When it comes to advertising and design, your works impact is directly linked to the quality of your images. Digital photography has brought professional level imagery to the masses. However, mega-pixels don't necessarily equate to quality. If your levels are off, it wont matter how high res your file is. To insure your photos look their best it's important to take a few simple steps to unlock their potential.
First off open your image using Photoshop or a similar image editing application.
Take a look at the image - does its general color appear to be in balance? If so you can move onto the next step otherwise the first step is to balance your color. Easiest way to do this is to use auto curves. Under Image>Adjustments>Curves> Find Auto curves. This easy tool automatically balances out your image - most of the time. In some cases the tool produces unexpected results which are obvious. in this case simply chose undo. If the image still needs color adjustment the next option is to manually adjust the color using curves. digital photos shot with pocket cameras tend to be heavy towards the red channel - esp ones shot at night. Under the curves menu select the red channel and go the center of the curved line tool and drag the curve slightly upwards - doing this will reduce the amount of intensity for the red channel which will reduce the redness in your image.
Tip: In any image find a neutral grey area. You can easily identify problems by sampling color from grey areas. Any neutral grey should have an even value - ie: Red 150, Green 150, Blue 150.....if you see Red 200, Green 150, Blue 150 - simply pull back your red channel untill its balanced. Doing so unlocks detail and turns a bad image into a usable one.
Next how does the images brightness look? Is it to dark? Using Image>Adjustments>Levels> you can easily adjust either the highlight regions , mid-tones or shadow areas by sliding the levels adjusters from side to side. enable the preview check box so you can see how the changes will affect your image. Use levels sparingly - its a powerful tool that can dramatically improve an image but if taken too far will compromise its quality.
3. Brightness/ Contrast
We've just covered brightness using levels. However there is also a tool called brightness / contrast. This may sound misleading, but I wouldnt use the brightness tool to adjust brightness - use the levels instead. Its way more precise. The contrast slider on the other hand is critical. Using this key tool add between 3-8 points of contrast to make your image pop. Adding contrast almost always makes your image look better - just don't add to much or you will lose detail in the highlight and shadow areas.
Sharpness enhances the crispness of an image. it can take an image that may be very slightly out of focus appear crisp. However it can not make an image that is completely out of focus appear in focus. When used correctly sharpness greatly enhances the quality of an image. Additionally, when you take a large image that has a perfect amount of sharpness and reduce it down for web use - it always will require an additional UnsharpMask adjustment to look its best. Like any image adjustments its key to use the right amount - always preview your adjustment to insure you haven't used too much. the best tool to use to adjust sharpness is UnsharpMask mask located here: Filter>Sharpen>UnsharpMask
This step is not always necessary but it can come in handy if you have an image that needs to "pop" off the page. You can crank up its color saturation by using Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation. Dont use the hue slider on top - this tool is unpredictable and should be avoided unless your going for very dramatic effects. However the saturation tool is a great way to add a bit of color to what may be a lackluster image. What it does is increase the intensity of whatever colors are already in the image. Again the key here is moderation so use it wisely, or your image will appear enhanced. I recommend bumping it up by 5-10 points. This will make the image come to life without looking fake.
There you go. These 5 simple steps can unlock the quality of what may have otherwise been an unusable image.