How to quickly optimize photo brightness

Why you want to optimize your photos:

Almost always when you are taking photos of the interior of a home (such as for real estate listings), you have windows in the background.  This means natural light, which is much brighter than anything inside the room, unless the lighting is magnificent (and most people’s homes aren’t set up with photography studio-quality lighting).

What this does is cause your digital camera to pay attention to the brightest spots (the windows), and make sure everything else that sn’t as bright just … well … isn’t as bright.

This is FANTASTIC if you want photos of windows.  Not so much when you want photos of everything else.

See the before and after examples:

           

Notice the first photo, it’s hard to see details in the room – the fireplace and even the nice staircase seem to fade into the background; but with the second photo we’ve optimized the brightness, and while you still see the light from the windows (which is a good thing in real estate – potential clients do like natural light), you’re able to see details in the room without changing anything about the house itself.

So the best thing you can do is quickly optimize your photos for brightness and contrast, which is what I walk  you through in this video.

This video uses GIMP, which is a free image editing software much like Photoshop.  GIMP can be downloaded here.

  1. First, open the program.  This can sometimes take a minute so be patient.
  2. Go to File > Open, find the image you want to edit, and then click open.
  3. Duplicate the layer.  What this does is give you a way to quickly revert to the original if you overdo something (which can happen, especially until you get the hang of it).  Go to the “Layers” dialog on the side.  Grab the layer that says “Background” and click and hold while dragging it to the “new layer” icon, which looks like two papers on top of one another.
  4. From the toolbar (usually on the left), use the magic wand that looks like a tiny finger with blue, red and green boxes next to it.  This is the “select by color” tool.  Click on this tool, and then click on one of the brightest spots in the photo.  This automatically selects all of the colors that are the same (ie just as bright), which you will see it do by the little “crawling ants” surrounding those areas.
  5. What we want to do next is invert our selection, so that everything except these brightest spots are selected – because those are so bright that we want to make sure we don’t brighten them more.  So go to Select on the menu, then choose Invert.  Now you will notice your little “crawling ants” around everything else in the photo.
  6. Go to the Colors menu and choose Brightness/Contrast.  Slide the brightness slider button to the right a bit, then slide the contrast button to the right.  You should see a preview as you make changes.  Usually, I end up sliding the contrast button just slightly less than the brightness button.  Keep an eye on your photo as you are previewing the changes to make sure that none of the white areas are burning out (and becoming overly bright like the areas we selected in the step above), and that none of your blacks/almost blacks are burning out by becoming too dark where you lose definition in your objects.  When you like what you see, click OK.
  7. If you want, you can toggle and see the difference your editing made by clicking on the eyeball icon next to the “background copy” layer that you made.  When you see the eyeball, the layer is visible, and when you click off of it, it isn’t.  Going between the two lets you see the change.  Just be sure to keep that eyeball visible for when you’re ready to save.
  8. Go to File and click Save.  It will tell you that you need to export, which is fine, so click the export button.  Make sure you bump quality up to 100.  Then click Save.  If you prefer to keep the original file and the edited file both, use “Save As” instead of save.

Your photo is now optimized, and will look MUCH better on a computer monitor.

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