This question is meant to serve as a basis for (possibly) some follow-up questions. I will not be asking about any specific, just general methods of what to do rather than how to do it.

A friend of mine has been tasked with doing a little photo album with Indesign. The images were taken by a not-so-good (self appointed) photographer, and the quality is not so good. Therefore I was wondering what sort of techniques / tips we could follow to make it a little better.

Now, I know there is some stuff you can't fix, so I'm not looking to fix (correct me if I'm wrong):

  • wrong focus (blurness)
  • lack of a proper flash
  • casted shadows on the walls
  • poor lighting
  • the-aunt-that's-always-there-with-a-grin-on-her-face
  • ...

So generally, anything that can make these pictures a little less ugly. I should probably add that time is of the essence (we barelly have until monday), so I'm looking for any general and fast tips.

I've noticed that in many of them it boils down to wrong colors / contrasts / white balance (my eye somehow did this on its own). But as I'm no expert, I don't really know.


To shorten the broadness of the question, I'd basically like to ask: How to know for sure a picture has a problem?.

I'm looking for mathematical proof to detect problems such as 'the image looks too blue', 'It's blurred where it's supposed to be focused' or 'there's too much white in it'. I know it can be a number of things, but since I'm a complete n00b I just know what my eye/brain is telling me.

P.S. I know these things can't be rushed, but we don't really have a saying on this matter...

P.P.S. We are using the software added in the tags. If you think it would be really beneficial to switch to something else, please tell me. But, again, we don't have much time to learn anything new.

  • 2
    Hi, welcome, and it is a broad question. Can you make one focused question, or maybe split it in separate questions? Then you have more chances of getting better answers.
    – Luciano
    Jun 9, 2016 at 7:56
  • Hi TIMINeutron, your question is still pretty broad. 1 tip besides editing the color, contrast and brightness is to look at cropping the image. This can give a whole new look and feel to the image.
    – AndrewH
    Jun 9, 2016 at 13:31
  • The easiest answer to your question of how to tell when a picture has a problem is pretty simple, really--use your eyes. How to fix the problem(s) is much more broad and will be different for each image. As such, I think this is still going to be too broad a question for the typical Q&A format of this site, no matter how it's edited.
    – Manly
    Jun 9, 2016 at 15:10
  • @AndrewH thanks for the tip. We were taking that into consideration already, but it's a nice reminder. And again, sorry for the broadness, I really don't know where to start from :) Jun 9, 2016 at 15:19

2 Answers 2



You are mixing too much issues, because you recognize you are still noob. Yoy feel the photos are not too good, but you do not know where are the errors.

A bad result can be on several levels, let us call them steps.

The photo

a) The photo was taken with bad light conditions. Non flatering light.

b) The photo has technical errors that can be somehow fixed. Bad framing, not ideal exposure, white balance not balanced.

c) It has non salvable technical issues. Really bad focus, motion blur, too low resolution.

The design

d) Bad design.

e) Bad process of the photos.

f) Bad print.

e) Let us start with the post process.

You can not correct a photo if your equipment is not calibrated. How can I make sure that my on-screen colors are consistent?

So this solves one part of "the image looks too blue" but it is not mathematical, is perceptual, it is style, it is conditions.

Yes you can mesure a white balance target... If you have it.

c) It has non salvable technical issues.

Just do what you can, apply some sharpen. But sometimes there is not much it can be done.

b) The photo has technical errors that can be somehow fixed.

Well. Do your homework. This is too board, so go to the GIMP homepage and search tutorials on the specific issues the photo has.

a) The photo was taken with bad light conditions. Non flatering light.

This is again too board, so you have more homework than ever. You can cut the photo and change the background, play with contrast, make a totally new style, make it look like a photo journal, like a "dragan style", apply soft blur to make it look like the "Lord of the Rings", or you can paint it again to make it look like a watercolour masterpice.

Yes, probably the photos are not good. (We do not know because we have not seeing them) But as a designer there are a toon of things you can do.

But if you are looking for a mathematical aproach, due the fact that you do not know exactly what to do, I am afraid it can not be done.

The only tip I can give you is observ yourself and find specific issues to solve, one by one. So the homework is yours.


How to know for sure a picture has a problem?.

You can not tell! Unless you have a clue about what do you need!

This is an example I use a lot:

It is low resoltion, grainy, it has motion blur, too contrasted, you can even see a "rolling shutter effect"... But it is an iconic historical photo!

Edited 2.

On this part I will just write some tips.

  • Watch the framing (crop)

  • Adjust the contrast (Levels or curves) White point and black point.

  • To make a photo brighter or darker adjust the middle point (levels or curves).

  • Sharpen a bit the image.

  • 1
    Thank you very much for your answer. I can see now that my question is still waaay too broad, and I will make no further attemps to edit it into a good format. But you have given me a ton of information to work with nonetheless, so thank you very much again. Accepted. Jun 9, 2016 at 15:16
  • This photo is still crap :) It is iconic because that's the only one we have... If another photographer had a similar picture of better quality this one would have been forgotten long ago.
    – xenoid
    Jun 9, 2016 at 21:15

Two basic things to check (Gimp):

  • exposure is about correct: Windows>Dockable dialogs>Histogram: the graph should be "balanced", and reach both ends of the range. If it seems collapsed on the right the picture is overexposed, on the left the picture is under exposed.
  • color balance is about correct: spot an element of the picture that should be gray or white, use the color picker to sample its color (this ses the foreground color), then check start the color selector to check the RGB values, they should be about equal). This script can be used to amend the picture and make this color a gray.

I have no hard criteria for blur (motion blur or focus blur), but it is easy to check by just zooming in, but don't be too harsh, at 100% zoom most pictures look terrible unless you have a very good camera and lens (and photographer), but if rescaled things get better (and given the megapixels in modern cameras there is always some scaling down). See Filters>Enhance>Sharpen and Filters>Enhance>Unsharp mask to make them look more in focus (note, this isn't a de-blur...)(to be applied after scaling down).

For the rest (flash use, aunt...), it's a matter of art and family more than a matter of pixels.

  • Correction: If the histogram seems collapsed on the right the picture is overexposed, on the left the picture is under exposed. Jun 9, 2016 at 14:30
  • Thank you very much. This has quite what I expected for in an answer. Accepted @Rafael 's answer though, he provides a little more information and braking down of the issues. But seriously, thanks a lot. Jun 9, 2016 at 15:17
  • @HelloGoodbye I stand corrected, thanks. Edited the answer.
    – xenoid
    Jun 9, 2016 at 21:10

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