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How do you deal with imperfect digital photos?

how to deal with imperfect digital photos
how to deal with imperfect photos
Like with so many things, there has to be a balance with scrapbooking, right? The need to be in the moment has to balance the desire to have photographs of plenty of real life events, both big and small. I will be the first to admit that this very balance creates some very imperfect photos in my collection. Pictures I could certainly compose, focus and light much better with even thirty more seconds of thought. But if it’s a moment that will be gone thirty seconds later, what’s the use?

And so I end up with photos like this: this is a picture from this past week taken in a total spur of the moment, straight from the camera (except for resizing) so you can see all its flaws. Like how I didn’t even notice the line in the mirror join went right through my face, how the focus is not sharp (and it was taken with far too shallow depth of field to ever get all six of us in focus), how the colouring isn’t great. But that’s the shot I have from that particular moment: take it or leave it, right? And as a scrapbooker, the keeping is far more likely.

So my question to you this time is How do you deal with imperfect digital photos? Do you delete them except in certain circumstances? Do you try to identify them quickly and recreate the moment as much as possible? Do you try printing them small or large or editing them to look a bit better? Do you include them in pockets or somewhere less obvious than your clearest, most beautiful images? Do you keep meaning to scrapbook but just put them back in the file? Dish the dirt on your strategy and whether it works for you.

how to deal with imperfect digital photos
Faced with an image like this, I’m likely to turn to Photoshop and make the best out of an imperfect photo by arting it up just a bit. None of these strategies will take an out-of-focus, poorly composed photo and make it win prizes, but they do make things just a little more clear for me to remember that moment in my albums. The four options I come back to each time are to sharpen the image (to see if it’s possible to crisp up something that is just barely out of focus), to cool the colours and soften the focus even more so there’s an obvious look of something other than digital precision, to warm and fade the image so it mimics an analogue photo that sat on an old roll of film for far too long, or to convert the image to a black and white that captures the right feel.

After a long time using Totally Rad’s separate actions for my photo editing, I switched to their RadLab system, and it is definitely my favourite way to edit images – both the everyday snaps that come out a bit rubbish and the favourite fancy shots too. (If you’re looking for a system like that, I reviewed RadLab here and code 1128SHIMELLE gets you 15% off your purchase.)

I also find the printing small option works wonders for not emphasising an imperfect photo when on a scrapbook page! Easy.

Now… what are your strategies? (And if you’ve been editing with Picnik – have you made any decisions about what you’re going to use after their site closes next week? A bit sad about that!)

14 April 2012



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65 Comments for How do you deal with imperfect digital photos?

  1. Gerry Glowacki Says:

    I use iPhoto if the correction is minor or if I just want to crop the photo. For more intense corrections I head on over to Photoshop Elements.

  2. Cynthia Says:

    I will totally miss Picnik, but Flickr has already added Aviary as a photo editor. It’s a bit different, but works the same. Another choice is iPiccy. As for wonky photos…ah, such is life. I do the best I can to edit them, but I find that the wonky photos have a better (usually funnier) story to them anyway. ;-)

  3. Alyssa Says:

    If it’s one imperfect photo in a series of them, I delete it. If it’s the only photo I have commemorating a moment, then I save and use it.

    I have scrapbooked with many imperfect photos. My knowledge of photo fixes is pretty limited, so I do the best I can here, but it isn’t much.

    Here are a few of my layouts with unfortunate photos: http://justmeandmyasdf.com/?p=2762
    http://justmeandmyasdf.com/?p=2319

  4. Tammie Says:

    Of course I use PSE, but I’ve fallen in love with Pixlr and can’t hardly keep myself from using it on every photo. Have loved Picnik and will sorely miss it as it does those wonderful things like whiten my coffee-addict teeth and give me pink hair!!! If anyone finds something to do that, please let me know!

  5. Shonie Says:

    I try to retake it if I chatch it right away. If not, I either print it smaller or don’t use it.

