Tips Blog Photography on a Budget - Part 3: Editing

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I love every part of beauty blog photography and that includes editing. It is this step that can transform the picture from being drab to being fab (that sounded better in my mind). If you have a good camera and you had perfect conditions when taking the photo, then this part will most likely be redundant, however, not everyone can afford a several hundred euros worth DSLR camera and professional lighting, can we? So this is a kind of guide for those who have either cheap or old cameras, or they simply take pictures with their phones (like me), since those cameras usually can't pick up light well. Lets have a scenario where the pictures are grey and lack vibrancy as is mostly the case with cheap cameras. With the right technique, you can fix almost everything. Prepare yourself, this will be a long and picture heavy post.
Part 1: Setting up an Improvised Studio,  Part 2: Taking Pictures (with a Smartphone) .

Editing Software
Yes, Photoshop is the obvious choice here and it is worth having it as well as learning its functions if you're into photography. However, there are several other image editing programmes that are free as well as less complicated, such as Gimp,, Picasa, Photofiltre, etc. You can download them free here. More information about photo editing software here and here.

I'll show you very basic editing using four free programmes and a more elaborate editing in Photoshop. They all have a lot of functions, I do a much more complicated and long way of editing, but I'm trying to keep it simple for you. Most pictures can be fixed only by adding a bit more brightness or adjusting levels/curves and it's done. Any photo editing software can do that. One thing I never do is use auto-fixes. I just find it doesn't give me the desired results, so I do stuff gradually and manually, however, I am in no way discouraging you from using them. 
Lesson number 1: Keep a back-up copy of the picture you're editing.

Lets use these two images:

Gimp is probably the best free image editing software. Of course, it's no Photoshop, but it will suffice for an average user and the levels adjustments are very similar as in Photoshop, however, I dislike its brightening function.
Most of the things can be done with Curves, but because it's a more challenging process to teach, I'll first show you a different, quicker way by using Levels. You can find the levels tools in Colours > Levels. It's just a matter of moving the sliders, the ones in the input histogram do most of the job. Moving the right slider to the left will lighten the light tones, the middle slider darkens or lightens middle tones, and the left slider intensifies dark tones. It's the same thing in and Photoshop.

Here is one fixed by using Curves. The principle is the same as at levels, on the top of the curve you have light tones, so creating a point there and moving the line to the left will lighten them. Moving towards the bottom the darker the tones are that you're fixing and the same thing applies - moving to the left makes them lighter and moving to the right darker. Anyone who wants to master curves, I suggest watching this video.  
Some other functions you may find useful: For fixing colour, it has a colour balancing tool, but it's very odd and I find the Hue-saturation tool a bit more useful. For sharpening it has Unsharp mask tool in Filters>Enhance> Unsharp mask. looks a bit less intimidating than Gimp and has the same basic features, actually I like it more than Gimp so far. The Levels tool does look different, but it's the same thing, so again the input histogram does the work (top slider is for light tones and bottom for dark). As at Gimp, I dislike it's brightening function and it only has a basic sharpen function, but it does have the option of reducing noise and blurring. For fixing colour it only has a hue/saturation function.

Very basic and simple editing in Picasa that will appeal to non-tech savvy users - I suggest fixing Highlights and if it's too saturated, add a bit of brightness by Fill light, however, if it's not saturated enough move the Shadows slider. Colour temperature should fix a blue or yellow hue in the picture. Picasa is nice because it saves the original photo, but you need to have hidden folders enabled to find it. It also has a nifty retouching tool.

Photofiltre is very basic and I'm only including it here because I had official training in it, but it's not the easiest to get along with when it comes to editing pictures and it's better for quick cropping, resizing, adding frames, that kind of thing. Again we deal with Levels (Adjust > Levels…), but here it's a lot more complicated and harder to use. First fix the highlight to lighten the image and then fix shadows to add intensity. What I dislike at this programme is how hard it is to do changes gradually.

So, that's was easy, basic editing using free software and now the non-budget option - how I do it in Photoshop.

Good old PS gives best results, however, it's not free. Honestly, I could talk about editing in Photoshop for hours and I'm only familiar with the basics (I learned all I know myself by watching tutorials), but I'll keep it simple. Most of the functions are the same as in programmes I discussed before (and vice versa), they are just more effective.
Lesson number 1: Always work in layers
Lesson number 2: In Photoshop on adjustment layers using a black brush removes that part of the adjustment layer, while using white paints it back.

Again most of the things can be done with Curves (same video as above), but lets do it the other way, so how I prefer it. Not all of these steps are necessary.

