There’s a reason it’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

It might be an old, familiar catchphrase, but it’s as relevant as ever when it comes to designing for an audience. And it sums up a concept we know is true both from experience and research: images capture people’s attention.

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Click here to find out how to select the right images.

HubSpot has collected some statistics that show how visual content is a powerful communication tool:

  • Content with relevant imagery gets 94% more views than content without images.
  • People remember information better when it’s paired with images (10% retention of audio information vs. 65% retention of audio + visual information after three days).
  • Visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared on social media.

Imagery is a vital part of the equation for most designs and can help make your projects more memorable and effective. But if you want your design to stand out among the flood of images your audience sees every day, then it had better look good.

Whether you’re working with your own photography or pictures you sourced elsewhere, you can make sure your imagery is looking its best by paying attention to a handful of simple settings and techniques. Even better, all of these adjustments can be made right in Canva.

01. Cropping: Enhance Focus & Composition

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There’s no easier way to completely transform a photo than by cropping it. Cropping can remove unwanted or distracting areas, improve the composition, or help emphasize a focal point.

A word a warning: if you plan on doing significant cropping, try to start out with as large an image as possible. Because the more you crop, the more you reduce your image quality and resolution. Pixelation can occur, especially if you then try to enlarge the cropped portion.

A good rule of thumb when cropping is to follow what’s known as the rule of thirds. This technique imagines that your photo is divided into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, with four lines (two vertical, two horizontal).

The four points where those lines would intersect form guidelines to place your focal point, or the most important area of your image.

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In Canva:
Cropping is an easy, visual process. Just follow these steps:

  1. Click on the image you want to crop.
  2. In the menu bar that pops up, select “Crop”.
  3. A frame will appear over your image that outlines what the dimensions will be after cropping. Drag the frame until you achieve the results you want.
  4. Click the checkmark to finalize your crop.
  5. If you want to adjust your crop, just choose “Crop” from the menu again, and you can drag the original photo around to re-adjust how it displays within your cropped frame. You can also resize the frame to completely different dimensions.
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02. Blurring: Enhance Background Images

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There will be times you’ll want to highlight images as featured elements in your designs, but they don’t always have to be the center of attention. They can also work well in a more behind-the-scenes role — literally. That’s right, we’re talking about backgrounds.

Photos can make for visually interesting backgrounds in a wide variety of designs. But, since most designs have text on top of at least part of the background, you’ll often run into a problem: the details in the photo make the text hard to read.

The solution? Apply some blurring to create a smooth, uncluttered background. With some light to moderate blurring, you can retain recognizable shapes or scenes in your background photos.

With a dramatic blurring effect, you can create a soft, abstract wash of colors and/or vague shapes. This could be a good option if you want some something more dynamic than a solid-color background — a little shape and color, but no distracting details.

For a more thorough guide to using blurred backgrounds with real design examples, make sure to check out 10 Expert Tips For Designing With a Blurred Background [Case Studies].

In Canva:

  1. Click on the image you want to blur.
  2. In the menu bar that pops up, select “Filter”.
  3. Click on “Advanced Options” in the bottom left corner to expand your settings.
  4. The Blur slider is third from the bottom. Moving it right of center blurs your image; moving it left of center sharpens your image.
  5. Depending on how you’ve placed your image, your adjustments may not be visible until you exit the menu. Click anywhere outside of the Filter menu to close it and view your changes.
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Get to know Canva: The Filter menu is your destination for photo editing. While there are a variety of filters you can choose from at the top, you don’t have to apply a filter to take advantage of the setting sliders beneath. Each slider ranges between -100, 0 (the default, no effect), and +100. The next several image enhancement settings we’ll be discussing can be adjusted from this menu.

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03. Saturation: Enhance (or Reduce) Color Intensity

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Photographers and designers will most commonly adjust an image’s saturation settings to kick up its colors a notch.

Saturation has to do with color intensity, so more saturated colors are bolder and brighter (closer to their purest form) while less saturated colors are more faded (closer to gray). Complete desaturation (in Canva, this would be a saturation setting of -100), leaves you with a black-and-white photo.

While any photo editing technique can be overdone, too much saturation can look particularly strange and unnatural. So, unless you’re after a particular effect, be careful to go easy on the saturation, or else you’ll end up with an image that has an almost glowing, neon look.

In Canva:

  1. Click on the image you want to edit.
  2. In the menu bar that pops up, select “Filter”.
  3. Click on “Advanced Options” in the bottom left corner to expand your settings.
  4. Saturation is the third option. Move the slider right of center to increase saturation; move it left to decrease saturation.

04. Contrast: Enhance Highlights and Shadows

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Increasing contrast is a good way to make your image pop and add a little drama.

Upping the contrast produces lighter lights, darker darks, and a wider range of tones in between — making your image look just a little better than what you’d see in real life.

On the other hand, reducing contrast can give an image a more flat, even tone.

As with saturation, too much contrast is usually not a good thing. Highlights can get blown out (too bright) and shadows can get too dark, which means you lose detail and dimension in those areas.

In Canva:

  1. Click on the image you want to edit.
  2. In the menu bar that pops up, select “Filter”.
  3. Contrast is the second option. Move the slider right of center to increase contrast; move it left to decrease contrast.