  6. helen salthouse Says:

    Black and white is my first choice, although I have recently discovered a Pioneer Woman Soft Faded action which I’ve used on some of my photos for today’s challenges and I love it. Smaller prints are also good!

  7. marianne Says:

    I’m not much good with editing my photos before I print them so I usually will just deal with an imperfect photo if the memory is something I want to scrapbook. Currently, I use picnik to edit my LO’s for upload and I’m sad its closing =(

  8. Sharon Says:

    Aw this question is marked for me – and I have a different answer than I would have had last year!
    I work as hard as I can to fix the photo – and what I have left – that’s what gets scrapped. My son and I had a lengthy discussion one day about how saving even a bit of the moment is better than tossing it all away for art’s sake. The discussion even took us into cropping out the undesirables in the background – nope, they now stay. We found “PopPops’s handmade clock” on one photo, on his mantel, and in another the photo taken of a close friend hanging on the wall, given to him from a Hockey card company (they took photos of his NHL team). All would have been lost had I had my cropping hat on.

    As I said last year I had a bunch of nice photos, now I have what we saved from the flood waters here in PA. Thanks to “Operation Photo Rescue” even more difficult ones are now saved. But I scrap what I have, and even if it’s not picture perfect for the general public, it tells a valuable family story.

  9. CoventryAnn Says:

    Photoshop it the best I can, if it will stand a grunge look (ie an urban shot) I’ll go mad with the unsharpening tool to make a really grainy shot. Whatever happens though, if it’s the only shot for that memory, I’ll scrapbook it! Sometimes printing the shot a little smaller can hide the flaws too!

  10. Lisa M. Zepponi Says:

    I use photoshop elements for basic changes because I am unfamiliar on how to use it. I just use the auto button and I am done. I definitely need to remember to change rough pics into black and white.

  11. Patricia Says:

    I have quite a few really bad photos – either pre-digital ones where I didn’t get a chance to re-take them or some old photos taken by my dad who favoured what he called ‘candid ‘shots but to everyone else it just seemed that a flash had unexpectedly gone off in their face). I usually just print them a bit smaller to reduce the blurriness or use the auto-enhance process on the lovely machines at Boots where I get most of my photos printed (I scanned a few hundred negatives not long ago – fiddly but worth it).

    If the pics are really bad, I pass them to my hubby who is mastering Photoshop. I have to be careful with that option though as he can get carried away – a casual viewer of our last set of Disney photos would think that we were the only people there; whole families get wiped out with the click of the mouse!

    Generally, though, I quite like the photos with odd little bits of background – it quite often adds interest to an otherwise ordinary photo.

  12. Breeze Says:

    I love photoshop for most changes to my photos. I have a few masks and techniques I have come to master… Not many but a few;)

  13. Kathy Says:

    Mostly I will use Picasa, I have elements but haven’t master it at all. I limit my editing to cropping and the occasional lightening. Mostly I will use the photo imperfections and all.

  14. rhh/Randi Says:

    For me the story is more important than the quality of the photos, a couple of years ago I made an mini-album for my mother with pictures from my grand-dads 100 years birthday, not all of the photos were great but they told the storys so I kept them – but they got a treat into photoshop elements before printing

  15. Tammie Says:

    I know I answered this but just want to let y’all know that, if you want to give it a look/see, Pixlr gives you Hipstimatic options and it’s free and oh so easy – and if my foto is bad, as most are these days, altering them to look vintage really makes them work. Just be sure to save w/new file name. Also, once my fotocards are full, I keep them in the wallet of my purse so that if anything happens to my computer, I’ll still have those pix at least.

  16. glee Says:

    I agree w/sharon, we really don’t know today what the us (or someone else) in the future might see in that pic if we crop out too much “stuff.” Imperfect is still better than nothing, it’s the moment we savor, not so much the perfect photo of that moment.