Step 1 Adjust brightness and contrast

(Should be on the right of the workspace under Adjustments, alternately it's under Images > Adjustments > Brightness and contrast. This applies also to Levels, Vibrancy and Saturation, Colour Balance,...)
I really like this function in Photoshop as it lightens the picture, but still leaves midtones and dark tones at an appropriate level. Supposing I lightened the picture to remove the grey cast as much as possible, but now the products are too light,  in that case in Photoshop you can simply use a black brush, but decrease the opacity and paint over the product. This will remove the adjustment layer from that part of the image, however, doing that might result in the product looking too grey, so in that case rather use Levels or Curves.

Step 2 Levels

It's the same thing as I described at other programmes, so you just move sliders in the Levels histogram. Midtones (middle slider) bring the colour back (to the products). It is not uncommon that I apply several Levels layers to brighten certain areas more than the rest and with a black brush paint over the areas that don't need to be as bright.
You might wonder why I do the combination of brightness and levels, since I could only do levels. I find that sometimes when using just levels because the background might be unevenly grey, certain grey patches might stay, but when brightening the area before that doesn't happen. Of course, that is how I do it, I'm sure some people do it differently.

Remember if you work with layers in Photoshop, you can remove parts of adjusting layers by using a black brush.

Step 3 Vibrance and Saturation

If the colours aren't vivid enough, I use Vibrance and saturation. Saturation intensifies colours, but it can make it too bright and almost neon, so what I prefer to use is Vibrance because it enhances the natural tones without looking too harsh. More details about the difference between the two here. This is also useful when you feel the colours are too vivid, you just move the slider to the left.

Step 4 Colour Balance

Whenever I feel that the colours aren't accurate enough, I use colour balance. I must admit that this is the most difficult adjustment layer to master and it takes a lot of time to figure it out if you're not familiar with colour theory. But a very quick guide: if it's too green then add magenta and blue, if it's red or yellow use blue. This tools comes particularly handy when trying to get swatches as accurate as possible. This adjustment layer is also useful when the background has a certain hue. If your white background has a certain hue and you want it either white or grey, I use a black/white adjustment layer over the image and then erase the parts with products.

Step 5 Retouching or painting over imperfections
I mean imperfections of the product picture not when doing fixing a face shot. If there is any spot or dust on the picture/products, use retouching tool (spot healing brush tool and others). If the background has some weird spots of greyness, I just paint over it. Crude, I know, but effective.

Step 6 Sharpen and reduce noise
Sharpen the image or reduce noise if you need to. I use the function Unsharp mask (Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp mask) for a more precise, easy to adjust sharpening, however, I've never been much of a fan of sharpening. If your image is too grainy a.k.a. too noisy use the function Reduce noise (Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise).

Step 8 The famous out-of-focus a.k.a blurry background
Bloggers with more expensive cameras that have more settings (aperture, shutter speed) and can be fitted with different lenses, will usually have almost professional pictures with the blurry background. My camera phone obviously can't do that, unless I take an extreme close-up. You can blur the background using Gaussian blur or Field blur (Filter>Blur). There are two ways, one is selecting the background (shortcut W for Quick selection tool) and applying blur, but the edges give it away. I do the duplication of the image, apply Gaussian blur or Field blur and then erase the part with the product in focus so the clear image under it is visible. However, only a limited amount of blurring can be applied here as it can look very fake because it's a uniform blurring and the sense of depth that the camera creates is lost. 
Step 8 Crop and resize

Crop the image so it fits your needs (if needed of course), Crop function (C) also allows fixing alignment of the image. Lastly set the image size (alt+ctl+I or Image > Image size). I post large sizes, usually to fit the screen and I firmly believe that a blog looks so much better with large images (all the images in this post are big and in case you can't see everything, click on them).

So, this is it. I could go into more details, but I kept it simple for you. Honestly, most pictures only require some quick work with Levels/Curves (Picasa is quick and easy), but of course there are some that need a lot of time to fix. One last thing I wanted to show you, just so you can see what Photoshop is capable of - I create such images from scratch, it is ridiculously fun:

That concludes my post series about budget beauty blog photography. If you have any tips drop them below. I hope I didn't forget anything important, maybe just one more tip - when you use the Quick selection tool, always use Refine edge and fix it. I hope this was helpful and I'm sorry if it was too complicated or all over the place, I know those who are better at editing pictures might have this thought in their mind, but that's just how I do it. Have a great day!

Additional reading about blog photography in general:
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