Consumers today are all for aesthetically pleasing web design and social pages, and the primary way to achieve this is through exceptional photography. The photos you use for your business should be professional and of high quality while representing the essence of your brand.
But what if you can't afford a fancy photographer who has all sorts of photo editing tools at their disposal? Even if you're not an expert, you don't want to be a total noob. Don't worry. You can invest in the latest photo editing software, but you still need to learn how to use it. There are free ways to improve non-experts' photo editing skills, if you know where to look.
Utilize free trials and tutorials
Free trials exist for a reason: to try out software or a program before deciding to buy it. For small businesses that don't want to spend large amounts of their budget on photo editing but want to learn the basics, free trials are key. They allow you to learn more about editing, by doing, without paying a cent.
However, to benefit from such trials, you're going to need to know how to use these sometimes very complicated programs. Start by watching free, online tutorials that explain everything about the programs you're using. You can find free self-help articles and how-to videos on nearly every photo-editing software out there, which will teach you how to use the built-in tools, how to make sense of what looks like a complicated interface, and some small projects to get you started so you can see what's possible.
For Photoshop alone there are tons of free online resources. Here are a few worth checking out:
When you sign up for an Adobe Photoshop trial, you also get access to Adobe's large database of its own tutorials. The company doesn't want you to be lost when you get started. Check out the company's online resources but also the tutorials in the program itself. That goes for most photo editing programs out there.
If you enjoy the program after your trial run, you can purchase it with the reassurance that it will benefit your needs. If not, you'll at least have learned more about the art and can apply it with free photo-editing applications. There are even some available for smartphones, like VSCO and Snapseed.
"Most creative software offers free trails," said Crissy Bogusz, graphic designer for Vogue International's Snapchat Team. "Photoshop is the must-know tool to learn how to edit imagery, especially creatively."
By using it, you can learn advanced ways to manipulate imagery that you wouldn't know otherwise, she added. For instance, if you want to learn more about workflow associated with photo editing, like importing and managing mass files, programs like PhotoMechanic offer great trial runs.
"Software for photo editing has improved dramatically over the past five years, and photo editing has gotten a lot more powerful and robust," said Jared Bauman, co-founder of ShootDotEdit. "Harness this technology by learning how to use the best editing workflow tools, such as Lightroom and Photoshop. When you learn how to use these tools properly, you'll unlock a huge range of possibilities in your editing."
Specific skills to learn
Consumers appreciate appealing artwork, and maintaining your own style throughout your website or business platforms attracts new customers to your brand. This can be achieved through batch editing, which allows you to apply the same filters and edits to multiple photos.
Jimmy Chan, photographer at Pixelicious, said that "the key is to edit one picture, then apply those settings across all others" to establish consistency.
"This applies the basic edits such as white balance, contrast, sharpening and noise reduction within seconds, giving you more time for specialized, local edits," he said.
"Once you have decided on a consistent style for your images, you can learn the specific techniques needed to achieve it," added Bauman. "Instead of having to learn every single aspect of editing, you can focus on only what is necessary for your specific images."
Photo editing is also all about the details, which are easier to focus on when using localized editing – another skill inexperienced photo editors can quickly master.
"This is where you zoom in carefully and apply local adjustments to perfect your image," Chan said. "Various techniques such as dodge/burn, skin softening and removing blemishes are done here. Although plugins exist to facilitate the adjustments, these tools are also readily available in Lightroom for those who wish to save cost."
This tactic might not seem necessary, but it makes all the difference, allowing you to fix "minor" flaws that affect the overall quality of the image.
Learn from experts
Just like a writer might adopt stylistic techniques from their favorite author, you too can learn tips and tricks from professionals in the photography industry and implement them into your own work. Bogusz recommended browsing magazines and expert portfolios for inspiration on cropping, image placement, typography, color and more.
Don't be afraid to experiment. Gain insight from professionals but develop your own style and take your own risks. Photography is, in fact, an art – and art is always personal.