Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard when it comes to photo editing software. However, it can be prohibitively expensive for many users, especially if you’re not planning to use it on a regular basis.
Fortunately, Adobe offers a trimmed-down version of the package called Photoshop Express. It can’t do everything its big brother can, but it should be more than enough to give your photos some extra oomph. Better yet, it’s available in your browser, as well as on iOS and Android.
Here’s how to get started with Photoshop Express and touch up your photos without paying a penny.
First, you’ll need to head to the online version of Photoshop Express. Alternatively, you can download the app for your mobile device.
Next, click Upload Photo. You’ll need an image that’s in JPEG format, and it can’t be larger than 16 MP (“megapixels”).
You should see a screen something like the one above. Now we can begin editing our photo.
Cropping, Rotating, and Resizing
Photoshop Express is great for making adjustments to the dimensions of your photos. Select Crop & Rotate from the Basic section of the menu on the left-hand side of your screen to access these tools.
First, we’re going to crop our image. Use the Crop Dimensions dropdown to select whether you want your image to conform to a fixed ratio or not, then adjust the handles on each corner.
I want to put the focus on the right-hand side of the photo, so I’m going to choose the Freeform option and crop down the image so it’s taller than it is wide.
I’m happy with the way this looks, but this would be a good time to use the Straighten tool. The slider makes it easy to rotate your image slightly, which can be useful if you’re working with a photo that features a lot of straight lines.
For instance, if you’re editing a picture of a city skyline, you’ll likely want all the vertical lines that comprise the buildings to look as straight as possible.
Next, it’s time to resize the photo. There are buttons across the top of the screen that offer presets for social media profile pictures and mobile devices. However, if you want closer control, choose Custom and set your dimensions manually in the two fields to the right.
When you take a photograph, you capture a great deal of information pertaining to light and color — but the resulting image might not accurately reflect the conditions on the day. Fortunately, it’s likely that your camera will have gathered enough data to make corrections afterwards.
Photoshop Express doesn’t offer the same precise control over things like Color Balance and Levels that you will find in the full version of the software. However, its presets are good enough to make some noticeable improvements to your raw images.
Let’s start with Exposure, which is found in the Basic section of the tools menu.
Above you can see the original version of the photo in the middle, with both extremes of the Exposure options on either side. You probably won’t use either extreme that often, but this illustrates what the tool does. It’s good for bringing out light or shade, depending on what your picture is missing.
Next, we’re going to move onto Saturation, which is also in the Basic section of the tools menu. Alterations to a photograph’s level of saturation yield great effects, but it’s crucial to remember that less is more.
Here is the image at four different levels of saturation, with the original on the far left. As you can see, the far right is almost at the point of being unrealistic, so one of the middle two options is probably the right choice. I’m going to opt for the setting second from the left, as I think it strikes the correct balance.
Finally, there’s the White Balance tool, which you’ll find under the Adjustments category. This offers up several different profiles that are tailored for different scenarios, like a cloudy day or fluorescent lighting. As you can see from the preview images above, not every option will be appropriate for every photo!
This tool is intended to fix issues with white balance, rather than to improve a well-taken picture. If your image doesn’t need it, don’t feel that you need to employ it.
While the above techniques will help you tweak your photos, Photoshop Express also offers some functionality that will let you make bigger stylistic changes. The tools listed under Effects are akin to the Filters in Photoshop proper, and they’re handy if you want to make something really eye-catching.
For instance, the above image shows how you can use the Pixelate tool to completely change the look and feel of your photo.
The Pop Color tool can be used to select one particular color, changing the rest of the image to black and white.
Here’s the Sketch effect, which can be used for a stylized, painterly look.
The effects available in Photoshop Express don’t allow for a huge amount of customization, but they’re capable of putting fun spins on your images in a hurry. Try them out and see what works for you!
Saving Your Image
Once you’re happy with your edits, it’s time to export your image so that you can use it elsewhere.
Click Done to be given the option to save your work.
Click Save and navigate to the folder where you want to store the image. That’s it! You now have a hard copy of your picture, so you can safely close Photoshop Express.
Need More Functionality?
Photoshop Express is a great tool to have on hand, but it does have its limitations. It’s got everything you need for basic photo manipulation, but its capabilities have nowhere near the scope of the full Photoshop package.
If you find that Photoshop Express falls short of your needs, it’s worth trying GIMP. It’s an open-source, free alternative to Adobe Photoshop, and while it doesn’t have all the features of Adobe’s offering, it’s a very powerful piece of software in its own right.
Different users will have different priorities when it comes to their choice of photo editing software. Some will be looking for ease of use and accessibility, and Photoshop Express will serve them well. Others who require a bit more close control will perhaps prefer GIMP or another similar option.
The important part is figuring out what works for you — try a few different options and see what fits.
For more help, check out our tips for removing shadows from photos.