Beginners Guide to Editing Your Photos

Do you have digital images that just don’t look right? Pictures often get faded, or gain a greenish or bluish hue. You can fix these imperfections simply using editing software like PaintShop Pro. After reading these steps, you should be a pro at applying simple editing effects to your own digital images.

1- Lets get your settings in place. Once you have opened up Paint Shop, you will see a gray bar that spans the width of your software window (under the choices for ‘File’, ‘Edit’, etc). Right click on this gray bar and scroll down to the option “Toolbars”. To the left of “Toolbars” will be choices for which tools you want to have open in that gray space. Click on “photo”, and those editing options should appear. To find out what each icon in the toolbar does, just hover your mouse over the icon.

2- Make sure your image is rotated correctly! It’s really hard to edit a photo when you don’t have the right perspective on what it is. The easiest way to do this is to open the image that needs to be rotated. On your top tool bar you will find three icons in a row containing blue and white shapes, with arrows directing which way they are being rotated. These are your rotation tools. Just click on the direction that your image needs to be rotated. You will keep your image open for the rest of the editing process.

3- Next, let’s take a look at your contrast/brightness. No one wants a photo that looks faded or soft. To make you images look more crisp, you will want to adjust the Contrast/Brightness of your photo. The Contrast/Brightness tool takes the blacks and whites in your images and enhances them. The icon is of a triangle, where the top is a light blue, and the bottom of it is black. Click on the icon, and a window will pop up requiring you to fill in numbers for both the contrast level, and the brightness level. If your image is really dark, start out by setting your levels both to 10, then press ‘OK’. Repeat until you get your desired results. If the brightness of your picture is fine, but you just want it to look a little more crisp, set your contrast number to 10, and your brightness number to 0. Again, you will want to press ‘OK’ and repeat until you attain your desired results. To preview what your effects are going to look like, just press the icon that looks like an eye, which is in the ‘Contast/Brightness’ window. If you like what you see, press ‘OK’. If you don’t like the selections you’ve made, simply press the eye again, which will hide the preview, and re-configure your settings.

4- Now we are going to focus on color. There are several ways to adjust the color on your images, but this technique is a manual tool where you can choose exactly what you want to be applied to your picture. The ‘Adjust Color Balance’ tool is a triangle that is light blue on top, and black on bottom, with a halo containing red and blue squares on the tip of the triangle. Click on this icon, and a window will pop up. Set your ‘Tone Balance’ to ‘Midtones’, and check the box beneath to ‘Preserve luminance’. You will find that there are three scroll lines to adjust the color. You can either manually enter numbers in the white boxes, or you can manually move the cursor left or right to select how much you want to adjust a certain color. For instance, if your image has taken on a reddish hue, you will move the cursor between the choices ‘cyan’ and ‘red’ to the left, towards ‘cyan’. This will add more cyan hues to your image, decreasing the amount of red that appears. A lot of color balancing is trial and error. To preview what your effects are going to look like, just press the icon that looks like an eye, which is in the ‘Adjust Color Balance’ window. If you like what you see, press ‘OK’. If you don’t like the selections you’ve made, simply press the eye again, which will hide the preview, and re-configure your settings.

Now your image looks as good as new. Have scratches, wrinkles, or writing on your images? You will need to use the ‘cloning’ tool to fix this, which is a whole other ball game! Check out tutorials on using the clone tool in PaintShop to make your editing skills complete.

3 Tools For Sharpening Your Photos

One thing to note about digital photos before we go on… the picture format which you use. If you’ve set you digital camera to capture in JPEG format, it is likely you’ve encounter some loss of quality in the picture due to image compression. In this case, it does make sense to apply sharpening on the photo. If, however, you’ve selected to shoot in RAW mode, then you’ll unlikely face any image degradation – sharpening a RAW image is usually not necessary.

1. The Unsharp Mask
The Unsharp Mask tool is common in many photo editing software programs, including Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paintshop Pro. Typically, when you apply the Unsharp Mask, you can control 3 factors – the Amount, Radius and Threshold:

  • Amount – this refers to the intensity of the sharpening
  • Radius – this refers to the distance sharpening occurs around a pixel)
  • Threshold – defines when sharpening starts to occur when two points are different in brightness

Learn to play with these three factors to obtain the optimal amount of sharpening in a photo. Apply just enough sharpening but don’t over do it. Sharpening a photo too much will usually make the edges in the photo too “harsh” or visible.