  17. Dawn Says:

    I don’t have the fancy programs so I just print and use-sometimes I will lighten a darker photo but even my imperfect photos tell my family’s story.

  18. Heatheranne Farley Says:

    I edit all my photos, even if it is just to crop them to the size I want printed! Mostly I use photoshop as it was the program I got with the digital imaging course I did.

    What I do with a photo varies on what it is and whether the moment just needed ‘catching’. My favourite tool has to be the shadows and highlights which can deal with a whole load of difficult lighting conditions.

  19. Tammy Says:

    I will attempt to fix in PSE but if I don’t like it, I’ll try sepia or black and white. I love hearing about these services though. I’ve thought about RadLab but want to hear from other PSE users and how well the plug-in works. I’m going to explore Pixlr because I’ve never used actions much but occasionally would like to do something fun with a set of photos. That might just be the tool I need! Loving all the ideas.

  20. Jennifer Grace Says:

    I’m currently hooked on editing my photos at www.picmonkey.com, it’s really similar to picnik and I love it. I also just use microsoft office picture manager to edit photos.
    Or after printing I might paint over part of the photo I don’t like, or cut out the silhouette of a person if the background is too busy.
    Another technique I might use is to pair an imperfect photo with one that is neater – eg if one photo of people is too busy or blurry I will still use it as it is, but on the same scrapbook page I will use a better photo that matches somehow – for example it might be of the same people on a different day, or of a detail in the original photo like a window in that room, or a close-up of an item of the clothing I was wearing when the imperfect shot was taken. My page feels more complete that way. x

  21. DeAnna Yaritz Says:

    I never delete a photo…even when my camera decides to go bonkers and take a hundred shots from on click of the button. I have played around with fixing photos in photoshop, but most of the time it seems like more time and hassle than I have, so they either don’t get scrapped or they are scrapped the way they are.

  22. Tammie Says:

    Tammy… Yeah Pixlr is great because it’s a standalone that you can use on-line or download to your computer. It’s 3-phase to include choice of action, effect & frame – in a snap!!

  23. Melissa Says:

    In the past year I’ve used PSE to edit some photos, however if it’s a photo I want to scrap to record a memory I print it and use it anyway. Photos, like life, are not always perfect, so I just go with it (especially when there’s not another photo from that event/day/moment).

  24. Debbie Piercey Says:

    I have been in the practice of deleting blurry photos once I upload photos to the computer immediately. Lately I’ve been rethinking this practice. I’ve seen some amazing blurry photos on blogs and on layouts, and sometimes it really adds to the story the photo tells. I have saved one of a kind type photos that are blurry before, but I think I will be looking at all my photos in a different way. When I do edit, I use Photoshop.

  25. tape Says:

    Definitely make it smaller! I do edit as well but I hadn’t thought of adding artsy effects – thanks for the idea!

  26. Cathie Says:

    if I can fix a pic in PSE, I will. But if the story that goes with the pic is important to me and has to be scrapped I definitely use the pic. I’ll print it as a 4×6 and go for it. If I wait for the perfect picture or until I become a great photographer to start scrapping I’d still be waiting. :)

  27. Jean Marmo Says:

    I found a website called Picmonkey which is very similar to Picnik. I am not opposed to using blurry photos if need be.

  28. Alissa Says:

    I love radlab!
    Picmonkey was created by ex piknik employees so is very similar. Give it a try.
    Alissa

  29. Moira OReilly Says:

    I really don`t have a lot of know how when it comes to editing photos. I have Picasa but generally my editing is limited to resizing and or cropping. Otherwise, I just go with what I have. Occasionally, I will print in black and white to try and hide some of the imperfections or make them less noticeable. But as many have already said, the moment is more important than the photo and often those candid shots have a great story

  30. Megan Smith Says:

    I will either print the photo smaller than I would originally like or I will try doing some editing in PS. Or a combo of both. I don’t just not use a photo because it is imperfect.

