Even professional photographers do a little editing on their photos.
Everybody can occasionally take good photos that won’t require much editing, but most of the time, you'll have to go the extra mile to make your photos stand out. This is especially true for digital images.
Here are a few tips to improve your so-so photos and make them look more professional.
Step 1. Remove imperfections.
If you are not careful when shooting, you will end up with all sorts of clutter in your final image: a stray hair, annoying or distracting items in the background, people getting into the frame and so on.
In this case, I have removed debris (circled in red) from the beach where the dog is sitting.
To do so, I selected the Spot Healing Brush tool and checked the Content Aware option in the control panel. Then I brushed away distracting elements, adjusting the tool’s size as I went.
Depending on the nature of the image and the corrections required, I could also use the Healing Brush tool and the Clone Stamp tool. Use them in combo for better results.
Step 2. Bring back the detail.
The dog photo is pretty much underexposed and some of the relevant features of the subject are concealed. As you can see, contrast is also a bit off.
To fix this, I used the Shadow/Highlights tool located inside the Adjustments menu. Shadows/Highlights is a more versatile and effective tool than Brightness/Contrast and it gives you much more control.
This tool is particularly useful whenever your photo is severely overexposed or underexposed because it allows you to recover details from shadows and highlights while adjusting tone and contrast.
Move the sliders for each setting until the details from the bright and dark areas reappear in the image, contrast is acceptable and the overall look of the photo is still as natural as possible.
Step 3. Enhance the colors.
The photo now looks all right, but it’s still a little flat. I want to add a little character to it and make it a bit warmer.
With Curves, you can make colors pop by adjusting tones. At the same time, you can completely alter the mood and atmosphere of your shots.
By manipulating the three color channels through Curve Points, you can easily create different looks and effects.
Step 4. Adjust the framing.
To make the image more interesting, I have to bring the subject closer by getting rid of dead space. You can make the framing tighter with the Crop tool.
Choose your preferred aspect ratio, and then drag the tool over the surface of the image to adjust its framing.
If the photo is crooked, you can also use this tool to make it straight by rotating its handles.
Note that the subject of your photo doesn’t have to be centered. In many cases, keeping it a little off-center will actually look better.
Step 5. Blur the background.
One thing that sets professional photos apart from amateur snapshots is the treatment of the subject. Blurring the background while focusing on the subject makes the photo more engaging.
If you can’t produce a blurred background due to equipment limitations, you can still recreate the effect digitally.
Duplicate your photo’s layer and apply a Lens Blur filter to it (Filter>Blur>Lens Blur) or a Gaussian Blur (Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur).
With the blurry layer selected, click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Select the newly created mask and reveal parts of the photo that should be in focus from the underneath layer with a soft black brush, leaving the background behind your subject out of focus.
If you make mistakes, you can easily make corrections switching to a white brush and painting over. Merge the layers together (CTRL+E) when you are done.
Step 6. Dodge and burn.
A light vignette will help draw attention to the subject by darkening the outsides of the image. Select the Burn tool from the toolbar. In the control panel, check the Protect tones option and start with an exposure of 10 to 15 percent.
With a big brush, paint over the areas around the borders of the image. With the Dodge tool, paint over the areas you’d like to brighten.
This is the photo before and after editing.
Put it in a frame!
Having a great photo to show off actually starts with taking a good shot, but often even good photos need treatment to look cool. Use these easy tips to help make your photos look more polished, professional and even frameable.
Edited in Adobe Photoshop CS5.