Tuesday, January 3, 2012

make your photos da bomb: photo editing for the thrifty and technically challenged photographer.

So you're an amateur photographer who takes great shots every once in awhile. But, like most pictures, even the greatest of "shots" need a little enhancing to print out well, or simply to reflect what it captured more realistically. The question is: how do you edit your photos well without frying your brain in the technical world of photo shop or gimp? Or even if you are brave and not quite technically challenged, photo shop is expensive. Gimp is free, but...complicated.

Enter: Picnik!

..Picnik is an easy to use editing site which offers many of its features for free. The others you have to pay for, but I am too thrifty even for the minuscule amount they want for an upgrade, and so I make do with the free stuff. I definitely wouldn't consider myself among the "technically challenged," but I just love this site so much that until I have the need, I will always use it instead of photo shop.

Most of you will have heard of Picnik and may even be regular users. But are you using it right? Very few people I know are. 

Editing gone wrong
Photo editing is a wonderful plus for photographers and can make a merely 'good' picture an amazing one. But. I have seen so many good photos ruined by too much editing--yes, did you know there was such a thing? Especially with the program I am about to tell you about. It is so, so easy to "go crazy" on there with all of the good {free!} stuff available, and let me just remind you: a little editing goes a long way. A.k.a., go light on the contrast and enhanced coloring, okay? 

Here's a little example of editing gone wrong:

Icky? Yes. Here's what happened to create this ghastly, severely over-edited photo:

Too much Cross-Process
Too much contrast
Too much teeth whitening (BEWARE of this effect...use in the low percents!)
Vignette frame (bad idea. This always looks amateur)
Too much HDR-ish effect (never use this for portraits, and when you do use it, use it in the low percents!) 
Focal soften (BLEH. How amateur could I get?! Never use fake blur!)


Sample Editing on Picnik
To demonstrate my point and help you find your way around Picnik, here is a step-by-step example of the way I edit most of my photos. I don't have the upgrade, so I only have free features to work with, but you can do so much with these if you use them lightly and correctly

Step 1: Crop 
I needed to crop a little extra space off of my photo, so that the muffin is more in-focus, and your eye isn't distracted by excess white space. Be careful not to crop too much (if you want an up-close photo, take it up-close), as too much cropping will greatly decrease your photo's quality. 

Step 2: Cross Process
This is a pretty cool coloring feature that adds a yellow-blue vintage tint to your photos. I use 5% of it on this photo; make sure not to use too much of this coloring, or your photo will end up looking very..picnik-y.  I've seen it too often. 

Step 3: Exposure and Contrast
This is an important part of the editing process that will help enhance the parts of your photo that had some bad lighting, but again, DO NOT OVERUSE. I usually (as with this photo) decrease the exposure to -1, increase the highlights to 3, increase the shadows to 2, and increase the contrast by a mere 1. It depends on what the photo need, of course--but a little contrast goes a looooong way. 

Step 4: 1960's hue
I love this reddish/vintage color effect for food shots, especially. So, I added 57% to this photo. It adds a little haze, too, so if you want a super-clear photo, use in moderation.

Step 5: HDR-ish
I used to overuse this effect like crazy. Believe me: big mistake. Especially on portraits. Basically, it brings out all of the texture in a photo, and looks almost like a drawing if used too heavily. If your subject happens to have some blemishes or acne, this will look...horrendous. Plus, this is a photo. Not a drawing. 

So, I used an eensy-teensy-weensy bit only on this photo, just to make it pop a little more since I didn't focus quite correctly. 3%, to be precise. Be careful with this feature. 

Adding Text 

Sometimes you will want to add text to your photo. Picnik has a great variety of fonts which can be inserted with the click of a button, but there are right and wrongs even with this simple task. For starters, don't use "too Picnik-y" of a font, such as the one below. Secondly, make sure to use a matching color or just a simple white/black. Fade the font a little to make the picture stand out even with the text.

Wrong font:

Right font:

..and now I am finished! Let's compare photos.



...not that much of an edit, but still, there is a visible enhanced difference between the first photo and the second! The key is to use small amounts of each effect you want to use. If I had added too much contrast or cross process effect, this photo would have been ruined! 

A list of 'dont's' for Picnik
If you are aiming for an amateur-ish photo, completely ignore these "rules." But if you want to get the most out of Picnik, vow to steer clear of the following effects, no matter how cool they seem. Because believe me,  99.999 out of 100 they will look completely wrong. 

Don't ever use:

Focal soften
Cinema Scope
Focal zoom
Too much teeth-whitening
Dorky and fake-looking frames


..and most especially, don't ever use too much of anything


To close, here are some photos which I have edited, mainly using Picnik. I have come a long ways in photo editing, and can unabashedly confess that once I was a girl who succumbed to the draws of over-editing. So, take it from me that there is always room for change. 

See? You don't need to empty your pockets or frizzle your brain cells to get some good photo enhancement. Though, if you want to to give me photo shop as a little "we appreciate you" present, I definitely won't complain. ;)

Happy editing!



