I’ve learned a lot from blogging – basic coding, SEO, and the extent of my husband’s patience – but the most valuable discovery of all was PicMonkey. PicMonkey is a free online photo-editor that I now use daily for my personal images and blog photos. With no software to download, no registration and no learning curve, I can have fun with my photos and improve their quality with very little effort. The beauty of PicMonkey and what it can do for free is the subject of this post.
At about this time last year, I found myself in a sort of a photography rut. I snapped thousands of pics of my kids and I put the best ones into Shutterfly books, but the photos lacked the spark. Not that I wanted every photo to look like it was professionally made… Well, perhaps I did want that (who am I kidding). My kids were growing fast and it was my only chance to capture their sweet little faces the way I wanted to remember them. Something had to change. I needed to take some photography classes or marry a photographer, seeing how I was already married that could be a challenge.
This photo is from one of my first blog posts last spring. Editing? What is that? The only thing I knew how to do was crop and slap on the label. Oh yes, apparently, I also figured out how to add the black border. Hello, amateur! In my defense, even though I heard about Pinterest and Instagram, I never visited them and didn’t know what a good image could look like! And knowing what a good image looks like is an important first step towards better photos.
For me, the best photos are simple. This is one of my favorite photos, it shows a sprouted bean that my kids grew. I just put it on a mirror and shot it in front of the window. Doesn’t it look fascinating? Like some alien life form.
And it leads to the next step – staging visually irresistible scenes. The key here is a strong imagination, but not too strong and keeping in mind what is realistic and what is not. For example, George Clooney gazing longingly at a picture of me with tears running down his face would be a very catching and well-balanced composition (I’m just waiting for his permission to photograph him like this). But if you are thinking of sticking your hand in a crocodile river to get a unique shot, you are overthinking it, the odds of a crocodile chomping your hand off at just the right moment is practically nil, so this is not very realistic. Find another idea.
The third step is learning how to take good photos. I’m not an expert, but I did learn a few tricks along the way, like good lighting and shooting from as many different angles as possible. Taking clothes off also helps to take a good photo.
Puerto Rico in December. I used some airbrushing, but shhh don’t tell anyone.
However, the final step that brings all the different elements of photography together is knowing how to do a good edit. Enter PicMonkey, a free online photo-editor, and the endless supply of FREE lessons and tutorials.
If you are like me and don’t have a photography background, you might be as excited as I am about the Free tutorials available on PicMonkey. Some of the offerings:
- Photo Editing for Cool Newbies
- Rescue Throwaway photos
- How to Use PicMonkey Touch Up Tools to Retouch Photos
- 5 Photo Editing Best Practices
- Erase a photo background behind your subject
- How to make a collage in ten easy steps
- Design Your own Holiday Cards
- Glitzy DIY Invitations with an Uptown Vibe
- Blast from the Past: How to Make Vintage Graphics
Do you know that it took me five hours to compose this list? I kept coming across tutorials that I absolutely had to try. I mean, who wouldn’t want to fly among clouds at least once in their lives?
By the way, it’s me before the kids.
The main thing I now usually do with my photos is balancing highlights with shadows and fixing color and exposure.
Before: Caribbean sea in motion is beautiful but it’s not always easy to translate the radiance of the natural beauty to the flat screen of camera. The first pic is what you will actually see in my Costa Rica vacation Scrapbook. It’s in the book because I wanted to remember that day, but honestly can it get any more dull, dreary, and lifeless?
After: Improved saturation and better contrast brings out the real colors of the day and this natural beauty. The water is now alive. I can almost hear it. Some other tricks here are increased brightness, contrast, clarity and highlights and decreased shadows.
Before: I like to share some of my family’s favorite recipes on the blog, so taking good pictures of food is very important to me. I learned that the most important fact of food photography is great lighting. Bad lighting would make even most beautiful food look dead and uninviting, however, it’s not the only thing. The first pic of this gluten-free chocolate cake was taken outside on a summer day, but to my eye it looks washed out and less than appealing.
After: I brightened the image and increased clarity and sharpness. Voila! Eat me, is what this chocolate cake is screaming now. You can not see this, but I actually just licked the screen.
Before: The first shot is not very sharp, but it has potential (and oh boy, do I hate slanted photos).
After: The bumpy rocks I shot on vacation in Turkey come to life when I brightened the pic, upped the contrast and sharpening and lowered the shadows. I also straightened the horizon line. Now, these mountains look as stunning as they actually are and the water is blue and the sky doesn’t overpower the pic. The perfect I want to go there RIGHT NOW shot!
Before: This blob of chocolate peanut butter doesn’t excite in the least.
After: With a bit of cleaning up the background and improving contrast the mixture now pops and ends up being much crisper, cleaner, and appetizing. Mmmm… chocolate…
Before: I think babies and kids are difficult to photograph well because they are always in motion. And it’s notoriously difficult to catch them smiling. Or maybe it’s just my kids. Even though all my kids were smiley babies, I have almost no pics of them smiling because the moment the camera goes “click” they are all serious. That’s why I cherish, all the more, my few smiley pics.
After: Here it is with improved clarity and sharpness. I also used the spotlight feature to bring focus on the baby and away from the bright toys around him. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I airbrushed the face. Why not? We live ones. Let’s go wild.
Let me tell you a bit about how the website works.
Click on “open” and select a photo from your storage device. It works in your browser. There is nothing to download or install. It goes the other way too, if you don’t save your final product on your computer, there will be no trace of your work on PicMonkey when you come back. Here I pulled up a pic from our Costa Rican vacation in desperate need of editing.
Now begin playing with options to see what works for you. It is ridiculously fun. And easy! My first step is always to improve focus and clarity. Then, I crop the edges, play with highlights and shadows, and do any number of other things like fixing overexposure and adding filters like focus or light effects. I can also remove imperfections and air brush. I love PicMonkey fonts and use them at every opportunity. Here is before PicMonkey editing and after. Do you notice any difference? (I hope you do).
In other words, whether you shoot landscapes, babies or food, PicMonkey has a lot to offer to improve the quality of your pictures. I could spend all day showing you my before and after images. I just finished my daughter’s annual Shutterfly photo book with all five hundred photos edited in PicMonkey. And the most amazing thing is that you can do it for FREE. If you choose to never register with PicMonkey, you can keep coming back and editing your photos for free. I know what you are thinking right now. Where is the catch? Do they store my photos and use them? How in the world do they make money? I have the answer for you! They make money by providing such amazing photo tools and other resources (collage, free tutorials) that most free subscribers keep coming back and eventually upgrade to a paid version. That “Free Trial” you see on the banner refers to the free trial of the paid version, which is not necessarily for all your basic editing needs. But I did upgrade and for a small fee I now have access to fantastic Pinterestic resources to create Pinterest worthy images for my blog.
I think the review won’t be balanced without mentioning some negatives. The only two things I came up with are:
- The absence of grid. If I try to slap a heading in the middle of, say, truck, I sometimes have a hard time finding that middle.
- I wish there was a way to enter a numeric value in the Exposure tool. Many a time I have an exact value in mind, say +7 on the Highlight scale, but my hand keeps moving from way too low to way too high, back and forth, back and forth my jerky hand moves until I miraculously strike +7.
But these two gripes are really very insignificant for what I get from PicMonkey. My new improved photos might make it seem as if I spend hours editing, but it really only takes a minute. Give it a try now. Remember, there is no learning curve and no fee. Now there is no excuse for having unedited photos! Are you still here? What you are waiting for?