Mobile phone photography part 2 – 5 tips on editing photos

So you have taken some pictures with your mobile or tablet camera but they don’t quite look perfect…Good news is that you can improve them quickly right there on your device by using inbuild photo editor or free apps! Last month at our bloggers mini-workshop we discussed some handy editing tips and we share them below (Warning: contains excessive pumkin due to proximity of Halloween!).

For tips on how to take better photos on your mobile to start with, have a look at our previous digital storytelling post here. And if you would like some hands-on practice, you can join a workshop with Kaska, our Blog Coordinator, on Sunday 4th of December, 2-3pm at the Community Garden.

1. Shoot big – resize later

Image of a pumpkin resized photo
The photo was taken at typical digital camera ratio of 4:3 with maximum size 4032×3024 pixels and 3.55MB. I resized it using ResizeMyPix setting max dimention (in this case width) to 800 pixels. The uploaded photo has the same ratio but reduced size to 800×600 pixels and 180KB. The version you see is slightly scaled down while being displayed within the blog post frame which is only 723 pixels wide.

I am putting it first even though you should do the resizing last because it is important but many of the in-built mobile photo editors don’t do it. I have had to have a good rummage around to find the right apps and desktop software for this purpose.

General rule of thumb for digital photography is to shoot at maximum image resolution (or size) and at the highest quality. Each camera app has settings which control this so take your time to find them. This way your photos will look great on a big screen or in print. If you have small amount of storage space on your phone, you can reduce the file size – but it’s better to work out how to redirect storage of your media files to an external SD card instead.

Photos taken at high resolution and quality can be several megabytes (MB) in size. On my phone I usually use maximum picture size of 4032×3024 pixels for the ratio of 4:3, which creates a file of 3.5 to 7.5 MB. This means that if you want to share them online, they will not only eat through your mobile data and online storage allowances, but take absolutely ages to upload/download. When you are sharing photos through many social media, such as Facebook, the files get automatically reduced in size – which helps. But in many instances you might want to reduce the file size before sharing – for example, when attaching files to emails or uploading them to the WordPress media gallery.

There is much that can be said about digital image quality and size as many factors affect it (for examples of more detailed discussion see here or here).

For the purposes of our WordPress blog I use a simple rule of thumb: I reduce image width to 450-600 pixels for a portrait and 600-800 pixels for a landscape orientation (making sure to lock the aspect ratio so that the resizing automatically adjusts the height). These dimentions work well for the standard digital camera ratio of 4:3 (see tip on cropping below). I picked those numbers because the maximum width of the post area in our WordPress template is 723 pixels so having a wider image is not really necessary.

Batch resizers are a very efficient way to process all your photos at once – ResizeMyPix has versions for both Android and iPhone. It seems to have good reviews and is very simple to use. Only some of the editing apps, such as ToolWizPhotos, also have an option to resize images individually. It is important to note that ResizeMyPix uses only the longest edge dimention for resizing – so it will pick width for the landscape and height for the portrait images. ToolWizPhotos give you an option of width or height of the image to resize for.

For those of you who want to do the resizing on your computer – here is a good review with a software list. The desktop resizers can often give you better control of image quality beyond number of pixels, e.g. type and quality of compression and dpi (important for printing).

Now – for the fun stuff:)

Let’s start with downloading an editing app. Although inbuilt image editors give you a number of editing options and are getting better all the time, you may want to explore slightly more advanced tools. I found Snapseed has a good reputation and is very pleasant and simple to use so I would recommend you try it out with the tips below. Here are some additional resources which should get you started with it:

2. Find the right shape by cropping

Images cropped using different aspect ratios
Images cropped using different aspect ratios

All editors have a crop tool which allows you to trim away bits of the photo to give a better close up of the subject, improve overall composition or change the image aspect ratio. Do this before you do any resizing, as you are likely to lose image quality.

When cropping, you can select from a number of aspect ratios describing relationship of the width of an image compared to its height (or the shape of your finished picture – see images above for some examples). If you are after a photo for your social profile pic or a photo to share on Instagram you would chose a square or 1:1 ratio, if you want to use it for the background image on your widescreen computer you will choose 16:9 landscape. You can always go freeform too!

For a brief overview of tips on ratios, calculating your pixel dimensions when resizing and where the different ratios are used have a look here.

3. Touch up your light and colour

The original image (on the left) was edited by increasing colour hue and saturation to produce a much cheerier image (on the right)
The original image (on the left) was edited by increasing colour hue and saturation to produce a much cheerier image (on the right)

We hardly ever end up with a perfect photo straight from the camera. Here is where auto-adjust comes in handy! Or you can play with individual settings for light (e.g. brightness and contrast) and for colour (hue, saturation, temperature, white balance) to improve it.

There are plenty of apps which do many more image manipulations, similar to professional desktop image processing software – Snapseed and especially ToolWizzPhoto have such an extended functionality. But these are best if you are working with a bigger screen on a tablet, since such fine editing may be a little painful on your phone.

4. Filter, filter, filter for an effect, effect, effect!

The original image on the left was edited using one of filters available in Snapseed called Grunge to produce image on the right.
The original image on the left was edited using one of filters available in Snapseed called Grunge to produce image on the right.

Filters (sometimes referred to as effects) are all the rage in mobile photography. They allow you to quickly enhance the photo to give it a different look and feel, without fiddling with individual settings and having an in depth knowledge of digital photo processing. The basic auto-adjust tool is a type of filter but there are many more out there and it can be fun to explore them a little.

Social media apps often have their own filter set. In fact, the whole filter craze really started from Instagram – the most popular photo sharing app (hence a lot of apps describe their filters as Instagram-like). Many bloggers/photo bloggers develop their own style based on the use of filters, sometimes combining several effects. So experiment and see if you can develop your own look-and-feel. Have a look at Instagram to see what’s out there. You might also want to read this article describing a number of Instagram filters, what they do and what to use them for here.

5. Get silly and seasonal with stickers, special effects and frames

Halloween greetings
This final image was produced in Snapseed by applying a Grunge filter and then adding text using one of the preset text templates. Then a frame was applied in ToolWizzPhotos.

You don’t have to keep it all serious – there are many apps which allow you to add fun stickers, emojis, draw, add printed text and crazy effects. Why not morph your face into a giraffe’s ? There is a collection of Android apps just for that.

To have a go at all this silliness you might want to try InstaSquare – it is designed to create images in a square format, specifically destined for sharing on Instagram.

Snapseed is all altogether more serious but ToolWizPhotos has some of the silliness included – look at Effects, Decorate (there are always some seasonal stickers to play around with!) and Text. You can also draw on the image (Draw under Tools).

Do you have any favourite apps for editing your photos? Share them in the Comments below!

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