Fixing Poor Digital Pictures

April 20, 2010

By now, you’ve probably experienced a client sending you a poor quality picture that they want included in their project.

Maybe it was too blurry or too dark. The colors might have been off or it looked to be stretched. I try my best to educate my clients on how to send and alter pictures properly, but having to fix pictures from time to time is an unavoidable task of the graphic artist. Here are some common problems with amateur pictures, and some simple fixes. Keep in mind that there are a lot of great tutorials out there to give in depth solutions to altering photographs. The suggestions listed here are more generalized and only take about two or three clicks. Too blurry These pictures can look out of focus, or perhaps just one part of the picture is sharp while the surrounding area remains blurry. Either way, these types of pictures can be difficult to fix. When a picture starts off blurry, you can’t completely fix it to being as sharp as it would be if taken properly, but you can make some adjustments to make it look more appealing. In Photoshop, you can try using the Unsharp Mask tool by going to Filters → Sharpen. Playing around with the values here can bring sharpness to your picture in certain areas. Too dark or too light Maybe the flash wasn’t used in a photo when it should have been, or the people in the picture appear to be in the shadows. Sometimes these pictures can be restored, and you’d be surprised at what’s underneath all of that darkness! Playing with levels is going to be the easiest way to fix this problem. In Photoshop, go to Image → Adjustments → Levels, and use the values here to lighten or darken the image. Pulling your black value to the right will darken the picture, and pulling the white value to the left will lighten your picture. Adjusting the gray value in the middle will affect the mid-tones in your photo. The “curves” tool is also a great way to alter the light and dark values. You can reach Curves by going to the same place as Levels; Image → Adjustments → Curves. This tool allows you to have more control over how you alter the light and dark values. Too stretched Aspect ratio is very important when it comes to a good picture. If any pictures’ height is altered and its width is not altered by the exact same amount, the aspect ratio will be thrown off, and you can start to get that fun house mirror thing going on. I hate that! This often comes about when someone is trying to fit a picture into a space that is not the same size as the picture itself. A trick for maintaining the aspect ratio when enlarging a picture is to hold the shift while transforming it. The shift key will lock the aspect ratio into place, and when you drag your mouse, the height and width will always be adjusted the same way. If you receive a picture whose aspect ratio is already thrown off, you have to use your best judgment as to how far to adjust the height or the width to make it look correct. If the picture looks like it’s been stretched horizontally, then you’d probably want to decrease the width independent of the height. To do this, you would go to your Image Size window. In Photoshop, that would be located in Image → Image Size. You want to uncheck the box that says “Constrain Proportions.” This allows you to independently change the width without affecting the height and vice versa. Too red (or any other color) You might get a picture from a client that looks like everyone and everything in the picture is too green or orange or yellow. When creating a color brochure [], you want to make sure that you choose pictures that will fit into the color scheme, but no one picture should have too much of a certain color value unless that is the desired result. This is an easy fix, and one that you can play around with until you get it just right. You want to start by using the “Variations” tool. Image → Adjustments → Variations. Here, you have several options on how to change the color. You can choose to only change different areas of color such as highlights or shadows. You can also lighten and darken the color here. But importantly, you can increase the type of color in the picture and the “color wheel” setup in this tool is very helpful. For example, if you have a picture that is too green, you can look at the “More Green” image and see that directly opposite of Green is Magenta. To remove green, you would simply add Magenta. Keep in mind that when you open up variations, it automatically makes a color adjustment for you, so the image that you see in the middle above the words “Current Pick” is not your original image. In order to get it back to your original, simply hold down the Alt Key on your computer and you’ll see the “Cancel” button at the top right change to “Reset”. Click on Reset, and your image will be removed of any adjustments and ready for you to make your own changes.

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