Photo Editing for Cookie Makers (not photographers)

Here is my January confession -- I edit my photos. Compulsively. Even the ones I take of my children playing with paper cups and marbles on the living room floor. Especially those ones because my living room has the worst light ever. It makes SUCH a difference in my end photos.

 Every time I see someone posting photos of gorgeous cookies that you can't quite make out because the shadow monster came and ate the afternoon sunshine, I want to write to them and tell them how easy it is to change that. I want the whole world to appreciate their cookie goodness at a glance. But I don't, because I feel totally awkward about it. I mean, maybe they like their photos that way. Who am I to judge the shadow monster?

AND because I feel like there is this pressure to be an amazing photo-taker-person and if you admit to editing, then no one will like you because you are totally cheating and maybe you didn't even make those cookies in the first place. Maybe you just spent years learning the coolest photo-shop skills EVER and are now just a big tricker trying to fool people into thinking that you know big words like "royal icing" and "outline consistency." But MAYBE the simple truth is that even though you would LOVE to be some kind of amazing at photography, the simple fact is that you like making cookies a lot more than you like learning about aperture and focal length. (Fingers pointing at me.)

Goodness, we all know that there are some flat-out incredible people who do both. Chances are...I will never be one of them. So I edit. Except that I have decided to call it "processing." It sounds so much nicer and less cheater-ish. It's probably going to take the world by storm, so go ahead and start using that phrase. (What? People already call it that? Gah. I guess I won't be on the list of top 10 word-maker-uppers this year either.) (And I thought 2012 was going to be my year.)

Back to photos. I AM NOT AN EXPERT. Just want to make that clear. I am going to tell you how this one girl in South Korea processes her photos. So, you know...don't hate on me if I say something that is totally weirdy or different from how you do it. Or how it is supposed to be done.

You might already have a favorite photo processing program. Use what you love. If you don't have one and you need one, check out Paint.NET. It's free and has lots of fun options. Not that you need a jillion tools. There are only a few things I do to my photos. (Weird. I just thought "LET" and typed "THEY." What was THAT all about?)  Let me define them for you real super quick and then show you how I use them on a photo.

Cropping -- Cutting around the edges of the image until it shows only what you want to see.
Brightness -- How much light is in your photo. I know, it's a real tricky one to figure out.
Contrast -- The difference between the light and the dark.
Saturation -- How much of a color there is.
Tone Curves -- The tint of the photo. You know how sometimes you take a photo at night and everything is kind of like a different color in your photo than it really should be? That's where tone curves come in.
Watermark -- I write on my photos. I put my blog name on there because I'm conceited. Or careful. Depends on how you look at it.

Okay, let's do this.

Here is my beginning photo. (Love these cookies.) I'm using Paint.NET here.

The first thing I do is crop or trim the photo. In Paint.NET, you select the part you like with the rectangle thing in the top left of the Tools box and then select Crop to Selection in the Image menu. I like squarish images. But that's totally my own thing.

After cropping, I increase the brightness. The shadow monster basically lives at my house. On the balcony. On Paint.NET, you can find the brightness tool under the "Adjustments" menu. Almost everything you need is in that menu.

Contrast is in the same box, which is excellent, because I usually adjust those two things together every time. It just makes sense to me in some weird photo altering way. Its like in another parallel universe, they were my best friends and we always went to the mall together. And one of them would tell me how great those jeans looked and the other would tell me how much I needed to buy them right away. See? They go together.

If you have to lighten the photo a lot, then your deep reds will turn into pinks and you will  need to add some of the color back in to the photo with the saturation option. You probably can't tell the difference with this photo. I probably can't either, but that doesn't stop me.

And then you get to play with the tone curves. I avoided these at first because I didn't understand them. I still don't understand them, but I've decided to approach them with reckless abandon anyway. Generally, I use white icing on my cookies or have some white in the background of the photo. I focus on that. If it is pinkish, I move the red curve down. If it has a yellow undertone, I move the blue curve up. Also I find that my camera picks up on the main color and kind of tints the whole picture that color. So if I made a cookie that is almost all green, I usually have to move the green curve down just a bit.

The very last thing I do is adding the watermark. My favorite part of this program is that you can adjust the transparency of the text so that you can still see your photo behind it.

And that is it. It seems complicated, but that's only because I use a lot of words to describe nothing at all. In reality, it takes me anywhere from 60 seconds to 5 minutes to edit a photo.

Tell me -- What are YOUR photo processing tips?  


Learn how to set your white balance *before* you take a picture with The Bearfoot Baker. 

Grab some white balance cards HERE

In case you are wondering... THIS is the camera I use most often.

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