Before and after: A little editing goes a long way

Recently, I was talking to some friends about photography and I mentioned that the most time consuming part of photography for me isn’t shooting photos. I typically spend significantly more time on the editing process.

I really love editing photos in Photoshop. I try to keep my photos as true to reality as possible, but even the best photos out of the camera will look a lot better with some simple editing.

I try my best to schedule my photos shoots at a time of day when I will get good lighting. I don’t want it to be too bright or too dark. An overcast day is my absolute favorite for shooting outdoors. But I can’t control the weather, and I often have to find a way to recover from tough lighting conditions.

This photo I took of my daughter looked good right out of the camera. But it looks a lot better after some basic photo edits.

Here’s the process I use on basically every single photo that I post:

  1. Adjust the “levels.” These are the darks and lights in the photo. This one simple step will make a photo look dramatically better.
  2. Brighten the photo. I usually bring up the “curves” to give myself more control of how much brighter I make the photo.
  3. Increase the vibrance and saturation. This will make the colors richer.
  4. Use the “burn” tool to burn the shadows and/or the midtones of the background. By burning the background, the subject will stand out even more.
  5. You can see in this photo that I also added some light in the top left corner, just to give the photo more dimension.

Cropping also makes a huge difference. I’m kind of addicted to the “rule of thirds.” I know most people want their photos centered for framing, but often a photo just looks so much more dramatic and artistic using the rule of thirds. I loved this one cropped that way:

After I go through the steps listed above, I also add a few more quick edits.

I typically duplicate the background layer of the photo. Then I change the “blending mode” to “soft light” and reduce the opacity of that layer to 30 percent. I duplicate the layer again and change the blending mode to “multiply.” I change the opacity of that layer to 55 percent.

This photo is a good example of how much more depth this process gives to the background:

You can also see in the “before” photo that there was a guy wearing a blue shirt walking in the background. Photoshop has two amazing features that help you erase those unwanted objects in the background. One is called “content aware,” which you can use to fill in a deleted space. The other is the cloning tool, which will replicate the pixels nearby to fill in a deleted object.

I used a combination of those two tools to delete the graffiti in this photo. While I really did like the graffiti, I found it to be very distracting in the final version of the photo.

I spend a lot of time using the “burn” tool, and its opposite, the “dodge” tool. the dodge tool will help make eyes brighter and remove shadows from skin. You can see on the trees in this photo, that I used the burn tool to really bring out the colors in the trees.

I’ve also noticed, I have a tendency to tilt my camera 2 degrees to the right in almost every photo! A little straightening goes a long way, doesn’t it?

Well, I’ve been using Photoshop for about 25 years, and I learn something new almost every week. I often joke that you could learn something new in Photoshop every day of your life, and you still wouldn’t know everything by the time you die. Still, I’m always grateful when a bad lighting situation or an unwanted object in my photo forces me to learn a new trick.

My photo editing process isn’t perfect, and I have a lot to learn about photography, but editing certainly makes a big difference!



Photo editing workflow in five easy steps

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