Top 5 Must-Know Photo Editing Techniques

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If you are into photography, especially in events, you know that it doesn’t end in just shooting the photos. Whether you’re photographing people, landscapes, macro shots (e.g., flowers, miniatures), or simply family snapshots, post-processing your images goes a long way to finalizing the look you want. That’s the production phase and you still have a long way to go before you get the final image results. After getting the shots you want, you have to go through post-production where you transfer all the files and sort out the good ones and the bad ones. Once you have the best shots, you still have to go through the post-processing stage where you use software to give your images more impact. And here’s where your editing skills come to play.

You might need to correct the exposure, apply color toning, and fix other issues such as distortion, blemishes, and dust spots. You may also need to do more types of editing to get the photos you want. But ultimately, even the best shots may need some form of editing.

In this article, I highlight key photo editing techniques you should consider for your digital photos.

Here are the 5 must-know digital photo editing techniques:

  1. Enhance a picture’s color
  2. Remove unwanted image elements
  3. Efficient editing for a fast workflow
  4. Edit peoples’ features
  5. How to create a professional finish

Continue reading on for more details in how to edit your images.

RELATED: BEST PHOTO SHARING AND STORAGE WITH SMUGMUG (14 DAY FREE TRIAL)


How Important is Editing for a Photographer?

Simply put, editing can turn your photos from good to extraordinary – considering, of course, you have the skills. This is the step in photography where you can give your images a more polished, clean, and professional look.

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Raw file (top) versus edited image (bottom). Simple editing of your images can make all the difference!

By enhancing, toning down, or manipulating pictures, you can achieve a level of consistency. For instance, if you’re into event photography, not all of your photos will have the same lighting, tone, and effects, especially when there is more than one shooter. So to follow one theme and impress one client, the photos should carry the same vibe and tone from the first one down to the last.

For example: are you shooting black and white, or color?

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Be consistent with your editing, if you can. This is especially important if you are looking to establish a brand identity. Small changes in the overall “look” of your images (as a whole) can powerfully influence the meaning and experience of your portfolio.

Now, if you think about it, consistency also affects you as a photographer. What is your style? When clients view your portfolio, can they tell what you are going after? See, consistency helps you with your identity and brand. Additionally, editing can also change the meaning of an image. If you have a colorful and vibrant photo of a girl and turn it black and white, it becomes more dramatic and serious.

You might also need editing to meet your client’s needs and requirements. Depending on how they will use the photo, you might need to remove the background, add words, change certain colors, etc.

So how important is editing for a photographer? The answer is: VERY IMPORTANT. It helps you achieve your vision and it gives you a chance to add or remove some of the things you might have missed during the photo shoot.

5 Editing Techniques to Use in Photography

Now that you know how important editing is for every photographer, here are some of the best techniques to help you out with your editing. Just a head’s up, all these are done on Photoshop. I use the cloud-based Photography plan, which I think is a great deal!

For more details about how to use Photoshop, you can also check out the highly-recommended Photoshop for Dummies.

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All the core principles and basics for how to operate Photoshop contained within….

1. How to enhance the picture’s color?

Color is one of the most important elements in a photo – as well as in editing. Getting the right color can give your photograph contrast, making it more eye-catching. Now, the basic thing you have to remember when editing for color is saturation and vibrance. You can, however, adjust individual colors too. While this may take longer, it does provide you with more control.

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In Photoshop, there are a few ways you can edit colors: vibrancy or hue/saturation. Experiment with these functions and see what you come up with. There are also methods to adjust single colors at a time, but take up a lot of time.

Adjusting saturation will show you how true a specific color is. For example, increasing the saturation will make the color red, red. If you lower it, this will look more like muted pink. And when you remove all the saturation, the colors will become gray.

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The hue/saturation slider window opens with several options to adjust hue, saturation, and lightness of your photo’s color.

On the other hand, there’s the vibrance. Think of this as the smarter version of saturation. If you adjust this, the muted colors will be affected more than those that are already well-saturated. 

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Edited photo of a sunset over a lake (view from Burlington, Vermont)

2. How to remove unwanted elements in a photo?

Many photographers need to master this technique as there are certain elements and objects in the scene or background that they can’t remove physically. For example, there was a group of people at a distance who were suddenly caught in the frame, a telephone booth that doesn’t blend well with the whole image, or there’s an incredibly large zit on the forehead of your subject.

To remove unwanted elements, you can use a healing brush or clone stamp. The clone brush is a tool in Photoshop that allows you to replicate a portion of an image. To use it, you just have to select the area you want to make a copy of. From there, you can put it in the spot you want to replace. You can adjust the size of the brush, flow, opacity, shape, as well as blending modes.

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The left toolbar in Photoshop has the clone stamp tool.

Or, you can also use the healing brush. This tool allows you to clear blemishes, zits, scratches, and remove distractions. There are two types of healing brush and here’s their difference:

  • Regular healing brush – allows you to choose your reference point
  • Spot healing brush – doesn’t allow you to set a reference point. However, it can remove objects and certain elements based on the patterns and colors in the area. Compared to the clone stamp, this is an easier tool to use. However, it won’t give you as much control as with a clone stamp.
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The Spot Healing Brush and Regular Healing Brush are easy ways to clean-up unwanted features on your photos. Things like skin blemishes or other distractions are easy to remove with Photoshop editing tools.

