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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.


  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.

  3. Cig­a­rette in your left hand while tak­ing pic­tures — is that a secret tip?

  4. I agree with you, straight­en­ing a pic­ture can make it look bet­ter. I like your edits by the way, keep it up!

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