If you are using Paint Shop Pro then select LEVELS (ADJUST menu, in 'Brightness and Contrast') or if you are using Photoshop Elements then select LEVELS (ENHANCE menu).
LEVELS shows three pointers/sliders underneath a histogram. The actual histogram represents the tonal range (contrast & colour balance) of the image with the left showing darkness, the right side showing lightness, and the middle showing mid-tones. LEVELS is a quick and easy way of quickly manipulating the image using sliders to get the desired exposure.
The CURVES tool can be found in Paint Shop Pro in the same menu as LEVELS but you may not have it if you have Photoshop Elements.
CURVES will allow you to adjust the image tonal range like LEVELS but will allow you much more subtle control to fine-tune the image. However, it is easy to over-use this tool and end up with an unnatural looking image, so be careful. You start with a box containing 16 squares with a straight diagonal line running from the bottom left to the top right. By clicking on the line you create points which can be moved to create a curve which alters the contrast etc of certain parts of the image. Experiment with this tool until you are happy with the result.
HUE & SATURATION:
The HUE & SATURATION tool can be found in Paint Shop Pro (ADJUST menu) and Photoshop Elements (ENHANCE menu).
HUE & SATURATION will allow you to enhance the image with a bit more colour, if it needs it. Increasing the Saturation slightly should add alittle more colour in the image. Experiment until you are happy with the result but do not over-use or you will spoil the image.
The SHARPEN tool can be found in Paint Shop Pro (ADJUST menu) and Photoshop Elements (FILTER menu).
The SHARPEN tool that we are going to use is Unsharp Mask (USM) as this offers much more control then the standard sharpen tool. In Photoshop Elements there are three controls called AMOUNT, RADIUS, and THRESHOLD and the equivalent controls in Paint Shop Pro are STRENGTH, RADIUS, and CLIPPING.
The way Unsharp tool works is by exaggerating the light-dark contrast either side of all the 'edges' making the image appear sharper. The RADIUS specifies how large the region around the 'edge' will be while the STRENGTH/AMOUNT is how much this region is adjusted (dark pixels made darker, light pixels made lighter). Lastly the THRESHOLD/CLIPPING defines when an 'edge' is considered to be an 'edge' and is acted upon.
Now, we need to know what values to put in these three controls. Everyone uses their own values and so it is really down to personal preference. However, the important thing is that we end up with an image that is sharp but has not been oversharpened and results in jagged lines. I tend to use STRENGTH/AMOUNT 50, RADIUS 0.3, THRESHOLD/CLIPPING 0 as a starting point but if you need more or less sharpening then increase/decrease STRENGTH/AMOUNT. If you intend to print your image rather than view on the monitor then you may need to increase the RADIUS control.
Lastly, we SAVE (FILE menu) the finished image. If the image is intended to display on the web then the .jpg format is recommended as it will compress the filesize by varying degrees. The higher the number that you enter then the more compression that is added and the smaller the file-size. It is just a matter of striking the right balance between a small file-size and an acceptable image for viewing on the internet/website. If you are using the image for other purposes and want to print it then try using a .bmp format which will not compress the image.
Remember to always keep the original files from your camera and back these up to an external Hard Drive, DVDs, memory sticks, and/or an off-site storage device such as the 'Cloud'.
This is just one method of improving photographs and many people have their own workflow. There are many more different ways to improve an image and certainly countless ways of sharpening an image. It is also worth mentioning that it is probably better to make all the above changes using LAYERS so that you always have the original image to fall back on. I hope this little article helps to inspire you to experiment with your photographs using Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop Elements.
Once you have taken all your photos then you will need to make a backup copy of the originals onto HDD/DVD/memory stick/Cloud. External Hard Drives are reasonably priced today and have very large capacities which are well worth it to keep your photographs safe. The more backups that you have then the safer your photos will be. I personally make a backup of all my photos on two separate internal Hard Drives of a Desktop computer, a laptop computer, an External 2TB Hard Drive, and also archive to DVDs. It's also a good idea to keep a backup of your photos offsite or in the cloud.