05. Brightness: Enhance Overall Lighting

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Lighting can be one of the hardest things to get right, even for professional photographers.

While it’s best to start out with an image that has been correctly exposed, sometimes you’ll end up with a photo that’s just a little too dark, and you may be able to improve it by manipulating the brightness setting.

Keep in mind that editing the brightness will making everything brighter (or darker). This should be done incrementally and with attention to not creating areas that are overly bright, and you can often improve and balance your results by adjusting the contrast at the same time.

In Canva:

  1. Click on the image you want to edit.
  2. In the menu bar that pops up, select “Filter”.
  3. Brightness is the first option. Move the slider right of center to increase the overall brightness of the image; move it left make it darker.

06. Filters: Enhance and Correct Photos

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Thanks to Instagram and other apps, filters have become a popular photo editing option. They can be used to add special or artistic effects to your images, but they can also serve as a shortcut to correct issues in your image.

For example, in the image above, the photo I started with (left) had a yellowish tone to it. I wanted the colors to look more balanced, so I applied Canva’s “Nordic” filter to tone done the yellow, then fine-tuned the results by adjusting the brightness, contrast, and saturation (right).

You can see the exact setting used below.

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However, most images shouldn’t need filters. Try to only apply one if you’re trying to achieve a specific effect — not just because you can.

07. Arrangement: Enhance Your Layout with Grids

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A clean and organized layout is an asset to any design project. If you’re not sure where to start, aligning all your design elements to a grid is always a safe bet. Grids are also a nice way to showcase multiple images.

In Canva:

There are a few ways you can arrange your images in a grid. Each of the options below will give you a pre-arranged grid that you can drag images into:

  1. In the main menu column to the left, select “Layouts” and choose one of the many grid layouts to fill in your canvas.
  2. To add a grid to an existing layout, select “Elements” from the main menu, then “Grids”.
  3. For image grids that don’t fill your whole canvas (and don’t have margins in between each image), select “Elements” from the main menu, then go to “Frames” to see a selection of options.

08. Frames: Enhance Image Shape & Style

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Like actual picture frames you hang on a wall, framing images in design is traditionally used to draw attention to the image. Frames can be simple or decorative, a single line or an illustrated design, colored or not, depending on the style and mood of your project.

In Canva:
There are plenty of options for decorative frames in different styles and shapes. But you’ll also find frames for cropping your images into specific shapes. These range from simple circles and squares, to shapes with fancy edges, to frames that make it look like your image is displayed on a smartphone or laptop.

09. Layering: Enhance Images with Screens or Overlays

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Sometimes you’ll want an image to be a little less noticeable — often so text or other elements on top can show up better. While blurring is one way to do this (as we discussed at the top of the top of the article), there are other ways that preserve the clarity of your photo.

Screens (also called overlays) are a common approach. They are transparent blocks of color that sit on top of your image. Adjusting the opacity of the screen determines how well your image will show through.

A more opaque screen provides a smoother, more even surface for your text but also conceals your image, so you’ll want to find a happy medium level of transparency that suits the purposes of your design.

You can try layering more than two elements, or making the image itself transparent and placing it on top of a background. Use “send to back” or “send forward” commands to experiment with different combinations. (In Canva, click on a design element to access the “Back” and “Forward” buttons.)

In Canva:

To add a transparent screen on top of an image, follow these steps:

  1. Select “Elements” from the main menu, then choose “Shapes.”
  2. The first shape in the list will give you a rectangle that you can re-size to cover all or part of your image.
  3. Click on your shape to bring up its menu. First, select the circle to the right to choose the color you want your screen to be.
  4. Then click on the downward arrow on the far right side of the menu to bring up extra options. Select “Transparency” and drag the slider left until you’re happy with the level of transparency.

10. Text: Enhance Images With Typography on Top

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Images and text are two foundations of graphic design. Combine them, and they’re a powerhouse of visual communication. So try adding relevant information to an image by placing text on top (or picking an image that complements the subject of your text).

In photography, naturally open areas like sky or water provide nice, clear spaces to add typography.

In Canva:

  1. Choose an image with some open space, or apply a screen or some blurring to prepare your image for text.
  2. Select “Text” from the main menu. You can add your own heading, subheading, or body text and edit the font, size, and spacing to your liking. Or, farther down, choose from handpicked font combinations that are also editable.
  3. Pick font styles (100+ to choose from, or upload your own) and colors that show up well against your image.

For more on this topic, visit our Complete Guide for How to Marry Text and Images in Your Designs.

Your Turn

Whether you’re working on social media graphics, a business flyer or ad, blog images, or something else, getting the imagery right will be key to a successful design.

Visual-Content

Click here and learn how to use your enhanced images to drive traffic.

Give yourself a head start by using these techniques to anchor your design with an image that’s edited to perfection. As always, happy designing!

** All the image enhancements you see in this article were done directly in Canva, with photos available in Canva. Take a closer look here.

Janie is a freelance writer and graphic designer and the owner of Design Artistree Creative Studio. After college, she built on her background in art to explore design...and loved it. Now, she enjoys finding ways to combine the craftsmanship of traditional fine arts with the digital possibilities of graphic design.