Making Basic Adjustments

Making basic adjustments to your images can greatly improve their quality. Learn about making image editing adjustments here.

Introduction

Image editing is all about adjusting your images to make them look better. We're going to talk about some of the most basic image adjustments, along with some common problems to watch out for when making these changes. The adjustments we'll cover in this lesson include:

Optional: If you'd like to follow along, you can download some or all of our example images. Just click any of the images below to open a full-sized version. Then right-click the full-sized version and select Save Image As to save it to your computer.

image of butterfly
image of flower
image of heron
image of lily
image of people in a park
image of wasp

About this lesson

Throughout this lesson, we'll show you how to make these adjustments with Pixlr Express, a free, web-based image editor you can use from almost any computer with an Internet connection. If you're using a mobile device, you can use the free Pixlr Express mobile app.

If you have a different image editing program, you can still follow along—these features will work roughly the same way for most image editors.

screenshot of Pixlr

Image editing tips

Here are a few important things to keep in mind as you start working with images. If you're new to image editing, we also recommend reading the first lesson in this tutorial.

Cropping images

screenshot of Pixlr

There will often be times when an image includes a lot of extra space or content you'd like to remove. You can solve this problem by cropping the image. In the example below, we cropped the image to show less of the background and emphasize the butterfly:

image showing a photo before and after cropping

You can also use cropping to completely change the composition or subject of an image. In the example below, we focused in on just one part of the image—the lanterns on the left—and cropped out everything else. You may have also noticed that by cropping this way, we changed the image's orientation from landscape to portrait.

image showing a photo before and after cropping

To crop an image:

Remember, we'll be using Pixlr Express throughout this lesson, so this process may vary depending on the software you're using.

  1. Go to Pixlr Express in your web browser, then click Browse to open the image from your computer.
  2. Click the Adjustment button, then click Crop.
    screenshot of Pixlr
  3. Click and drag the cropping handles until only the part of the image you want to keep remains visible. You can choose one of the predefined aspect ratios—for example, 4:3 or 3:2—from the menu at the bottom to change the shape of the crop window.


    screenshot of Pixlr
  4. Click Apply. The image will be cropped.
    screenshot of Pixlr
  5. If desired, click the Save button to save this new version of the image.

In some applications, such as Microsoft Paint, you may need to select the part of the image you wish to keep before clicking Crop.

In the example above, locate the zoom level in the top-right corner. You'll see that in step 2 we were viewing the image at 18% of its actual size, and in step 4 we zoomed in to 38%. That's because our image has a high resolution, which allows us to zoom in (up to 100%) without losing detail. High-resolution images will give you more flexibility to crop and resize the image without reducing the quality.

Remember, cropping will remove pixels from an image, so you'll always need to make sure the cropped version is still large enough for your needs. If you want to print the image or display it at a large size, you'll generally need more resolution.

Resizing images

screenshot of Pixlr

Because digital images can be displayed at different sizes, you probably won't need to resize your images most of the time. However, resizing is an easy way to reduce the file size of an image, which can be helpful if you want to send an image as an email attachment or upload it to the web. You can see an example of resizing below:

resizing an image to make it smaller

Remember, you should avoid making images larger than their original size. When you do this, the image simply won't have enough detail to look good at the larger size. As you can see in the example below, the resized image is blurry and doesn't have a lot of detail:

resizing an image to make it bigger

To resize an image:

  1. With the image open in Pixlr Express, click the Adjustment button, then click Resize.
    screenshot of Pixlr
  2. Enter the desired dimensions for the new image. When you enter the new image width, the height will be adjusted automatically to maintain the original aspect ratio of the image (we'll discuss this point in more detail below).


    screenshot of Pixlr
  3. Click Apply. The image will be resized.
    screenshot of Pixlr
  4. If desired, click the Save button to save this new version of the image.

Some programs, such as Microsoft PowerPoint, require you to click and drag sizing handles until the image is the desired size. You can review the lesson on Inserting Pictures from our PowerPoint tutorial to learn more.

resizing an image with sizing handles

Preserving aspect ratio when resizing

When you resize an image, it's important to make sure the new version uses the same proportions, or aspect ratio, as the original. For example, take a look at this image:

image in original aspect ratio

If you want to resize this image while maintaining the same aspect ratio, you will need to change both the height and width by equal proportions. Most image editing programs can do this automatically when you resize an image. However, if you just try to guess what proportions to use, or if you're using sizing handles, it's easy for an image to become distorted. A distorted image may look too wide or too narrow, as in the examples below:

the same image resized to the wrong aspect ration

While it may not always be this obvious, these examples illustrate why it's so important to preserve the original aspect ratio when resizing an image. There are a few easy ways to make sure a resized image will use the same aspect ratio as the original:

Rotating images

screenshot of Pixlr

Sometimes an image may be rotated the wrong way. This can happen if the camera was turned on its side when taking the original image. It's easy to fix this by rotating the image, as in the example below:

image showing a photo before and after rotating

To rotate an image:

  1. With the image open in Pixlr Express, click the Adjustment button, then click Rotate.
    screenshot of Pixlr
  2. Choose the desired rotation direction. In our example, we'll rotate the image to the right. You can also use the Straighten tool if you need finer control over the rotation.


    screenshot of Pixlr
  3. Click Apply. The image will be rotated.


    screenshot of Pixlr
  4. If desired, click the Save button to save this new version of the image.

In some programs, the Rotate tool will be a menu option. In Photoshop, for example, it can be found under Imageright-arrowImage Rotation.

screenshot of photoshop

Other image adjustments

So far, we've covered some of the most basic image adjustments, including cropping, resizing, and rotating. In the next lesson, we'll talk about other common adjustments you can use to improve your images, including brightness and contrast, saturation, and sharpening.

Challenge!

If you want to practice making the adjustments we cover in this lesson, you can download some or all of our example images. Just click any of the images below to open a full-sized version. Then right-click the full-sized version and select Save Image As to save it to your computer.

image of butterfly
image of flower
image of heron
image of lily
image of people in a park
image of wasp
  1. Open an image in an image editing application, such as Pixlr Express.
  2. Use the crop tool to remove parts of an image. Try experimenting to see how different types of crops affect the image.
  3. Try resizing an image to be smaller than its original size. You can turn Constrain Proportions on and off to see how this affects the aspect ratio.
  4. Try resizing an image to be larger than its original size. Notice how the image suffers a loss in quality and detail.
  5. Use the rotate tool to rotate an image.
  6. Save a copy of the edited image if desired. You'll want to choose a new file name to avoid accidentally overwriting the original version.