I thought it’d be interesting to share how I edit and grade photos for my blog, since I get a lot of nice comments on my photos. The secret is I’m really quite lazy with editing – I don’t shoot RAW and spend ages manually fiddling with exposure levels or anything, but a couple of minutes in Photoshop can make an average photo look a bit more special.
I’ll demonstrate on this snap I took while I was doing a letterpress class on Tuesday (about which more later…). Nice subject matter, but needs some work to make it pretty.
First thing when opening up my photo is to check the composition. I’m pretty OCD about making sure any horizon lines in my photo are straight and nothing’s cropped awkwardly off the edges. Usually just rotating the image is OK (using a ruler guide as a straight edge) but sometimes I use the distort tool to fix any off-balance perspective. This doesn’t really apply on this photo though.
Then I’ll crop to a pleasing composition, using 3:2 aspect ratio. But remember the more you crop the lower-resolution the image will appear, so it’s best to think about framing when shooting. I’ll also sometimes use the Smudge or Clone Stamp tools to brush out any details that are distracting to the composition.
Level and colour balance fixing next: hit cmd+J to duplicate the base layer, then apple-shift-L to run an auto-levels and apple-shift-B for auto-colour balance. Sometimes this effect goes a bit weird, so you can reduce its intensity by lowering the layer opacity letting the original image show through. Or sometimes manual level and curve fixing are required. Merge down the layers (cmd+E) when you’re happy with the levels.
Next the fun bit, grading. Grading refers to altering the colour tone of a raw photo, and it can dramatically alter the feel and effectiveness of a picture. I usually MEGA cheat on this step and use these brilliant prebuilt Photoshop actions by NellyNero (you can see lots more examples of the actions in use on her blog). If you haven’t used actions before, it’s really easy: just download the file and drag into Photoshop and they’ll appear in the Actions palette.
The NellyNero actions automatically duplicate your image and run the action in a new file, so you can tweak it (most have optional layers for extra effects) and then paste back into your original image. Again, I sometimes reduce the opacity on the action layer to make the effect more subtle.
Merge down, save, and finished!
Of course it helps to have a decent camera and a good eye, you can’t polish the proverbial…but I hope this was helpful, let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer.