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Image Editing Basics: Five Techniques You Need to Know

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Images – they're incredibly versatile, come in a variety of formats, and deliver context, information, and emotions that words alone struggle to convey. Having a clean and balanced image for your website, business, or blog to support your words can also make a huge difference for your site. Kit Heathcock, otherwise known as content creator OriginalOrange, shares the basics of image editing so that you can transform your snapshots and graphics into images that will take your words to the next level.

Newspapers have always used dramatic images to sell their stories. An image is the hook that draws the reader’s eye to read the words. It breaks up the text, brightens the page and sets the mood for the article. Websites use photos in the same way, to catch the reader before they navigate away from a page, to draw them on to reading the content.

No website or blog is complete without at least one image per post or page. With digital cameras and even cellphone cameras producing better quality images than ever before, it is now quite simple to produce your own images to complement your content.

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to produce good enough images for web use. It does help to shoot a good clear image in the first place, but simple snapshots can be improved a lot in an image editing program.

Whether you use a free image editing program like GIMP or Picasa, or purchase software such as Adobe Photoshop, learning just a few basic image editing techniques can turn a photo from dull waste of space to effective hook for your website.

Cropping
Cropping an image effectively can already make a huge difference to its impact. When you cut out distracting background, or a clutter of irrelevant objects around, the subject of your photo stands out better. You can correct the placing of the subject if it is awkwardly placed by trimming one side, focus more attention on a person’s face by cropping a wide shot into a portrait format and much more.

When cropping, keep in mind a basic rule of composition: the rule of thirds. This golden rule of photography divides the image into thirds, horizontally and vertically and then aligns the subject with one of the intersecting lines. The horizon in a landscape shot, usually works best placed on one of these lines too. Read more about composition and then you can apply it with your cropping tool.
 


Say you want to illustrate harvest or fruitfulness: this shot does show a fruit tree with brimming basket, but the building behind distracts the eye, confusing the message and the branches in the foreground are untidy. Cropping out the distractions gives a more powerful image to illustrate your page.

Play with the cropping tool until you get the feel of its transformational powers! You can keep going backwards and forwards cropping the same image until you get the feel you want.

Color Balance
The atmosphere of an image is hugely influenced by the color of the light. Warm golden light creates a happy holiday feel, while cooler light can look smooth and professional. Adjusting the color balance can change the mood of an image as well as correcting images that just don’t look right. Faces that have a blue or green tinge, when shot in the shade of trees for example, can be given a more natural coloring and skin tones restored to health with the color balance feature.
 


This shot has far too much magenta: the message about fruitfulness needs green vigor to bring it to life. By adjusting the magenta/green balance, we can get the image of health and growth that we are looking for.

Brightness and Contrast
Images that look rather gray, flat and dull can often be brought to life by tweaking the contrast levels. Photos taken on cloudy days and out of direct sunlight often benefit from increased contrast, while photos taken in bright sunlight can be too contrasty, in which case decreasing the contrast levels helps bring the detail back into the shadow areas. Simple image editing programs like Picasa will adjust contrast automatically to an optimum level, while in Photoshop you manually adjust the curve graph until you achieve the contrast you want.
 


Now the color balance has been adjusted on our image, we can see that the colors are still too light and lacking in intensity. Adjusting the brightness and contrast will correct that, giving the image more impact.

Compression and Re-sizing
It is essential to re-size your images before up-loading them to your website or blog. Full-size images straight from your camera are usually large enough for good print quality. This level of quality is not needed for your average sized web image. In fact it is a disadvantage, as the larger the image, the longer it will take to load, slowing down your website and perhaps losing your viewer, before the image has even loaded.

When you have cropped and edited your image, so you have it looking just the way you like, the next stage is to re-size and compress it to the optimum size for the use you intend it for. You may want to save a copy of your edited image before you re-size it, so that you can use it at a different size later.

As a basic rule for a medium web-site image, reduce the longest side of your image to around 450pixels. Make sure that it is set at the standard resolution 72dpi for web use. Adjust the quality further if necessary, so that your final image ends up at about 30-50kb in size. Small thumbnail images can be even smaller at 200 pixels wide and10-15kb in size.
 


If however you are re-sizing your images to print, you need to keep the highest level of quality possible. In that case you would set the resolution level to 300dpi and then re-size your cropped image to the physical size that you want to print it at. Make sure you save print images separately to images for web use, as an image sized for printing can seriously choke up a web or blog!

Fun Stuff
Many image editing programs have special effects buttons, which turn you into an instant graphic artist. Increase the contrast way beyond natural tones until you get a grainy artistic image, alter the colors until they are practically fluorescent, turn color photos into classic black and white pictures.
 


When you have time, play with these effects. You never know when you might need a striking graphic image to draw the eye to your website and this way you can produce your own masterpieces from quite ordinary photographs.

Important: Always save your edited image as a separate file and keep the original image unchanged. In future you may want to crop that same image differently or use it in another format or size

Be aware that almost every computer monitor sees images differently. You may get your image looking perfect on your screen, only to find it looking greener or more magenta, lighter or darker on another screen. For web use you have to be satisfied with a good enough image.

A photo is worth a thousand words, they say. It depends on the photo and on the words of course, but just by learning these basic image editing techniques you can make sure that your photos put across the message you want and get your viewers to read your words too.

Still struggling to get your images to look the way you need to? Or do you need something a little bit more extreme in terms of editing and enhancing your images? Don't fret. Elance has over 30,000 Photoshop professionals that can help you get your image to look exactly how you want it.

Comments

Excellent post
I read it completely and wrote down some notes
Thanks!