Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Frugal Photo Editing

Earlier this week, I posted about what I do when the weather is nice- take pictures. Sometimes it's portraits, sometimes it's just going to a park and getting some awesome macros of flowers. A macro is an extreme closeup.


This is a blade of grass with dew drops on it. It's a decent macro, but not the closest.

Most cameras have a macro setting- typically it's the flower on the menu or dial of your camera. That is your macro setting, and it's a fun one, because it'll do great close up shots of just about anything. For this to work best, turn off your flash, and get down and dirty with the item you are photographing. You should be close to it, but make sure you are not over shadowing it. 4-5" away is about perfect.

You can use a zoom for it, but make sure it's optical zoom, and not digital. Digital is more of a magnification, where as optical zoom is where the lens will zoom in closer. In digital, the image gets shaky, and every movement or tremor in your hands increases the odds of a blurred image. Stick to Optical Zoom- it's the first feature I look at when looking at a camera.

But, this post isn't about camera settings. It's about what to do with a photo once you've taken it, to enhance the image. There are a lot of photo editing software programs available. I have Photoshop, Paintshop Pro, and Picnik Premium. Personally? I hate photoshop. I think it's an overpriced, harder to use Paintshop Pro. 

If you are looking to buy software, check into Jasc's Paintshop Pro. I don't even use the most up to date version, and I love it. Photoshop is more complicated, and less intuitive to use, but either one will require some hands on use to get what you want done.

If you are looking to just use a program that does the work for you, look into, which is an editing website. It has preset items that do specific things to photos.

Everything I can do in Picnik, I can do in Paintshop Pro. The difference is, I don't have to do it manually, and with 1 click, it's already done. Now, there are both pros and cons to Picnik.

  • It's both free and inexpensive- there are a lot of options available for free use in the program, and there are some more advanced options that are only available to premium users. I paid $24-something for a year of premium access, and for me? It's totally worth it. 
  • You can edit any photo easily, without having to know the in's & out's of a program.
  • Photos can be automatically uploaded from Picnik to Facebook, and many other programs, including Twitter and Photobucket.
  • Anything you do, you can undo quickly.
  • While I can do everything I do in Picnik in Paintshop Pro, I can not do everything I do in PSP in Picnik. Example- if I have 1 photo where everyone looks great, but 1 person has their eyes closed, I can take another photo, remove the eyes, and paste them into the other photo. In Picnik, I can't do that.
  • I can't create from scratch in Picnik. I can create all sorts of things from scratch in PSP.
  • The program is a memory hog, and if I'm in serious photo editing mode, and want my images to retain their full 10.3 MP size, I can only edit 3-4 photos before the program starts to whine at me, then it stops responding all together. To re-open it, I have to shut down Firefox completely, and reboot it. It can be bothersome when I'm editing from a photo shoot.
  • There are limitations to what all can be done. For instance, I have over 3000 fonts on my computer. Picnik uses it's own fonts, which are nice, but I can't always find the exact one I want if I have something exact in mind.
  • It is possible to over edit a photo with all the cool features the site has- however, it can be undone.
  • Some of the features let you use a paintbrush tool to put them where you want them, instead of across the entire photo- but not all of them allow that, so some features might cover the entire photo even if you only want to do the background.
So, as you can see, there are pros and cons to the program. I love it, though, for basic editing. Like I told my husband- for the most part, I can do what I want in Picnik much faster than I can in PSP. But, I'm not about to give up my PSP, either.

I'm going to show you some examples now, and walk you through, step by step, in what I'm doing. I will only use the free options in Picnik, so that you can try this for yourself and see how it turns out for you.

Starting photo:

Step One: Color

One thing I do to ALL of my photos is adjust the color. Once you have uploaded your first picture, it will take you to the EDIT tab across the top menu. From here, you'll see another menu bar under the first, which lists all of the things you can do from here (which includes:  Auto-Fix, Rotate, Crop, Resize, Exposure, Colors, Sharpen, and Red-Eye).

Click Exposure.
Two sliding bars will appear: Exposure & Contrast. Sliding Exposure Up will bring in more light. Sliding it down will darken the image. Sliding Contrast up will bring deeper color, while sliding it down will fade color.

