Studio Musings

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Editing my Photos for Print and the Web

My favorite image editors are Photoshop and Acorn.  At $49, Acorn is one of the best software values I know.  Developed by Flying Meat Software, Acorn has all of the functionality I need to edit my photos for both print and web, but is unfortunately only available for the Mac.  My old version of Photoshop (CS2) is licensed for Windows.  We're a mixed computer family, with both Mac and Windows, so I still use both.  But I use Acorn more and more instead of Photoshop and all of the screenshots in this post will be from Acorn. 

Editing Tools
I use relatively few tools to prep my images in the theory that simpler is usually better.  Here's my general 'toolbox':

A) Mediocre photo B) rotate 1.5 degrees, crop C) auto levels, remove smudge

Image Size - At 14 megapixels, my pictures are typically much larger than I need, so my first step is usually to resize them to a more workable file size with enough extra to give me working room for cropping and such.
Rotate - My photos are often a degree or so out of plumb.  Free Rotate fixes that in a jiffy, though I then need to crop the photo a little to get rid of the edges.  And of course, no one likes a sideways image, hence rotate 90 degrees.
Crop -There are two ways to use crop.
  1. Use a selection tool to outline the area you want to keep, then select crop from the pull down menu.   
  2. Using Rectangle Selection Tool to define crop area
  3. Use the crop dialog box to specify both the pixel height and width.  I use this in the final crop when working with print media, when I want my image to be a particular size (2 inches high by 3 inches wide translates to 600 x 900dpi at 300dpi for print media).  Once I've typed in what I want, I can move the selection window around until I have just the right focus.  With Photoshop, you can also do this with Canvas Size.
  4. Using the crop dialog box to further refine the crop

    Final, cropped photo - no other editing

Levels If my original is just a little too dark, or the image appears a little washed out, levels can often help.

Try Auto Levels first - if it improves the look of the photo great, if it doesn't hit 'undo'.  Then try the Levels dialog box.  If the graph is flat at either end, adjust the sliders to eliminate that space, watch how it changes the image. 
Using the levels dialog box
Cropped and leveled photo - still dark, but better (difficult white background)
Sharpen - Use this tool very, very sparingly!  It can be tempting to go overboard here to correct blurry photos.  the final result will look flat, like an over-exposed cardboard looking image if you go too far.

A) original slightly blurry, B) sharpened once, C) too far

Adjust Colors - This is another tool that can be extremely useful for minor adjustments, but which should be used with caution.  Remember that everyone's computer monitor (including yours) sees color slightly differently, so be careful in making adjustments.  The safest way I've found to use this tool it to use the photo's background as your focus.  Make minor adjustments until the background is the color it should be, then look at your jewelry and see if it looks better too.  If not, discard your changes.

Saving My Edits

File Formats, JPGs and DPI  Most point-&-shoot cameras save their images as JPGs.  These days, JPGs work well for both print media and the web so there's seldom a need to convert your photos into alternate formats.  However, you do need to take some care in saving your jpgs if you want to maintain your photos' quality.

JPG is a Lossy File Format.  What this means is that each time you save a jpg, its compression routine throws out 'extraneous' data in order to achieve the smallest possible file size.  If you save the image several times, even without making any changes, the image can degrade visibly, especially if you save it at a higher compression rate (low quality). Get around this by:
  1. Always working from your original image file.
  2. Use "Save As" or "Export for Web" and save a copy of your edited photo instead of simply hitting "Save".  
  3. If I need to make additional edits after you've saved your copy, return to the original file.  
  4. If you think you're going to need to make a lot of changes, with saves in between, save a copy using the native file format of the image editor you are using.  This format (.psd for photoshop, .acorn for Acorn) will not compress the file and no data will be lost, but you will need to remember to do a save as later and change the file format back to .jpg before you can use it on the web or in most print media.

DPI stands for "dots per inch".  Your computer monitor projects 72 dpi, so if you're saving your image for the web, you don't need any more.  In comparison, quality printing is 300dpi or higher, depending upon the printer.  So if you want to use the same image in both media, you'll need to save two copies, each at the appropriate dpi.

Tracking photos for Freeform Peyote Beading

Tracking your Photos.   When saving your photos, come up with an easy to remember filing system to quickly find and differentiate both your original images and your edits.  It's a sinking feeling when you realize you've just saved your only copy of your original photo as a 100 x 100dpi thumbnail.

For my book, I put together a spreadsheet to track my photos.  Originally intended to pair raw with edited photos in case I needed to make further edits, the spreadsheet also became useful in page layout - helping me keep track of my required dimensions when searching for just the right photo.  While it's not necessary for smaller projects, it was a huge time saver during the later stages of the book production as I worked to massage the page layouts into shape.

What Image Editors Do You Use?
I'll admit to being curious as to what image editors other people use, especially editors with a more reasonable price point, like Acorn.  Feel free to leave a comment and share. 


  1. Another great post, packed with useful editing information. Thanks, Karen. I just purchased Photoshop Elements - am working my way through Adobe's Digital Classroom.

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