Tweak a Little and Gain a Lot

by Earl J Posted on September 19, 2011

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One of the things I enjoyed during “film camera” days was improving my black and white prints in the darkroom – by using a different type of paper, or making other adjustments that I thought resulted in better prints. I never found the courage to develop or work on my color photos. Now, in digital days, the same sort of improvements can be made on the computer and it’s even better because color is just as easy to work with.

Here are three different photos. The first of each is as the camera recorded it and the second is after making some editing changes – tweaks.

I liked this shot of Mt. Hood, OR but felt the two poles distracted. I cropped the photo a little and cloned (removed) the poles. Cloning is picking up an area and using it to cover something, like the poles in this instance. Cropping also placed the mountain peak in a better position by using the rule of thirds.

Before sunrise on a cold, fall morning I took the next shot of the famous Bemis Tree in Alberta, Canada. Two poles supporting parts of the tree were a distraction plus the scene came out a little darker than it really was. I cloned the two supports out, lightened the sky a bit and increased the saturation of the sunlight’s rays.

The last photo is in the palace grounds in Vienna, Austria. This print was straightened and the distracting traffic signs cloned out.

If you are new to photo editing, I would suggest a free program that guides you through a lot of editing skills. It is called Picasa, is owned by Google, and lets you make an amazing amount of changes to your pictures. If you want to use cloning and other advanced editing you can get 30-day free trails from two places that I recommend. First one is Corel Paint Shot Pro X3, my favorite because I find it very user-friendly. Second is Adobe Photoshop Elements 8. This is the most popular editing software but may be challenging for beginners. If you decide to buy either program, the cost is fairly reasonable.

To make your tweaking the best it can be, please remember two important guidelines:

1. Work with a copy of your photo, never the original, and
2. Use moderation in your changes so that the photos never look fake.


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  1. Tiffany M Says:

    Awesome Earl! What a great collection of examples. A little change does make a huge difference. Great article!

  2. Joey Says:

    Terrific article Earl! Always intteresting to read and learn something new. I do use picasa but still haven’t caught on to PSE; I think I’m a bit impatient! At first i couldn’t figure out what you meant by cloning. The photo looked a little cropped, then it dawned on me that you literally removed those poles and signs from the image. I need to try this! Tiffany is right, a little change does make a huge difference.

  3. BarbaraJ Says:

    This is a great asset of PSE and I love having it. Many times I still can see where the object was located. No one else see it but me. Thank you for giving this knowledge to all who read your great articles.

  4. AnnAbbott Says:

    I am still learning PSE myself. I havent cloned yet and now I am excited to try. Thanks for the links to show me how.

  5. angies5 Says:

    These slight changes made the world of difference. Sometimes it’s hard to get the shot you want without any ‘distractions.’
    P.S. LOVE Paint Shop Pro, have always wanted to dive into Photoshop though. Soon.

  6. conniee4 Says:

    Thanks for your tips! Your article is WONDERUL! Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

  7. shannonr Says:

    thanks for the tips, I have never used Picasso but I think I might give it a try. Your photos were great illustrations of what can be done.

  8. petiam Says:

    First off, GREAT photos – really good exsamples for the article! Second, wonderful tips & resourses! I feel like I really learned a lot… I’ll try to be braver in PS. Great article!

  9. AnnAbbott Says:

    After re reading your article and using PSE for a couple of years, I too have done some retouching after the fact to make a better photo.

more about Earl J

I'm a long-time film photographer, starting with a darkroom in my parents' fruit-cellar when a teen-ager. I fought the change to digital at first, but no longer. I've become a convert and Shutterfly has been my on-line provider since 2002. Since then I've placed (as I write this) 135 orders for prints, enlargements, calendars for every year and 42 photo books in different sizes. I'm very pleased with the top quality of all Shutterfly products.

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