Better Pictures Project + a quick editing tutorial

Hallo! If you read Gillian’s blog, Crafting a Rainbow, you’ll have seen she asked me to contribute to her Better Pictures Project this month on the subject of taking better indoor photos, especially in winter. I was flattered when Gillian asked me to share some tips because I don’t see my photos as particularly great; in fact I often feel bad that I don’t get outside to shoot more often. I usually feel too self-conscious to shoot in public, plus it’s so much faster and easier to control conditions and get a variety of detail/angle shots indoors, which is what I like to see when I’m reading blogs myself. So it’s likely you’ll be stuck with my fireplace and sewing room wall some more this year, ha ha.

Edit blog photos

You can read the post over on Crafting a Rainbow for details of my photography setup, and I’m sharing a bit more detail here on my typical editing process, which I believe makes up a large proportion of getting a decent indoors shot. I’m using Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 on my iMac – I’m afraid I can’t advise on other software solutions as I only use Photoshop!

Edit blog photos

Here’s a typical photo straight out of my camera. It’s not too bad, but my typical adjustments to make a shot like this a bit better are to correct the light levels and cropping.

Edit blog photos

Because I use a wide-angle lens and my light source – the window – is coming in from the side, I often get vignetting: darker corners compared to the centre of the image. To brighten them out I use the Dodge tool. Select a large, soft brush on the top toolbar, set the Exposure to 20-30%, and gently brush on the dark areas until they brighten up. I might also brush on other areas that have got a bit shadowy like my face or darker areas of the garment.

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The bottom half of my images are usually dark and shadowy so you can’t see the details of the garment properly, so I even this up too. Enter Quick Mask mode by hitting the little ‘dotted circle inside a rectangle’ icon near the bottom of the left toolbar, or shortcut: hit the Q key. Now select the Brush tool and paint over the dark patch with a large, soft brush. The mask is painted in red – that’s just temporary so you can see it!

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Then I press Q again which exits Quick Mask and turns the mask into a selection, outlined by a dotted line. The mask actually selects the inverse of what you painted, so hit cmd+shift+i to invert the selection.

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Then I use the Curves tool (Image > Adjustments > Curves or cmd+M) to bump up the brightness of the selected area – it will just affect the bit that was masked, and because we used a soft-edged brush it will tone in with no obvious edges. I don’t really understand how Curves works, but by pulling up the middle of the line I find it creates a nice even brightness-punch without blowing out the colour or detail.

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As I say in the post I wrote for Gillian, I try to reduce things poking into shot as it’s visually distracting. I haven’t shoved my coffee table out of the way enough so I’m going to clone it out. Again use the Quick Mask to brush over the thing you want to remove.

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Invert it, right click on the selection, and hit ‘Fill’. Make sure ‘Content Aware’ is the contents type and hit OK. The selected area will be filled with a sampling of its surroundings so it disappears. PHOTOSHOP MAGIC. I may also use the Clone Stamp tool to brush out smaller distracting details.

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Finally, I’ll straighten and crop the image using the Crop tool. Make sure ‘original ratio’ is selected so you have uniform image sizes and drag and rotate the handles to a nice composition. You’ll see gridlines come up dividing the image into thirds and it’s nice to try and have the image’s focal points sit on one of the gridlines for a pleasing composition (the rule of thirds).

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Finally, I may apply a couple of filters – I find these help my images have a cohesive ‘look’ to them. I save these as Actions so they can be run instantly across every photo in the set. You can find lots of free filter actions online: try DeviantArt. You’ll probably want to tone down the result by setting a lower opacity on the Layer palette. When you’re happy, merge down all the layers and save.

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Done! This process takes me under five minutes per image, and I think it’s worth the small amount of effort. I hope it was helpful, and let me know if you have any other questions or tips about indoor photography or photo editing. Are you participating in the Better Pictures Project? Are you a fan of indoor or outdoor shots on sewing blogs? Should I suck it up and get outdoors sometimes?

29 thoughts on “Better Pictures Project + a quick editing tutorial

  1. Gillian

    This is so useful! It’s all slightly different than Lightroom, but I think I can understand how to get similar effects. Thank you for the talk-through!

    1. Katie Post author

      I’ve been meaning to try Lightroom’s tools to be honest, I think it’d be even faster but I’m not sure you can target certain areas of the photo like you can with PS.

  2. Rose

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post with such clear details. I should be able to follow them with pictures that I took this weekend with indoor shots. I am participating in the Better Pictures Project. IMHO, my photos are getting better but I still have a long way to go. I definitely need to work on editing.

  3. Jenny

    MY MIND IS BLOWN.

    I had no idea you/people did that much to your photos! Totally worthwhile but I have/had no idea how to do it, let alone notice it was happening. I’m going to try some of these tips!

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  5. Katie

    This is so helpful, and the timing couldn’t be better! I started a sewing blog today and had a real struggle to take decent photos in the horrible dingy winter light – I’ll definitely try some of your tips for my next post!

  6. Joanne

    I feel so ashamed! I just click on my IPAD and post (and occasionally offer apologies if pics are really dark). I now realise the time and effort that goes into creating really good blog photos. I will try harder but as I haven’t got photoshop or a Mac improvements may not be immediate! Thanks – this was a really interesting post.

    1. Katie Post author

      Ahhh, you shouldn’t feel bad at all! I do it because I quite enjoy it, and it’s sort of my job to know Photoshop so it’s easy for me. I enjoy blogs with a variety of photos!

  7. Kayla Green's Blog

    Thanks for this very detailed post! I must admit I am kind of lazy when it comes to photo editing my snapshots when I blog about it but seeing what you’ve done there actually makes a lot of difference!

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  9. Viri

    Thank you Katie for the the useful tips- they can be easily translated to Gimp . From now on not too ideal light conditions cannot be an excuse to photo my FOs…

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  11. Daniela

    I just wanted to say Thank You Katie. You inspired me to get my camera out and take photos for my blog. The last photos I’ve made 4 month ago and that was outside. I really struggle to take inside pictures in this gloomy winter days. But yesterday it was sunny and I got the mirror out for more light and even took some nice photographs. Thanks for your tips :)

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  13. Amelia

    I read this post when you first published it, and then came back to it tonight when editing some of my pictures – I’ve been using the very basic tools like brightening and clone stamp to get rid of a pesky light switch. But the quick mask and curve thing is amazing! I’ve never known how to even up the brightness, where one side is in shadow, before! Thank you so much for posting this!

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