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If you think that you need an expensive program like Photoshop in order to do any photo editing don't worry, it's not true.

There are much cheaper and even free programs that can perform all the basic editing tasks that most photographers will ever need.


The sophisticated editing software we have today all evolved from programs designed to create television graphics. The sort of thing you see behind newsreaders and sportscasters. In fact all the graphic images you see on television, whether for titles, credits or explanatory graphics. Digital images were used in broadcasting long before digital still cameras became popular.

This is why most of their functions have to do with "creating graphics". They have functions like layers, masks, brushes, effects, fills, drawing and painting tools and the ability to add text to your images amongst lots of other abilities. Hardly any of these are of any use to a photographer. That's not to suggest that there's anything wrong with these programs, far from it. It's just that they are packed full with a lot of functions that most people will hardly ever use.


The fact that you can turn your photograph into an oil painting or add text to it is more of a novelty than something actually required for editing photographs. On the other hand, there are a few things that it's probably worth doing with most digital images. They include tools to correct flaws in the original picture or to enhance it slightly. At the end of the day you want to end up with something that is very obviously the original photograph, just a little better, if possible.


The functions required for basic photo editing

Before you start any sort of editing, you should always make a copy of your original image from the camera. That way, no matter what you do, even if you think you have totally ruined your picture, you haven't. You've only changed a copy of it.


No matter what program you use, the first thing you have to do is to open or load an image into it for editing. This will usually be under the "file" menu. Also in this menu will be "save" and "save as" that you need after you've done your editing. It's important to understand the difference between these two functions.


Once you have finished editing, the "save" function will replace the original picture with your edited version. If you are not working on a copy then your original camera image will now be lost forever. This is not just sent to the recycle bin but, as far as your computer is concerned, it just won't exist anymore. This is the only bad thing you can do with an image editing program. Anything else can be recovered from one way or another. The "save as" function is much more useful. It saves your edited image the same way but also allows you to change it's name, location and file format, if you want.


After that, the next most useful function is called "undo". This does exactly what it says and if you make any changes and don't like them, this function takes you back to where you started. All editors have these functions.


Once you have opened or loaded your picture, you will either see all of it or just a tiny part. This is controlled by a "zoom" function, which is usually found in the "view" menu. Most editors have a "fit to screen" option that shows you the whole picture. This is the view you'll be working with most of the time.


The next most useful zoom option is 100% (sometimes called actual pixels). This shows each pixel of your picture as one pixel on screen. You will need to scroll around to see the whole image. This is the best setting to use for checking details like focus and sharpness. It's also the only setting that doesn't change your image in any way. Sometimes, you can see odd patterns in your pictures that are caused by the program's zoom. They do not really exist in the picture itself. You can check this out by zooming to 100%. If they don't show up in that view, then they are not on your picture.


Looking at your whole picture, you first have to decide whether it has any flaws. Is the colour right?Is there a colour cast? Is there perhaps too much or too little colour. What about the exposure, was that spot on or is the picture a bit too dark or light? If you are completely happy with the way it looks in this regard, then you can skip the next few steps.


Colour correction

It's not unusual for some pictures to be slightly warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blue) than you would like, depending on the lighting conditions when you took it. The tool you need to correct for this may be called "colour correction", "colour balance", "white balance" or even "hue". Whatever it's called, you will either be presented with a slider to adjust the colour temperature in degrees Kelvin or 3 sliders for red, green and blue.


On the colour temperature scale, you go to a higher number to make the picture more blue and lower for more yellow. With a little trial and error, you will soon find the right setting. If you have red, green, and blue sliders, then you will probably only need to move the blue one. Some fluorescent lights may give your picture an overall pink or green cast. In which case, adjustment of the green slider is required.


Tonal balance

If your picture is slightly over or under exposed, then you need to look for the "brightness" control to compensate for that. You will usually find this associated with a "contrast" control. This has the effect (if you move it up) of brightening the light parts and darkening the already dark bits of your picture. If the photo looks a little dull or flat in tone, raising the contrast can often help.


