Sometimes it’s really amazing how a bad picture can turn into an “ok picture” by following the steps bellow. But don’t really expect miracles, because what really makes a picture outstanding is the subject and the creative idea it transmits. First lets look at some examples and after that I will show you the steps.
For the first one I used all steps except 2, 7 and 10.
The second one uses all steps except 2 and 3.
The last one uses all of them except 3 and 10.
Step 1: Cropping and Rotating
This corrects the composition. Concentrate on the subject by “getting” it closer and take some rules under consideration. In my opinion rotating is rarely used if you keep the camera in the right position. However, sometimes my camera fails to rotate the vertical images after shooting so I have to do it manually.
Step 2: Eliminating Objects
Some undesired little objects that could not be avoided during shooting can be erased by using clone and healing tools in Photoshop. The classic situation is represented by electricity and phone wires.
Step 3: Lighten the shadows
This will reveal details. To do so, in Photoshop you will need a different layer, or, in newer Lightroom version, there is a function that will do so for you. Picasa comes with “Fill Light” feature. If you got a Nikon camera, then you probably also have the Capture NX software which also helps improve the already in-camera D-Lighting.
Step 4: Curves
This will mainly adjust the contrast and brightness. The “S” shape is good for improvements; details with example here.
Step 5: Levels
Levels and Curves most likely go hand-in-hand, sometimes just one of them is enough. However, levels also affect color tones and therefore very useful in many situations.
Step 6: Hue/Saturation
Most pictures wont need this. Note that aesthetic pictures are those with natural colors, so don’t just pull the saturation over the limits. I rather recommend color control via Selective Color.
Step 7: Black and White Conversion
This is definitely optionally; some details here. Usually, the pictures that look good in BW are classic portraits, pictures of old stuff, pictures that concentrate more on a powerful concept and shapes rather than colorful nature, but I really think there are no rules for this.
Step 8: Sharpness
Sharper pictures usually look better than very smooth ones, revealing more details of the shapes forms. For this I usually use “unsharp mask” in Photoshop, and, if the picture is way too soft, overall sharpness.
Step 9: Noise Reduction
Not just after shooting at high ISO, but also after the sharpness adjustment, the picture will likely become noisy. NeatImage is the freeware software I recommend for this job. Some people just simply like grainy pictures, but then I recommend adding some uniform grain not the sharpness noise which is not uniform.
Step 10: Blurring the Background
Compact digital cameras, even if they do have manual settings or shutter priority, still don’t handle DOF very good. In this case you can pop up the main subject by blurring the background. You can just blur just a few areas with the brush, or, create a different layer to handle things more accurate around the subject. However, its not (and never will be) the same thing as real DOF from dSLRs.
Step 11: Adding a Border
Usually a simple one (white or black) is the best choice, but for details about this check part1 and part2 of the borders tutorial.
Step 12: Adding a Signature
Its not a must, but picture fraud over the internet is very high our days, so why not having your name on your work?
Step 13: Resizing
Unless you were preparing a picture for printing, smaller images are better for the web because they load faster. I recommend doing this as a last step, otherwise too many details (pixels) will be lost. More than that, try these settings at the resizing in Photoshop: to maintain original sharpness when scaling down, click on Resample Image and choose Bicubic and 70% JPEG quality.
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