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How Toosday: making your smartphone photos look great

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

So, you’ve got the shot – now what? It’s time for some editing my friend!

Hopefully you found last week’s tips for taking better photos on your smartphone helpful. However, chances are your photos – while improved – aren’t quite there yet. You probably want to just finish them off with a bit of editing.

Editing can be a daunting prospect, but it needn’t be – it’s just you taking the time to make sure your photos look exactly as you want them to.

Below, we’ve gone through some of the most common things you can edit on a photo and tried to make them seem less scary. Read on and see what you learn – and check back here tomorrow for a load of great photo editing apps that you can download to your phone for free.

Exposure

Exposure is a fancy term for brightness – increase your exposure and your image will look brighter, decrease it and it’ll be darker. This is one of the basic things you can tweak but can often have great impact on your image.

For instance, if you’ve shot a portrait of someone who is backlit by the sun (like we suggested last week), you might need to boost the exposure to really bring out the person’s face.

Generally speaking, it’s better to underexpose something when you capture the image and then boost it in your edit than the other way round – if you blow your highlights out when you press the shutter there’s generally not much you can do about it afterwards.

Contrast

This defines how black your blacks are, and how whites your whites look. Don’t go overboard with pushing contrast on images shot on your phone, as it can quickly look ugly and unrealistic.

You might even want to reduce the contrast in an image to bring out a bit more detail. Again though, be careful, as the more you reduce the contrast the flatter your image will look.

Highlights/shadows save

An increasing number of apps now include this great feature, and it can make a real difference to your images. This feature is similar to contrast apart from the fact you can focus on either the highlights or the shadows individually, rather than changing simply boosting or reducing both at the same time.

It’s worth noting how each of these work; if you opt for shadows save, this will boost any shadows in your image, allowing you to bring out details that your original might not have shown.

If, on the other hand, you decide to save your highlights this mode will typically decrease the brightness of the highlights. Again, this allows you to pull back detail that might have blown out initially, but it’s definitely worth remembering the difference; saving shadows makes your shadows lighter, saving highlights makes your highlights darker.

Got it?

Saturation

This one simply determines how saturated – or intense – the colours in your image are. Again, push it too far and it will look silly. Also, pull it back all the way and your image will become black and white.

With saturation, find a medium that works for you – you could up them a bit to really make the colours sing, or pull them back a notch for a more muted, moody effect.

Temperature

If your app of choice offers a temperature option, it will usually be a slider that starts in the middle. Move that slider to the left and you will make your image ‘colder’, so it will have more of a blue tint the further to the left you move. Move it to the right, and you’re heading to the ‘warmer’ end of the scale, so your images will have a more golden, yellow tint.

I often find that most digital images look a bit cold when first shot, so usually nudge the temperature slider to the right.

Sharpen and clarity

Usually depicted by triangles on photo apps, it’s worth working these two in conjunction with each other. They both help bring out and define details in your image, by sharpening edges and separating the foreground and background.

As with everything else, don’t push them too far unless you want a weird-looking cartoon effect. But, a little nudge on both can really help give your image an extra level of finish.

Crop

You probably know what the crop tool does – it’s something we all had to do back in the early days on Instagram when it was square images only!

I tend to shoot my images full frame and then crop them afterwards, rather than select a cropped option in-camera. It’s always nice to have the full thing to start with, and sometimes you’ll find a better angle for your shot once you have the crop tool overlayed.

Don’t forget!

No amount of editing can save poor composition, so make sure you put the effort in when you first shoot your image. You don’t want to be spending your time trying to polish a turd!

See you tomorrow for a list of some great, free photo editing apps for you to download.