The brightness control has the same effect on your photo as exposure compensation on your camera except that if there isn't any highlight or shadow detail due to over or under exposure, the brightness control cannot recover it. Also, if you adjust the control too far, you can easily lose highlight or shadow detail. The only way to avoid this is to use a control called "gamma correction". If your editor has this it will raise or lower the overall brightness of the picture but it won't affect the highlights or shadows.


Colour saturation

This controls how bright the colours are. Move it down to zero and your picture will turn black and white. Move it to the other end and the colours will be so garish, you will probably want to look away from the screen. Sometimes, when you increase the brightness of an image, the colours don't look so strong. Adjust the colour saturation to suit your personal taste.


That's about it for fixing flaws in your image in a basic editor. In a more sophisticated editor, you might also be able to fix things like distortion or noise. The rest of what you do in editing is about presentation of the final result.



Mainly, this will be required to rotate 90 degrees between a portrait and landscape view to compensate for turning the camera round when you took the shot. But it's also very handy if your picture is a little askew (it's easily done). Most pictures look better when the verticals are actually vertical or the horizon is horizontal.



This is where you can get very creative. Cropping allows you to re-frame your image to improve the composition or to create a completely new picture from it. You might find that after you have rotated an image slightly that there is blank space at each of the four corners. Some programs will crop this automatically for you, but others won't.


Having selected the crop tool, you are usually required to click at some point on the image and, holding the mouse button down, drag out a rectangle over the picture. At this point, you should be able to adjust the box by clicking on one edge and dragging it to where you want it. Once you are satisfied with the size, shape and position of your box, click the "ok" button (often the return button on your keyboard will work as well).


Some programs don't have a crop tool as such bur rather have a "crop to selection" function. This is very similar to the above method except that you use a "selection tool" to create the box, but you do it the same way. When you are happy with the box, click the "crop to selection" function. Just as with the crop tool, everything outside the box will disappear.


The digital zoom on some cameras does exactly the same thing as the crop tool, which is why people say that it's not all that useful to have as a camera function. In the editor, if you don't like the crop you have made, just hit "undo" and try again. You can't do that in the camera.



Your picture is now edited. All you have to decide is how you are going to present it. Do you want to make a print, if so, what size? Do you want to email it or upload it to a photo sharing site on the web or something similar?


Images intended for email or the web need to be relatively small. Probably much smaller than your camera produces unless you have cropped most of the picture away or used a digital zoom. To make them quick to email or upload they should only be a few hundred pixels across Certainly, no more than 1000 in any dimension.


The re-size tool may offer you different ways of doing the same thing, but most of the controls should be fairly obvious. You may be able to re-size by percentage or set a final size for the image in either inches, centimetres or pixels. Just set the longest side to less than 1000 and make sure that the "aspect ratio" is locked. If it's not then the program may only resize one dimension and your picture will either be very thin or very fat.


That is all you need to do when making images smaller. When it comes to printing however, you are more likely to want to make them bigger. This needs a little more consideration and this is covered in detail in another section.



Most digital images benefit from adding a little sharpness, especially if you intend printing them. However, if you add too much, they can look a bit strange as it basically adds extra lines around all the edges in your picture. On top of that, your camera will probably have added sharpness itself, so you need to be very careful when adding any more. Unless you can turn the sharpening off in your camera.


If you know that you're going to be editing your pictures, this is actually a very good idea. It's not just that "double sharpening" doesn't look very good but the fact that the effect of sharpening is very dependent on the size of the image. If you sharpen a small picture then enlarge it, you will be much more aware of the falseness of the effect.


Sharpening is a very useful effect but it should really only be applied once and by far the best time to do so is after the image has been re-sized.


Unless there was something badly wrong with your picture in the first place, this is all you will ever need to do with it in a photo editing program. Just about every program that calls itself such is capable of all of the above. If you are just starting out in digital photography you can use a very simple, even free, editor to begin without really missing out on anything important. You might find that it's all you ever need and could save yourself a small fortune.


If you think you might be interested in exploring this type of program to find out if it’s the right one for you, you can download a free trial version of the inexpensive ACDC Photo-Editor program from their website.


Download a FREE Trial of ACDSee Photo Editor. today !



Photo editing basics