For smaller objects that you need to remove, the healing brush is enough. But for more complex and bigger elements, use the clone tool. Also, Photoshop conveniently allows you to open different images at the same time. So if you wish to copy a specific portion of one image and apply the same effects to a completely different photo, then you are free to do so. Again, just set the reference point and apply it to the other.

3. How to edit a photo more efficiently?

Layers are a photo editor’s best friend.

With adjustment layers, you can apply changes to certain parts of the image and not affect the whole picture. This way, when you make a mistake, you don’t have to hit the undo button and lose all your work. For example, you can create a “Hue and Saturation Layer”, adjust it, and move on to the next layer. When you have to edit it again, you can just go back and do so. Easy and non-destructive! To add a new layer, simply go to “Layer” and choose “New Adjustment Layer”.

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This technique is especially useful when you want to focus on a certain part of the picture. Layers allow you to burn, dodge, tone, and edit specific areas. For example, if you want fuller and redder lips for your subject, you can simply use a layer mask and paint the lips. Also, since certain body parts in a picture may appear to have different colors, you can create a “Hue and Saturation Layer” and simply mask out the area you want to apply the effects. This technique can also help you give the background a different tone.   

4. How to edit peoples’ features faster?

Sometimes, it can be difficult to remove wrinkles or smooth out a portion of the image without affecting the tone. This is why you should learn about frequency separation. You can learn more details about frequency separation here.

Note that this is a technique that requires you to understand adjustment layers first before proceeding.

Frequency separation is a widely used technique to smooth out the skin. But other than on people, it also works well with backdrops, clothes, or anything you think needs to be evened out. This method allows you to separate the image’s textures and colors into different layers. And because they have their own layer, they are easier to adjust without affecting the other elements of the photo.

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Do you let clients see unedited photos? Photo credit: Seeimagery.com

5. How to give photos a more professional and commercial finish?

Here’s a pretty easy trick that you’ll love doing with all your future photos!

Just open a black and white layer in Photoshop and change the layer blending mode to “Soft Light”. This then gives you an image with too much contrast. Now, to dial it down, you need to drag the opacity and set it around 20 to 60%. And you’re done!

Follow the images below to see what I mean:

  • Add a new black and white layer, then right click the layer to bring up the menu. Choose blending options.
  • Then, under the layer style menu, find the blending mode. Choose soft light on the popup pull down menu.
  • Adjust your opacity slider between 20-60%, depending on the look you want.
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Add a new layer, then right click the layer to bring up the menu. Choose blending options.
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Then, under the layer style menu, find the blending mode. Choose soft light on the popup pull down menu.
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Adjust your opacity slider between 20-60%, depending on the look you want.

This will give your images a sharp commercial and professional look. But aside from that, the black and white layer allows you to control the luminance of every color. Just try playing around with the yellows and reds, and we can guarantee you’ll end up with some stunning skin tones for your subject. 

Does Every Photo Need Editing?

While editing is certainly a fundamental part of achieving the best final image, it may not be required for some businesses related to photography. For instance, The Flipbook People is a company that captures the images from your event and turn them into that – a flipbook. Without editing, they print the photos, bind them together, and create a small book that serves as a party favor.

Another example of a business that doesn’t require any post-processing is Orlando Photo Booths. They set up the booth and all the needed equipment, and without editing, the photos will be given to the clients in an instant.

Finally, if you’re just snapping shots for yourself, the lack of any editing may be your endearing way of saving a memory.

Now, with all that said, you still have to remember that you can’t fix all your photography flaws. Editing is not some wand you use to magically turn a bad photo into a good one. Even with the amazing things that editing can do, there’s still no substitute for raw beautiful images.

Final Word

Photography doesn’t end with pressing a shutter. The images you collect on your memory stick/card will still need a bit of editing work. This is especially true if you’re professional trying to impress a client, or would like to grow your brand. If you’re a more casual photographer, perhaps as a hobby, having the right skills to edit your images is still important.

Who likes dark, badly exposed, or poor color (un)saturated images?

Nobody, really.

Let’s get this out of the way. Technology has come a long way. Online photo storage and sharing is cheap! Camera software algorithms make it super easy to capture spectacular images without a lot of work. A great camera with automatic settings only, and shooting in good ambient light will shortcut a lot of post-processing work. But, to underscore the importance of editing, there are billions of images captured everyday and they are all over the internet.

What makes your photography truly different?

There’s the trick: photo editing pushes those little pixels around and can add that pizzaz that separates you from your competition, or simple everyday expectations.

I use Photoshop, which is inexpensive with the adobe photography plan that bundles Photoshop with Lightroom. I’ve been using this photo editing software for years.

Check out my photo gallery!

Surprise people with your photography!

Look, I didn’t capture all the editing things you could do with your images. But, hopefully this article gives you a good start on the key 5 photo editing techniques you’ll want for making better pictures.

Grab your FREE photo backdrop bundle for miniature photography in the shop.

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1 thought on “Top 5 Must-Know Photo Editing Techniques”

  1. Appreciate the mention! I always feel like I have to edit every photo if I shoot the image in RAW as the files are just not processed at all. No contrast, no sharpness, etc. That’s why I stopped taking my camera to birthday parties, events, etc. That way you can just use your phone camera and upload as you go without worrying about adding more editing work.

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