May is National Photography Month so I want to take a fast overview of a handful of tools that will improve your photos. So, if you have only put a filter on a photograph and thought that using fancy software is intimidating and expensive, let me show you that it’s not scary at all! This revised post from last year has some quick and simple tips.
Use Photo Editing Software
For beginners, there are a number of simple skills you can easily work with in a photo software program to transform your photographs, especially if you use a computer.
Whichever software you have or use. Aim to learn one skill at a time. This list give you useful places to begin start your explorations.
- Adjusting Exposure
- Adding Text
- Dodging and Burning
My first tip is an essential one.
The number of things that software like Affinity Photo, GIMP and Photoshop Elements, (or your smartphone apps) can do is overwhelming so don’t try to master everything at once. Take it one step at a time and you will find that your photographs improve. Popular software like these programs have a learning curve but they earn their keep with a huge rage of tools.
If you are a confident photo editor consider using a more sophisticated software like Photoshop or Luminar Neo. These are paid programs but have a huge range of tools.
Your smartphone will have tools to adjust images, including adding text. If you import your photographs to a computer or tablet you will have a wider range of tools available.
At its simplest, exposure is the amount of light that shows up in your photograph. You may find your photos darker or lighter than you expected it’s frustrating so what do you do?
Depending on your device, and whether you want to share the picture on social media or print out an image on canvas, you should be able to find the following adjustments on your camera or smartphone.
Adjusting the exposure won’t rescue pictures that are very under or overexposed, but you will be surprised by how much small adjustments made using ‘Contrast’ or dimming a ‘Highlight’ can do. Experiment with your software,and maybe you will surprised.
Boosting highlights and increasing exposure helped improve this cat photograph.
Cropping A Photo
Let’s look at how a picture can be transformed with a crop. This is Natasha, she is an adventurer, a lively cat caught at rest in the garden. The photograph is shot from slightly below and captures her alert and slightly wary expression.
I wanted to capture her special look and relaxed pose but I also got a lot of sky and greenery I did not need. What could I do? How do I improve the picture so she becomes the star of the show?
The picture has focus! The photo spotlight on Natasha! Every software program or app will have something similar and cropping is the easiest way to make a difference to your photograph.
If you have a photograph like this, it might be useful to create a duplicate and for practice.
The crop tool is usually an icon of two right-angles and, regardless of your software, it should be in the same approximate area. Popular tools are often grouped together – in Affinity Photo window below, you can see the colour picker dropper, magic wand and lasso rope selection tool in the same general area.
Cropping works for a lot of pictures where you think your cat looks too small in a photograph. Also, by adding a small contrast adjustment you can find details you hadn’t seen become visible in the cropped photograph.
Dodge and Burn Your Photographs
This technique can be SOOOO useful to beginner photographers. It has its roots in the age of film photography and is a super effective digital tool today.
To ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’ means you highlight or darken specific portions of your photograph, but not the whole image. It is a more controlled tool that lets you focus in very specific areas. The icon is either a small flame or a magnifying glass. How the tools work depends on your software so experiment and have some fun here this can be an eye opener for your cat photographs.
Read about dodging and burning in more depth here.
Once you have selected the option you want to try, you will have the opportunity to adjust your brush size, stroke density and softness. You can lighten a frustrating shadow on an eye or around a muzzle.
The key is to experiment, see what works and what is too extreme unless you want crazy effects for your photograph. Extremes of lightness and darkness can’t be adjusted but shade can be lightened and a too bright highlight can be gently softened.
Adding Text to Your Photograph
If you want to add a message to your image, or watermark is for copyright purposes then adding text is a useful skill.
- NOTE: Every device and software have their own ways of adding text.
Smartphones have the edge as they can add text within a photo app. DSLR cameras and compacts will (mostly) need you to download your photographs into your own computer software such as Photoshop Elements, Affinity Photo, or GIMP.
Explore your software settings and choose the tool that appeals to you most, you can have a lot of fun adjusting images, just remember to work on a copy of your original photograph.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments or email me through the Contact Me page.
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can create impressive cat photographs and fun movies with the camera they carry.
She is a Professional Member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.