How photographers edit photos?

If you’re a beginner, using editing software can be a daunting prospect. What if you can’t get a handle on the technology? What if it’s too complicated a process? What if it’s just too time-consuming? What if the images turn out horrible?

In this age of chronic photoshopping of images on the internet, some people question a photographer’s proficiency and the genuineness of his photographs when they use photo editing tools like Photoshop and Lightroom to process their photos after shooting them.

When they talk about photo editing, they mistake the term “post-processing” to “image manipulation.”

We shouldn’t confuse the two terminologies.

Image manipulation is the alteration of an image to be something else rather than what the original image shows, sometimes with deceptive intent.

Post-processing of an image can simply adjust and correct the image to achieve a more realistic photo than your digital camera shot’s raw image. It doesn’t always lead to image manipulation.

Do photographers edit their photos? Yes, they do. And if you’re serious about photography, YOU NEED TO. Shooting is only the first half of creating a good photograph, and it doesn’t end after you press the shutter button. Photo editing involves modifying, correcting, and adjusting your images to improve them.

It can start from the simple tone and colour enhancements and removing unwanted elements to image manipulation like adding wild special effects and dramatic retouching of your photos. Most of your edits as a photographer are going to lean on the former. Still, there are times when you might need more complicated adjustments.

If a photographer is too busy to edit their photos, they will hire a company to retouch the photos for them.

The truth is, photo editing is not a new thing. It was already existent even during the film photography days. During those times, photographers used different methods in the darkroom in editing the raw images from the film negatives to create a beautiful final product. From development time to something more complicated like using coloured gels or prisms between lens and photo paper to create artistic distortion. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

Even the choice of film is considered as photo editing. Different types of films produce different image quality. Some amplify colours, some produce black and white images, others produce either high contrast or low contrast photos. Your choice of stock film will determine how the final product will look.

Why edit photos?

How photographers edit photos?

Photo editing is part of the job if you’re a photographer. You can make your already stunning photos even more perfect by adjusting metrics like exposure, white balance, and colour through editing. 

Plus, editing your photos helps to reduce the size of your image files. This is especially important if you plan on posting your images online to your photography website or a social media account. Smaller images will improve your WordPress sites’ loading speed, which will, in turn, improve your search engine rankings. And, smaller image files post faster and with better quality on your social accounts.

When it comes to producing photos, the widely accepted best practice is to do as much as you can “in-camera”. This means getting the shot as close as possible to your visions before you ever open the image file in Photoshop.

After all, this saves a significant amount of time you’d otherwise spend in front of the computer. And it makes for a cleaner, higher-quality final image.

There’s a lot you can’t achieve in-camera, and extenuating circumstances (like bad lighting situations) can push a photographer to make decisions they know they’ll have to fix in the editing process.

Particularly artistic and creative edits might only be accomplished in post-processing. Of course, you need the photography basics — depth of field, composition, framing, focus, etc. — but something like unnatural saturation or blending two objects together need more advanced edits after the shot has been taken.

Other than creative edits, there are a couple more reasons why a photographer would choose to edit their photos.

So, photo editing is a win for you all around!

Having an intuitive and easy-to-use photo editing software can help you save time on photo editing while taking your images to the next level. Check out our range of wedding photography for your wedding day.

Basic Photo Editing for Beginners

To successfully understand the above and make the edits towards them, it is important that you shoot in RAW format. If you shoot in JPEG, you allow the camera to process the image, discard pixels the camera deems unnecessary, and accept the colour adjustments the camera has made. With a JPEG image, you have less control, are working on a great loss and compression of pixels at the very start and an already compromised image colour.

Someone who is a really good, seasoned, experienced photographer may well shoot JPEGS and achieve the desired image they want.

Secondly, the type of camera you use affects the original images you get.

A full-frame camera gives you the 35mm sensor – wider, more space, more light hitting the camera sensor and more pixels. What you see through the lens is pretty much what you get. A crop-sensor, on the other hand, works oppositely. The lens only allows you to use a portion of the sensor so that a 35mm lens mounted on a crop-sensor camera will only give you the point of view of a 52mm lens equivalent – a more zoomed-in longer focal length. You are losing some width, some light and some pixels.

