I’ve been learning a lot about photography and editing in the last year and want to share some of the most helpful things I’ve learned.
After trying several editing tools, I’ve fallen in love with Lightroom. It’s the leading photo editing software used by photographers and is a real joy to use. The mobile app is actually FREE. Once I started using it, it didn’t take me long to decide to buy the desktop version so I could also edit photos on my laptop and easily share photos between my computer and iPhone.
Here are the most helpful things I’ve learned about photography:
1) Underexpose your shots - In other words, make your photos slightly dark. Whether you are using the camera on your phone or a nice camera, set the exposure so that the brightest thing (like a white shirt) is just slightly under exposed. The darkness can be lightened through editing, but if something is overexposed (too bright) you loose all the detail and can’t bring it back through editing. Shooting underexposed preserves the details.
2) Manually adjust the highlights and shadows - Adjusting the ‘Exposure’ while editing (in any editing app) increases the exposure of everything — the highlights and the shadows. It often leads to overexposure of the highlights if you’re trying to brighten up the whole photo. Instead, increase the exposure and then manually adjust the levels of the highlights and shadows individually. It’s often helpful to reduce exposure of the highlights and whites so they aren’t overexposed, then slightly reduce the shadows and blacks to retain the details and contrast of the image.
3) Desaturate the overwhelming color - Often if you play around with the saturation of different colors, you find one color that has cast its tint over the whole photo. If you desaturate that color everything in the photo suddenly looks appealing, intriguing, clear and more crisp. It’s as if you are taking a colored film of plastic off your sunglasses lenses and things look cooler and more clear. Try it and see!
4) Correct for lens distortion - This may seem like a minor difference, but it helps brighten the image in the corners and the subtle difference really helps to improve the overall appeal of an image. It’s very easy to do this in Lightroom. Just one click of a button. In Lightroom it’s called “Enable Lens Correction.”
5) Reduce distracting shadows - The closer you stand to a wall the more defined your shadow becomes. Step away from the wall a few feet for outfit photos to defuse your shadow. If you have a place where there is a window that can shine inbetween you and the wall, that’s an excellent way to reduce or eliminate shadows.
The other big side of editing and photography is the mental side - the internal battle of rightness. Is it okay to edit/drastically alter photos? Isn’t that cheating?
First of all, if you have 10 minutes to spare, hunt down some large Instagram influencers who show their photo edits. They aren’t shy about altering their images. They unabashedly change the color of the sky, the grass, the water, their skin, their clothing, and they make everything LOOK SO COOL. So let’s just all get rid of the mentality that it’s somehow more holy to not edit photos… It’s OK to edit. (It’s also OK of course to not edit if that’s what you like to do!)
Here’s why editing is a wonderful thing:
1) Real life - Cameras do not capture things the same way your eyes see them. In order to show the real and true beauty you see, editing is needed (and fun!). For example, the room where I take a lot of photos is bright and cheery in real life. The floor and ceiling however, are hardwood and they absorb a lot of the light and cast an orange/yellow tint in all the photos. I know that I need to correct for yellowness in all the photos I take in this room in order to show their full beauty and to more accurately show how I see the room in real life.
2) Creative vision - Sometimes we have ideas of images in our heads that we want to create that aren’t actually real life - that’s OK too! For example, this chair is actually a light yellow chair. I like it yellow in real life, but for this photo shoot it aligned with my creative vision better as a white chair. Thankfully I didn’t have to paint it white, or find a different chair because I just made it look white in Lightroom.
3) Curate - We are all curators of our own art gallery, in life and specifically in this case, on Instagram. I want all of the images in my gallery to have a similar look and feel (in other words, I want my feed to be cohesive). Images taken in different locations and times and lighting can look wildly different from one another. Editing is super helpful to get them to match or coordinate with each other.
There is no right and wrong way to edit. It’s just an expression of how you see the world. I hope some of these things can help you show how you see the world through your photos.
So let’s jump in to some editing.
Increase the exposure to brighten the image, turn down the highlights so they aren’t washed out.
Turn down the shadows and blacks to bring out the details.
Change the hue of the red to slightly more orange to correct for my skin tone.
Desaturate the yellow because the wood ceiling and floor give a yellow tint to the whole image.
Desaturate the green because there are some subtle patches that appear green on the wall.
Desaturate the light blue to make the wall more even toned.
Desaturate the other blue because there are dark blue patches on the wall.
Increase sharpening a little bit.
Enable lens corrections.
If you’d like to see the changes as they are happening, here’s a quick video of this photo being edited.
Here’s another example.
This fluffy cotton (feels like a cloud) is actually very white in real life. In the original photo I snapped it turned out quite yellow, and I thought it looked unappealing. I wanted to make it more true to the fabric’s real color and to show the true beauty of the fabric through editing.
Increase exposure to slightly brighten the image, turn down the highlights so they aren’t washed out.
Turn down the whites slightly, and turn down the blacks to preserve the detail.
Desaturate the orange to bring out the whiteness of the fabric.
Desaturate the yellow to bring out the whiteness.
Increase the clarity to bring out the details of the fabric.
Enable lens corrections to brighten the corners of the image and decrease lens distortion.