November 9, 2010

In Praise of Digital Photo Editing

Thank you all for all of your wonderful praise of my series of majestic eagle photographs! I share my images to brighten your days and also to help inspire you. As my long-time followers know, I have been on a personal mission the past couple of years to improve my photo editing skills. I have to give a lot of credit to the magic of photo editing for making the eagle series a reality.

I still have much to learn, but I currently use Photoshop CS5 for post-processing of my images. This powerful editing program is a bit of overkill for most amateur photographers. I started out with Photoshop Elements (now available in version 9.0), and it provides superb results without much financial outlay. However, if your budget is truly pinched, there are free editing programs available which provide marvelous results.

Picnik is one example of a free online program. Blog Beautiful Designs recently posted an excellent Picnik tutorial by talented Cheryl of TidyMom fame. Cheryl uses a lot of great-quality pictures on her blog, and she edits them quickly and easily with Picnik.

I took this free program for a test drive with my original digital file of the polar bear. Quite frankly, the original image is so poor, my finger hovered for a while over the “delete” key. (LOL, I hear a collective “gasp” out there in blogland!) But I wanted to select a candidate that was pretty much hopeless, just to see what I could do with it. Hold on to your britches, because here is the original.


Folks, it doesn’t get much worse than this. It was one of the last pictures I took on our recent polar bear trip, and I quickly snapped it while looking out the front of the tundra rover (with a dirty windshield), right as it was leaving the area. The bear was lurking around the tundra lodge and ready to walk under it. The image is too dark, the color balance is a mess, the framing is bad, there are visible smears on the windshield, etc. It’s just plain sad and rather embarrassing to post here on my blog, quite frankly. The only things going for it is that the bear is in reasonable focus and he strikes a cute pose.

At the beginning of this post, we saw how well the photo cleaned it up with Photoshop CS5. This result took me about 10 minutes. Below is its side-by-side comparison to the original. Rather dramatic, don’t you think?

comparison between before and CS5

Now let’s look at how well the photo cleaned up with Picnik. This amazing result took me only about 1 minute.


Here is a before/after comparison. Quite frankly, I was shocked at how well this free online program did!


So now you’re probably wondering how well does the free program match up to the pricey one. Right? Here is a side-by-side comparison between the Picnik (on the left) and CS5 results.


The corrected image using Picnik lacks a bit of contrast punch and doesn’t duplicate the texture of the CS5 one. But the resultant image is a beautiful capture from a rather hopeless original. And you can save yourself some serious pocket change over the CS5 program! Just so you know, I could duplicate the CS5 result with its little brother, the Elements program. It would just involve more steps and take a bit longer to do.

I hope that this dramatic example inspires you and demonstrates why I am a big fan of digital editing. If you don’t use a program now, please start! You will be so much happier with your photographic results. And cost is not an issue anymore with free online programs available that provide dramatic results. Like me, perhaps you will be motivated to challenge yourself to improve your photo skills in the days ahead. I know that my journey is still scratching the surface.


  1. This was so so interesting! Thanks so much! I had wondered about both photoshop and picnik and the difference between the two. You really gave me a wonderful lesson right now!
    Amazing to have been so close to the polar bear! I'm off to visit some of your eagles now!

  2. GREAT pics, Donna! i wish I could afford a digital program, but now...I'll have to stick with picnik :/
    you are awesome!

  3. I've used Picnik before and really like it. I don't have much of a eye for photography and the enhanced pictures look good, but so does the original to me! It's just a cute picture!!

  4. I like PicNik as well! Free is Always a good thing!Hahaa....The bear is Gorgeous and I must admit I like the pricy program's effects best!

  5. Each version has a lot to be said for it so I like them all!

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  7. Wow, Donna! I would have never guessed those were the same photos! I have Elements 2.0 (don't laugh, it's old, I know! ) but have never really found my way around in it.
    I always enjoy seeing your photographs! :)

  8. I always enjoy seeing what you're up to, girl! When my ship comes in, and I get a new computer I'm going to try out this awesomeness you tell us about. :)

  9. I'm a photoshop elements user and it still amazes me how much you can change a photo. Love that you showed your original. Makes me not feel so bad about what most of my pictures look like. Editing though is why I have such a hard time deleting them.

  10. I forgot to mention that your edited version is AWESOME :)

  11. That's one cute polar bear! We here on the Picnik team love to see how folks are using Picnik to make their photos really shine. Great job with the before/after, and thanks for blogging about it. Makes us smile. :)

    team picnik

  12. I love how you have honed your Editing abilities.

    I'm on a Mac [can't for the life of me remember is you are on both Mac and Pc or what...?] and find downloading any of these things, to be difficult. So I just use the tweeks, which come with my iPhoto program, on my Mac.

    I know! Get my SON [to whom we go for tech support] to come stop by and install a Picnik program FOR me! And make sure I could find it again! lol. I am notttttttttttt techy!

    But I love to just use the tweeking ability given to me, by my iPhoto program on my computer! Love it! I especially love to try lightening my pics! I guess I'm kind of addicted to lightening!

    And it's *silly* but, I'm always wanting to be able to lighten other blogger's pics! Silly, silly! But I do! And I have to keep myself from suggesting it, to them!

    Mmmmmmm, most of the time, I keep myself from doing it, that is. ,-0

  13. Photoshop challenged and now I've been informed!! My brother is an expert at it and says it's easy :) Yes...right.

    Thank you so much for the detailed info and I am going to get busy with mine!!

  14. I just did some photos on the free site..and it was very helpful to me! I have something else to add to my wish list...what an improvement your new imges are( great photos too!!)thanks for sharing this Donna..I needed the help!

  15. Wow. I have been able to salvage some photos myself but, wow, that is really amazing. Gotta love photo editing software.

  16. That is totally amazing. Unbelievable what the photo editing, whether Picnik or CS5 can do! I have a Photoshop Elements 7 which has been in its box for about 3 years now. I did install it on my old laptop, but shortly thereafter my laptop crashed. I've never installed it on this one. These photos inspire me to do it! What I've always used is what I've had for years - PaintShopPro 7, and I only know a few things on it, those that are intuitive (because I'm lazy????) Thanks for the nudge. I think that the long winter here would be a good time to actually learn how to use one of those programs, rather than just the minimal. I just love the polar bear edited photo!!


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