Turning Ordinary Photos into Gift-Worthy Photos
You know the challenge: you have a photo from a memorable time – and you know that it will be super meaningful to the person you are giving it to…. but, it’s not a great photo.
Do you select a photo that is less appropriate? Or, can you fix it?
Sound familiar? The photo you’d like to use isn’t quite right. It has an unwanted element in the background, or the lighting is not great, or it doesn’t quite fit the template you love. With so many photo optimizing tools available like apps, presets and filters, can you make it better? Where do you start?
We asked fine art photographer Jeff Green how to enhance a photo that is ordinary and make it truly gift-worthy. Jeff strongly suggests beginning with four simple edits that can have impact.
Four Simple Ways to Enhance a Photo
- Removing distracting elements
- Highlighting the subject so it pops
- Converting to black and white
All of these changes can be made right in your smartphone or in desktop software.
Here’s What Jeff Recommends:
As a fine art photographer I use a wide variety of approaches, techniques, software, plug-ins and apps to create my desired look and feel for my photographs. I’m always experimenting and discovering new ways to make my photos distinctive and engaging.
In my workflow I start with the basics and build in more refined and detailed techniques as I live with the photo for a while and determine the direction I want it to take. The four techniques I discuss here are the heart of the basic adjustments I make to a photo to kick off the process. Often, these turn out to be just what the photo needs to turn it into a gift, or a great print, or for sharing.
Some aficionados hold strictly to the boundaries of the camera frame, whether in a smartphone or a traditional camera. I believe that cropping is part of the creative process – it can help you express your vision and strengthen the composition of the photo.
And, it’s easy to do, whether you use the editing software in your phone or available in photo software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom or any of the photo sharing apps such as Google Photos and Instagram.
Here’s an example. A simple outdoor portrait taken in late afternoon. I feel the subject gets lost amid the background and the photographer’s shadow on her dark sweater.
I want to bring her front and center – and still maintain the sense of place. Cropping lets me do that. And softening the background trees helps to frame her face and direct the viewer’s gaze to the beautiful highlights in her hair.
Removing Distracting Elements
Now that our subject is up front and center the stray strands of hair on the left and right sides of her face pull our gaze away from her and out of the frame.
So let’s clean them up. On a desktop or laptop this is relatively easy to accomplish with Adobe Photoshop and its Spot Healing Brush tool. I found, however, that the easiest tool on a smartphone is the TouchRe- touch app, available for both iOS and Android. I used the Quick Brush tool to remove the hair strands
I tried removing the tree branches on the left side of the photo near her face, however from an aesthetic point of view, the portrait looked out of balance.
Highlighting the Subject
My next step focuses on some simple fine-tuning to give the photo a bit more pop. In our current version on the left, the image looks a little flat and our subject doesn’t separate from the background. In order to create more dimension, I toned down the highlights and brightness a bit. This can be achieved using the basic “Light” sliders in a variety of photo apps.
I could stop here, with a clean Mona-Lisa like image, but I’d like to give this portrait more energy. An easy way to do this is to simply rotate the image using another feature in the crop tool of the photo apps. I turned the image slightly to the left, and then I cropped it again, a little tighter.
And yes, after I tilted the image, I removed the distracting branch near her face on the left.
Converting to Black & White
Another technique that works to turn ordinary photos into awesome images is to convert the photo to black and white. The power of black and white conversion applies very well to landscapes and scenic photographs, as we know from some of the masters (e.g., Ansel Adams).
Here’s a photo from my favorite Caribbean beach at sunrise. While the original color version captures what I literally saw, the black and white version conveys the power and wonder that I felt when I waw standing among the rocks on the shore. So for me, the black and white photo is the one I’ll share as a gift.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that a photo doesn’t have to be awesome at first to become an awesome photo gift. I’ve shown how to enhance a photo using a handful of simple adjustments – cropping, removing distracting elements, highlighting the subject and converting to black and white – and now the photo more distinctively captures the subject and is ready to be turned into a creative and memorable keepsake.
About Jeff Green
In his fine art photography Jeff aims to convey the “gestural” energy in the natural world. Focusing primarily on water and flora, he seeks to reveal the often unseen patterns, textures and rhythms that reflect this energy.
Color, a sense of movement, and spontaneity are important expressive elements for Jeff as they counter his more deliberative nature.
Location, time of day and mood influence the resulting imagery, and conveying a sense of wonder and optimism.
Jeff’s images are captured in a variety of locations including Long Island, America’s National Parks, Iceland, Aruba, Arizona, Alaska, Upstate New York and New England. He handles the complete workflow of each image, from capture, through editing and digital development, to producing the final print.
Jeff Green was named the 2017 Art Comes Alive Photographer of the Year and a finalist for the 2019 Circle Foundation for the Arts award, among other honors.