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Bad Photos? Six Tips for Rescue and Renewal

You would think, given the billions of photos taken every day by the 85 percent of Americans who own a smartphone, that some images — just a few — would be exactly what you need for engaging, visually appealing communications. After all, you don’t always have the budget for a professional photoshoot. Surely, there’s a snapshot that captures the moment perfectly and is destined for viral fame and fortune. Maybe?

So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance

Obtaining that perfect snapshot (for free) through crowdsourcing or even your own camera is a long shot. Rather than play the odds, there’s a better alternative. Learn how to fix bad photos. Here are six suggestions to give you a good start.

1. Too Dark? Too Light? Now What?

In photography terms, an image that’s too dark is underexposed. If it’s too light, it’s overexposed. These terms are holdovers from earlier eras of photography when the camera shutter opened to expose the capture medium — let’s say 35mm film — to light for a certain duration of time. Underexposed meant too little light. Overexposed meant too much.

In today’s world of digital photography, many underexposed images can be salvaged. Yes, they’re darker at first than you’d like, but there’s digital information there that your camera’s sensor captured. In contrast, if an overexposed image starts a little bright and then parts of the image transition to white (for instance, the sky in the background), there may be no information at all in the pure white areas to work with. The only way to make that white sky blue is to retouch it by introducing a non-original color (a much bigger topic for another day).

To correct underexposed images, your go-to tool in an image processing app such as Snapseed or Pixelmator will probably be called something like “Light and Dark” or “Shadows.” You’ll probably have options to lighten shadows and darken highlights. Experiment. You can always revert or reset back to the original image. But you should be able to open up the darkest shadows and start seeing what you have to work with.

2. Crop for Creative Effect

Get to know the cropping tool on whatever image editing platform you prefer, whether it’s the photo app on your phone or something as advanced as Photoshop. Removing excessive and potentially distracting elements from a photo can really bring the image to life by focusing on what’s really important. Explore whether you get the best results by cropping to maintain the original width and height proportions or with something new, such as a square image or freeform. If you’re cropping on your phone, you’ll be working with the best quality image. If you email it to yourself or upload it to an online platform, always send the image at its maximum size and resolution. That way, when you crop down to a smaller image, you’ll still have plenty of digital data to avoid graininess and loss of detail.

3. Color Overlays for Consistency

Here are two scenarios. You’re promoting an upcoming panel discussion featuring a moderator and several guests, all of whom submitted selfies to accompany their bios. Or maybe you have headshots of team members located in several offices in different cities. You lightened the shadows and cropped the images, but it’s clear the photos came from multiple sources. They just don’t look the same.The solution? Try a color overlay to establish a level of consistency. You could even convert the images to black and white first, then apply a color for effect. Typically, this process involves adding a new layer on top of the photos that’s only the color, adjusted for the amount of opaqueness or transparency you desire (how easily you can see through the color). Usually, 75-90% opaqueness works well. Lower ranges can start to look faded.

4. Filters Are Your Friend, Too

In much the same way that color overlays establish consistency among photos from multiple sources, filters can even things out, too. If you want the focus to remain on the subjects in the images, use filters that don’t call attention to themselves. However, if the filtered effect also plays a primary role in the visual storytelling you want to achieve, by all means go big and bold. A key selling point on using filters is how they give you the ability to try one after another until you find the right effect.

5. Curves: The Original Multitool

The best way to get to know the options available in an image editing app is to experiment when you’re not facing a deadline. Try out the tools, read some how-to info from the help menu or watch a few videos. You’ll start discovering fast, easy image effects to address common needs. Don’t pass over a more advanced effect known as Curves.When you open Curves, you’re going to see a diagonal line that starts in the lower left corner and ends in the upper right. It runs over the top of a graphical representation of the image, depicting color and light values. Select and hold on the middle of the diagonal line, and start pushing or pulling it up or down. You’ll see many adjustments happening simultaneously — light and dark, color intensity, etc. A tiny shift can produce very good results. This tool takes some practice, so it may be something you use more often later on. And always remember, you can hit cancel or revert to the original image anytime.

6. Sharpen with Caution

As you explore the toolset in your image editor, you will probably see an effect called Sharpen. While you might think your blurry image problems are solved, some blurry images are just blurry images that can’t really be fixed. Like Curves, Sharpen is not an on-deadline tool. Rather, when you have a few free moments, open an image and experiment with the controls. You will probably see that a couple of small nudges are nearly imperceptible, but all of a sudden, the image gets too grainy. Hit cancel or revert to the original, and try a different photo. You’ll start to see how the tool works. There’s a limit to how much you can go with this effect, unless you’re going for a truly artistic effect.In the end, the beauty and value of modern digital photography is the combination of quantity and quality. You may not get the perfect photo every time, but since the quantity is so great, you should be able to find a few you can make work with a few tweaks. Faced with budget or timeline constraints, you may not always be able to hire a professional retoucher. But a few relatively simple tools and techniques can help you fix a bad photo for a wide range of communications needs

Looking for more tips to avoid bad photos? Check out Essential Photo Tips to Stand By.

Published on: June 21, 2021