Sunday, August 30, 2009

Basic Postprocessing for Newbies

Note: this post is a follow up to this post on planning and this post on execution.

I know very little about postprocessing but it's made a big difference for my pictures. If you haven't tried it, you're missing out. Basic pp is easy and doesn't take much time.

We took the shot above for our kid's birthday invitation. Straight out of the camera, it looked like this:

The unedited shot looks unremarkable to me. But I spent literally one or two minutes on pp and got to the final result above. A good return on investment in my view. :)

I don't have a professional photo editing program like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. I've tried fiddling with them in stores and got overwhelmed by their complexity. And Photoshop is way too expensive for my needs at the moment. Instead I use:

  • picasa (free)
  • (basic is free, premium is $25/yr), and/or
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 (came free with a wacom digital tablet).

PP programs can help you with

  • Exposure
  • Color
  • Composition.

For the shot above I benefited from all three uses.


White balance (wb) is the color cast of the light in the picture. Extreme examples: Incandescent lamps cast yellow light. Sodium parking lot lights cast greenish light. Fixing white balance means making the color cast neutral or changing it actively.

Check this out to learn more about white balance:

Most of the time, your camera's automatic white balance does an ok job of neutralizing wb. But in this regard, DSLRs don't seem to do as well vs. point and shoot cameras. There are many ways to make sure that wb is correct when you take the shot but I'll write about that next time. This entry is only about pp.


Skip ahead if you know this or don't want to bother with details.
A histogram of a picture shows progressively from left to right how many pixels are dark (left) and bright (right). There are separate histograms for white, red, green and blue channels.

It's a guide for exposure. If the pixels are in the leftmost or rightmost column, then the picture does not show any detail in those pixels except to show them as pure black (leftmost) or pure white, red, green, or blue (rightmost).

More info here


I used Photoshop Elements for the result above, but I've recreated the changes using the free version of to allow anyone to practice with them. Even the free version of picnik is just as capable as PSE for basic adjustments, and the premium version of picnik holds its own for moderate PP.

Steps for PP in picnik:

1. Go to, and upload the picture from your computer or from an online album. Move your mouse over the picture and click on the down arrow on the bottom right and select edit.

2. correct the white balance.

- click on colors

- if there's a white or gray part of your picture, you can click on neutral picker and select that part.

- adjust color temperature. Generally people look better in slightly warm-looking light. Flash is also slightly bluish so you generally have to warm up the image a bit if you used flash (as I did here). Here I set temperature to 19, which is less warm than the result above.

- adjust saturation. I prefer saturated colors. Here I increased to 4.

- click ok

3. correct the exposure.

- click exposure

- click on advanced

- adjust the highlights and observe the histogram. Here I moved it to 28. The histogram shows that the sky gets blown out but that's ok. There's no detail there anyway.

- click local contrast and adjust. I really like this effect because it makes the subject look more three-dimensional. I tend to move it as high as I can without the image looking strange, then I back off a bit. Here I adjusted to 16%.

- click ok.

4. crop if necessary.

- click on crop

- click on "no constraints" and change it to the ratio you want. Here I picked golden ratio.

- adjust the crop. To follow the rule of thirds, keep the points of interest near the intersections of the lines.

- click ok.

5. save your work.

- click "save & share"

- if saving to an album, choose whether to replace the old file or save as a new one. Here I saved as a new file.

- click on save

That's it. You're done.

Does this article help you with your photography? If so, please leave a comment and recommend this blog to your friends. To get updated headlines from this blog, subscribe to the feed on your pc/mac and your smartphone. Thanks!


  1. Hi! Very informative and useful information on yr blog. Being an amateur, I use the freely available Photoscape for a majority of my pp work. Can't wait to try Piknik. I wonder if you could do a comparison review (emphasizing on ease of use) of all the freely available pp software out there. Thanks

  2. Hi Superstage. I've heard of Photoscape and will be trying it out. Part of the challenge with a comparison review is that I have to learn each software and gain a working knowledge in order to review it competently. While I can't review all available free software (due to time constraints), I think a comparo is a good idea and I can compare:
    - Picnik (free or subscription)
    - Picasa (free)
    - Photoscape (free)
    - Paintshop Photo Pro X3 (down to $30 at Amazon)
    - Photoshop Elements 9 (down to $50 at Costco).
    Gimp is another powerful postprocessing program that's free but I have no experience with it.
    Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. I don't know how I missed this post, but I'm glad you linked it to your PSE 10 post, I really like the resulting image, shows you how simple it is to give your photos a boost.

    I have some photos taken by my wife's P&S, out of the camera they look embarrassingly flat and lifeless, after a few moments later in lightroom you can't tell it was taken by a P&S (not all of them of course).

  4. Yeah pp can make a huge difference. People who haven't tried it and simply think pp is unnecessary are missing out imo.


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