How To Enhance A Photo With The 10 Most Powerful Changes

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There is no perfect recipe on how to enhance the photo and achieve the best possible results, but with experience and time, you will learn what the most crucial edits are and how to apply them properly. Photo enhancement is a pretty delicate process, and it’s very easy to overdo it, so the first thing you should have in mind is to try to be moderate and maintain photo quality as much as possible. 

Also, editing a portrait photo is not the same as editing a landscape photo – the style should be different, and that’s another thing you will have to learn if you’re still a beginner. 

Once you learn to apply moderate changes that look good, you can start experimenting more and perhaps create something edgy and artistic that won’t look cringy and overdone.

In this article, we will cover the most standard image enhancement tools that you can find in Lightroom and Photoshop but also in any free photo editor. Actually, any photo enhancer can give you great results if you use it in moderation and with a clear idea of what you want to achieve. 

Crop Your Shots Carefully To Enhance Photo Quality

Cropping is important because it can enhance the composition of your photos tremendously, and it can also help you remove some distracting elements. When you’re thinking about cropping a photo, ask yourself a couple of questions, such as:

  • What is the main subject of my photo, and how can I make it stand out?
  • Are the edges of the photo clean? Are there any distracting objects near the edges?
  • Will I use this photo on Instagram? Should I try out a different aspect ratio, maybe a square crop?

These are just a couple of guidelines. Cropping should be used to improve the composition, but in case you already composed the photo in camera perfectly, you might be lucky and don’t need to crop anything at all. 

Portraits are usually trickier to crop. Avoid cropping too tight and cutting off your subject's arms, legs, and so on. 

crop your shots
Photo by George Bakos

Straighten Horizontals And Verticals For Optimal Photo Quality

A wonky horizon usually doesn’t look good; the same is true for verticals that aren’t straight. This is important, especially in architectural and landscape photography. If you’re shooting portraits, you can get away with the Dutch angle and create something fun without sticking to straight horizontals and verticals.  

It is very easy to straighten your photo if you’re using Lightroom. You need to go to the Transform panel and choose what kind of straightening you want. ‘’Auto’’ option usually solves the problem (or ‘’vertical’’) but you can also fix it manually.

Enhance Photos With Dodging And Burning

You can enhance images with dodging and burning for more depth and definition. Dodging and burning are important steps in portraiture because they allow you to enhance your model’s features by selective brightening and darkening. For instance, you can burn the jawline for a more chiseled look and brighten the cheekbones to make them appear plumper. 

The same is true for landscape photos – the correct use of dodging and burning can make the existing lighting much more dramatic.

Don’t forget that dodging and burning should look natural – usually, you should slightly brighten what’s already bright and darken what’s already dark. In a way, it’s like adding a selective micro contrast.     

dodging and burning
Photo by Max Muselmann

Contrast For More Impact

How to enhance a photo with contrast? Well, this is a basic and simple step, and you can do it in either Lightroom or Photoshop. If the photo appears too grayish or if the lighting is perhaps too diffuse, enhancing the contrast a little bit will improve the overall look of your image and make it bolder.

You can also experiment with dehaze slider in Lightroom if the haziness is the main issue.

Remember that too much contrast can ruin your image, and losing quality is certainly something you must avoid. Look at the histogram when you’re altering contrast to avoid clipping shadows and highlights. 

Experiment With Blacks

Can you enhance image quality by playing with the blacks slider in Lightroom?

While blacks don’t affect the photo quality directly, increasing or decreasing them will help you achieve certain effects. Deep blacks are great if you want to add depth and dramatic vibes. On the other hand, washed-out blacks can create a vintage look that you might enjoy, especially if you’re a big fan of analog photography.

Again, be mindful of the picture quality, and don’t overdo this edit because it can ruin the image and destroy photo details. 

blacks in Lightroom
Photo by Pooja Chaudhary

Vignette: Photo Enhancer For Special Effects

Using a vignette skillfully can lead to a perfect photo. The vignette sets the mood and makes the subject stand out while making the background less distracting. The easiest way to add a vignette is in Lightroom – vignetting is in Presets module, and you can pick anything from a light to a heavy vignette, depending on your artistic vision.

However, don’t use vignettes routinely on every photo. Sometimes, darkening the photo's edges doesn’t look good, especially if the background is bright. Vignetting can nicely enhance your images with centered composition or those with distracting elements close to the edges of the frame.   

How To Use Blur

Blur won’t affect the image quality on its own, and it’s one of the photo effects you probably won’t often be using. 

However, blur (Gaussian blur) can be a part of a more elaborate editing process, such as frequency separation, which is often used in portraiture. This advanced technique is used for precise skin retouching, and feel free to read this article if you want to learn more about it.

There are also other creative ways to use blur. Blur can suggest and amplify motion (there is a motion blur option in Photoshop), while radial blur can imitate a shallow depth of field. You can also play with linear blur to mimic tilt-shift photography.

motion blur
Photo by Donny Jiang

Using Saturation And Vibrance To Enhance Image Quality

Saturation, vibrance, and HSL panel in Lightroom are some of the most important photo enhancement tools. 

Image quality is strongly dependent on colors. You should enhance colors so that they make the atmosphere in your photo align with your artistic vision. Colors convey emotions, and how you use warm and cool colors or various color combinations will directly affect the viewer. 

You can alter saturation and vibrance in the Presence panel in Lightroom. When it comes to the HSL panel, it is much more powerful because it allows you to adjust the hue, saturation, and luminosity of each color separately.

To avoid mistakes many beginners make, don’t apply too much saturation because it simply doesn’t look good.

Another Photo Enhancer: Filters And Presets

Using filters and presets can save you a lot of time. You can apply presets over multiple images and adjust them slightly whenever needed. Photo enhancement with presets is easy – just a few taps and you will end up with a perfectly enhanced image.

Presets can alter many things, such as contrast, whites, blacks, highlights, shadows, clarity, texture, colors, etc. If you’re not good at color grading, presets can teach you what color combinations regarding shadows, midtones, and highlights work well so that you can apply this knowledge later and create your own presets.

There are many free presets in Lightroom that are gorgeous, and you can use them to enhance your portraits, landscapes, and so on automatically. You can also use some other photo enhancers all – there are plenty of them nowadays; you need to read reviews carefully. 

It’s important to customize every preset you use at least slightly – it usually doesn’t fit perfectly in just one click! To enhance photos, you need to adjust presets, and this usually means altering highlights, shadows, blacks, whites, vibrance, and so on.

vintage preset
Photo by Raphael Lovaski

Remove Distractions To Enhance A Photo

Image quality is strongly affected by potential distractions. Sometimes, the subject looks perfect, but the background just isn’t right, or maybe there are too many distractions in the foreground.

The only way to resolve this issue is to use Photoshop tools such as the clone stamp tool, healing brush, patch tool, content-aware fill, and so on. You usually need to combine these tools as a part of your editing process. Luckily, Photoshop’s AI is getting increasingly complex, and these days, removing distractions can be a painless process that doesn’t take too much time.

Conclusion: Enhancements Without Compromising Photo Quality

I hope this list of editing tools and enhancements was useful, especially if you’re still a beginner. While learning how to enhance a photo is a long process, it’s good to start with basic enhancements and slowly develop your own style while trying to understand how to both retain image quality and create something unique.

Further Reading On Photo Enhancer Tools:

About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

Im looking for a app that I can take a photo of a barn and or home and turn it into a framed piece of art. kinda blur out the outside of the object. If you can help me I would really appreciate it.

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