Over the years, I’ve had plenty of family and friends ask me for help fixing their photos—saving a great shot that came out too dark, cropping, resizing, removing a blemish—you name it and I’ve been asked to do it. As much as I love helping them out, I wanted to see if resources existed for them to do it on their own, without needing Photoshop or other expensive editing software.
This past week, I did some research and tested out several free photo-editing programs to see if I could create great looking photos without Photoshop. You can see from above that it’s totally doable!
First up, I want to share how to save a dark photo, since this seems to happen a lot. I’ll also be sharing some quick, simple editing tips later this month, so stay tuned for more!
I’ll be making all my edits using the free online photo editing program iPiccy, but there are a handful of other free programs available with similar features, and they’re listed at the bottom of this post.
A few things before we begin:
- Don’t be intimidated by the titles below, I promise that I’ll explain what each means :)
- Don’t be discouraged if you have to play around a little at first—any worthwhile skills come from practice, so be patient!
- You can always start over if you make a mistake—iPiccy has a pretty simple undo/redo feature (the back and forward arrow above your photo), so you can go back a few edits if you’re unhappy with the result.
- Some of the features listed below may require you to create an account, but it’s super quick and easy (and still free).
Let’s get started!
1. Exposure | Curves panel
With a dark photo, I always begin by adding exposure. This just adds more light to your photo overall (in camera terms, it refers to the film’s exposure to light).
There are a few ways to adjust exposure in iPiccy, but after some trial and error, I found that the easiest and most effective way was to open the Curves panel (from the choices to the left of your photo) and select the “Increase Exposure” preset from the drop-down menu. (Don’t worry—you don’t have to mess with the curve graph. The preset will do it for you.) If this adjustment makes your photo too bright, you can reduce the effect with the Fade slider (near the bottom of the Curves panel).
Be careful not to add too` much exposure, because you can start to lose detail in bright areas, or end up with a grainy photo.
You can see from the screenshot above that my photo still looked a little dingy after this adjustment. That’s OK, because I just wanted a better base to start with. It’s better to add adjustments and fine tune little by little, because trying to get too much done in one step can hinder your end result.
2. Temperature | Colors panel
After I got my exposure looking better, I moved on to temperature (located in the Colors panel).
As a general rule, photos taken inside are usually too warm (too much yellow), and photos taken outside will come out too cool (too much blue). Adjusting the temperature helps correct these issues.
My photo had a blue tint to it, so I warmed it up by moving temperature slider to the right (adding more yellow).
When you’re editing photos, you’ll generally be looking to adjust your blue and yellow tints (done!) as well as your pink and green tints. Pinks and greens come in the next step. (If you’re interested in learning more about why it’s these four colors, click here. Otherwise, feel free to move on.)
Carter’s skin was starting to look better after adjusting the temperature, but was still a little more green than I liked. I opened the Hue & Saturation panel, and moved the Hue slider just a little to the left (a little goes a long way with this adjustment). That removed just enough green to make his skin look more natural.
Play around with that slider a little bit, and you’ll start to see how it affects your pink and green tints. Eventually, you’ll be able to find which spot on the slider brings out the most natural looking hues from your photo, overall.
Now that my color looked better, I wanted to enhance it a little. Because the original image didn’t have great lighting, my colors weren’t as bright as they would be in real life. When I clicked on the Vibrance panel, iPiccy automatically set the strength at 50. That was a little too much, so I moved the Strength slider and brought it down to 10. Much better! Now the colors looked closer to how they would in person.
5. Save & enjoy!
Don’t forget to save your finished photo!
Saving your image using the default settings should work fine in most cases, but if you find that your saved photo looks significantly different than the photo you see inside iPiccy, I found that saving as a PNG (instead of a JPG) fixed the problem. If you need your photo file to be a JPG, you can use this free PNG-to-JPG converter.
Hopefully, you now have a perfectly brightened, well-adjusted photo that looks even better than it did before. Unfortunately, I realize that some things are just not meant to be. If you started out with a really dark photo, you might have found that it just started to look a little funky after your adjustments (colors looked weird, or the photo got really grainy).
Don’t give up on that photo! If all else fails, try the photo in black and white. You might be really surprised how much of a difference going black and white can have!
I hope you found this tutorial helpful! Are there any tips you’d like me to cover in future tutorials?
If you have any questions, leave a comment below, and I’ll be happy to answer as best I can!