If you’re using Photoshop, Fireworks or GIMP as your graphic editing programme then here’s a simple 60 second retouching job that you can use on your photos. This isn’t really ‘distorting’ or falsifying reality in the same way that fashion magazines ‘retouch’ photos to make people look slimmer and give them whiter teeth. It’s just recreating a scene in the way that the human eye originally saw it. The most expensive camera lenses still aren’t anywhere near as good as our eyes at adjusting to the contrast between light and dark. A simple ‘Levels’ adjustment like this realigns the levels of lightness and darkness so that white objects appear properly white and black ones are truly black.
The adjustments I’m using here are ‘non-destructive’ ones – which means that I’m not editing the image itself, all the edits are happening in a layer on top of the original image. I can edit the adjustments, change their opacity or delete one of them in the click of a button without affecting the original.
Here’s a quick tutorial on editing a holiday snap to make it look a bit punchier online.
- Here’s the original photo which I’ll open in Photoshop.
- Many images could benefit from a little cropping. Here I’ll use it to zoom in a bit so it trims out the light in the top-left.
- Next we’ll adjust the Levels. Select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels… You’ll see a little histogram that shows how well exposed your photo is. In this one you can see that the little mountain doesn’t stretch properly from the pure black marker on the left to the pure white one on the right.
- Let’s drag those little markers inwards to the edges of the graph. Plus you can move the grey one in the middle to the left or right a bit to make the midtones a bit lighter or darker. Look at the instant difference this has made. The whole photo looks less washed out.
- Now let’s do the same thing again with the Curves that adjust the colour balance. Select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves… and you’ll get another little graph.
- By clicking on a point about a third from the top of the line and dragging it left, and then choosing another point nearer the bottom to the right – then you can create a very subtle ‘S’ curve rather than the straight diagonal line. You can see the effect this is having on the image next to it. Subtlety is the key here, but adding a normal or reversed ‘S’ shape to the curve can make the colours a bit punchier. It can work particularly well on portrait photos.
- Optional (but good for landscapes or photos of objects) – Add one more adjustment layer – choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation… and in the dialogue box nudge the Saturation level up to something like ‘6’. This can help make the grass look a bit greener and the sky a bit bluer.
- In the Layers panel on the right-hand side you can press the eye icon on a layer to make it invisible, you can decrease its opacity to make the adjustment a bit more subtle, or you can drag the layer down into the trash can at the bottom to delete it completely.
- Here’s our final image. In less than a minute we’ve made it more professional looking and it will improve the overall look and feel of our site.From here you can Export/Save For The Web and resize the photo to the proper size if need be. Check out the resizing tutorial inside the Toolkit.