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Let’s dive in!

Crop and Clean Up Your Images

Straighten images: It’s always better to pay attention to be sure your horizon is horizontal when you shoot, but straightening is also an easy first editing step.

Crop images: It’s best to crop to improve minor compositional details, like distracting elements at the edge of the frame or repositioning your subject slightly.

Spot-clean images: The outdoors is a dusty place, and nature’s gritty elements have a way of finding their way onto your camera lens and then onto your photos. (Using a lens brush regularly in the field cuts down on this.)

Most editing programs have a spot-removing tool. The name varies: “clone stamping” and “spot healing” are two variations. Programs also let you change your view of a photo to highlight the location of spots. Work your way methodically around your photo until you have a spot-free image.

Correct exposure

Correct exposure means getting the balance right between the three components of the exposure triangle. Namely: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Balancing all three correctly will give you a perfectly exposed image. That means no blown highlights or details are lost entirely in the shadow or darker areas of the image that should still be visible.

A most useful tool in determining whether your exposure is perfect is to look at the histogram when you are editing. Alternatively, you can view the histogram when you have just taken the photo as there is also a histogram on the LCD of many cameras these days. Simply put, a histogram is a representation of the total value distribution across your image in the form of a visual graph.

Just by looking at a histogram (that graph on the top right corner of the image below), you can immediately tell whether there is an even spread of tonal values on the image judging from the troughs and crests on the graph or a stark contrast.

If the image you shot has incorrect exposure, then editing is your solution. You can move the sliders on your editing software to increase exposure if the photo is too dark or decrease your exposure if the photo’s too bright. You can usually recover some blown highlights in the case of overexposure.

Adjusting exposure: This is the process of making the photo exactly as bright or dark as you want. Note that “noise” (a mottled look) can sometimes be introduced when you crank up the brightness. That’s why it’s always better to get the correct exposure (one that’s sufficiently bright) when you first take the photo.

You can see it’s a little bright, with the histogram showing a tall mountain almost touching the right edge. When the histogram touches both left and right edges, this would indicate the dark and light parts of your images are clipped, and therefore there is overexposure and underexposure in the image. This is an okay image as nothing touches the edges, but it is too bright for me.

The image on the left below shows an overexposed image with the exposure turned up, and the image on the right shows an underexposed image with the exposure turned down. Wild Romantic Photography has the best range of services of wedding photography Yarra Valley. Check them out here. 

White balance

White balance relates to colour levels, not exposure levels. If your image has an overall colour tone that you find displeasing or unnatural, you can adjust the white balance to fix it. Note that JPG files, because they capture far less digital data than RAW files, offer a minimal amount of white balance adjustment during editing.

Simply put, white balance is the adjustment on your camera that reads the colour temperature of the light you are shooting in in relation to neutral white. A perfect white balance should show white to be white as perceived in reality, and there are no colour casts that distorts the whiteness of white. You can, however, go for a warm white or a cool white by adjusting the white balance sliders. Generally speaking, you don’t want the white to look too yellow or orange or too cold, like with a strong blue cast. Compare both photos below: too cool on the left and too warm on the right.


Adjusting contrast: Contrast is the range of dark to light tones. When it’s extra high, you see a stark image, where all tones, regardless of colour, are either very dark or very light. When it’s extra-low, you see a flat image where no elements in the frame stand out. Typically, you want a middle contrast that avoids either of those extremes. But if you prefer either of those effects, you can adjust the contrast to achieve that.

There is nothing rocket science about the contrast, in my opinion. It is simply to do with the strength of the blacks in the photo. After the adjustments above, our photo is still looking very flat. All that’s needed is a fiddle on the blacks, shadows, highlights and light areas. Remember not to clip your blacks or whites, or if you want a bit more contrast, not too much clipping. You can also use the curves tab (the one that shows a grid with a curvy line) for contrast adjustments.

