Have you ever seen a GORGEOUS photo on Pinterest and thought, “How could my photos ever look that crisp and beautiful?” ME TOO. All the time. But rest assured that, even without a big, expensive camera, there are some changes you can make to massively improve your photos. Be warned, it might sound like I’m just trying to tell you what to do here, but that’s because I could not BELIEVE the difference it made with my blog! Photos matter, y’all.
Even if you have no desire to be a professional photographer, there are still reasons to worry about your photos being nice. (However, not wanting to take photos for a living means you have a little more wiggle room in how much work to put into it. 😛 )
For bloggers, it’s a way of luring in new readers. Remember that you’re competing for attention here and while content is king, social media is queen. People are checking Facebook on their lunch break, while trying to decide what to make for dinner, while remembering to pick their kids up from soccer practice, and while having other interesting posts drawing their eyes. You have to sick out! Very few people read posts on social media, it’s the photos that make them stop scrollingscrollingscrolling to click your link or share your post.
Improving my photos doubled the amount of traffic I received and got me a lot of features on quite a few BIG websites. Women’s Day Magazine and Huffington Post come to mind. Proof that it was due to the photos? They were posts that already existed (for years) but didn’t take off until almost immediately after I redid the old (crappy) photos.
Another reason? Because it just feels good. I don’t know about you, but I love taking photos into editing and seeing how pretty they look. And then how much better they look when I’m done. There’s something satisfying about knowing all the family photos in my home were taken by me. Frankly, they look better than the photos I paid a professional to take for my wedding. (I mean, not to toot my own horn. But toot toot.)
Editing photos is kind of complicated, because there’s a balance. If you edit too much or too little, your photos look unprofessional. To add to that complication, it’s totally subjective. What looks right to you will look OUT OF THIS WORLD to some people or it could look a little meh to others. (Hey, you can’t make everyone happy. So settle for making yourself happy.)
There are many ways of editing photos. I normally use Photoshop, but not everyone can afford it. So the one I’ll be using for this particular post is Picmonkey because it’s easy and FREE to use, which means everyone has access to it.
I’m also going to use my photos from a Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake recipe that I posted to Growing Up Gabel a couple Valentine’s Days ago. So if you want to follow along, go to Picmonkey and open a photo you’d like to edit. On to the tutorial!
A Beginner’s Guide to Editing Photos
Here’s the photo we’re starting with:
A photo may look nice and crisp on the camera screen, but that’s because my eyesight is awful. (This is why I use auto-focus instead of manual focus. But if your eyesight is fine, use manual. It’s easier to focus on the area you want.) When this happens, sharpening is an easy fix.
I like to do this first because the “Clarity” bar tends to darken the photos and act as if I’m adjusting the contrast (which comes later). For clarity, I usually go between 10% and 20%. For sharpness, I never go above 10. Usually I stick to 3-7. Over sharpening can really ruin a photo by making it grainy and such. So be careful with the sharpening.
Nothing ruins a photo like not being able to see the subject. I see this a lot with beginners, partially because it takes a while to figure out the finer points of lighting. Brightening a really dark photo won’t make it look any nicer, so you have to make your photos bright on the camera. The best way to do this, no matter what camera you use, is to take advantage of your best natural light. I take most of my photos beside an open window.
That said, you can go too bright. So usually once I have it “perfect” on my camera, I bring it down a notch. It’s hard to fix “too dark” pictures, but it’s also hard to fix “too bright” pictures. So I get as close to bright as I can without washing out the subject and then the rest I handle in editing.
Even in editing, though, it’s easy to go too bright and think it looks good. So, like I said, once I’ve reached what I think is perfect, I bring it down a little. Too many times, I’ve gone though old photos a few weeks after posting them and said, “Wow, that is WAY too bright.”
Better: if you have time to put the photos aside after editing, do it. Looking at them from a fresh perspective (and not from the perspective of a crazy person who just wants to get this crap done already) really helps. You may find that after bringing it back, you want to go even brighter. And that’s fine!
3. Color Balance
Color balance just means that your colors look like they should–white is pure white, red is red, etc. This particular edit took me a while to figure out and sometimes I still struggle with it. Color balance is weird.
One little “hack”I learned from How I Made $40k My First Year of Blogging (affiliate), though, is to always include something white in your photos. The easiest way to do that is with white dishes and doilies, since they go with everything.
With this particular photo, I used a white background. Though I usually don’t, which means I have to find some other way of adding white–normally a paper doily or a cotton towel with a lot of white in it.
The wonderful thing about Picmonkey in particular is that you can use the “Neutral Picker” tool to easily help your color balance. Go to Colors > Neutral Picker and then click on a white area in your photo. I click on a few different white areas (because of shadows) to test and make sure there isn’t a better spot.
Even if you’re cool with purchasing Photoshop, I’d DEFINITELY recommend running a few photos through the Neutral Picker of Picmonkey, just to see what they would look like. (Full disclosure: I DO use Photoshop for most of my photos. I mostly use Picmonkey if the computer I’m on won’t support Photoshop or if I’m having trouble figuring out color balance.)
To be honest, the photo I put in my Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake post is more balanced than this one, but this is fine. It’s a little blue-ish, but I prefer more blue than yellow in my photos. (And, yes! If your photos are coming out too yellow, this is how you can fix it in editing! Though there are ways to adjust your camera settings to fix that, which is what you SHOULD do. But that’s a tutorial for another day.)
I find color balance is easier to achieve if there is only a little white in the photo. If you have a lot of white areas, like with the picture I’m using, clicking different areas will change the way it looks (because of shadows and stuff). As you can see, some of the white spots in this photo are totally white and others look way too blue.
This is one that I sometimes don’t use because not all photos need to be saturated. Saturation just means the colors pop more. So it’s another you want to be careful with (especially with bright colors). I usually don’t go any higher than 2-5 for my saturation.
Bonus: Blemish Fix
In Photoshop and Gimp, this is the Healer tool. It’s one of my new favorite things. In this photo, you might see that the tray the cake is on has a little chocolate smeared on it and one of the hearts is being reflected. I just went into Picmonkey, under the make-up section, chose Blemish Fix and clicked on those areas. Poof! Gone. Not a big deal and most of your probably didn’t notice those things. But when you’ve been staring at a photo for a while, little flaws start to jump out at you.
To be honest, editing your photos in Gimp or Photoshop would look better, because then you have more control. Instead of Exposure, I usually edit the Levels in those programs. Much nicer. But if all you have is Picmonkey, you can do pretty well!
Want to get the recipe for that delicious cheesecake you’ve been staring at? Find it over at Growing Up Gabel!
What photo editing tips would you give to a beginner? Any editing tool you simply can’t live without? Let me know in the comments!