Advanced Editing

Essential steps when photo editing

Written by Gail Bjork

Advanced but simple editing techniques that can make your dull-looking digital images come to life.

Photo editing is kind of like cooking food. Given the same ingredients, each person uses their own set of utensils and may have a different approach to creating a meal. Add no seasoning, the meal will taste bland. Add too much and it may barely suitable for human consumption.

Bringing a photo to life

Digital images right out of the camera can appear dull and lack sharpness even when properly focused and exposed. Add no “seasoning” and the photo remains bland. Add too much and visual quality is negatively impacted.

The good news is that there are editing techniques that will make dull-looking photos come to life.

There are a variety of ways to successfully post-process a photo. I use Photoshop CS but most any photo editing program that supports layers will work. What follows are the main steps I take to edit JPEG files. This intermediate level tutorial assumes you know the basics such as how to crop a photo and are familiar with some of the main editing tools.

Step 1 – Crop and resize simultaneously

Set the crop width and height, and a resolution that will reduce the image to a reasonable viewing size. For images uploaded to my online gallery or to make small prints, I often set the crop tool to 4X6″ and set a resolution of 150. These settings result in a 900 X 600 pixel image.

Step 2 – Levels adjustment

Use a levels adjustment layer – move the right and left sliders to align, or closely align, to the bottom of the image in the histogram. Watch tonal range changes throughout the photo as you adjust the sliders.

The Levels histogram is a visual guide for adjusting tonal range and color balance in a photo.

Advantage of using Layers when photo editing

One of the many advantages of using mutiple layers is that you can fine tune edits, without effecting the underlying layer. Don’t like the results, go back using the history tab, or simply delete one layer and start over on a new one.

The two illustrations below show how I selectively sharpened the image by first selecting the sky with the Magic Wand tool, inverting the selection, and then sharpening everything but the sky.

Another technique is to use the Eraser Tool to bring back some details in areas that turned out too bright. Select the Levels adjustment layer and erase the layer where needed as shown in the illustration.

Sky selected using the Magic Wand Tool

Selection inverted

Step 3- Unsharp mask

Make a copy of the Background layer to apply sharpening to it rather than to the original Background layer. Open the Sharpen Filter and select Unsharp Mask.

Open the Sharpen filter and select Unsharp Mask

Adjust the sliders until the level of sharpening meets your satisfaction. Make sure to place a check mark in the Preview box to monitor the changes. I typically use the following settings: Amount 100 – 120%; Radius 0.3 – 0.7 pixels; Threshold set to Zero.

Adjust Amount, Radius and, if needed, Threshold

Image before and after editing

Image before editing

Image after editing

[View the 900 X 600 pixel image]. Image opens in new window.

For additional information, check the Help files included with your photo editing software.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.