Making your WoW screenshots look great (a tutorial)

One of the most common questions people ask me is how I touch-up the screenshots I use in my posts. A lot of people who know me also know that I do graphic work every day in my job, and assume that my screenshot work is quite difficult and/or complex.

Not so! In fact, it's laughably easy. I usually spend about a minute fixing up a screenshot, maybe two if I'm really playing around with it.

Here's a very simple tutorial that will work for like, 95% of all WoW screenshots. It uses Photoshop, but if you have other another image editing program, I imagine the process would be easily adaptable - I don't use any crazy Photoshop-specific tools or anything.

Obviously, this isn't the "right" or "only" way to edit screenshots. It's simply the method I use.

Step 1: Resize
Step 2: Levels
(Optional) Step 3: Color Balance
(Optional) Step 4: Saturation
(Optional) Step 5: Sharpen

Step 1: Resize

A completely unedited WoW screenshot (though sized down to fit my blog space.) Click for full-size.

(Obviously, if you don't need your screenshot a certain size for a blog or anything, you can skip some of this step...though I still recommend cropping to emphasize your screenshot's focus.)

The first thing I do is resize my screenshot to fit my blog's template, which is 585 pixels wide by 350 pixels high. There's nothing special about this size, it just happens to be what fits perfectly within my design. (The height could be taller or shorter, but I like to keep the pictures uniform.)

Why resize now and not after your touch-up work? Simple - because sometimes pictures look vastly different after they've been resized. You wouldn't want to spend time editing a screenshot, only to resize it and see that it now looks awful!

Now, you COULD just resize the entire picture to your desired size, but if you do this you won't be able to crop out undesired elements or "zoom in" on the focus of the shot. Look at the original image of Balnazzar a few lines up. See how he's far away and there's a lot of useless background scenery? This should be cropped out - like this:

Much better! See how he fills the picture? In this particular case I also liked how the two Scarlet Crusade flags framed him and creates a feeling of balance - Balnazzar might be slightly off-center, but the flags and torches are nicely symmetrical. Really though, position and crop your screenshots however you like - it's all personal preference!

This is how you do it.

Open your screenshot in Photoshop. Select -> All. Edit -> Copy.

Make a new document of your desired size.

Paste in your screenshot. It will be way too big! This is fine.

Edit -> Free Transform. Your pasted-in screenshot will get outlined in a box, with little squares at the corners. Hold Shift and drag the upper-left corner box down and to the right, and you'll see the image start to shrink. (You hold shift to keep the image proportions locked - if you don't hold Shift, your screenshot will stretch and squash and get all ugly as you resize it.)

Click and drag the actual image (not the outline) to drag it around and see how it looks. You can also use the arrow keys for precise adjustments.

If you mess up, just hit Escape to cancel the changes, and start over again.

Repeat this process until you have resized, cropped and positioned the image to your liking. Hit enter to confirm and apply your edits!

Step 2: Levels

Now that the screenshot has been cropped down to a suitable size, it's time to fix it up! The picture of Balnazzar is horrible. It's dark, it's murky, and there's way too much red. Let's see what we can do.

Image -> Adjustments -> Levels.

Move the window that pops up to the side, so you can see the focus of your screenshot, and you get this:

This is the levels tool. It looks terrifying - what does that graph mean? What are those numbers??

Don't worry. All you're going to do here is adjust those little triangular sliders. See that black "mountain" in the graph? Basically, you'll move the sliders to bookend the two sides of that mountain. Let me demonstrate.

First, move the RIGHT slider over to the left, until it's just touching the right side of the mountain. You'll notice the image start to get lighter in the background.

Now move the MIDDLE slider a little bit to the left. Just a little bit - you want the background image to get kind of washed out and look like it's TOO light.

Finally, move the LEFT slider to the right, and watch the background image. See how the colors now become rich and vibrant? Slide the triangle a little bit for "normal" images, slide it farther for higher-contrast images - it's up to you! (Most of my shots are high-contrast. Cynwise is another blogger who likes high-contrast shots.)

And there we are.

You could stop here for most screenshots and have a great image. But like I said earlier, the image is still too red. It's like we're looking through red-tinted sunglasses - the walls are red, Balnazzar's armor is red, even those Scarlet Crusade symbols are red. TOO MUCH RED! So we're going to adjust the colors.

(Optional) Step 3: Color Balance

First, let's bring up the Color Balance window. Image -> Adjustments -> Color Balance.

Once again, move the window so you can see your screenshot as you mess around with it.

Unfortunately, I don't have a simple "levels mountain" analogy to use for this. Just play around with the sliders until you're happy with the new color balance. For example, this one had too much red, so I slide the Cyan/Red slider to the left, away from Red. I wanted to enhance the other colors in the shot to counter the heavy reds, so I moved the other two sliders to the right.

Much nicer! Balnazzar's wings are a nice slate gray color, his armor now has gold trim instead of red, and the walls look more like natural stone. The red sunglasses effect is gone. Final result:

(Optional) Step 4: Saturation

Sometimes a screenshot is just a little too dull and needs a tiny bit more color. Not color adjustment - just MORE color. We can do this easily by upping the Saturation.

The Balnazzar shot is a bad example for this (it has enough color already) so let's use a random shot of Rades dressed in a Murloc costume instead. Here's the resized, levels-adjusted image.

Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation

Move the Saturation slider to the right until the new level of color in your screenshot is what you want!

