This tutorial will take you through everything I do to edit phone photos for print using free software.
Years ago, I created a tutorial on how to organize your photos into yearly family photo books and the one question I’ve been emailed about more than any other? How to edit photos from your phone. Today I’m excited to share a basic tutorial on editing either on your phone or computer before you have your photos printed. I’m sharing the settings and adjustments I typically make to photos that I take on my phone.
I’m excited to be partnering with Walmart Photo for this post- all the photos you see printed in this post were printed with their same day photo printing– which means you can order before you go grocery shopping and pick them up on your way out- no waiting! I also love that I can add photos to my home with one of my usual store visits- goodness knows I’m not hitting up extra stores these days ;) The little photobook featured in these photos? Same day pickup, you guys! This is the 5×7 version of this one.
The tech that I’m using for this post is Lightroom. Before you write it off as ‘expensive’… it’s FREE on mobile. I use it on desktop as well but the same adjustments are available from your phone and it’s totally free. So with that in mind, I’m sharing photos of the process from mobile.
Before I get into adjustments… some photos are easier to edit and adjust than others. Darker photos in poor lighting will always be difficult to get beautiful colors out of. Especially if they’re from mobile. You can still apply some of these edits though- but they’re not magic.
One tip I will give you to get better photos is to turn off overhead lights. If there is natural lighting through windows, that’s 100x better to work with than overhead lighting! When I snap photos of the kids playing in our house I’ll often switch off the lights. They roll their eyes at me but the photos are sooo much nicer that way.
These edits also get quicker to do each time you do them. A few taps and you’re done. But when you’re starting out editing your photos, it might take you a bit longer while you get the hang of it.
Alright, the first thing you’ll need to do is import your photos into the Lightroom app.
Now, you’re ready to edit! I usually start by bumping my contrast up. I tend to be around 10-15 for most photos. You want it to pop but not look over edited. Next, I would adjust the exposure if the photo is overall too dark. Go slow and when your shadows start to get grainy or the highlights start to wash out, take it back down a couple notches.
Now you can play in your light tab more than just the exposure. I like to bump up my ‘whites’ to make them pop and to lower my ‘blacks’ to keep the image grounded. The ‘shadows’ adjustment is a great one to move if your mid tones are too dark or overall too light. You could also use the ‘dehaze’ feature if you’re finding everything is very washed out. On mobile, this one is under ‘Effects’.
If your photo has colors that seem off, you can always adjust the white balance of the image. I only do this when I need to. You can try ‘auto tone’ or if that doesn’t cut it, you can look at bumping your temp or tint up or down to get the coloring you’re hoping for. You will likely need to do this on photos with overhead lighting. They tend to get a warmer temperature, so I typically adjust these down 2-3 points.
Speaking of coloring… I’ve noticed people like to pump up the color in photos. I do the opposite. I always drop my saturation about 4 points and if I want to add color, I adjust my vibrance up slightly.
Now… let’s crop that up! I always, always crop or straighten my photos that are taken from a phone. I go to ‘crop’ and then rotate it to make one of the vertical lines straight. I like to choose the corner of a room as my vertical line or if there’s a window- that works too. I also crop out clutter if it’s making the photo feel busy.
If your photo is still feeling skewed or not straight, you can play in the ‘transform’ panel (called ‘geometry’ on mobile). This will give you lots of options to ‘auto’ straighten it up or ‘level’ it. I tend to use this when I have a photo of a room that has lots of lines, not so much with photos of people.
Now… that’s totally great, it’s already looking better than straight out of the phone! If you want to take it a couple steps further… I like to add ‘clarity’ to crisp things up. This is in the ‘effects’ panel on mobile.
Now if you’re finding your photo looks ‘messy’ then you can also look at adding focus with a subtle vignette (also in the effects panel). This just darkens the edges of the photo to help draw attention to the centre of the photo. Do this with a really light hand, less is better than more. You don’t want to notice the vignetting but just help focus the eye. I choose color priority and usually darken it to about -8.
I will typically stop here. This is more than enough for getting photos printed for photo books or to display on your walls.
A couple stylistic notes. If you are getting your photo printed large or you’re wanting to add a bit more depth to your photo- you can always add some grain. Use this feature with a light hand again, but it adds a lot of depth to a photo.
Want to get a bit more fancy? If you’re doing a collection of photos for a gallery wall (or for an Instagram feed!), you might want to try this trick to make all the photos feel cohesive. I like to take the split toning feature (under the effects panel on mobile) and choose an undertone for my highlights. I choose a neutral and tone it way down (keep saturation under 10!). This just takes all those bright bits of your photo and tones them with that neutral.
One more thing to note! Selective adjustments! I use these with a light hand again. I think everything in photo editing is best ‘less is more’. My favourite way to use spot adjustments is with the adjustment brush on faces to adjust exposure. Phones tend to leave faces dark if it’s a sunny day or a bright room with lots going on. I will just bump up the faces enough to see the eyes nice and clearly without it looking like their faces are glowing.
Phew! That’s a lot of adjustments you can make to a photo! But again- you don’t need to make all of these. And you don’t need to make all of them on every photo. And you’ll get quicker the more you do it. This is a great post to save to come back to when you are going to sit down and do a batch of photos for a family album or to get your gallery wall switched up. These adjustments are good for almost any type of photo and will help your snapshots shine.
If you’re feeling like you can totally rock this- I also shared a few fun DIYs you can do with photos! In the meantime… why not print some of your newly edited images to pick up when you hit your groceries? You could put them in a little photo book like this one or there’s SO many options for same day pickup at Walmart Photo!
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