How I Edit My Photos
Until recently I knew almost nothing about photo editing. I’d occasionally and haphazardly throw different filters over photos, but never quite achieved that consistent aesthetic to my feed. To be honest, editing’s always had a bit of a negative connotation for me: doctoring photos or uttering the word “Photoshop” was typically done with distaste (and a wrinkled nose.) The string of news stories smearing brands and businesses for their overly-zealous Photoshopping faux pas further taint the whole pursuit as almost immoral.
But I’ve since had a change of heart. Sorelle Amore - a Youtuber who’s made a career out of travel photography and self portraiture, editing her photos, and teaching courses on how to do both - published a series of videos last year in which she praises the many merits of editing photos well. Hearing her claim that the editing process is an equally important step successful photography got my attention.
So I got curious, and followed that. I studied her “before and after” features on the photographs she took all over the world, noticing how even subtle shifts in color would accentuate an already breathtaking sunset, or create a striking portrait by enriching the tone in the subject’s skin and face. I noticed she kept repeating a software called “Lightroom,” part of Adobe’s creative suite of software platforms.
I started reaching out to photographers - most of whom I found on Instagram - and peppered them with questions. I studied Sorelle’s instruction videos on Lightroom and how to use it. Most importantly, I learned what presets were - a collection of “pre=set” editing features meant to automatically adjust to pre-determined editing preferences with just one click.
Eventually I met a fellow blogger in the District who not only used presets, but created her own and sold them. What? I scrolled through her own “before and afters” in amazement. Sorelle was totally right - editing photos was half the art. Like makeup on our faces, when done well, they accentuate the best features that are already present, rather than covering up those we perceive as unsightly. Good editing can turn good images into striking pieces of art.
So I bought Emily Rutt’s presets (of The Emily Edition) and started tinkering - that was in January. Now it’s July, and I’ve taken several trips and captured lots of travel photography to experiment my own hand in editing my images. I’ve found the handful of editing features I use the most, the building blocks I need to reach the desired effect I aim for in my photos. It’s my new hobby, and I have a lot of fun exploring the endless “build your own story” options to reach the happy ending in a striking and beautiful photograph.
How do I do it? Here’s the breakdown:
Presets. Like I said (or rather implied) earlier, presets are the bomb. Presets are Adobe Lightroom's pre-saved set of editing adjustments to help you easily re-apply those same adjustments to multiple photos. I use The Emily Edition presets, but I’d like to eventually experiment with moodier ones. Check out Sorelle Amore’s Hipster AF presets.
Exposure. This is one of the biggest impacts on shifting the mood of an image. Exposure is the allocated amount of light. The presets I use are great, but sometimes up the exposure really high, so I almost always lower it. Drawing out shadows by lowering the amount of light in an image creates a more striking contrast and keeps the image from appearing washed out.
Editing Sky. In editing landscape shots, the presets I use may sometimes wash out the entire thing - foreground and background - and you lose the impact of the colors in the sea or sky. To both regain their visibility and pack an extra punch in the impact of the photo, I adjust the saturation for the blues and sometimes the purples.
Something I’ve found particularly eye-catching that I love in my photos is either playing up the saturation in orange or shifting the blue hue toward turquoise. This plays up an almost tropical vibe in an image, and does so ironically if the picture captures a wintry setting!
Editing Skin. The presets I use give me a good foundation to adjusting an image, but skin often ends up being a component I need to adjust for. Some presets make blow up the saturation and intensify a gorgeous landscape shot…but in a portrait image, they heat up the subject’s skin way too much, and render the temperature of the image exaggeratedly high. The photo is left looking cheap and overly-edited.
But an easy way to fix this is by tweaking specifics colors to neutralize their saturation. For skin, I like to tone down the reds and oranges. You can lower the level of saturation and if you want, the luminance, to achieve whatever intensity or softness you’re aiming for.
Final tip? Keep practicing. I still have a lot to learn but that’s part of the fun! My tastes in February are different than they are now in July, and they’ll likely shift in another six months and two years and five. That momentum happens with practice. Just from sitting down with my laptop and getting lost in a frenzy of saturations and hues and lighting tweaks and all the things for hours is continually honing my eye for what looks good to me.
It’s also, on a similar note, helping develop my own style. Eventually, my goal is to develop my own outlay of presets, but for now I’m working on improving what I’ve got going for me and branching out from there.
Questions? I’m here for it. Leave a comment or reach out to me on social.