It's only a small difference, but the greens in the Murloc suit are just a little greener and a little more vibrant than before.

(Optional) Step 5: Sharpen

Another optional touch-up that I sometimes use is a simple Sharpen, to make a picture's lines defined and crisp. It can either make a screenlook like extremely high-definition and detailed, or terribly pixelated and awful. An excellent WoW screenshots blog that (I believe) uses Sharpen to enhance its shots is Postcards from Azeroth.

Let's see what Sharpen does for Balnazzar.

Filter -> Sharpen -> Sharpen

This is just a one-step process - there's no adjustments or manual tinkering needed.
The sharpened version:

Hmm. I like the nice, sharp lines on his armor, but I don't like how jagged it makes his wings and the bottom of his hooves. So we can just undo the Sharpen by going Edit -> Undo.

What about that screenshot of the Murloc costume? Well, it turns this one is a perfect example of what a little sharpening can add to your image. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the sharpened and unsharpened Murloc-suit picture. Notice the difference in the head fins, the corduroy-style lines in the suit, and the teeth.

Adding a Sharpen is about the easiest thing ever, but it can make an AMAZING difference.

And that's all there is to it! You're done! Resize, adjust Levels, and then if you feel like it, Color Balance, Saturation, Sharpen. Now go share your awesome screenshots on your own blogs, Facebook galleries, Google+ photos, whatever!

14 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. gravatar

    I've always wondered what you did to make your screenshots look so amazing. Thanks for sharing! I'm a total image program noob, but I think I can manage to do this in GIMP.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:25 AM

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    Thanks for finally putting this up! I had honestly forgot that I had pestered you abut it a while back.

    So easy! I'm gonna screw around with pictures tonight now!

    September 23, 2011 at 11:32 AM

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    Is a damn fine tutorial. I use The GIMP, 'cause is free and I's cheap, but the steps is nearly identicals.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:37 AM

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    a very usefull tutorial.. thanks!

    September 23, 2011 at 12:09 PM

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    Top tips for all! 80% of a great screenshot is in the framing, and on PFA I - usually - layer the image over itself and adjust colour balances on each, painting bits in and out on a whim, relighting if I want the focus on something else. Similarly, layered high contrast bits for effect.

    Sharpen is very easy to get wrong, feels lazy to use it sometimes, but it does accentuate the detail on for example a piece of armor - but I'd recommend highlighting that separately so you don't get the jagged/glowing edges (like the dreadlord's wings in the examples above).

    Big love to Rades, and an open intivation to you all to try to upload MMO screenies as a tagged database of screenshots!

    ~ Rio of

    September 24, 2011 at 12:58 AM

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    ...Oh, and hues / replace colour. Reds are a pain in the arse. I often recolour concrete / buildings so they don't hog the limelight and look more "natural".

    Experiment :D

    September 24, 2011 at 1:01 AM

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    Glad to see I'm doing something right with my screenshots! Great guide - may play around with levels a bit, I've always just scooted them around rather than attempt to frame the "mountain". :)

    September 24, 2011 at 3:12 AM

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    Fantastic tutorial man, thanks so much. I have been tweaking the color balance and resizing aspects. But I never touched the sharpen or levels balancing tools. I will now though!

    September 24, 2011 at 4:32 AM

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    Nice tips, Rades.

    Smart sharpen is very useful for tuning up your images without too much danger of jagged edges or haloing, but if you don't have it, a cunning plan is make a luminosity selection (ctrl-click the RGB channel), hide the selection (ctrl-h) then use unsharp mask at much higher values than you might ordinarily. This softens the effect of the filter.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:41 AM

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    Great tutorial. I have to ask though...why not use the Crop tool for cropping/resizing? It's a great way to preview what you'll be cropping. You can also specify the width and height if you want specific portions and it will automatically downsize for you once you accept the changes.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:57 AM

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    You know, this isn't just great for screen shots. A lot of this works well for your snapshots as well. Maybe on the fence about sharpening every snapshot, though.

    September 26, 2011 at 12:26 PM

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    @Rioriel, @theanorak - It's always great to hear what other people do with their screenshots. :D I do some of the things you mentioned, but for this tutorial I thought I'd keep it pretty simple.

    @Fael - Pre-sized cropping (or whatever it's called) is certainly handy, but I'm not really a fan since if you set it to specific dimensions - say 585x350 like me - and then select an area actually SMALLER than that, it will shoddily blow up the image to fit the designated size, and the resulting image is blurry and crappy. It's definitely fine if you know what you're doing, but I think newcomers to image work might do that and not realize what they're doing to make their image look lousy. :)

    @LividMonkey - Definitely, I do this on real pictures and photos as well, at least for an initial, quick fix-up. The nice thing about Sharpen is that it's so fast - even if you do it, then Undo, that's what, 5 seconds? I always see what an image looks like Sharpened because it's so instant and reversible.

    September 26, 2011 at 1:35 PM

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    This is a GREAT tutorial! I don't even play WoW anymore and I'm still going to bookmark this and use it on future game screenshots for my blog (and I take a lot of screenshots.)

    Add me to the list of people who use GIMP but I think I know how to do all of this in GIMP. I'm excited to try :D

    September 26, 2011 at 2:51 PM

  14. gravatar

    Great post just what I needed to improve my screenshots

    July 29, 2012 at 4:59 AM