Taking steady, well-framed pictures is important, but it’s not everything. You don’t have to be a computer expert to learn to adjust the levels, clean up background noise or re-crop your images to create a more pleasing composition. Every photo editing program is a little different, but there are certain tricks and fixes that work well across the board.

Windows Tip: You don't need to buy photo editing software for basic photo editing — use the editing tools that are already included on your PC in Windows Live Photo Gallery. Easy-to-use tools like cropping, red-eye removal and one-click color adjusting can help make your best pictures look even better. You can even stitch together photos to create one panoramic picture!

Adjust Brightness or Contrast

Lighten underexposed images by raising the brightness setting (generally a slider). If an image appears too dark, try adjusting the contrast to make dark areas lighter. In some programs, you can select a portion of the image and adjust the brightness/contrast of that portion independently (good if you had one area in a shadow, for instance).

Click Tip: Don’t over edit. A little bit goes a long way.

Adjust Saturation, Temperature or Tint

Boosting the saturation of an image can perk up dull colors. Go slowly — with saturation, a little bit goes a long way. Playing with other color elements, such as temperature and tint can improve the tonal range and make a picture “pop.”

Click Tip: Slow going? Editing photos uses lots of memory. If your system is creeping along, quit other programs. If it’s still slow, consider adding more memory.

Bye-Bye, Red-Eyes

Many cameras have a red-eye reduction, but it’s not always enough if your subject is looking at the camera and/or you’ve used a flash. Eliminating red eyes with the red-eye tool normally requires placing your cursor on the red eye and clicking.

Sharpening

The sharpening tool is frequently the beginners’ favorite. It makes images appear sharper by increasing the contrast on the borders between light and dark areas of the image.

Click Tip: By blurring the background, you can highlight your subject and make it pop.

Advanced Editing Tools

Once you’re comfortable, try using the selection tools (to highlight certain areas of the image for editing), airbrushing out blemishes, adding text and removing scratches from scanned photographs. When you get really good, you can add filters and treatments such as black and white, sepia, paint filter effect (mosaic), soft blur effect, star effect (light flare) or different edges.