7 Clever Tricks to Fix Ugly Photos

His Surprised Face Don’t be embarrassed. It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. To both amateurs and professionals alike.

You’re at a friend’s wedding or kids’ birthday party and have your trusted camera in hand. You channel your inner paparazzi and slide in to capture the perfect moment. You snap the picture, instantly get caught up in the excitement of nabbing THE shot and happily drift away in your mind as you bask in the sunshine your new found photography prowess. You even pause a moment to soak up the accolades of your new virtual fan club.

Then ‘Wham!’ It hits you like five tons of bricks and knocks you back to reality. You stop and begin to tremble. Your thoughts retreat to the deep dark place nobody speaks of. No, not the Twilight Zone. The Ugly Photo Zone.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s the place where the majority of your photos end up. The shots that are out of focus, over-exposed, dimly lit, too close or too far away. And then there’s my personal favorite (of which I’m guilty of), the partial thumb covering the lens photo.

What is a loving photo taker to do?

Here’s some quick and simple tricks that can take your ugly photos and turn them into masterpieces. And you don’t have to be an expert Photoshop guru to do it.

1. Go Old School

Wedding Rings on Baby's Toes Converting a color photo into black and white is a quick and super easy fix.

Believe it or not, the mere removal of color from a photo can hide a myriad of imperfections.

The overall effect softens hard edges, evens out the light and dark areas and, to even my surprise, sometimes gives a photo an almost ethereal glow.

2. Filter In All The Goodness

Unhappy Cat In the land of “there’s an app for that”, photo filter apps are available on most (if not all) smartphone platforms.

The Instagram app has close to two dozen fantabulous color effects that can transform even the ugliest photos into beautiful works of art.

3. The Texturizing Two-Step

Adding another photo on top of your original one can give it a vintage look or even turn it a bit grungy. Either way, you’ve just turned drab into fab.

4. Get Your Crop On

Regular Looking Guy Regular Guy Cropped to Side Did you know that cutting off the top of someone’s head can help fix a photo? It’s done every single day in print ads, billboards, commercials and even motion pictures.

For an extra bonus effect, position (move) the subject to the extreme left or right. It’s called the rule of thirds.

5. Color Tint Your World

Use color to single out a particular element of a photo so your eyes are immediately drawn to that particular spot.

6. Let’s Play Sketch Up

Girl in Curlers Sketched Some photos just look better with a hand drawn effect. Some call it cartooning, others call it illustrating. In either case, it’s fun to see the results.

7. It’s All A Blur

A blurry photo is definitely a bummer, but in the case of an ugly photo, it can be used your advantage. If the focus area of your photo is slightly blurry, draw attention away from it by blurring the area around it. You’ll be surprised how your eyes automagically refocuses to the less-blurry sweet spot.

If you’re wondering how much it costs to buy the software to do all these fancy-smancy effects, I’ve got great news for you. It’s absolutely free! Head over to PicMonkey.com and start monkeying around with your own photos.

Now I’m sure there’s even more ways to de-uglify a photo and maybe you’ve stumbled across a gem or created one yourself. Share your tips and tricks in the comments so we can band together to rid the world of ugly photos.

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Colleen Conger

Colleen Conger is owner and lead pixel alchemist (graphic/web designer/photo specialist) at Digital Photo and Design, LLC. She's a self-confessed Starbucks addict, font freak and geeky tech girl. Connect with her personally on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. You can also follow Digital Photo and Design on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Dribbble.

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      • says

        I could write a heap of posts about cropping and the power it wields to change the way we look at photos. It still feels weird chopping off the tops of people’s heads though.

    • says


      When I’ve talked to people about the crop technique, I swear I can see a lightbulb start glowing brightly above their head. I like what you said about “do-overs” too. It’s a nod to going green when it comes to taking photos, whether they’re good or bad. We can call it photo recycling :-D

  1. says

    I love the advice here, I often make my home videos for business black and white as it just softens it…and as for photos…well I am quite taken by the cropping idea…great suggestion…I was almost cringing while I read this as I just know it so well and often the photos that are the ugliest in my eyes have me in them LOL ;) Welcome to Birds Colleen!
    Sarupa Shah lovingly created…The great pricing illusion!My Profile

    • says

      Thanks for dropping by Sarupa. I’m glad to be flying with such a talented group of women here on BOTB.

      I’m glad to hear that black and white works just as well for video. Most of my best photo retouching strategies are the result of messing around (and messing up) with software and photo apps on my iPhone. And, just so you know, just about everybody I know hates what they look like in a photo – even myself.

    • says

      Ah ha! I knew you were a craft-type person Sarah. Is there a graphic designer gene swimming around in your DNA? I come from a long line of artists so it came quite naturally for me to move my drawing skills to the computer and harness the power of clone and erase (the two favorites of OCD perfectionist designers.) P.S. When I doodle draw with my 5 year old son, I always let him color outside the lines :-D

    • says

      Oh Ann, I totally hear you about procrastination. But think of it this way, you’re improving upon something that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Consider it happy go lucky productive procrastination :-D

  2. says

    These are some great tips Colleen! I guess that you can use them not only to fix some personal photos, but maybe also to make some images more interesting for your blog. Thanks!

    • says

      You’re absolutely right Laura. The sky’s the limit when it comes to retouching photos. A good friend of mine, Tea Silvestre (aka The Word Chef) says, “People eat with their eyes first.” So why not give your readers a feast for their eyes (an exceptional image) and food for their brain (the content.)

  3. says

    Thanks for the tips! For some reason it was really hard for me to start cropping into peoples’ faces. But you’re right—it really works.

    I’m going to try going black and white for some photos with bad color. Sometimes I can color-correct to my satisfaction, but that doesn’t always give me a decent result.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS lovingly created…Goodbye, FitBit–welcome back, BodyMediaMy Profile

    • says

      I’m jazzed you picked up some new tips Mary. Like I told El, it’s still strange cropping people’s faces and I’m always concerned that my clients will be horrified with the final photo. But, to my amazement, when they compare the before and after, they’re pleased 100% of the time. Happy cropping!

    • says

      Hi Lisa!

      I’m so glad to be a Bird and appreciate you taking the time to stop by and comment.

      Like you, I love taking pictures because with cameras being on just about everything nowadays, there’s no reason to not snap pictures 24/7. Who needs sleep right?

  4. says

    Hey Colleen,

    I like the new site Sarah. Love the minimum theme. Personally, one of my favorites child themes to use (on the Genesis framework).

    I do like black and white photos with a accent in color on an focal point. I actually, have heard of Pickmoneky (but you have peeked my interest on it now), but another free alternative is GIMP. However, I do have to go with Photoshop, because I am much more fluent with the program.

    • says

      Hi Garen,

      I’m with you about the minimalist feel of the new theme on BOTB. Fresh, airy and clean.

      I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that PicMonkey is highly addictive. I would have written about all the effects they offer, but alas, you’d be reading for days and your eyeballs would eventually dry up and fall out :-D

      I cut my teeth on GIMP before I upgraded my PC to a Mac. Nowadays I consider myself a Photoshop junky and have way too many plugins (as I should join a self-help group.)

      Thanks for stopping by and saying,”Hello.”

  5. Melissa Smith says

    I <3 picmonkey :) Use it all the time! Thanks for all the great tips :) You rock!