Make Your Amateur Photos More Professional

With everyone and their grandmother having a digital camera you can make almost anybody look like a professional photographer, well, better-than-amateur at least. You can use this simple process on almost any photo you take.

Let’s start with our regular, old, point-and-shoot photo. This one was taken with a little higher-end camera, but it can still use a lot of work.

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First, we’re going to sharpen our image a bit using the Unsharp Mask [Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask]. We don’t want anything too drastic, so I used some low settings. Amount: 40%; Radius: 0.9 pixels; Threshold: 1 level. You basically want enough to make a difference, but you don’t want any glowing or hard edges.

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Now we’re going to add a Levels Adjustment layer [Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels]. When the Levels dialog opens, just click on Auto. A lot of people frown on the Auto Levels, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, they’re a lifesaver.

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Next step is to add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer [Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast]. Increase the Contrast a little bit, 10 is usually a good standard amount. Too much and it looks fake.

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One more adjustment layer… the Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer [Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation]. Increase the Saturation very slightly. I usually never use more than 5-6.

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Now you can probably already see how much of a difference these few steps make. One of the features of Photoshop CS is the Photo Filter Adjustment layer. I went ahead and added a Photo Filter Adjustment layer [Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter], with the default Warming(85) setting.

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It’s a subtle change, but it usually makes the photo look nicer.

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You can stop now and still end up with a nice photo, or you can continue on to add a little bit of background blur.

I’m going to start by duplicating my Background Layer [Ctrl + J]. Then go to [Filter > Blur > Lens Blur]. I left the settings default, and just lowered the Radius down until I get a decent, but not too drastic blur.

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Now add a Layer Mask to your blurred layer [Layer > Add Layer Mask > Reveal All] and paint the focal areas black to hide the blur. Once you’re done, you can even alter the opacity of the blurred layer to reduce the amount of the blur.

Here’s a comparison to the original:

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Original:

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Retouched:

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Comments Spill 16 Comments »

  1. July 30, 2008 5:16 pmSarai

    For a moment I thought the original shot was nice; like what was the point of retouching it a bit. Then seeing the retouched picture, it was actually nice. I love photography and I have learned that you don’t have to add a lot into an image. For example adding a lot of Hue/Saturation, Brighten/Contrast, Sharpen, etc.

  2. September 18, 2008 6:14 pmJenn Harrison

    This was very helpful and I was so excited until you said to: add a Layer Mask to your blurred layer [Layer > Add Layer Mask > Reveal All] and paint the focal areas black to hide the blur. Once you’re done, you can even alter the opacity of the blurred layer to reduce the amount of the blur. I’m new to all of this – how do you paint that???

  3. October 5, 2008 11:13 amGeorge Fisher

    There’s a basic point to emphasize: a few seconds extra care when you are taking the picture can save you an hour of repairing carelessness. Going back to retake the picture is an extension of the same idea.

    Retouching and cleaning up are most worth the trouble when there is no hope of re-taking the picture, as in tourist shots when you will never go back, photos of people who are now dead or greatly changed in appearance. Now that digital cameras eliminate the cost of film, take lots and lots of pictures, bracket the exposures, bracket the color balance, Fire your camera like a machine gun and then throw away most of the rejects. After you get to that stage, then retouch.

  4. November 25, 2008 7:09 pmDee

    Thanks for this! Until I can afford an expensive camera, this page had some awesome tips!

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  7. January 13, 2009 9:41 amkorrie

    i totally loved this one. i learned a lot of things from it. im deff going to use it. lol an i totally did the same thing i was like whats the difference it looks the same then i started doing it an saw such a difference an learned a lot of tricks i like it a lot! thanks :]

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  9. March 21, 2009 11:02 pmJonathan

    If you consider, all the effects that you’ve added to the picture are not made onto the picture layer and are separate layers. So if you add them into a folder and copy that folder to another picture you’d get the same outcome as starting from the beginning all over again. Your just copying the hue/saturation settings to another image without having to go to Layer > New Layer Adjustments and do all that.

  10. April 9, 2009 9:26 amRenad

    gr8 tutorial thnx ! but how do i even alter opacity ?

  11. April 18, 2009 8:58 pmTrish

    Wow, thanks. I pretty much do most of that stuff, but these are simple, yet amazing techniques! Thanks!

  12. May 8, 2009 12:52 pmHwa

    On a similar note to Jonathan’s comment, you can record this sequence of steps into an action, assign it to a hotkey (F2 for example), and just use that for automation. An extra bonus of adjustment layers is that they can be individually edited after initial application. For example, if you applied an adjustment layer for a Blur at +3, you can click on the layer and change it to +5 at any point thereafter. This is in contrast to applying direct effects on a single layer where mistakes or alterations must be undone and reapplied.

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  15. September 27, 2009 1:42 amMeb1718

    This was really helpful! Especially for people like me who don’t have a good camera to begin with. Subtle changes make a world of difference. Thank you for this simple yet useful Tut. :)

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