Remember, you are only after a clean edit at this stage. The images above show the same edits on the standard and colour profiles. The results are different so deciding on your colour profile matters.

Colour Vibrancy and Saturation

Once the white balance is adjusted, you can further refine colours in your photos with the saturation and vibrancy controls. The distinction between the two is subtle: Increasing vibrancy increases the colour intensity in neutral colour tones and maintains colour intensity in the brighter colours. Increasing saturation makes all colours throughout the frame more intense. When bright colours pop, it can give the photo a more dramatic look.

Noise and Sharpening

If you click on the third tab, which shows two black triangles, you get to the panel where you can adjust noise and sharpening. Again, gentle adjustments are needed here.

It is vital to view your photo at 100% so you can see what the adjustments are doing to the image.

Luminance has to do with the smoothness of the pixels. You don’t want to go too much, or you lose definition.

Colour has to do with how much the RGB pixels show up, and extreme adjustments will either strip your image of colour or make the pixels appear too saturated.

Sharpening an image gives it a crisper, cleaner look. Many programs offer multiple sharpening tools. Begin by adjusting the overall amount of sharpness (on a scale from 0 to 100). Start at 50 per cent, then adjust the level up or down to get the sharpness you prefer.

Experiment with your editing program’s additional sharpening features to see the effect each produces. One you might try is a “clarity” or “structure” tool. It makes the edges of objects in the photo stand out more, giving the overall image a punchier look.

You need to look closely at individual areas of the frame to evaluate each sharpness adjustment effect. Having super-fine details won’t matter much for social media posts, but it will make a big difference for any image you plan to enlarge and print.

Note that sharpening an image can’t turn an out-of-focus shot into an in-focus shot. No editing tool can do that. In addition, if you sharpen an image too much, you can create an unnatural halo effect around objects in the frame.

How to use the photo histogram?

This graphic representation of the tonal range of a photo helps you optimise final exposure levels during editing. You don’t always need to look at the histogram, but it can be helpful when a shot has a large amount of dark area or a large amount of light area. Many editing programs include it on the screen where you adjust exposure, making it easy to reference. A well-exposed photo would give you tones throughout the range from dark to light, with more tones grouped in the middle.

Your goal isn’t to always take photos with a histogram. The evenness of the lighting on the subject largely determines that.

When you have a spike on the left side of the histogram, though, that indicates your photo has a lot of darker tones.

You can also eyeball exposure as you edit, but a histogram can be an incredibly useful tool, especially if you get in the habit of looking at it regularly.

Things to Think About Before You Begin Editing

How photographers edit photos?

Photo editing programs

Options include advanced and expensive pro programs, free, open-source online options, and often your camera comes with basic editing software as well. If you get a more advanced program, consider whether you want one that’s cloud-based (a monthly fee) or want the standalone version (a one-time purchase price).

Cloud-based programs stay up to date and let you store photos in the cloud (an added expense). You can also edit in the field with a tablet or a mobile version of the software, but that assumes you have online connectivity. If you compare pricing over time, though, buying a standalone version of an editing program will usually save you money. Looking for a Mornington Peninsula wedding photographer? Look no further! Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Understand the difference between “non-destructive” and “destructive” editing

Some editing software automatically preserves your originals—non-destructive editing. Others save edited images over originals—destructive editing. Editing involves trial and error, and you need to return to an original file if you make a mistake. So make sure you know if your editing program makes copies of your originals. If it doesn’t, then make a copy of all images you plan to edit before you begin.

Importing and Sorting Photos

A beautiful thing about digital photography is you can take multiple shots to increase the odds of getting some spectacular ones. Your first step after your transfer and organise your images on your computer is to review them to decide which ones to edit.

Now that you know the secrets of photo editing, you may look at images differently. Some feel concerned about the effects of the perfection of images we see daily, but the beauty and precision inspire others.

All we know is this: If you want a perfect image, and you’ve got a vision in your mind of what it should be, then editing can help you get there. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

Happy shooting, and happy editing!