In this post, I’m going to show you the method I use to edit food photography in Pixlr, for use here on the blog, and in social media. Scroll down for step-by-step instructions & a quick video.
This is part of a a series of posts on food photography. Other posts cover:
- Taking better Food photos on your phone
- Editing them in my favourite free photo editing app (VSCO)
- Keeping up a beautiful feed through the darkest depths of winter
- Upping your food photography game by investing in the most informative books on the topic
- Shooting your food photography in batches (so you can get more done)
As with any hobby or new skill, the more you practise and invest in food photography (from investing the time to learn the basics, to investing in new photography kit), the more you’ll start to improve.
It might be slow at first.
But after a few months and years of persistance, you can sit your earliest photos side-by-side with your newest ones, and I promise they will have improved immeseaurably. Just look:
So yes, my actual photography has improved.
I’m better at composing and styling a shot, I’m better at taking my camera out of auto, I’m better at finding (and making the most of) the best light source.
I’ve invested in a much better camera, too.
But the skill that gave my photography the most noticable jump in improvement?
Learning to polish my photos in an editor.
I’m not talking Adobe photoshop or lightroom (which can be pricy for someone like me, who just wants to touch up the odd photo here and there). Imma be honest: I’ve barely used photoshop.
When I’m taking food photos on-the-go with my phone, for use on social media, I just use a free editing app VSCO (you can get my tutorial for that here)
But you might be ready for something a bit more serious, that you can use on the big screen of your PC.
Pixlr is a browser based application for editing photos. Its completely free to use.
You can access the editor at pixlr.com/editor.
It lets you make simple edits to your food photos (or any photos for that matter).
Pixlr might not be able to replace Adobe products for advanced users, but the software functionality is comparable to programmes like Gimp, PaintShop Pro and Photoshop.
Pixlr offers more advanced options for editing than the native Windows or Mac photo editing apps.
How I edit food photography in Pixlr
Firstly (and I cannot say this enough) you need a basically decent picture to begin with
Learn the basics of photography (try some of these books, if you’re not sure where to start) and use the best lighting you possibly can (hint: its 100% free, so long as you can carve out a little bit of time during daylight hours).
The best editing only involves very light touch-ups. See it as enhancing, not fixing.
It’ll be very difficult to make a terrible photo look good with any software, this tutorial is more about making a decent photo look awesome.
Whats that saying? You can’t polish a turd.
The next step, before you even open Pixlr, is to know your style
This is something that eventually starts to come naturally – the result of playing around.
The style of photos I aim for is light and airy, with pops of brightly coloured food.
This if you prefer a moodier or brighter style, adjust your editing steps accordingly – it may be that, where I turn the saturation up a notch, you prefer to turn it down, or that you prefer the lightness a little higher than I do. Experiment and find your own signature style.
Ready to edit?
Here’s a run-down of each step I normally take when I edit food photography in Pixlr:
- Open the image you want to edit – you can import images directly from Google Drive, or open them from your PC once you’re in Pixlr
- If the image is a little ‘wonky’ or off-kilter, straighten it by going to edit > free transform, and rotating with the little arrow in the corner
- Crop your image to get rid of most of the ‘white’ exposed in rotation, and to re-frame the subject. Select the constraint you prefer:
- ‘No restriction’ gives you free reign over the image dimensions
- ‘Aspect ratio’ lets you choose from common aspect ratios, like 1:1 (perfect for Instagram) or 16:9 (standard ‘full screen’ dimensions)
- ‘Output size’ is based on the actual image size (rather than dimensions) that you’ll get. By default, this is set to the same size as the original image
- The ‘clone stamp’ tool can be really useful for tidying up the edges and background of the image. Select the tool, then right-click or control-click to select the area to clone from and use the pointer as a brush to paint the cloned area
- Use the ‘spot heal’ tool, with a wide brush, to mitigate any obviously copied areas left by the ‘clone stamp’ tool
- Make the ‘spot heal’ tool bruch much smaller to remove small mistakes, like misplaced crumbs and splashes, or small areas of bruising, discolouration or other minor imperfections on food
- Next, adjust the tone of the whole image with settings under ‘Adjustment’. Normally, I use:
- Brightness & Contrast (I increase both a little)
- Hue & Saturation (I tend to leave the hue where it is, but increase both the suturation and the lightness a little)
- Colour Balance (offset red, blue and green colour balance – I don’t normally use these, though they can be helpful for editing out the slightly orange tones of electric lighting)
- Colour Vibrance (increase or decrease the vibrancy of colours in the shot. Again, I don’t normally use this, but I can sometimes be useful for making colours pop)
- Levels* (as in Photoshop, levels are used to fix colour balance and tonal range of an image. Using levels is a little more complex than the other settings, and I don’t normally adjust the levels in a quick edit of an image)
- Curves* (like levels, curves in Pixlr serve the same function as they do in Photoshop: they adjust tones to brighten, darken, add contrast and shift colours. Curves are a little more advanced to learn, and I don’t normally use them in quick & simple edits)
- Exposure (Artificially increase or decrease the exposure of your shot. As with any other setting, its better if you can get this right when shooting, but that may not always be possible. I like my shots on the mose-exposed end of the spectrum, so I often turn the exposure setting up a notch or two)
- Another way I use the ‘adjustment’ tools is to adjust only part of the image – to make the colour of the barries really pop, or to create a little more contrast in the main subject than in the background of the image. There are a few ways to select a specific area of an image:
- The ‘wand’ tool lets you ‘magically’ select an area with a specific tone. This can be really useful for selecting only the plain backdrop of an image, for example. Adjust the tolerance to select more or less of the image
- The ‘marquee’ tool selects a rectangle or an elipsis. This can be really useful for quickly selecting a bowl or plat in an overhead shot
- The ‘lasso’ tool is the one I’m using in the example. Use the freehand lassoo tool to select any area completely freehand, or the polyagonal lasso to essentially join-the-dots around an area you want to select.
- Finally, save your image to your PC or your Google Drive
*I’m planning a detailed post about using levels & curves in Pixlr to take your food photography to the next level – keep checking the blog to know as soon as it goes live
Watch this quick overview video to see exactly how I edit food photography in Pixlr:
Using Pixlr to improve your food photography is easy. Start with a decent shot, know your signature style and edit with a light hand.
It may not be quite as advanced as Adobe products, but for a free alternative it’s brilliant. No editing suite will ‘fix’ bad photography, but once you’ve learned the basics of food photography a little help in post can make the world of difference.
If you’ve been shooting food for a while and learning about food photography, go back and compare some of your first shots to some of your most recent. I promise it’ll put a smile on your face. And if you’re just starting out? Well, you got that to look forward to.
Actually, what am I talking about? We’ve all still got that to look forward to.
What is my ‘best’ shot today will, I’m sure, look amateurish to me in a years’ time. As long as we’re practising, we’re always improving.