  31. Allie.Duckienz Says:

    Seriously. I scrap as it and include it in the story. I am such a ‘life isn’t perfect’ person that it doesn’t bother me. Of course if I had a nearly identical shot that was a lot better quality I would go with that but apart from sharpening and maybe adjusting the colour slightly, I go with it as it is.

  32. Chriss Says:

    As much as I prefer working with great photos, if my imperfect photo is the best photo for my story I don’t hesitate to use it. I run it through Aperture to make it as good as possible, and usually print it as a half size photo (3×4”). Sometimes putting it with other photos helps, too. I did that on a layout the other day.

    Sometimes I also find that if I write down my journalling right away and place it with my photo in my storage binders and leave it a while it magically becomes better. It’s amazing what a bit of time can do. :)

  33. Daphne Says:

    On a daily basis I use Picasa, but when it gets to diffucult pictures or RAW-formats I use PSE to correct it. Normally I try enhancing the colours first, then a bit of more contrast, sharpening… if it not works, I use the fun-bits in Picasa (like polaroid or Lomo). The very last thing I would try is black and white. And if it’s still not working – well then it goes in the bin!

  34. Jane Says:

    I nearly always sharpen my photos in Picasa anyway, but if a precious moment isn’t good enough I print it smaller before using on a page. Sometimes I just like the imperfections though. One of most favourite photos is where the sunlight casts an almost ethereal glow, technically all wrong, but just captures the moment perfectly. I keep meaning to try converting to black and white, but never seem to remember this option.

  35. Helen Overton Says:

    I’ve always used Picnk, so I’m pretty gutted, but Photobucket have a lot of the same options for photo editing and I store a lot of photos there too.
    As for editing bad photos, I try auto fix first, then croping and various effects to see if i can save it as a colour image, if not I go black and white.

  36. ruth Says:

    I just “lucky” it in picasa and go with it. i am not great at photography, but i love scrapbooking and work with the story =)

  37. KateT Says:

    I try and shapren, I must try out the other 3 ideas you’ve given. If a picture means a lot to me I will scrap it no matter what the condition, it’s all part of the story.

    ** Kate **

  38. senoritascrapper Says:

    I make minor edits or cropping on picasa. Sometimes i just switch to sepia. But i am not a great photographer so i just work with what i’ve got.

  39. debbie clark Says:

    I am not of the generation where computers are second nature! I get help from my older children (I’m 53). I pretty much keep the photos as they are. I do toss really bad photos. There are times that it is an older…only shot, I just keep. Sometimes I get a copy of it or use the original as you do to scrap book.

  40. Sharis Says:

    If I am feeling sassy I might mess around with filters, but honestly most of the time I scrap as is.

  41. jen Says:

    I’m lazy/too busy and rarely edit my pics. :) I try to look at the picture right away, and take another and delete the first picture. I also have been loving the Instagram filters … where imperfect is perfect! The smaller size helps, too.

  42. Kirsteen Says:

    If I have serveral photos I’ll delete the rubbish ones, if it’s the only one then I’ll keep it and scrap it. I have no knowledge of photo editing so the only thing I might do is use Truprints editing features – often changing a photo to black and white or sepia.

  43. furrypig Says:

    good question! I delete a lot as I take a lot of photos (except when I have lost the battery charger like now!) then if I only have one of something important and it is a bit rubbish, I might try and crop it or sometimes use simple online freebie sites for altering the light/shade etc. Normally I just accept them tho they would never normally make it to a scrapbook page (so I have made one for this very reason!)