I like to slide contrast up to about a +10 to +15, but it differs on all photos. Play with it until you get the color exactly where you want it.

For exposure, I typically slide it down between a -5 and -10. In this instance, though, my photo's main focus, my daughter Raegan, is darker than the surrounding background. If I take away exposure, she gets lost. For this photo, I am going to up the contrast to +15, and up the exposure to +10. That will give me this:

I'm not done with color, though. Next, you'll click the tab that says COLOR. This will also bring up 2 sliding bars. In this case: Saturation and Temperature.

Saturation effects how vivid or pale the coloring is. Going up, it makes all the color more intense. Going down, color fades away. Go all the way down, and you are left with a black & white photo. All the way up, a "hot" image- one that is intense in reds, oranges, and yellows, though blues, greens, and white also show still.

Temperature affects the overall color tone. Go up, and it'll make the photo more "hot"- adding in red tones to the photo. Go down, and it'll "cool" the photo off by adding more of a bluish tone to the pictures.

Personally, I tend to take the temperature down to about -10 to -15, as things like sunlight, artificial lighting, and flashes tend to leave a red tone to photos. The temperature slider will remove some of the red tone. Just a bit, though- if you add too much, it starts looking blue.

For saturation, it depends on what I want. I like to up it, most of the time, even if later on, I want a black & white photo. My reasoning is that it makes the colors more distinct, and distinct colors make for a black & white that really pops.

For this photo, I upped Saturation to +15, and dropped Temperature to -11. Play with both sliders until you like the way your photo looks. This is what I wound up with:

Compare to the unedited version:

The color differences are subtle, but they effect the overall look of the photo.

Once color is addressed, I move away from the EDIT tab, and click the CREATE tab at the top menu. Once that page pops open, click the EFFECTS tab on the smaller menu under the main menu. A side menu should be visible with all sorts of editing options. From here, let's play.

First, Black & White. If you want a B&W photo, click this. Now, you'll see a color filter open. Why do you need a color filter for a black & white? Well, drag the white circle slowly around the box while watching your now black & white photo.

It's changing, isn't it? The color you pick will change how deeply saturated the black & white is in the photo.

Sepia right below black & white is similar, but the color filter changes the color tone of the sepia image. It's not my favorite way to turn a photo sepia, but it's the free way to do so, so play around with it.

Next is Boost- this will jack the color saturation way up, and since we've already done all of that, you really don't need to use it unless you like how it turned out. So, why did we do it all manually, if there was a button? Because Boost really only effects the saturation, and not the exposure, temperature, or contrast of the photo.

Lastly in the first box, we have Soften, Vignette, and Matte. All 3 are used to finish off a photo. Soften will kind of give a hazy blur to the entire image. Both Vignette and Matte will give a hazy border to your image- Vignette in dark tones, Matte in light tones. I use Vignette a lot, but Matte, not so much. I don't typically have photos with a light enough background for Matte.

Here's a black & white image with black Vignette:

Moving down the list, you have your CAMERA effects. These are all pre-set notions on what your image will look like. Personally, I like HOLGA-ISH for black and white's far better than the black & white option. Why? Well, it blurs the edges a bit, adds a black Vignette, and you can add a bit of grain to the photo to make it appear older. You can adjust that, though. You can also adjust the FADE slider- which, the higher up it goes, allows some color to seep through. It also fades out the vignette, though.

Orton-ish is another favorite of mine, though use it with caution. It blurs and brightens the image, but the blur on a portrait is not great for prints. This is something I typically do in PSP, because here on Picnik, it's an all or nothing deal. I can't just do this to the background, while leaving the focal point untouched.

Here's an example of my photo with Orton-Ish on it.  I have slid the BLOOM slider down to 20%, and upped the FADE slider to 20%, which is better on the over all portrait, but still not great. I also upped the Brightness slider to 60%, as this feature tends to darken an image.

Another fun one in the Camera setting is CinemaScope, which just gives it a fun feel-

CinemaScope allows you to "letterbox" the image- which stretches it slightly, squashes it slightly, and chops the very top and bottom off the photo, and adds a black letter box to the top and bottom, like so:

While I love the overall feel of this setting, I don't often use it with the letterboxing feature. All too often, it chops heads off, and is not adjustable. I also just hate having the black on top and bottom.

