5 Basic Photo Editing Tricks (VI)


Self Por­trait in Ottawa

A lot of you have been ask­ing me ques­tions about pho­tog­ra­phy and how to achieve cer­tain effects. While I’m by no means an expert, I’m an avid pho­tog­ra­pher and I had to chance to exper­i­ment a lot. I’m also always a teacher at heart and yes, I like talk­ing about pho­tog­ra­phy, because I’m sure I can give you some tips and learn from you as well.

So I decided to start the Sat­ur­day Series again, this time with a focus on pho­tog­ra­phy. A new “les­son” will be pub­lished every Sat­ur­day, for a total or ten posts. Enjoy the “Ten Pho­tog­ra­phy Tips”!

Alright, let’s be hon­est: yes, I edit all my pic­tures. Doesn’t mean I do much though. First, my edit­ing skills aren’t that devel­oped, sec­ond, I like my pic­tures to look nat­ural. Indeed, photo edit­ing is an art in itself and plenty of pho­tog­ra­phers spent hours devel­op­ing new tech­niques or fol­low­ing pro­cess­ing fads.

While exces­sive edit­ing can­not suc­cess­fully mask improper tech­niques and poor pho­tog­ra­phy, a lit­tle edit­ing can dra­mat­i­cally improve your pictures.

Crop­ping Some­thing, all you need a lit­tle bit of crop­ping to reveal a great pic­ture. Trim off the excess, remove the dis­trac­tions in the back­ground and cut down to your main point of focus. You can either keep set dimen­sions or get a bit cre­ative, it’s up to you. Vir­tu­ally all main edit­ing soft­ware have a crop­ping func­tion, includ­ing Flickr (where you can edit with pic­tures with Piknik) and Picasa (which is free).

The orig­i­nal pic

Tada! Cropped… looks better

Color Bal­ance Color bal­ance is the global adjust­ment of the inten­si­ties of the col­ors. Basi­cally, some­times the cam­era doesn’t ren­der the col­ors the way they are because of the color of the light sources: some light bulbs add a yel­low color, bright sun makes every­thing looks warm, shade turns thing blue-ish etc. The camera’s auto white-balance sys­tem is eas­ily mis­taken. For­tu­nately, on most cam­eras, you can chose a white bal­ance man­u­ally with set­tings such as “cloudy’, “sunny”, “flu­o­res­cent” etc. and the cam­era will com­pen­sate accord­ingly. You can also cor­rect the color bal­ance when edit­ing your pic­tures and even play with it.

The orig­i­nal pic­ture looks reddish

After bal­anc­ing col­ors, lost the red hue

Straight­en­ing Like I explain last week, crooked shots are one of my pet peeve. It’s very easy to set the hori­zon set in pic­tures if you for­got to do it while shoot­ing. Sim­ply align and rotate the pic­ture, and crop a bit if needed. Once again, this is easy to do with the main edit­ing soft­wares, such as Pho­to­shop, Light­room, Picasa etc.

Mmm… Bit crooked!


Adjust the Expo­sure When the expo­sure is too short, pic­tures look dark. If the expo­sure is too long, the pic­ture looks too bright. You can adjust the expo­sure man­u­ally on most cam­eras (look for the “+” or “-“ but­tons). You can also cor­rect it at the edit­ing stage. Warn­ing: this can get tricky, so bet­ter get this expo­sure right when tak­ing pictures!

This sun­set is overexposed

A more dra­matic sun­set after adjustments

Cor­rect Red Eyes Ah, the evil red eye… while it cer­tainly add some Hal­loween flavour to your por­traits, your sub­jects may not like it (eh, not every­body wants to be an evil vam­pire!). The red eye effect occurs when you use the flash: the bright light passes into the eyes of your sub­ject through the pupil and reflects. It looks red because of the blood in your eyes. The best way to avoid this effect is to either use ambi­ent light or to have the sub­ject look away. When edit­ing, you will notice numer­ous soft­ware allow you to remove the red eye effect and make your sub­ject look human again. They will thank you, for sure.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. You know, I think you’re a great photo edi­tor Zhu — your pho­tos are fan­tas­tic. I some­times sharpen the image a bit or mess with the con­trast settings/brightness/color balance/etc. I do not have Pho­to­shop but I do have basic edit­ing tools so I am a happy camper.

  2. Thank good­ness for the straight­en­ing func­tion! If it wasn’t for that, all of my pho­tos of the Eif­fel Tower (and every­thing else) would be crooked.

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