Images that come straight from a digital camera aren't always perfect. As you start to gain more experience with image editing, you may notice some recurring problems with images that you'll want to fix. For example, some images may be too bright, while others may be too dark or blurry. There are many corrections that can make your images look dramatically better. Some of the corrections we'll cover in this lesson include:
Want to see the difference corrections can make? Take a look at the example below. It only took a few quick corrections to make the image look brighter, clearer, and more colorful.
If you want to follow along, you can download some or all of our example images. Just click any of the images below to open a full-sized version, then right-click the full-sized version and select Save Image As to save it to your computer.
Just like in the previous lesson, we'll show you how to make these adjustments with Pixlr X, a free web-based image editor you can use from almost any computer with an Internet connection. If you're using a mobile device, you can use the free Pixlr mobile app.
If you have a different image editing program, you can still follow along. These features will work roughly the same way for most image editors. However, note that some basic image editing programs, like Microsoft Paint, do not include all of the tools we'll discuss in this lesson.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind as you start working with images. If you're new to image editing, we also recommend reading the first lesson in this tutorial.
Sometimes an image may look too bright or too dark. This can be caused by several factors, including the lighting where the photo was taken and camera settings. You can offset this by adjusting the brightness and contrast of the image.
When you adjust the brightness, you're changing the overall level of light and dark in the image. If an image is too dark, you can try increasing the brightness, as in the example below.
However, increasing the brightness for a very dark image can lead to a lot of image noise, or graininess. This is because you're also brightening any noise the image may have. In the example below, you may notice that the green background in the image on the right looks rough and grainy. We'll cover reducing image noise later in this lesson.
When you increase the contrast, you're making the difference between the light and dark areas of the image more noticeable. In other words, you're making the dark parts darker and the light parts lighter. In the example below, notice how the sky at the top of the image becomes brighter, but the trees and rocks become darker.
However, increasing the contrast too much can lead to a loss in image detail. It will also usually increase the saturation of the image, which we'll discuss in more detail below.
Drag the slider in the interactive below to adjust the contrast of the image.
Remember, we'll be using Pixlr X throughout this lesson, so this process may vary depending on the software you're using.
Many advanced image editing applications, including Photoshop, also feature other tools to adjust settings like levels and curves. These tools are similar to the ones shown above, but they'll give you an even finer level of control over brightness and contrast. To learn more about using levels and curves, review our Photoshop Basics tutorial.
There may be times when you want to adjust the colors in an image. For example, you may want to highlight certain colors in the image or even change the colors for artistic effect.
Sometimes the colors in an image may appear to be dull or muted. You can compensate for this by increasing the saturation, which can make the colors look richer, or more vivid. You can see an example of this in the images below.
On the other hand, you can reduce the saturation to make the colors less vivid. If you remove the saturation completely, it will produce a black-and-white, or grayscale, image. You can see an example of this in the images below.
Drag the slider in the interactive below to adjust the saturation of the image. Careful, though! Too much saturation will cause the image to lose detail.
Be careful not to increase the saturation too much. This can cause the colors to look unnatural, as in the example below.
There are many other ways to adjust the colors in an image. Color correction tools may vary depending on your image editing application, but you can learn more about some common ones below.
Sometimes an image may not be as clear as you'd like it to be. Sharpening can help make them look crisp and clear by enhancing the edges of objects in the image. However, adding too much sharpness can actually make an image look worse, or lead to a loss in image detail. Take a look at the example below.
As you can see, the right amount of sharpness makes the photo look very crisp. In the center image, for example, it's easy to see the edges of the bird's feathers. But adding too much sharpness can cause the edges to look exaggerated and unnatural, as in the image on the right. You may have also noticed that the background in the over-sharpened image has a lot of added image noise.
Drag the slider in the interactive below to adjust the sharpness of the image. Try to make the image look crisp but not oversharpened.
To learn more about sharpening, review this tutorial from Cambridge in Colour.
Some images may have a lot of noise, which causes them to look grainy. You can compensate for this by reducing the image noise, as in the example below.
Just like the other adjustments we cover in this lesson, you'll need to use this feature carefully. Removing too much noise from the image can result in blurriness and a loss of detail.
Drag the slider in the interactive below to adjust the level of noise reduction. Remember, removing too much noise will cause the image to lose detail. Try to find a level that makes the image look clean without losing too much detail.
Like many basic image editing applications, Pixlr X does not include a noise-reduction tool. You can, however, use the free Pixlr Editor to reduce image noise if this tool is not included in your image editing application.
If you're using Photoshop, you'll be able to adjust the amount of noise that is reduced. For more information, review our Photoshop Basics tutorial.
If you're not exactly sure what kind of corrections to use—or if you're just looking for a quick way to make your images look better—many applications include an automatic adjustment tool. This feature will analyze the image and make corrections to try to improve its appearance. In Pixlr X, you can find this tool by clicking Adjust, then the Auto Fix button.
Other applications, such as Photoshop, may have more specific tools. Photoshop has several options, including Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, and Auto Color.
Most of the time, these tools will improve the overall look of an image. However, you can always manually adjust an image after using them. One idea might be to use an automatic adjustment tool first, and then make smaller corrections to get the image to look exactly the way you want.
There are several other corrections you may need to make, depending on the type of image you're editing. For example, many image editing applications include a red eye-removal tool, which you can use to fix a common problem that happens when the camera's flash causes a subject's eyes to look red. Many programs also include a set of touch-up tools, which you can use to remove blemishes or unflattering details from images.
To practice making the adjustments covered in this lesson, download some or all of our example images. Just click any of the images below to open a full-sized version, then right-click the full-sized version and select Save Image As to save it to your computer.