Five ways to... improve your digital photos

Disappointed with your photos? With some software and a bit of know-how you can work wonders. Here are five ways to improve your digital photos

By: The OpenLearn team (Programme and web teams)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Friday 26th January 2007
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Technology, Visual Art
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Taking a photo Copyrighted image Copyright:

The beauty of digital photography is that you’re not stuck with the photo you’ve taken. You have the power to make great improvements from the comfort of your computer.

You’ll need image editing software to make these changes. If you don’t already own some, have a look at five ways to use free software for some ideas. Here are our top tips on improving your digital photographs.

1. Make copies

Before you start tinkering with your photographs, make copies. Then you’ve got the originals in case anything goes wrong. Regularly burn a CD or DVD of all your photos in case your computer breaks.

2. Crop your photos

Resist the temptation to leave your photographs as they are. Use your software to remove the bits you don’t want, like stray bystanders. Or crop photographs to improve their composition. Don’t be afraid to try things out, most packages let you undo your mistakes.

3. Experiment with ‘levels’

Some packages have an ‘auto levels’ button. This often significantly improves a photograph. Here’s an example:

Man before auto levels is applied Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission

Before auto levels

Man after auto levels is applied Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission

After auto levels

Sometimes using auto levels will make a photo worse. If this happens, try increasing the contrast a little instead.

4. Think about thirds

Thirds look pleasing to the eye. So when you crop an image, try putting the bit you want to draw people’s eyes to roughly one third of the way into the picture.

In this example the photographer has positioned the edge of the lake one third into the photo from the bottom, and the vertical line of the castle one third into the photo from the right. We’ve added two red lines to make this clearer.

Mountain scene with lines splitting photo into thirds Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission

This isn’t a cast-iron rule; it can be broken to great effect. However, in most cases it will improve a photograph.

5. Share your work - and get feedback from others

There’s a myriad of websites which allow you to share your photographs with the world. Here’s a selection:

These websites are a handy way to share your creations with friends, and you can ask them for feedback at the same time. Criticism can be a bit hard at fist, but people are generally constructive and it will give you a new perspective on your photography.

Sharpen up

Want to learn more about taking great photos? Sign up for the OU’s short course: Digital Photography: Creating and Sharing Better Images.


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