Next, 1960's- Have you ever looked at the old photos from the 60's? They all have a sort of color tint to them, and rounded edges. Well, the program will turn any photo you have into something similar.

Next up is the COLOR section of editing (yes, again!). Now, as I hit this one, I feel I should mention something. For each of these edits I am showing you, I am doing them each from the same starting point. I remove each effect, and do a new one. None of the effects shown are layered on top of each other, except the color editing we did right at first. That's the only edit already on each of these images before I show you a new end result.

When I do a portrait edit, I'll start to layer a few of the edits on top of each other, but for a teaching standpoint, these are all as is, by themselves.

So, color. Under color you can do Tint (tints the entire image 1 color), Vibrance (which you can't do, because it's a premium feature), Invert (which inverts the colors, making a sort of negative appearance), Duo Tone (in which you choose 2 colors, and the entire image fades out to just those two colors), Heat Map (in which everything looks like a heat map- solid colors in blues, greens, reds, and yellows), and lastly, Cross Process.

Cross Process is one of my favorites to use in a portrait, I love the look it leaves. It just changes the over all color tone of the image, and is pretty popular in portraits.

Past COLOR is the Area section, which are all focally based edits. What that means, is that you'll get a circle on your photo, which you can drag to any area you like. You can shrink the circle or enlarge it with the FOCAL SIZE slide on each feature. What this does, is the area inside the circle remains un-touched, while the rest of the photo changes to whatever that edit does.

For instance- it can turn it black and white, soften the background, pixelate the background, or blur the background.

This section is another one of them that I don't use a whole lot. I love the look, but I hate that it has to be a circle. If I want to leave the person in color, and make the entire background image black & white, I can't do that from the feature. I can do that from the black & white tool all the way at the top, though.

In PSP, I can do all of it, and more, which again, I like, but takes longer. This section just is not big on letting you pick and choose which parts of the feature you want to use.

The above photo used focal soften, so that the background just softens a bit, giving more focus towards Raegan.

All in all, the program is easy to use, even for people who have never edited before. I could keep going on and on about more features, but the features I talked about are the most basic of the editing features, and the most visually prominent.

For me, I learn best when I get into a program and just start testing different items out. Play with the program- it's free to do so! You can even play with premium features, though it won't let you save with those features in place, and if I remember, it waterstamps the image with PREMIUM FEATURE so that you can't just copy the image and save it that way.

If you ever have any questions, please feel free to ask!


Ashley J Houck said...

Thanks for sharing this!! I will give this a try.

FrugalMom said...

Thanks for all the great tips Heather. I have come to the conclusion that I will not have any time to really become serious with photography or earning money by doing it until the kids are in school.

I love messing around in Picnik though, but like you, the memory issue is driving me insane.

Heather@ My Frugal Family said...

J- it is harder to do when you have little ones still at home all day. I didn't get serious about it until last year, when Gilly started 2nd grade. That's about the time I felt more comfortable venturing away from home. Now that Raegan is old enough to baby sit, that helps, too- I know that if I can't get home right away, she'll be there to watch the kids until I do get home.

I'm really enjoying photography, but I don't think it will ever be a full time job for me. I will likely have friends and family and the occasional person off the street that I'll do photos for, but I don't foresee it being something I do all the time. At least, not yet!

Kate said...

I had been thinking of upgrading in picnik simply to avoid that constant memory issue you're describing. Probably won't bother if it affects subscribers the same way. Great info! I also use and thought I'd add that in for photo/creating fun :)

Heather@ My Frugal Family said...

Yeah, the memory issue effects us, too. :(

I haven't heard of I'll have to try it, thanks Kate!

Tammy@ Not Just Paper and Glue said...

Congratulations! I just registered my shop but haven't got anything in it yet. Good for you and hope your business prospers!

Bec said...

I'm looking at hosting a monthly photo editing tutorial and would love people who use all different types of editing tools. Check out my blog on Thursday to see if you are interested!

FineArtPainting said...

this photo tute is so good that i'd like to invite you to add a link to it from our blog in our brandnew, weekly linky party:

many more people will love it (and need it!!!)