Photo Editing for Photographers


Well-Known Member
There will be dozens and dozens of how-to posts in this forum coming up shortly, but for now, I'd like to touch upon some generalities when it comes to touching up photos in post-production software. What I'll discuss below will be the primary areas you'll need to look at in your photos. While it's critical that you take every measure to make sure your photo is taken correctly with your camera, there may be times when fixing a few flaws later on may be necessary. This isn't uncommon. Actually, every single photo I post online or use for print has been edited by me in some way, shape, or form. I've never seen a perfect photo come straight from my camera. Something always needs adjusting. If you've been active with photography for any stretch of time, I'm sure you know what I mean.

If you're brand new to photography, let me just tell you that the application you want to use for your editing is Adobe Photoshop. With their bundle (at least the one I have) comes Bridge, Camera Raw, Photoshop, and Lightroom. I prefer to use the Bridge, Camera Raw, Photoshop workflow, but those who use Lightroom as an all around application seem happy enough. Obviously, there are tons of other programs that handle image editing out there on the market and many of them are excellent choices, but Photoshop is the industry standard. It's what the pros use, so if you're planning on getting serious with your photography, it might make sense to get used to and learn the gold standard application for photo editing. Also, when editing your photos, it's a heck of a lot easier to get things done on a computer. I know there are many mobile app versions of these editing tools, but it's really not practical to be editing an image on a phone or a tablet.

Down below, I'll discuss a few different ailments that you'll likely see regarding your photographs. If you suspect that some or all of your photos are affected by some of these things, don't worry. It's likely not your fault. Seasoned and professional photographers edit their images all day long. It's just what's necessary. While getting out there and capturing stellar photos is one thing, sitting down behind a computer and making what already looks great even better is another. Get used to the process because it comes with the job.

Before I begin, let me give you an example of what I'm referring to when I say that some already good looking images need touching up. Take a look at this picture that's straight out of my camera.


That's pretty decent, but unfortunately, my camera's dynamic range (range of lighting that can be seen and recorded by the camera) isn't as wide as my eye's. This is why we oftentimes see a scene in person that looks really great, but not so great when we later review the photo we've taken of it.

Let's take a look at the same photo after about 30 seconds of editing in Camera Raw and Photoshop.


Not bad, right?

Okay, let's take a look at what may have been affecting this image.

Flat Colors: If a photo looks lifeless or washed out, two primary factors are affecting it. First is a lack of color saturation. This is an easy fix in pretty much any editing program. All you need to do is increase the photograph's saturation by a marginal amount. In Camera Raw and Lightroom, there's a setting called Vibrance that's really great to use. This is lighter version of Saturation that many editors enjoy because oftentimes using the Saturation slider is too much. I actually can't remember the last time I adjusted the saturation. It's always the vibrance I'm after.

The second adjustment that can be made to bring out some vivid colors is to increase the contrast. In all editing programs there's a Contrast slider. Simply push this to the right to accentuate the different between the light and dark pixels in your image.

Noise/Grain: There are a few different reasons your camera will create noise and I'll get into them later. Let's just say for now that some light noise can be corrected rather easily, but heavy noise gets difficult to correct. It's best to learn how your camera works and about the photography triangle and light before you even take your photos. the better your photos start out, the easier and better looking they end up after post-processing.

Chromatic Aberration/Color Fringing/Dispersion: The more expensive and quality your lens is, the less you'll be affected by this. Basically, you'll see aberration as very fine green, blue, and red edges around objects in your photographs. These are very common, yet many people never notice them. It's not until they zoom way into an image that these edges come to light. Most post-processing applications have an area to edit these fringed edges out, but you'll need to learn how to do that. For now, just be aware that they exist.

Color Balance: I think this used to be much more prevalent in the past, but has been dealt with very effectively in today's cameras. I've only seen a dramatic color balance that's been off in a few of my photos. In general, almost every photo taken has some sort of screwed color balance, but not every situation needs to be corrected. If you're a photography purist, then by all means, correct the color balance in every single one of your images, but for the rest of us, it may not be necessary.

Basically, color balance is determined by your camera. Every lighting situation has a light temperature. Cameras generally know what temperature the light in the scene is and adjust their internal settings accordingly. Sometimes though, when it's shady or in mixed light situations, the camera gets it wrong. That's when we as photographers need to fix this. It's an easy correction in both Camera Raw and Lightroom and I'll cover all that later on.

Shadows/Highlights: Because of the limited dynamic range in many cameras and high contrasts in scenes we photograph, we'll see dark darks and light lights in our photographs. Actually, if you look at the before photo above, you'll notice some of this. Because my camera had to adjust for the bright sky, the shadows of and on the trees had to be darkened. This is also very common in many situations. You see how easily I corrected this though, so don't despair. Generally, enough data is captured in a photograph that the post-processing application can easily adjust both the highs and lows.

Dust/Dirt/Imperfections: How many times have you reviewed one of your images and noticed a smudge or piece of dirt where it shouldn't be? I'm sure we've all faced this situation many more times than we care to admit. Pretty much all photo editing applications have healing and correction brushes to deal specifically with this type of situation, so sit tight and read my later posts.

I'll be covering other aspects of photo editing later on too, such as cropping, fixing contrast, sharpening, adding blur, and fixing and enhancing color. If you'd like, you can go to this forum and click the Watch button at the top to receive an email every time someone writes about photography and post-processing.