  44. Pepper Says:

    I’m lazy to edit photos! Usually I just use my iphone apps to change the colour/contrast and etc of the photos. Other times when i’m freer , i use this software called Lightroom to do photo editing :)Thanks for the great tips shimelle, i shall try it out real soon :)

  45. Sinead Says:

    I sometimes edit a small bit, like sharpening or converting to black and white. If the photo really isn’t great though, like if it was taken on my (low quality) phone camera, I’d tend to print it at a smaller size:) x

  46. Claire t Says:

    Mostly I use them as they are. In saying that, many of my photos are of my madly active two year old and I have taken to using the double picture option on my point and shoot
    and that has improved the odds of getting non blurry
    prints. There was a period of
    about six months though
    where she was moving in
    every photo and I love that now because that shows that period of her life so well.

  47. Lorraine Says:

    I just try to use them as they are or try to improve them with photoshop

  48. tilla Says:

    I edit all my photos before they get printed, if something is not great, but part of the story, it goes into a collage or I print it small scale.

  49. Shelly Says:

    I use them as they are. Most of the pictures I’m currently scrapping are older ones that have already been printed.

  50. Christina Collins Says:

    Black and White all the way. I try to sharpen the photo but it never works out quite the way I expect. Also – making the picture smaller always helps me.

  51. margie visnick Says:

    i fix it in PSE 9 as good as I can if it is something I want to keep!

  52. Scrapdolly Says:

    If I am honest I tend to delete most of my poor photos as I am one of those who takes 10 of everything anyway int he hope I will get a good one. However, if I have a poor photo of something that means something and no other pictures, then I enhance it as best as I can and just scrap it.

  53. Siobhan Fry Says:

    I try to edit in PSE, but I don’t really know what I am doing lol!! Often-times I don’t really give two hoots whether the photo is perfect or not, as I am usually trying to capture a memory, or a feeling, not technical expertise. Or I’m just lazy…

  54. sonia Says:

    if the photo is really bad I won’t use it, if it is still grainny after sharpenning the photo I still use it. It is not the picture that matters but the memories that is important :)

  55. TrayChic Says:

    I don’t have Photoshop, but when I upload my photos for printing online, I will use some of the basic editing tools they have- contrast, red-eye reduction, etc. I’m not going for total perfection; a pretty-darn-close photo is fine by me.

  56. Briel Says:

    Well, I do delete a lot of the bad ones. But, if it is the only one, and it’s got to be used, then I go for smaller, or just use it and be glad I have a photo at all. I haven’t tried lots of fixes, because sometimes the “bad” photo tells a story too.

  57. cjb Says:

    I use Picasa to sharpen or convert to a b&w or add some kind of effect, but I will use a “blah” photo as long as I can still make out the subject. Every photo has a story to tell.

  58. Mel Says:

    It depends. I do a little bit of editing in iPhoto, but I don’t sweat it too much. I think imperfect photos can work really well in telling a story, adding a bit of charm. My biggest problem, photo-wise, is getting good photos of my projects to post to my blog. I’m still learning.

  59. Terri Torrez Says:

    Black and white is my first choice. I’m learning to edit larger problems in Photoshop but mostly I just make the best of it and use it anyway.

  60. Jennifer Says:

    I have photoshop so I do what I can with them there. I do have some favorite actions that can help or I just turn them b&w. :)

  61. So.Ceative Says:

    Photoshop is my best friend! He always saves me^^

  62. Miriam Prantner Says:

    Sometimes I like to pair them with a ‘perfect’ photo since I tend to take photos in series, so I use them to contrast one another.

  63. Stephanie B Says:

    I delete a lot of photos, but if its the only one I have of a particular event then I’ll try to improve it as much as I can with photoshop, and then just scrap it with a lot of journalling – hopefully the story makes up for the bad photo!

  64. Janice Says:

    I use imperfect photos in my layouts all the time! I often scrap photos from my childhood, so I scan them from the originals, do a good bit of digital editing in Photoshop Elements and then print them to use on a page. The thing is that you just can’t make those old reddish, over/underexposed photos look perfect. And I have decided that I like it that way. It ensures that my layouts using vintage photos look like what they are. When I use more recent photos I also clean them up in Photoshop before printing them, but if they’re not perfect that doesn’t stop me from scrapping them.

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