  1. this is so awesome, Lucia. I hardly ever edit my photos because I tend to over edit..but if I do I combine picnik and fotoflexer. Fotoflexer is kinda cheesy, but there are a few things I really like about it, but mostly I mix it with picnik, but I am taking a class on gimp and really want to learn how to edit using gimp.

  2. I totally agree with you on the overuse of the effects! I have found that a lot of the problems can be solved by moderation. Take for example the vignette. If you make the size 100, strength 0, and fade to about 90 percent, it looks better than the regular vignette overload. I have barely found any that the ortonish looks good on, but there are a few {few being the KEY word.} For Christmas, I used some money my Grandma gave me and bought a year's worth of premium :) I LOVE some of the stuff, and it's only like, $2 a month. I think cross process almost never looks good on portraits, but looks OK on some "items", and looks really good if you put an antique paper texture behind it. Of course, it depends on the kind of photography. I think some photography looks OK with the fake-ish effects, but if it is for like, a wedding, or senior shoot, or something like that, it NEVER is good! Haha! I still use a few on occasion, but never as the main editer.The focal soften will NEVER look good, ever. It is so unnatural looking. I love discussing picnik! lol :) I am looking back at what I wrote and see that I have written a LOT, so I will stop now...lol :)

    Libbi H.

  3. Oh thank you so much for that, Lucia! I use Picnik (and love it!) for both uploading, using watermark and editing, but sometimes as you said I can easily 'over-do it' and get it look cheesy... your post has helped me a lot!!

  4. I edit all my photos with Lightroom 3! However, before I started editing with that, I used Picasa and Photoshop.com. Those are both free but I personally (please don't take this the wrong way because the photos you posted truly look GREAT!) think that they make photos appear a bit better in quality than Picnik.

    Just a suggestion though! Like I said before, your photos do look veyr nice and AMEN to not over editing!

  5. I love picnik! Thanks for those tips! It's amazing how using a bit to much edit can ruin a picture.


  6. Great informative post, Lucia! :) I totally agree with you on the whole "over-editing" subject! A beautiful picture can turn awry with too much editing done to it. :P
    I recently took a set of photography class at our local Arts Center and the instructor (a guy who's been in the portrait business for *years*) actually mentioned that vignetting was a *good* look...now, like Libbi said, you can tone it down some, but I do like vignette sometimes. :)

  7. I love this! I use Lightroom but it's pretty slow on my computer, so I've become pretty familiar with Picnik and I think your advice is spot-on. everything in moderation!

  8. Looks good! Thanks for the tips!

  9. Cinema scope is one of my favorites! It makes the colors look really pretty (on most pictures).

    Is that wrong of me?? O.o lol

  10. Great post. :) I used to use picnik some, but now I only use gimp. Yes, it's hard to figure out -- but it's much nicer (at least I think) than picnik once you figure it out! You can do any font you want online for free, add layers, use different actions, and more. But, it does take awhile to get used to - so sticking with picnik is a probably a good idea. :) I love what you mean about not using "picnik" fonts...some of those get so annoying!

  11. I always use picnik when editing my photo's, I hardly ever do edit them because of our overly-slow internet, but every now and then I do, and they end up looking gorgeous! :D


  12. THANKS!
    now,maybe i'll actually use picnik
    (at least the right way.)
    -with descent looking photos! :)

  13. Good tips, Lucia! I used to use Picnik for a while until I got photoshop, and I will admit, I put a huge white matte on like EVERY SINGLE PHOTO. And I waaaaay over edited. :-P I love the end result- how it looks really warm like the sun is shining on it just perfectly. I tend to normally adjust exposure, add a bit of contrast and sharpen if it's to soft. I normally do that in iphoto and use PhotoShop for making blog headers and such, although I use it for watermarking, too. You might like Photoshop Elements (I have Elements 6) It's really fast and I got mine of Craigslist for like 20 bucks. Anyhoo, I will stop my ridiculously long comment. :P Great tips!

  14. Wow Lucia! Those are really great tips. My mom owns Photoshop Elements 6 so sometimes I use that. I've gotten pretty good with the basic features...I actually am a fan of contrast, at least the way I do it. I used to use Picnik -- seeing the success you had, maybe I should give it another try! It IS easier, and that muffin photo looks amazing! Thanks so much for sharing some of your tips :)

    --Liz B

  15. *blush* I guess I do over-edit...I was having so much fun that I never really thought about it, though, so thank you for reminding me.

    I still prefer to make mine a little unrealistic, though. :p I just want my photos to be pretty, not necessarily just looking like they came from a professional camera... I dunno.

    Anyway, I was thinking about doing a post about the wonders of Picnik on my blog, so I'm glad that I can keep your advice in mind and not embarrass myself too much. Thanks!

    - Victoria

  16. agree totally. i detest 'picnik-y' pictures. they looks so...cheesy,or overdone...(like too much cross process,and vignettes!)
    but,anyway thanks for the tips! I read the post slowly and tried it on a picture on picnik while i was at it! and the picture turned out lovely. ;)


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