Let’s talk about the basics of your image editing software and the typical features you’ll use to improve your photos. Post processing is simply opening your photos in an image editing program so that you can improve them in various ways.

Sharpening – this is the process of making your photo appear to be more in focus. Most image editing programs do a very good job at sharpening your photos automatically. However, keep in mind that sharpening is not a replacement or a quick fix for taking poor blurry pictures. Good focus and sharpness starts at the camera and can be improved by software sharpening.

Saturation – this is the ability to move the colors of your photo more towards gray (desaturation) or make them more intense and vibrant (saturation). Proper use of saturation can bring your photos to life but overuse can make them look unnatural and strangely colored.

Levels – the ability to control the shadows, mid tones and highlights in your photo. This is not to be confused with simple controls of contrast or lightness/darkness which only give you a flat, linear adjustment of all three (shadows, mid tones and highlights) simultaneously.

“Levels” allow you to SEPARATELY control each. The midtone control will allow you to adjust an image to be lighter or darker overall. The shadows control will allow you to increase the depth and richness of shadows. The highlight control allows you to increase highlights causing the photo to have higher contrast and be more visually interesting.

There are no set formulas or rules for using Levels, you just have to play around with it and learn what it does.

In more basic software like Picasa, the closest you’re going to get to levels is a tool called “Fill Light” and other basic software may call it “contrast adjust”.

Hue Correction – Your images will often have what is known as a “color cast” which means they appear overall to be too red, too yellow or too blue. A color cast is like holding a piece of colored film over your photo.

Another common issue is that your image has the wrong TEMPERATURE. A sunny backyard photo should feel warm. Pictures of the kids playing in the snow should feel cold. Your photo may appear to be bluish (cold) when you really want it to appear warmer and more yellow. The hue control will help you to correct this.

In the world of color, reds and yellows are warm, while greens, blues and violets are cold. So if you take a photo of a group of people that has a blue cast because of the lighting, those people will not appear warm and inviting because blues are cold. In this case you would use the hue control to move the overall color of the photo towards red and yellow which would warm the image.

Like saturation and levels, there are no set rules on how to apply hue correction. The human eye can perceive if the overall color of a photograph is incorrect and needs the hue adjusted. (Hint: learning to adjust the white balance of your camera will often correct these color problems on the spot)

Here’s examples of how you can transform your photos using these common enhancements:

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