Graphics is Not My Thing: Part 2: Editing

Last time, I shared simple steps on how you can improve taking photos, especially if you have a blog or website centered around product reviews, your family or travel. This week, we’ll tackle basic editing, a must-do step that will help get your photos noticed on Pinterest, Instagram and across social media.

Edited photo

Before we start, you must own an editing program. This is not an option. Your camera’s software probably offers only limited editing options. There are many cost-effective offline options that are worth investigating that run the gamut from free to high end. I recommend you avoid costly products and stick to the lower end of the spectrum, but don’t just use a program because it’s free.

Many great editing programs, such as PicMonkey, are available in limited form for free or have a free trial but a small fee to upgrade is worth your investment. Next, download your photos to your PC or Mac, remembering to back them up, and let’s start editing.

Review your photos first.

Before editing, check out your downloaded photos. You may find that some are completely unusable. Discard them now so they don’t eat up valuable. If your entire “roll” seems off or doesn’t look good, go back and reshoot after rechecking the settings on your camera. You may need to restore it to default to eliminate problems. Once your best photos are selected, open them in your editing.

Reduce the size.

Image size and resolution

First resize your photos in your editing program and save them with a name you’ll remember. I don’t recommend editing the original; save it in case you need to restore it.

Uploaded images should have a resolution of 72 or 96 dpi (“dots per inch” measures the pixels in the image). Find the tool that sets image size and change the resolution if necessary. My digital camera automatically saves photos at print resolution (300) so when I reset it, the photos goes from over 3000 pixels (px) wide down to about 1000px. Never upload photos that large to your website! You will be eating up valuable server space and time. A better practice is to edit on your computer and then upload a reasonably sized image (600-800px) to your blog.

You may want to keep you main image width at a maximum of 800px, an optimal size for Google+, and resize in WordPress to fit your post width or leave it 10 or 20px under the width of your format, and smaller for other images. (This blog uses photos that are resized to 700px wide for the top image and 300px all others.) Keep in mind that close up images have greater impact especially in product shots, so if your camera is set to shoot very large photos, you might want to just crop the sides out first. On my own blog, I upload a width of 600px, but edit with a width of 700-800px, so I have room for the next step.

Reposition or re-apply the “rule of thirds.”

As discussed last week, aligning your image before shooting is better for impact, but perhaps you don’t like where the lines have fallen and think the image could have better placement. Your editing program may also have “rule of thirds” gridlines in the crop feature, or you may have to set them. Before you hit that “crop” button, make sure that you have the look and alignment that you want. Push your photo left and right, up and down to position it so that your viewer’s eye is drawn to the right place. This will take some practice.

Sharpen your image.

sharpen photo tool

I’ve heard “don’t sharpen” and “do sharpen,” but I’ve noticed that sharpening my photos taken with my Nikon Coolpix just once often gives it more clarity, especially if there is text that needs to be read on a package.

You do need to be careful though. If your camera or phone already takes a very crisp photo, like my Samsung Note 3, then you’ll want to avoid this as it can make the image too pixelated. In any case, when you add text, make sure you it’s set to sharp, crisp or smooth for maximum legibility – hopefully, your editing program gives you those options. If not, select a font that is already crisp and clean to make it easier to read on the thumbnail your blog creates. Another trick is to add a little bit of a drop shadow to make colored or white text stand out from a background.

Adjust the color, tone and brightness.

Your photo may look too yellow, too blue, too muddy or too dark.

For example, you may have forgotten to change the white balance or lighting conditions may have changed by the time you took your best shot. All editing programs come with some level of adjustment for your colors, brightness and lighting. Don’t get carried away here. Just make sure that your photo has pop, that main area of focus stands out from the background and that the colors look realistic – if you are going for a professional looking shot and not something whimsical. If you are trying to create a fanciful look, adjust color or, if your program has them, play with filters. (Filters create photo effects, just like the options on Instagram.) You may need to play around with it for a while to get the right feel.

Touch up problems.

You’ve taken the perfect photo only to find out that you have a blemish, blurry mark or possibly even red eye messing up your photo. An editing program is necessary because it can help you eliminate these issues. Depending on what software you use, there are multiple tutorials all over the web to help you. Since I use Photoshop, my techniques would be somewhat different than other, more affordable editing programs, however a few guidelines remain. Firstly, create a duplicate layer of your photo so you can edit all yo

Layers help you add text, add shadow, create duplicates of your photo and more.

u want without discarding the original image. For glare that you cannot crop out, you can use selection tools to grab the offending light and soften it with filters or by adjusting brightness or contrast. Removing red or green eye is done by using a selection tool and adjusting the color. Hopefully, your editing program has a gamut of tutorials online to make the right adjustment.

Apply a watermark and/or copyright.

Remember that you own this photo and someone may want to steal it. While there is technically nothing you can do to completely ensure your photos won’t be stolen, you can make it harder on someone by attaching watermark or adding the copyright.

Simply create a blank layer above your photo, and add the words, “Copyright,” Make it small and place in a corner. I advise using your website URL and the same font as your logo to keep your website top of mind. To create a watermark, fade the text down to a shadow and give it a bevel, outline or drop shadow. Watermarks can be dropped on top of the image itself if worried about theft.

Make it pinnable.

Now comes the fun part. You really need to keep with the look and appearance of your website (using the same colors and fonts, for example) but this should be engaging and make people want to read your post. Think about what you want to accomplish with this image: Do you want the text to go viral? Do you want more of a badge that will make people remember your site? Look at your favorite pins and mimic what they do right. Make sure to place text on your image with a clear, short descriptive of your post.

Put it on your site.

Once you’ve gotten the image to where you want, you’ll need to optimize it – that is, create the best looking image with the lowest image size. You will be exporting either a jpg or a png for any photo-based images. Your posts should have one large image at the top and smaller images throughout. Also make sure you have a featured thumbnail image for your homepage.

That’s all there is to it! What are you waiting for? Get started creating those compelling images now.