshot 10).
In Microsoft Picture Manager, Crop is one of the Editing Options that appear in the Editing Panel when you select Edit Picture from the Menu bar. As with Photoshop, you make adjustments until the photo looks properly focused and experiment until you get the photo cropped to your liking (see screenshot 11).
Showing Your Photos Online to the Public
When you're showing your photos online to a public audience, you will probably need to increase the brightness slightly more than you do for the photos you share with friends and family.
Excellent photos are vital to those who are selling their products online. Photo enhancement can greatly increase the probability of sales.
Enhancing Product Photos
If you have an online shop in which you sell products, you will have to provide product photos for your shop. This can be quite a challenging prospect for sellers who are not professional photographers. Photos that do not faithfully represent the products can undermine sales.
Rather than re-shooting photos and hoping for better results, sellers can simply enhance their photos.
I did photo enhancement for some of the products in a handmade shop, using brightening, color saturation, and cropping in Photoshop (see product photos 1 and 2).
I sold a set of aprons featuring my Yin and Yang cats painting to an online shop. When I saw the product photo of the folded apron on her home page and the photo of the apron on a model, I was horrified at the distortion of my painting in the photos. I offered to enhance the photos but the seller was happy with the photos she'd taken, so my enhanced versions were never used (see product photos 3 and 4).
Training Your Eye
While enhancing your photos, you're also learning how a good product photo should look. When you take your next photos, you'll probably get better results. In photography, this is sometimes referred to as "training your eye" to see what you are capturing through the camera.
Taking Product Photos Outdoors
Some online sellers have gotten excellent results taking product photos outdoors. There is something about natural light that brings out the beauty of your products in a way that artificial light cannot.
Even with small products, you can get excellent results taking outdoor photos, as you can see in the product photos to the right from a handmade shop (see product photo 5).
And you can always take your outdoor shots into your photo design program to enhance and crop the photos to achieve the best result. One of the hazards of a close focus on natural light is that any slight inconsistency in the product—as you will quite often find in handmade or vintage products—will be magnified in your photos. These inconsistencies or slight scratches may be polished through photo enhancement without misrepresenting the product.
Taking Product Photos Indoors
You can also achieve great product photos indoors. However, unless you're a professional or very experienced photographer, you will probably want to take advantage of all the natural light that you can, rather than rely on using a flash on your camera.
As with photos taken outdoors, by focusing in tightly on the products, you can accomplish some very effective product photos (see product photo 7).
You can still use enhancement and cropping to achieve an even better representation of your product.
Bringing Out the Best in Your Photos
Enhancement brings out the best in your photos. After all, photography is not merely a record of an object or an event, but a creative interpretation. Your goal is always to capture the essence of your subject.
Photo enhancement can be thought of as a second chance with your photos. Using it, you can make your photos shine so that you present the best in your photos to the world.
- Canon DLC: Gallery: Tutorials for EOS Storytellers
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© 2011 Marian Cates