It takes more than a great camera and a great lens to create a stunning photograph. As any veteran shutterbug will tell you, it helps to have some digital editing tricks in your bag, too.

And these days, you don't have to be a pro to master processing techniques once reserved for photography's legends. The tools you need are often right there in the settings on your smartphone or camera.

"Photography has taken on a completely new character," says Ed Kashi, a photojournalist whose work has appeared in Time, National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, and yes, Consumer Reports. "With programs like Photoshop and Snapseed, the domain of the 'darkroom' is now in everybody’s hands."

The three simple photo-editing tricks below can be done with the built-in software on many cameras and most smartphones. I prefer to use the Snapseed app instead (available on iOS and Android), because it offers a more robust tool list. You may find the Lightroom and Photoshop Express apps useful as well.

Crop Out the Bad Stuff

Photo-editing tip: how to properly crop an image to remove extraneous details from the edges of a photo.
Photos: Tercius Bufete

"Most smartphones capture wide-angle images," says Artur Pietruch, a Consumer Reports camera and photography expert. "So your subject might get lost in the image if you don't crop."

Digital cropping tools allow you to remove those garbage cans, telephone poles, unwanted pedestrians, and other extraneous details from the edges of a photo. In the image above, I used one to eliminate excess dead space from the background. (To see the difference, drag the sliding tool to the left or right.)

Don't get carried away, though, because cropping deletes data from the image file, and removing those pixels from the frame results in less definition and less detail.

That's not a big concern if you plan to post the image on Instagram or Facebook. But if you're thinking of displaying it on a high-def screen or in a large format print, you're likely to notice the difference.

On the bright side, today's cameras create pictures with lots of megapixels, Pietruch says, so you can crop without sacrificing too much image quality.

Adjust the Color

Have you ever noticed that your pictures look a little bluer on a cloudy day and more orange during a summer sunset? What you're responding to is color temperature, and it's no less significant indoors. Fluorescent bulbs cast a bluish tone, too, and tungsten bulbs make things more yellow.

"Most cameras tend to capture bluish images," Pietruch adds. "They often get confused when there's no pure white or gray in the frame, so you end up with imperfect white balance."

With a photo-editing tool, you can adjust the white balance long after you snap a picture. For the photo above, taken on a particularly cloudy day, I moved the white balance slider on the Snapseed app to the right to add more warmth to the image.

In general, warmer tones make for a more inviting photo. Think of the light from a campfire vs. the light in an office. It usually takes a trained eye to know when an image needs to be warmer or cooler, but playing with the tool can help you develop that eye—and improve your photos along the way.

Make It Pop

Because the human eye is naturally drawn to the brightest part of an image, the contrast tool really comes in handy when you want to amplify the light and dark areas in a photo to create a more dynamic picture.  

With an image drenched in sunlight, for example, you can lower the brightness and bring up the shadows. Just try not to be heavy-handed. “Post-production on images can absolutely enhance your work,” Kashi says. “But you must be careful not to overdo it, so as to cheapen your images.”

"You have to play a balancing act with the contrast," he adds, "to make sure you're showing the details you want."

Apps such as Snapseed and Photoshop offer a curves tool that allows you to make more granular adjustments. Instead of simply sliding the tool left or right to alter the contrast, you can drag the white line that bisects the picture up or down at various points, lightening and darkening sections of the picture.

In the photo above, for example, I was able to create a subtle S curve that made the black in the subject's hair and shirt more intense. For those new to the app, Snapseed also offers ready-made curves to help you get the hang of things.