Create the perfect photos

Editing software

Practically every camera comes with photo-editing software. They all have the basic features, such as adjusting colours and sharpness. If you find the software you have doesn’t sport the features we talk about below, download one of the free alternatives. Our favourite is Paint.NET, and it’s a tiny download at only 1.5MB. Alternatively, there’s a trial version of our A-Listed photo-editing software, Photoshop Elements 8.

For more complex editing, you can use a free, open-source package called the GIMP. It’s never been the easiest app to use, but recent versions are more user friendly. GIMP will do almost everything that commercial packages do, but the trade-off is increased effort and its slightly quirky interface. Some functions – such as supporting RAW files from a digital SLR – need third-party plugins.

The photo workflow

The most important step in the photography process is getting the right shot with the right settings, but there are plenty of things you can do in software to make an average shot good, and a good shot great. The word “workflow” often crops up in digital photography circles, for the simple reason that there’s a standard chain of software operations that will enhance most photos.

You’ll find you want to apply them on a regular basis, before you think about any other enhancements for a given image.

1. Levels and curves

These two, closely related functions can have an effect on a shot that’s little short of miraculous, and they’re simple to apply. In fact, you can apply levels and hugely improve the appearance of a photo in less than ten seconds. They work by stretching the tonal range of an image so it takes full advantage of the range of tones the display hardware (both monitor and printer) can show.


For instance, if you didn’t know about the Snow scene mode when you took that picture of your sister falling down the ski slopes, the chances are it’s underexposed, with the white snow looking slushy and grey. Using levels you can fix this in a trice, and your shot will sparkle with holiday joy.

2. Colour adjustment

You’ll often find that judicious tweaking of colours can have a lovely effect on a shot. Remember, though, that less is more. Generally, the only colour-adjustment control you’ll want to touch is saturation. Giving this a tweak will generally make your shots punchier, but overdo the effect and it looks like a badly adjusted TV set.

3. Sharpening

The level of software-based sharpening applied to digital photos is important for bringing out the most detail and getting your shots looking punchy. It’s particularly important if you want to print your photos, since prints naturally look a little softer than images on-screen. There are several software algorithms available for this: the best one to use is called, somewhat strangely, unsharp mask. The name is a historical hangover from the days of film, but the effect is to bring out more details and make pictures sharper and more vivid.

Get more creative

You’ll find dozens of silly effects in any photo-editing app, almost all of which are fun for ten seconds but useless for actually improving your pictures. More judicious use of software, though, can definitely enhance a shot. As a jumping-off point, try some of these:

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