Most Common Post-Production Photo Fixes


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After you've been editing photos for a while, you'll find that you make the same fixes time and time again. I've got this down to a science and can almost edit my photos with my eyes closed. Granted, I edit most of my images so they're presentable as opposed to perfect, but still, once you get used to the routine, it becomes, well, routine.

In today's post, I'll discuss a few of the most common edits photographers make to their images and explain how and why you might want to make them. I'll even show you an untouched photograph up top with the touched one down below. That'll give this post some perspective.

To start off, here's the photo I took a few autumns ago. It's right out of my camera. I haven't done a thing to this.


Also, to make these edits, I'll be using Adobe Camera Raw. After I make the changes there, I'll import the photo into Photoshop for size reduction and export. Let's begin.

Review Image: The very first thing you'll want to do when you open your photo in your post-processing application is to review it. Merely starting off by pushing sliders around isn't going to cut it and will actually confuse you if you aren't well versed with that program. In reviewing my image above, I can quickly see that it needs to be leveled out. Perhaps I'd want to crop it to remove items and objects I don't want to see in the final photo. I notice that there's a lack of contrast as well as some darks that are darker than I'd like. I'd also like to add some color saturation to the image overall if I could. And finally, I want to see some more crispness in the entire image. It looks sort of blah as it stands.

Adjust Exposure: In Camera Raw, there's a Basic panel that can handle a lot of what I just mentioned above. This panel includes the Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks sliders. Believe it or not, all of these sliders have to do with an image's exposure. While the Exposure slider will handle brightening or darkening a image in its entirety, the remaining sliders are able to target specific element of the photo. When using these sliders think about what the problems in your image are. A great tip would be to work on each slider one at a time. Slide each one to the left and the right to see the effect it has on the picture. By doing this, you should see the image become better and worse looking. This is the best way to learn.

Adjust Saturation: Almost every single image needs a saturation adjustment directly out of the camera. So once you take care of the exposure, move down to the Vibrance and Saturation sliders. Here's a tip: you can be much more liberal with the Vibrance slider than the Saturation one. This slider adds color to only the areas needing it most. The Saturation slider adds color very bluntly. Be cautious with that tool. Most of the time you'll want to push these sliders to the right. Very rarely and usually only when you want to do something creative will you push them to the left.

Level the Image: Both Camera Raw and Photoshop have tools to level out images. Sometimes they can do it with the click of a button, but most of the time you'll need to do it by hand. When you use the Crop tool, you'll see this opportunity present itself. When leveling an image, look for a structure with a vertical or horizontal wall or a horizon from which you can work. Be careful when leveling from a horizon though because they're not always supposed to be level, especially if there's land involved.

Crop the Photo: Oftentimes you'll also want to crop unnecessary elements out of your photos. To do this, use your Crop tool. This is a simple tool to get used to, but I'll give you a word of warning about it. Keep your proportions constrained, meaning, don't go off making your photo some odd shape. If your photo came out of your camera 1000x800px and you wanted to reduce its width to 500px, make sure that it ends up 500x400px. Don't go resizing it willy nilly, unless you know what you're doing. People are used to certain proportions when it comes to photography and if you deviate from those proportions too much, your image may end up looking weird.

Save the Photo: Once you're done with all of your edits, you can go ahead and save it out. In Photoshop, you have the option to save the working image as a PSD file, the final image as a JPEG file (among other formats), or both. If you save the final image and then close out of Photoshop, your changes will be lost forever, meaning, you won't be able to open the image again and tweak a previous edit. If you save the working file, you will be able to, but you can't use that working file for anything else. By saving in both formats, you'll be able to open the image again to work on it and you'll also be able to post the photo online or wherever else you'd like.

Regarding Other Tools: There are dozens of other tools and hundreds of potential edits you can make to any given image. Above, I merely wanted to introduce you to a few of them. For first time editors, working through what I explained would be an excellent choice to make. In later posts, I'll be delving into all different types of changes you can make to a photograph using these applications.

Okay, let's take a look at the final image. I edited this as I wrote this post.