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10 Step Picture Prep Guide

A start-to-finish guide to photo processing workflow

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Whether you get your photos from a scanner, digital camera, or a third party, they usually require some form of editing before final output. Here's a start-to-finish guide to common image processing tasks. Although not every picture will require every step, they should be performed in the order presented for best results.

Step 1: Save a Copy

Before anything else, it's always a good idea to save a copy of your image in your software's native file format. By using your software native format, you have the most flexibility in the editing process because it retains special features such as layers, masks, undo history, and so on. This is commonly referred to as your "working file." But don't throw out your original file. By keeping it, you always have a safety net and a point of comparison.
Native File Format

Step 2: Rotate

Not every image will require rotation, but if you often use your digital camera in portrait orientation, if the camera was tilted, or if the images were scanned at an angle, they will need to be rotated. This is also the time to correct distorted perspective, using your software's skew, transform, or distortion tools.
Rotating with the Crop Tool in Photoshop
Correct Distorted Perspective in Photoshop
Straighten a Skewed Horizon in Photoshop or Elements
Straighten a Crooked Image with the Crop Tool in Photoshop or Elements
Straighten a Crooked Photo and Fix Skewed Perspective with Paint Shop Pro
Straighten a Crooked Photo with The GIMP
Does Rotating Images Degrade Image Quality?

Step 3: Crop

Cropping is one of the simplest ways to enhance a photo, yet many people neglect it. By cropping your photos, you can remove unnecessary and potentially distracting elements so viewers can focus on the important part of your picture. In addition, cropping can significantly reduce file size, which is important for photos you intend to post on the Web or send via email. The order of this step isn't critical, but unless you have a good reason not to, it makes sense to crop early in the process for a couple of reasons: First, A smaller image requires less of your system's resources and can cut down on processing time. Secondly, many problem areas in a picture can simply be eliminated by cropping them out.
Use the Rule of Thirds for Cropping
Aspect Ratio and Cropping
The Crop Tool in Photoshop
The Crop Tool in Photoshop Elements
Batch Cropping of JPEGs Without Loss
Rotate & Crop in Photoshop
Rotate & Crop in Photo-Paint
Rotate & Crop in Paint Shop Pro
Rotate & Crop in PhotoImpact

Step 4: Correct Color and Tone

Now it's time to examine the overall color and tone of your image and adjust for color casts, underexposure, overexposure, and so on. It's important to correct color and tone before moving on to restoration, retouching and other enhancements. This is best done through your software's levels, curves, histogram, or tone map adjustment commands. Avoid using brightness/contrast, and hue/saturation adjustments for these types of corrections because they are "flat" adjustments that will destroy the overall tonal range in your photos.
Correct Color & Tone in Photoshop
Correct Color & Tone in Paint Shop Pro
Corel Photo-Paint Photo Fixes
Ulead PhotoImpact Photo Fixes

Step 5: Repair and Restore

With accurate color and tone, you can now focus on any flaws that may need repair. This includes removing unwanted moire patterns, dust, scratches, tears, wrinkles, spots, and noise.
Photoshop Image Repair & Restoration
Paint Shop Pro Image Repair & Restoration
Corel Photo-Paint Photo Fixes
Ulead PhotoImpact Photo Fixes

Continue to Step 6: Cosmetic Improvements

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