2. Smart Sharpen
Another tool at your disposal when sharpening photos is the Smart Sharpen tool. In Adobe Photoshop Elements, this tool is available as the Adjust Sharpness option within the Enhance Menu. Other photo editing programs (e.g. Corel Paintshop Pro) have similar tools but under different names.

Typically, I’d make sure that I perform the sharpening step as the last step in the photo workflow. That means that I’ll clean up the image, adjust its color, tone, brightness, etc. and flatten the image before perform a sharpen. I find that ultimately yields a better looking image in the end. The nice thing about invoking smart sharpening tools is that all the settings have been built into the sharpening algorithm already – the program will select the most appropriate sharpening options for you.

3. Advanced Sharpening Tools
If you’ve used Photoshop Lightroom or the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop, you’ll realize that these programs give you much more powerful photo sharpening toolkits. The algorithms for sharpening in Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop far surpass what you see in simpler packages like Photoshop Elements and Corel Paintshop Pro. In fact, the tools in Photoshop Lightroom are so good that I’d highly recommend that you buy a copy if you’re a serious digital photographer.

Also, here’s a little known secret about working in Photoshop Lightroom. Press down the Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) key as you adjust any of the sliders and the sharpening appears in black-and-white, which is much easier to see. If you’ve used Lightroom to some extent before, you’ll know this tip is a great help.

There are dedicated photo sharpening tools out there. One of the programs I like a lot is the Nik Software Sharpener Pro. The sharpening algorithms in this package match those in Photoshop Lightroom and you can tell the difference in the sharpened image’s quality, as compared to those sharpened by more inferior programs.

In summary, sharpening is a common procedure in photo workflows. However, to ensure that your sharpened image looks good – you should be sure what kind of sharpening settings you should apply – set these either manually or through a smart sharpening tool. If you’re a more advanced user, you should try using tools like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop, as well as the Nik Software Sharpener Pro – all of which have very good sharpening algorithms.

So until next time, here’s wishing you luck in editing your photos!

Top 7 Free Photo Editing Software Programs For Windows

Many of these free photo editing programs aren’t lousy or lacking in features. Some of them are industrial grade (e.g. GIMP) and some are geared towards simple, online photo edits (e.g. Fatpaint). In this article, I’ll introduce you to seven of the best photo editing software programs for Windows.

1. The GIMP
The GIMP is a great free, open-source image editor that brings high-end photo editing to users for free. The interface is a bit complex to pick up, but it is very powerful. If you’ve used Adobe Photoshop before, you’ll find many of its functions available in the GIMP. For a free piece of software, it has an amazing repertoire of functions.

2. Fotoflexer
Fotoflexer is a web-based photo editing application that has casual and prosumer appeal. If you’re a novice, you’ll be able to go in, do some simple edits and be done. If you’re a more advanced user – you’ll be spoilt for choice in terms of what this tool can do. We’re talking about blurring, comic, retro, animatinos, distortions and even layer support – all done online with your photo.

3. Paint.Net
Paint.Net has been around for some time and boasts an easy-to-use interface and a huge array of effects. If you don’t need to use the full power of Photoshop and simply want a quick and dirty tool, Paint.Net is a good bet.

4. Picasa 3.5
Owned by Google, Picasa is a very pretty and top notch photo editing program. You need to install a desktop client in order to use it. However, it’s interface is very clean and has cool tools like geo-tagging, great sharing support, web albums and name tags. Picasa gets my vote as one of the best in this list – it’s a terrific, easy, and free way to edit and organize your images.

5. Picnik
Picnick is another photo editing tool that is web-based and has been around for some time. It’s quite powerful in the photo editing options it offers – although it’s not as full-featured as Fotoflexer, in my opinion.

6. Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011
Microsoft has jumped on the photo editing bandwagon too – with Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011. It gives you face recognition and retouching capabilities and is in fact a very good alternative to Google Picasa or Apple iPhoto.

7. Fatpaint
Fatpaint is an online and free, graphic design software and photo editor. It’s one of the newer tools in this list – you can create page layouts, paint and draw vector images, logos and illustrations very easily.

As you can see, there are many choices available when you’re picking a good photo editing software program for your Windows machine. What I’ve shown you are 7 of the best and free tools available out there. Be sure to check them out. For more serious work, you’d of course want to use a commercial package like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel PaintShop Pro X4.

Until next time, happy photo editing!